Expressive Dance Definition Essay
For other uses, see Dance (disambiguation).
See also: List of basic dance topics
"Dancer" and "Dancing" redirect here. For other uses, see Dancer (disambiguation) and Dancing (disambiguation).
Dance is a performing artform consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value, and is acknowledged as dance by performers and observers within a particular culture.[nb 1] Dance can be categorized and described by its choreography, by its repertoire of movements, or by its historical period or place of origin.
An important distinction is to be drawn between the contexts of theatrical and participatory dance, although these two categories are not always completely separate; both may have special functions, whether social, ceremonial, competitive, erotic, martial, or sacred/liturgical. Other forms of human movement are sometimes said to have a dance-like quality, including martial arts, gymnastics, cheerleading, figure skating, synchronized swimming, marching bands, and many other forms of athletics.
Performance and participation
Theatrical dance, also called performance or concert dance, is intended primarily as a spectacle, usually a performance upon a stage by virtuoso dancers. It often tells a story, perhaps using mime, costume and scenery, or else it may simply interpret the musical accompaniment, which is often specially composed. Examples are western ballet and modern dance, Classical Indian dance and Chinese and Japanese song and dance dramas. Most classical forms are centred upon dance alone, but performance dance may also appear in opera and other forms of musical theatre.
Participatory dance, on the other hand, whether it be a folk dance, a social dance, a group dance such as a line, circle, chain or square dance, or a partner dance such as is common in western Western ballroom dancing, is undertaken primarily for a common purpose, such as social interaction or exercise, of participants rather than onlookers. Such dance seldom has any narrative. A group dance and a corps de ballet, a social partner dance and a pas de deux, differ profoundly. Even a solo dance may be undertaken solely for the satisfaction of the dancer. Participatory dancers often all employ the same movements and steps but, for example, in the rave culture of electronic dance music, vast crowds may engage in free dance, uncoordinated with those around them. On the other hand, some cultures lay down strict rules as to the particular dances in which, for example, men, women and children may or must participate.
Archeological evidence for early dance includes 9,000-year-old paintings in India at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures, dated c. 3300 BC. It has been proposed that before the invention of written languages, dance was an important part of the oral and performance methods of passing stories down from generation to generation. The use of dance in ecstatictrance states and healing rituals (as observed today in many contemporary "primitive" cultures, from the Brazilian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert) is thought to have been another early factor in the social development of dance.
References to dance can be found in very early recorded history; Greek dance (horos) is referred to by Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch and Lucian. The Bible and Talmud refer to many events related to dance, and contain over 30 different dance terms. In Chinese pottery as early as the Neolithic period, groups of people are depicted dancing in a line holding hands, and the earliest Chinese word for "dance" is found written in the oracle bones. Dance is further described in the Lüshi Chunqiu. Primitive dance in ancient China was associated with sorcery and shamanic rituals.
During the first millennium BCE in India, many texts were composed which attempted to codify aspects of daily life. Bharata Muni's Natyashastra (literally "the text of dramaturgy") is one of the earlier texts. It mainly deals with drama, in which dance plays an important part in Indian culture. It categorizes dance into four types - secular, ritual, abstract, and, interpretive - and into four regional varieties. The text elaborates various hand-gestures (mudras) and classifies movements of the various limbs, steps and so on. A strong continuous tradition of dance has since continued in India, through to modern times, where it continues to play a role in culture, ritual, and, notably, the Bollywood entertainment industry. Many other contemporary dance forms can likewise be traced back to historical, traditional, ceremonial, and ethnic dance.
Dance and music
Main article: Dance music
Dance is generally, though not exclusively, performed with the accompaniment of music and may or may not be performed in time to such music. Some dance (such as tap dance) may provide its own audible accompaniment in place of (or in addition to) music. Many early forms of music and dance were created for each other and are frequently performed together. Notable examples of traditional dance/music couplings include the jig, waltz, tango, disco, and salsa. Some musical genres have a parallel dance form such as baroque music and baroque dance; other varieties of dance and music may share nomenclature but developed separately, such as classical music and classical ballet.
Dance and rhythm
Rhythm and dance are deeply linked in history and practice. The American dancer Ted Shawn wrote; "The conception of rhythm which underlies all studies of the dance is something about which we could talk forever, and still not finish." A musical rhythm requires two main elements; first, a regularly-repeating pulse (also called the "beat" or "tactus") that establishes the tempo and, second, a pattern of accents and rests that establishes the character of the metre or basic rhythmic pattern. The basic pulse is roughly equal in duration to a simple step or gesture.
