America's pretty dance obsessed lately. Three popular shows—So You Think You Can
Dance, America's Best
Dance Crew, and Dancing
With the Stars—all get stellar ratings, and Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her portrayal of a troubled ballerina. But is there a connection between learning the art of dancing and better
performance in school? The example of Santa Ana, California-based nonprofit, The Wooden Floor suggests that there is. Since 1983, they've been integrating year-round dance training for fourth- through twelfth-graders with academic assistance and
family service. Since the program's inception, 93 percent of participants have gone on to college, and for graduates from the past six years, that number has climbed up to 100 percent.
What's especially impressive is that The Wooden Floor has achieved those results without cherry-picking kids from wealthy backgrounds. Santa Ana's a mostly poor and
working class city with a large population of Latino immigrants. Almost all of the 375 participants in the program fall under the federal Housing and Urban Development poverty classification of
"extremely low income" to "very low income," but 100 percent of high school juniors in the program take the SATs, compared to 35 percent of their peers in the area. Many of the students who go on to
college are the first in their families to do so.
The dance classroom is more than a studio; it is a laboratory.
It is the training ground for an unforeseeable future.
In the age of standardized testing, arts environments can provide the safe havens where mistakes are treated as discoveries and
expression is celebrated. Higher order thinking is a natural part of the performance and students exit the stage smarter and more prepared for whatever life has in store for them. Dancers have an
Dance matters because it teaches kids to think and respond to the world around
Dance education can teach early learners to practice what is usually reserved for older students in other academic subjects. Dance gives
the freedom and permission for students to question and explore, “What if?”
From a movement strand to composition structure to the study of alignment, the dance class is a constant set of negotiations happening
in real time.
“What if I send my ribs this way?” “What if I emphasize the end of the port de bras and not the beginning?” “What if the next movement
Students learn theory and apply it immediately. Students assess their own bodies and adjust to find better balance and higher
elevations. Goals are immediate, concrete, and progressive.
Dance matters because it demands focus.
The body is constantly engaged in physical experiments dealing with weight, time, and force with variables shifting day by day or even
hour by hour. Students have to be present and aware in a way that traditional classes wish they could engage.
The type of learning involved in dance study engages the whole child: physically, emotionally, and intellectually. As a result, it is
also an inclusive environment where students with all types of learning styles can have an equal chance for success.
The key for this, of course, is that we as educators recognize excellent dance students are not always the most technical dancers.
The more varied the type of dance experiences- dance production, management, history, composition, dance science, notation, and so on-
the more dynamic the lessons can be and the more likely students of all learning styles can succeed and build confidence.
If we compare Bloom’s Taxonomy, a theory about learning styles divided into three main categories (cognitive, affective, and
psychomotor), to general approaches to the creative process, we see that they are virtually the same.
The traditions of dance training innately apply these sophisticated goals. Imagine what could be done with attention to teaching details
that allow the students to see behind the curtain and have some input in how and why they produce dance.
Higher Order Thinking: A Creative Process
Creating: Generating ideas and movement relating to a topic or story
Evaluating: Assessing which of these ideas and movement “make the cut”
Analyzing: Deciding how to structure the movement to best convey the meaning
Applying: Use this method to generate more ideas on a related point or supporting detail
Understanding: Comprehending on a deep level the sequence of movement and how it develops
Remembering: Being able to re-create the dance, the process, and the lessons learned
Creating dance, particularly when involved in the information gathering and decision-making aspects of dance-making, is a direct example
of higher order thinking- the most valuable type of learning.
Essentially, students are learning how to learn and how to communicate. This is what kids need in order to be able to address a future
world we can only dare to imagine now. This knowledge will set them free.
And what about the future when the students become the teachers? When “they” become “us”.
Dance has taught us to be life-long learners. We, as dancers, rely on the consistency of our training and the daily conversations with
our bodies to know what to do and how to proceed.
Dance matters because through it we know our minds, our bodies, and our
Dance matters because it demands that we set goals and see them through to our
Dance matters because it directs us to depend on ourselves.