Blueprint for Teaching Dance (Part 2)
By Puela Lunaris
The Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance was developed with the advice and counsel of the members of Dance Education departments on college campuses across New York City. Furthermore, universities, conservatories and colleges are integrating this document into their coursework, reflecting and supporting this New York City Department of Education Blueprint, so that future generations of dance educators will be prepared to provide exemplary dance instruction to their students.
The study of the Blueprint provided me with a conceptual understanding of the principles that I had been applying for years based on my intuition and experience alone; this understanding made a difference in my teaching by increasing my awareness of resources and tactics that I could then implement as a dance teacher.
My learning also involves Student Development and Dance, which in the Blueprint is comprised of four distinct benchmarks: second, fifth, eighth and twelfth grades, the significance of which I will explain below.
Student Development and the Four Benchmarks
Early Childhood and the Grade 2 Benchmark:
The Blueprint expresses with elegant clarity how movement is integral to the learning process of young children. Dance gives them an aesthetic avenue for creatively expressing feelings and imaginative stories informed by their inner fantasy worlds and their real lives. I learned how children at this stage are whole-body movers who tend toward perpetual motion; balancing and holding stillness are major accomplishments. By teaching them structured dances, the Blueprint states, they can develop the following skills:
- Physical: Self-control, refinement of gross motor skills, development of
fine motor skills, and understanding of the relationship between their bodies and the space around them.
- Social/affective: Listening, responding, taking turns and working cooperatively in a group.
- Cognitive: Recognizing, recalling, identifying, differentiating, and sequencing movements.
- Aesthetic: Choosing and expressing preference for dance movements.
- Metacognitive: Reflecting on their own and their classmates’ dancing.
Elementary Students and the Grade 5 Benchmark:
From my own experience, I have seen, and this is corroborated by the Blueprint, how in upper elementary school, children become increasingly keen observers of their world. At this stage, they have developed a more detailed kinesthetic sense and will challenge themselves to achieve new skills in dance. Group dance experiences with longer-term resolutions that incorporate the opportunity to practice independently or in small (performing with their peers) groups give students a chance to express themselves in a unique and self-affirming way. The Blueprint suggests that ongoing participation in dance classes develops the following skills and understandings:
- Physical: Rhythmic patterning, fine motor control, isolation of body parts, and transitions between movements.
- Social/affective: Initiating, cooperating, co-planning, and respecting others’ opinions.
- Cognitive: Classifying, interpreting, comparing, analyzing and generating movement.
- Aesthetic: Revising and refining movements, and recognizing varied notions of beauty in dance.
- Metacognitive: Reflecting on their own dancing in a wider cross- cultural context.
Middle School Students and the Grade 8 Benchmark:
In dealing with eighth graders, it was very helpful to me to have the clear guidance, principles and theoretical understanding that the Blueprint provides. It was very important for me to understand that students at this stage of their lives are testing their relationship to the world, both in terms of challenging the status quo and in developing a self-identity with which they feel comfortable.
I fully agree with the Blueprint that the turbulent emotions and rapid physical changes of this age group present both challenges and opportunities for the growth of skills and expression in dance, even though, often, these students can be very challenged by their own incapacity to focus their minds, which results in a short attention span. I have corroborated that sharing their original creative dance work in small groups can be a productive solution for the shyness that often accompanies this period.
The Blueprint stipulates how consistent dance study develops the following skills and understandings:
- Physical: Further refinement of movements, building strength in various dance techniques, and coordinating spatially and rhythmically complex sequences.
- Social/affective: Overcoming awkwardness, building trust among peers, working independently and taking risks.
- Cognitive: Distinguishing, manipulating, synthesizing, analyzing, evaluating and creating dance.
- Aesthetic: Accurately executing different styles of dance, considering multiple factors leading to aesthetic effect.
- Metacognitive: Reflecting on their own qualities as dancers in relation to their training and world dance styles.
High School Students and the Grade 12 Benchmark:
This benchmark is particularly exciting for me, since I work a lot with high school students and teenagers. The Blueprint wisely separates student at this level into two categories:
- Those high school students studying dance as an elective course or
a physical education requirement, for whom dance classes provide an enjoyable
outlet for self-expression, a challenging means of staying fit, and an opportunity to
explore personal meaning and identity.
- High school students who are majoring in dance; they are ready to use their
capacity for sustained, detailed work and critical inquiry to advance their skills in
all areas of dance learning. Students at this age gain confidence as dancers,
choreographers and dance critics through consistent study and practice. They
develop an awareness of the standards and requirements of the university and
professional dance arenas and identify personal goals regarding future study and
work in dance. Deep experience training in and creating dance, as well as developing an understanding of dance history, cultural contexts and aesthetic concerns, leads to the emergence of their personal artistic voice.
For both types of students, the Blueprint suggest sustained, sequential dance
training in order to build the following skills and understandings:
- Physical: Execution of advanced technical elements of various styles with expressive subtlety.
- Social/affective: Initiating, planning and producing projects independently in coordination with others.
- Cognitive: Explaining, comparing, implementing, deconstructing and critiquing dance.
- Aesthetic: Defining and articulating a personal aesthetic in dance.
- Metacognitive: Reflecting upon their strengths and weaknesses in dance and their personal approach to dance study.
In summary, studying the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance, besides providing me with a wealth of information and opening my mind to countless possibilities and resources, has also helped me to become a much better dance teacher by offering me specific sample units that illustrate strategies for holistic dance teaching. I have found very useful the way the curriculum is both subject-based—defining the goals for content— and outcome based—defining the goals for student achievement and giving me a variety of suggested examples of activities to reach these outcomes. I have been applying and practicing these principles since 2006. This practice has given me a level of knowing that comes only from experience.