Dances generally have a characteristic tempo and rhythmic pattern. The tango, for example, is usually danced in 2
4 time at approximately 66 beats per minute. The basic slow step, called a "slow", lasts for one beat, so that a full "right–left" step is equal to one 2
4 measure. The basic forward and backward walk of the dance is so counted - "slow-slow" - while many additional figures are counted "slow - quick-quick.
Just as musical rhythms are defined by a pattern of strong and weak beats, so repetitive body movements often depends on alternating "strong" and "weak" muscular movements. Given this alternation of left-right, of forward-backward and rise-fall, along with the bilateral symmetry of the human body, it is natural that many dances and much music are in duple and quadruple meter. However, since some such movements require more time in one phase than the other - such as the longer time required to lift a hammer than to strike - some dance rhythms fall equally naturally into triple metre. Occasionally, as in the folk dances of the Balkans, dance traditions depend heavily on more complex rhythms. Further, complex dances composed of a fixed sequence of steps always require phrases and melodies of a certain fixed length to accompany that sequence.
The very act of dancing, the steps themselves, generate an "initial skeleton of rhythmic beats" that must have preceded any separate musical accompaniment, while dance itself, as much as music, requires time-keeping just as utilitarian repetitive movements such as walking, hauling and digging take on, as they become refined, something of the quality of dance.
Musical accompaniment therefore arose in the earliest dance, so that ancient Egyptians attributed the origin of the dance to the divine Athotus, who was said to have observed that music accompanying religious rituals caused participants to move rhythmically and to have brought these movements into proportional measure. The same idea, that dance arises from musical rhythm, is still found in renaissance Europe in the works of the dancing master Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro who speaks of dance as a physical movement that arises from and expresses inward, spiritual motion agreeing with the "measures and perfect concords of harmony" that fall upon the human ear, while, earlier, Mechthild of Magdeburg, seizing upon dance as a symbol of the holy life foreshadowed in Jesus' saying "I have piped and ye have not danced", writes;
I can not dance unless thou leadest. If thou wouldst have me spring aloft, sing thou and I will spring, into love and from love to knowledge and from knowledge to ecstasy above all human sense
Thoinot Arbeau's celebrated 16th century dance-treatise Orchésographie, indeed, begins with definitions of over eighty distinct drum-rhythms.
As has been shown above, dance has been represented through the ages as having emerged as a response to music yet, as Lincoln Kirstein implied, it is at least as likely that primitive music arose from dance. Shawn concurs, stating that dance "was the first art of the human race, and the matrix out of which all other arts grew" and that even the "metre in our poetry today is a result of the accents necessitated by body movement, as the dancing and reciting were performed simultaneously" - an assertion somewhat supported by the common use of the term "foot" to describe the fundamental rhythmic units of poetry.
Scholes, not a dancer but a musician, offers support for this view, stating that the steady measures of music, of two, three or four beats to the bar, its equal and balanced phrases, regular cadences, contrasts and repetitions, may all be attributed to the "incalculable" influence of dance upon music.
Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, primarily a musician and teacher, relates how a study of the physical movements of pianists led him "to the discovery that musical sensations of a rhythmic nature call for the muscular and nervous response of the whole organism", to develop "a special training designed to regulate nervous reactions and effect a co-ordination of muscles and nerves" and ultimately to seek the connections between "the art of music and the art of dance", which he formulated into his system of eurhythmics. He concluded that "musical rhythm is only the transposition into sound of movements and dynamisms spontaneously and involuntarily expressing emotion".
Hence, though doubtless, as Shawn asserts, "it is quite possible to develop the dance without music and... music is perfectly capable of standing on its own feet without any assistance from the dance", nevertheless the "two arts will always be related and the relationship can be profitable both to the dance and to music", the precedence of one art over the other being a moot point. The common ballad measures of hymns and folk-songs takes their name from dance, as does the carol, originally a circle dance. Many purely musical pieces have been named "waltz" or "minuet", for example, while many concert dances have been produced that are based upon abstract musical pieces, such as 2 and 3 Part Inventions, Adams Violin Concerto and Andantino. Similarly, poems are often structured and named after dances or musical works, while dance and music have both drawn their conception of "measure" or "metre" from poetry.
Shawn quotes with approval the statement of Dalcroze that, while the art of musical rhythm consists in differentiating and combining time durations, pauses and accents "according to physiological law", that of "plastic rhythm" (i.e. dance) "is to designate movement in space, to interpret long time-values by slow movements and short ones by quick movements, regulate pauses by their divers successions and express sound accentuations in their multiple nuances by additions of bodily weight, by means of muscular innervations".
Shawn nevertheless points out that the system of musical time is a "man-made, artificial thing.... a manufactured tool, whereas rhythm is something that has always existed and depends on man not at all", being "the continuous flowing time which our human minds cut up into convenient units", suggesting that music might be revivified by a return to the values and the time-perception of dancing.
The early-20th-century American dancer Helen Moller stated simply that "it is rhythm and form more than harmony and color which, from the beginning, has bound music, poetry and dancing together in a union that is indissoluble."
Approaches to dance
Concert dance, like opera, generally depends for its large-scale form upon a narrativedramatic structure. The movements and gestures of the choreography are primarily intended to mime the personality and aims of the characters and their part in the plot. Such theatrical requirements tend towards longer, freer movements than those usual in non-narrative dance styles. On the other hand, the ballet blanc, developed in the 19th century, allows interludes of rhythmic dance that developed into entirely "plotless" ballets in the 20th century and that allowed fast, rhythmic dance-steps such as those of the petit allegro. A well-known example is The Cygnets' Dance in act two of Swan Lake.
The ballet developed out of courtly dramatic productions of 16th- and 17th-century France and Italy and for some time dancers performed dances developed from those familiar from the musical suite, all of which were defined by definite rhythms closely identified with each dance. These appeared as character dances in the era of romantic nationalism.
Ballet reached widespread vogue in the romantic era, accompanied by a larger orchestra and grander musical conceptions that did not lend themselves easily to rhythmic clarity and by dance that emphasised dramatic mime. A broader concept of rhythm was needed, that which Rudolf Laban terms the "rhythm and shape" of movement that communicates character, emotion and intention, while only certain scenes required the exact synchronisation of step and music essential to other dance styles, so that, to Laban, modern Europeans seemed totally unable to grasp the meaning of "primitive rhythmic movements", a situation that began to change in the 20th century with such productions as Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with its new rhythmic language evoking primal feelings of a primitive past.
Indian classical dance styles, like ballet, are often in dramatic form, so that there is a similar complementarity between narrative expression and "pure" dance. In this case, however, the two are separately defined, though not always separately performed. The rhythmic elements, which are abstract and technical, are known as nritta. Both this and expressive dance (nritya), though, are closely tied to the rhythmic system (tala). Teachers have adapted the spoken rhythmic mnemonic system called bol to the needs of dancers.
Japanese classical dance-theatre styles such as Kabuki and Noh, like Indian dance-drama, distinguish between narrative and abstract dance productions. The three main categories of kabuki are jidaimono (historical), sewamono (domestic) and shosagoto (dance pieces). Somewhat similarly, Noh distinguishes between Geki Noh, based around the advancement of plot and the narration of action, and Furyū Noh, dance pieces involving acrobatics, stage properties, multiple characters and elaborate stage action.
Participatory and social dance
Social dances, those intended for participation rather than for an audience, may include various forms of mime and narrative, but are typically set much more closely to the rhythmic pattern of music, so that terms like waltz and polka refer as much to musical pieces as to the dance itself. The rhythm of the dancers' feet may even form an essential part of the music, as in tap dance. African dance, for example, is rooted in fixed basic steps, but may also allow a high degree of rhythmic interpretation: the feet or the trunk mark the basic pulse while cross-rhythms are picked up by shoulders, knees, or head, with the best dancers simultaneously giving plastic expression to all the elements of the polyrhythmic pattern.
Main article: African dance
Dance in Africa is deeply integrated into society and major events in a community are frequently reflected in dances: dances are performed for births and funerals, weddings and wars.:13 Traditional dances impart cultural morals, including religious traditions and sexual standards; give vent to repressed emotions, such as grief; motivate community members to cooperate, whether fighting wars or grinding grain; enact spiritual rituals; and contribute to social cohesiveness.
Thousands of dances are performed around the continent. These may be divided into traditional, neotraditional, and classical styles: folkloric dances of a particular society, dances created more recently in imitation of traditional styles, and dances transmitted more formally in schools or private lessons.:18 African dance has been altered by many forces, such as European missionaries and colonialist governments, who often suppressed local dance traditions as licentious or distracting. Dance in contemporary African cultures still serves its traditional functions in new contexts; dance may celebrate the inauguration of a hospital, build community for rural migrants in unfamiliar cities, and be incorporated into Christian church ceremonies.
All Indian classical dances are to varying degrees rooted in the Natyashastra and therefore share common features: for example, the mudras (hand positions), some body positions, and the inclusion of dramatic or expressive acting or abhinaya. Indian classical music provides accompaniment and dancers of nearly all the styles wear bells around their ankles to counterpoint and complement the percussion.
There are now many regional varieties of Indian classical dance. Dances like "Odra Magadhi", which after decades long debate, has been traced to present day Mithila, Odisha region's dance form of Odissi (Orissi), indicate influence of dances in cultural interactions between different regions.
The Punjab area overlapping India and Pakistan is the place of origin of Bhangra. It is widely known both as a style of music and a dance. It is mostly related to ancient harvest celebrations, love, patriotism or social issues. Its music is coordinated by a musical instrument called the 'Dhol'. Bhangra is not just music but a dance, a celebration of the harvest where people beat the dhol (drum), sing Boliyaan (lyrics) and dance. It developed further with the Vaisakhi festival of the Sikhs.
The dances of Sri Lanka include the devil dances (yakun natima), a carefully crafted ritual reaching far back into Sri Lanka's pre-Buddhist past that combines ancient "Ayurvedic" concepts of disease causation with psychological manipulation and combines many aspects including Sinhalese cosmology. Their influence can be seen on the classical dances of Sri Lanka.
The dances of the Middle East are usually the traditional forms of circle dancing which are modernized to an extent. They would include dabke, tamzara, Assyrian folk dance, Kurdish dance, Armenian dance and Turkish dance, among others. All these forms of dances would usually involve participants engaging each other by holding hands or arms (depending on the style of the dance). They would make rhythmic moves with their legs and shoulders as they curve around the dance floor. The head of the dance would generally hold a cane or handkerchief.
Europe and North America
Main article: Concert dance
Folk dances vary across Europe and may date back hundreds or thousands of years, but many have features in common such as group participation led by a caller, hand-holding or arm-linking between participants, and fixed musical forms known as caroles. Some, such as the maypole dance are common to many nations, while others such as the céilidh and the polka are deeply-rooted in a single culture. Some European folk dances such as the square dance were brought to the New World and subsequently became part of American culture.
Ballet developed first in Italy and then in France from lavish court spectacles that combined music, drama, poetry, song, costumes and dance. Members of the court nobility took part as performers. During the reign of Louis XIV, himself a dancer, dance became more codified. Professional dancers began to take the place of court amateurs, and ballet masters were licensed by the French government. The first ballet dance academy was the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Dance Academy), opened in Paris in 1661. Shortly thereafter, the first institutionalized ballet troupe, associated with the Academy, was formed; this troupe began as an all-male ensemble but by 1681 opened to include women as well.
20th century concert dance brought an explosion of innovation in dance style characterized by an exploration of freer technique. Early pioneers of what became known as modern dance include Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman and Ruth St. Denis. The relationship of music to dance serves as the basis for Eurhythmics, devised by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, which was influential to the development of Modern dance and modern ballet through artists such as Marie Rambert. Eurythmy, developed by Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner-von Sivers, combines formal elements reminiscent of traditional dance with the new freer style, and introduced a complex new vocabulary to dance. In the 1920s, important founders of the new style such as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey began their work. Since this time, a wide variety of dance styles have been developed; see Modern dance.
African American dance developed in everyday spaces, rather than in dance studios, schools or companies. Tap dance, disco, jazz dance, swing dance, hip hop dance, the lindy hop with its relationship to rock and roll music and rock and roll dance have had a global influence. Dance styles fusing classical ballet technique with African-American dance have also appeared in the 21st century, including Hiplet.
Dance is central to Latin American social life and culture. Brazilian Samba, Argentinian tango, and Cuban salsa are internationally popular partner dances, and other national dances—merengue, cueca, plena, jarabe, joropo, marinera, cumbia, and others—are important components of their respective countries' cultures. Traditional Carnival festivals incorporate these and other dances in enormous celebrations.
Dance has played an important role in forging a collective identity among the many cultural and ethnic groups of Latin America. Dance served to unite the many African, European, and indigenous peoples of the region. Certain dance genres, such as capoeira, and body movements, especially the characteristic quebrada or pelvis swing, have been variously banned and celebrated throughout Latin American history.
Hip Hop originated in New York, specifically in the area known as the Bronx. It was created for those who struggled in society and didn't seem to have a voice in the community that surrounded them because of their lack of wealth. It helped those in the same situation come together and speak about difficult topics by using movement and feeling.
Dance studies are offered through the arts and humanities programs of many higher education institutions. Some universities offer Bachelor of Arts and higher academic degrees in Dance. A dance study curriculum may encompass a diverse range of courses and topics, including dance practice and performance, choreography, ethnochoreology, kinesiology, dance notation, and dance therapy.
Main article: List of dance occupations
Professional dancers are usually employed on contract or for particular performances or productions. The professional life of a dancer is generally one of constantly changing work situations, strong competitive pressure and low pay. Consequently, professional dancers often must supplement their incomes to achieve financial stability. In the U.S. many professional dancers belong to unions (such as the American Guild of Musical Artists, Screen Actors Guild and Actors' Equity Association) that establish working conditions and minimum salaries for their members. Professional dancers must possess large amounts of athleticism. To lead a successful career, it is advantageous to be versatile in many styles of dance, have a strong technical background and to utilize other forms of physical training to remain fit and healthy.
Dance teachers typically focus on teaching dance performance, or coaching competitive dancers, or both. They typically have performance experience in the types of dance they teach or coach. For example, dancesport teachers and coaches are often tournament dancers or former dancesport performers. Dance teachers may be self-employed, or employed by dance schools or general education institutions with dance programs. Some work for university programs or other schools that are associated with professional classical dance (e.g., ballet) or modern dance companies. Others are employed by smaller, privately owned dance schools that offer dance training and performance coaching for various types of dance.
Choreographers are often university trained and are typically employed for particular projects or, more rarely may work on contract as the resident choreographer for a specific dance company.
A dance competition is an organized event in which contestants perform dances before a judge or judges for awards, and in some cases, monetary prizes. There are several major types of dance competitions, distinguished primarily by the style or styles of dances performed. Major types of dance competitions include:
- Competitive dance, in which a variety of theater dance styles, such as acro, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, and tap, are permitted.
- Open competitions, that permit a wide variety of dance styles. An example of this is the TV program So You Think You Can Dance.
- Dancesport, which is focused exclusively on ballroom and latin dance. Examples of this are TV programs Dancing with the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing.
- Single-style competitions, such as; highland dance, dance team, and Irish dance, that only permit a single dance style.
In addition, there are numerous dance competitions shows presented on television and other mass media.
Solo dance - Russian ballerina Marina Semjonova
A contemporary dancer performs a stag split leap
Dance partnering - a male dancer assists a female dancer in performing an arabesque, as part of a classical pas de deux
A dancer performs a "toe rise", in which she rises from a kneeling position to a standing position on the tops of her feet
Latin Ballroom ballroom dancers perform the Tango
Gumboot dance evolved from the stomping signals used as coded communication between labourers in South African mines
A hip-hop dancer demonstrates popping
Modern dance - a female dancer performs a leg split while balanced on the back of her partner
A nineteenth century artist's representation of a Flamenco dancer
Ritual dance - Armenian folk dancers celebrate a neo-pagan new year
A latin ballroom couple perform a Samba routine at a dancesport event
Folk dance - some dance traditions travel with immigrant communities, as with this festival dance performed by a Polish community in Turkey
Street dancers at a competition
Street dance - a Breakdancer performs a handstand trick
Creative Dance: A Collage of Learning
Excerpt from Creative Dance for Learning: The Kinesthetic Link by Mary Ann Brehm and Lynne McNett. (McGraw-Hill 2008)
Chapter 3 - Creative Dance: a Collage of Learning
Why dance? The previous chapter emphasized how dance fulfils basic human needs for creating and expressing through movement. In conjunction with this primary function, creative dance promotes individual and group growth from so many standpoints that it truly is a collage of learning. Its practice can make a difference in the world. This chapter gathers and summarizes reasons why.
Creative Dance Develops Healthy Bodies
In a non-competitive atmosphere, creative dance teaches a confidence and proficiency in using the body as a tool for functional tasks, athletic competitiveness, communication, and the expressive art of dance. Moving healthfully builds self respect and boosts an individual’s physical and emotional well-being. Offering the opportunity for successful movement experiences is especially vital during physically awkward stages of development.
With sedentary activities like watching television or playing video games on the rise, it cannot be taken for granted that today’s youth receive adequate movement opportunities. In general, young people are not as active as they used to be and childhood obesity is on the rise. (Newman, 2004) Partly due to the ease modern technology affords, physical activities are less a part of normally active early years, pointing towards future potential health hazards for society. Although schools may have some sort of physical education program, it is not the case that physical activity is a part of every school day. For example only 32% of American high school students took physical education classes in 2001. (Newman, 2004) In some schools even recess time is being cut back. Creative dance can re-infuse movement into students’ lives and set the stage for life-long activity.
Creative dance is a great stress release. Relieving stress through exercise and relaxation facilitates efficient brain function and has obvious connections to mental and physical wellness. (Hannaford, 1995) Learning to modulate both tension and relaxation practices control of the body and oneself. Contraction in the muscles aids stability in movement and provides a base of strength for forceful movements. The letting go of tension aids flexibility and allows for an ease and lightness in gentle movements.
One of the many goals in dance is body awareness. Students gain awareness of the possibilities of their physical bodies as they are guided through explorations of movement. Body awareness helps one recognize healthy alignment, which aids balance and prevents injury. As students move among others, body awareness helps them to avoid accidents by being pro-active with physical self-control. Gaining awareness and trust in the body helps a person make natural and effective kinesthetic choices. This is the beginning of efficient coordination and grace.
Creative Dance Awakens the Senses
Dance provides opportunities to balance many kinds of sensory awareness. Those who work at cultivating the kinesthetic sense are paying attention to who they are, where they are going, and what they are doing. Although the kinesthetic sense is the main player in dance, the sense of sight is called upon for perceiving visual designs in movement; hearing is sensitized as movement and sound are integrated; and the tactile sense is engaged when dancers contact parts of the body, other dancers, supporting surfaces, or objects. Kinesthetic dance experience is profound in its integration with life, and is conducive to learning on many levels. The multi-sensory nature of dance contributes significantly to the critical role that movement and sensory perception play in physical and neurological development. (Hannaford, 1995) Combining other sensory awareness with the primary kinesthetic sense helps students to integrate experience and knowledge within the arts and offers diverse ways of solving problems. Movement increases students’ chances of success through activation of many sensory learning modes.
A dancer awakens the kinesthetic sense in preparation for dancing.
Creative Dance Inter-connects the Arts
Art sparks imaginations to explore and celebrate being human in an increasingly technological era. Concepts learned through creative dance build a solid foundation for understanding all of the arts: music, drama, and the visual arts. Mettler (1980) saw dance as primary and central to all the arts because all other art forms stem from movement. The throwing of a pot, the placement of fingers on a keyboard, the air flowing over vocal chords--these are results of movement. Without movement, a paintbrush would have no “stroke”, a guitar could not be “strummed”, and actors would have no physical support for their voices. Further more, each art form has an inherent relationship to dance through the Elements of movement. Dance shares the element of Time with music, and creative dance studies which emphasize time patterns and sound integrate with music. Spatial studies in dance are also design studies, sharing the Space Element with the visual arts. Dance integrates with drama through the Force Element, which calls forth emotions and the dramatic nature of interacting forces. These intrinsic connections between dance and the other art forms enable creative dance to act as the common thread when integrating the arts with each other and when infusing the arts in cross-curricular studies.
Creative Dance Exercises Thinking Skills
Harvard clinical psychiatrist John Ratey states that movement relates not only to the motor functions of the brain but “is crucial to every other brain function, including memory, emotion, language, and learning.” (Ratey, 2001, p. 148) These “higher” brain functions evolve from and depend upon movement. Why is this so? The same neural circuits that regulate physical tasks are involved in thinking processes because they involve recalling, evaluating, and sequencing actions. The brain “walks through” these actions as it remembers, plans, and makes decisions. Eric Jensen (2000) notes that movement activity is needed at fairly frequent intervals for the brain to process new information being assimilated.
Movement helps stimulate brain activity by coordinating different areas of the brain. Because the two sides of the brain control different sides of the body, contra-lateral movements (that cross the mid-line of the body or counterbalance the sides) activate neural connections between the sides of the brain. Activities such as reading and logical investigation require cross-brain integration. Brain Gym movements developed by Paul and Gail Dennison (1994) harness this connection between movement and thinking. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (1993) has also demonstrated how developmental movement sequences promote intellectual growth. While it may not be necessary to “dance” to allow these important nerve connections to mature, dance offers movement opportunities that stimulate and ground them. The natural movements of creative dance wake up the brain of the dancer.
As described in Chapter 10, Engaging Multiple Intelligences, (p.X), the broad ability of creative dance to exercise thinking skills can potentially tap all of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Gardner (1983) looks upon intelligence in terms of problem-solving and product-producing abilities in a variety of modes. One of the most profound intellectual values of creative dance lies in its rich opportunities for creative problem solving. Because of the exploratory nature of creative dance, the answers to problems are often unknown, and students must call upon resourceful kinesthetic thinking. There can often be several correct solutions and ways to arrive at each answer for a posed problem. People practice higher level thinking skills when they create dances for artistic expression and also when they combine dance with academic themes and concepts.
Creative Dance is Basic Communication.
Early in life, before speech, the qualities of common movements communicate expressive meaning. How a baby reaches his or her arms out--eagerly, desperately, languidly--communicates meaning without words. Even after children learn to talk, they continue to use movement to enforce their words, or as a way to say something without any words. A shrug, a hug, a wave, or a start of surprise--each express a message that can be clearly understood. Facial expressions, body gestures and postures add personality and meaning to spoken language. Body movement can also reveal contradictions to what is being said. Often movement communicates where words fail. Creative dance keeps this channel of communication alive.
When words are removed from communication, movement expression becomes especially significant. A simple action like a walk can speak eloquently. Whereas Sally’s walk has a spirited lightness to it, Anna’s may be intent and strong, while Celia’s may be stiff and awkward. The walk carries with it attitudes and subconscious habits. The unique style that a person lends to any movement, like walking, demonstrates a personal characterization. If the quality lent to movement is a conscious choice, the dancer is crafting the communication of movement feeling. Genuinely expressed feeling can evoke a feeling of kinesthetic empathy from those who are watching. When sharing dance with an audience, what the dancer communicates is movement feeling, beyond words.
Creative dance also practices the skill of effective movement communication through group work. In non-verbal leading and following studies, dancers can use movement to communicate directives to their receptive and attentive followers, who respond accordingly. The leader’s movements must be clear for the intended result to occur. These kinds of dance studies teach the importance of sensitive observation on the part of leader and follower. They are interactive, fun, challenging, and powerful in building communication skills.
Creative Dance Builds Literacy
Literacy tops the list of educational goals in the United States, probably because reading, writing and communicating are skills that further education throughout a person’s life. Dance contributes to literacy in many ways, from stimulating the brain to linking with the elements of language and composition. Examples of these are found throughout this book.
As discussed in the above section on thinking, movement is important in the development of physical/neurological skills needed for reading, writing and language. An essential neurological connection youngsters make is between movement and sight. Activation of peripheral vision, which occurs during large movements, facilitates tracking and focus of both eyes. The more the body and head move (as they do while dancing) the more the muscles of both eyes work together. Efficient eye teaming enables students to focus, track and concentrate while reading. (Hannaford, 1995) Making letters through positions and pathways in movement supports the physical act of writing. Hannaford (1995, p 81) also points out that “ease with language requires the words and proper sentence structure from the left [brain] and the image, emotion and dialect from the right. This integration allows ease of reading and writing as well as comprehension and creative access.” Kinesthetic exercises; cross lateral movements; and large motor skills like crawling, walking, running, skipping and leaping use both sides of the body and brain.
Creative dance studies engage linguistic intelligence. Some of the many creative dance activities that address literacy skills include: expressing the meaning of vocabulary words and words that exemplify phonetic rules; working with the quality of phonetic sounds and the beat of a word’s syllables; and interpreting the meaning of story characters, plot, setting and mood. Dance also provides memorable experiences that can stimulate creative and descriptive writing. The acts of composing a story, essay, or poem in written language and composing a dance with movement both involve creating a form that communicates meaning. Therefore there are many parallels between written and dance composition. See the section on Linguistic Intelligence, (p.X) in Chapter 10, Engaging Multiple Intelligences for more discussion on promoting literacy through dance. Also, Chapter 8, Linking into the Elements of Dance and the lessons of Part V provide many detailed examples of using creative dance to build literacy.
This third grader is expressing the meaning of the word “exuberant”. The movement expression indicates and anchors her comprehension of the word’s meaning.
Creative Dance Shapes Behavior and Responsibility
When teaching dance words like stability, flexibility, tension, relaxation are used in a physical context. These attributes can be applied in a social context too. Awareness of one’s body, and a knowledge of how to control it provide experience that builds confidence, coordination, and control of the whole self. Knowing that one can control and adapt movement leads one to be able to control social and emotional actions as well. Through creative dance, students learn to trust themselves and others, gaining courage to be individuals and greet the unknown. They learn to take control of their actions and their lives. Confidence mounts and creativity unfolds. From a strengthened personal awareness, individuals build self-esteem and confidence as a strong foundation for interaction with others. They are more able then to offer their full potential to society.
Laban and those who extended his work on Effort (Laban and Lawrence, 1974; Lamb, 1965; Bartenieff, 1981) into the field of psychology discovered how different movement qualities express different personal strengths. A well-balanced personality would be reflected in the ability to manifest many different movement quality combinations. Undeveloped strengths show up with a limited range of movement qualities and in the inability to respond to a given situation with the appropriate behavior. Therefore, providing students a wide variety of movement experiences proves useful for balancing behavioral attitudes and promoting healthy integrated personalities. The aggressive person benefits from practicing gentle uses of force, contained uses of space, and slow paced movements. A timid person is encouraged to open up by use of general space, large movements, and exploration of the stronger aspects of the Force Element. As a teacher, recognizing the needs of a group can guide choices for material to work with in movement. Gentle movements may serve to calm down or focus a class. Strong movements can be appropriately used to provide a group with a release of restrained energy, or to express dramatic feelings.
Creative dance builds life skills and is an excellent avenue for character building. Effort and perseverance go into mastering new skills. Usually a good deal of practice is necessary for the physical control and athletic skill summoned by a finished dance. Students polish a movement study to the point where they are pleased with it and are willing to demonstrate the dance decisions they’ve made. Even if the teacher or their peers are the only audience, performance demands excellence. Making a dance, no matter how short it is, indicates that dancers have chosen what seems to them to be the best way to communicate an idea in the form of movement. Showing dances develops confidence and demonstrates commitment. Dancers make decisions. Dancers stick to it. Dancers perform.
All creative dance lessons can affect behavior by developing both self and group awareness. Individual security and self respect found in movement activities bring strength to a group and contribute to interactive relationships. These experiences in creative movement influence attitudes and behavior, helping students to recognize appropriateness of different types of behavior in life situations.
Working cooperatively with a partner builds trust in group relationships.
Creative Dance Builds Community From Diversity
Throughout history, people have come together to dance, and to make art as an expression of their culture--a preservation, perhaps, of their heritage. The power one feels through making group art is personally satisfying and at the same time encourages a community feeling among the participants. Strong communities are made up of strong individuals. Their health depends upon the ability of an individual to bring his or her strengths forward as contribution to the larger group entity, or the ability to receive that from others.
Creative dance lessons teach individual and group skills that are needed for community building. Beginning with individual development, creative dance encourages each student to find and express his or her uniqueness. When students feel safe and individual needs are fulfilled, they are more able to accommodate group needs. Group studies in each dance element contribute to gathering a feeling of community. Dancers learn to form group bodies, they learn to accommodate their use of force in relationship to each other’s needs, they synchronize as a group on a beat pattern, and they move in spatial forms—such as a group circle or line—that create a feeling of unity. Leading and following exercises and unison movements build sensitivity to perceiving group needs and making contributions.
Pride and a sense of belonging under ride successful group work. Life skills such as cooperation and caring are developed as students create collaborative artworks with the needs of the group foremost in mind. From dancing together and contributing their own strengths to a larger entity, dancers form bonds that can last a lifetime. This provides a basis of building relationships with others in any area of life. Creative dance experience promotes the ability for working with others harmoniously at school, in the community, and in society at large.
Inter-generational dancing creates a sense of community.
Creative Dance Enriches Life
The desire to create beauty is human nature. The arts satisfy this innate need by touching one’s heart and freeing the spirit. Offering experience in creative dance, or any other art form, fosters an enjoyment of life and lifelong success factors. Art’s insistence on value helps students to value quality in all areas of experience. A sense of wonder, an appreciation of possibilities, and a persistence to finish--these are the hallmarks of art-making. They also constitute the art of living.
Creative dance lessons are fun. Enjoyment and enthusiasm are major factors in motivation and inspiration for learning and for staying in school. Like all the arts, creative dance helps prepare a person for the working world, for keeping jobs, for doing a good job. It offers opportunities for open-mindedness to many possibilities. The arts encourage students to “think outside the box” and value the creative process as a means of problem solving, and also as a way of life. It helps students integrate Creativity with thought processes, self-discipline, self-esteem, cooperation, language, communication, and self-motivation. Dance offers experience with putting theory into action to achieve a goal. It teaches the process of transferring feeling into form and creating form from abstract concepts. It develops personal awareness yet integrates one socially through group relationships and communication. Creative dance can develop a more functional, aware, and responsible human being. The integration of art, physical development, intellectual learning, and social skills make creative dance a cornucopia of fortunate opportunity for all ages, in school or out. School systems are realizing what arts educators have always known... that the arts are basic education, they enrich our lives, and are achievable by all.
Creative dance offers a wide array of crucial learning opportunities because:
• Healthy physical development depends on movement.
• Dance increases sensory awareness.
• Dance offers easy access to other art forms.
• Movement stimulates neurological development.
• Dance strengthens non-verbal communication skills.
• Neurologically and conceptually, creative dance strengthens literacy skills.
• Creative dance experiences contribute to self-control and responsibility.
• Creative dance develops skills that contribute to group work and community building.
• The artistic experience of creative dance helps students appreciate and set values for life.
Write a rationale for using creative dance within a hypothetical or real teaching situation. List reasons that speak to the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and artistic needs of students.
To find out how to obtain a copy of Creative Dance for Learning: The Kinesthetic Link go to the Book: Creative Dance for Learning button on the home page of this web site.