DANCE AND HISTORY ARE A GREAT FIT - YES REALLY
Dance, that most under-rated of disciplines: it’s supposed to make up a fifth of the primary PE curriculum, but in great swathes of English schools it doesn’t get a look-in. Why?
It still suffers from the utterly erroneous pink tutu association and there’s an assumption that boys will laugh it out of court.
And most teachers run a mile at the suggestion they might teach dance. Many assume that they need a high degree of technical skill to do it. And the few male teachers in the primary sector seem to be unable to banish visions of Rudolf Nureyev in tights.
But they’re all utterly wrong. I’ve been going into schools for 15 years, helping teachers learn how to teach dance. Once converted, they’re unstoppable.
Dance is simply activity to a musical accompaniment. It’s a fun way of getting kids active – and that’s vitally important at this time of truly horrific levels of child obesity and its associated health problems that will follow youngsters into adulthood. Some health specialists claim that obesity-related disease will mean that they will die before their parents.
My mantra with activity is make it fun, challenging and achievable.
But if having fun and getting good habits of physical activity ingrained in children at a young age weren’t reason enough to get schools teaching dance, it’s also proving to be a really effective vehicle for embedding other subjects.
As schools get to grips with the new curriculum, this is a really good opportunity to think more imaginatively about the opportunities dance offers.
I’ve been developing lessons and resources around the history themes that children study across the school year where it pays to approach topics in as many different ways as possible. And the great attraction of looking at academic subjects through physical activity is that it engages children who don’t learn well in the classroom and offers a new breadth of study to the whole class.
In my Ancient Greeks themed dance scheme, the children act out a narrative of the Trojan War to music. Half are Trojans and half are Greeks getting ready for battle, they then ‘build’ the Trojan horse and take it in to the city. The soundtrack moves from fighting music to marching music, and so on. The idea is to create a scene filled with movement which captures the epic nature of the story. Children who have been bored by a more desk-bound approach in history lessons suddenly ‘get’ it.
Taking a similar approach to the Romans, I focus on three themes. The first is gladiators and how they are trained for their bloodthirsty role. Then it’s statues and temples, and finally gods and goddesses. Again, the soundtrack switches between different moods to underpin the narrative. But, with those apocalyptic warnings of the NHS in mind, the children are active all the time. And having fun. And learning.
For Egyptians, I’ve developed a more humorous, and less historically focused, approach. Harking back to the 1930s films and sand dancing routines, the children do the Hollywood version of Egyptian dance focusing on interesting leg and arm positions and hilarious partner work. Humour, as all teachers know, is a great aid to learning.
For Stonehenge, the children are stone masons who create the huge boulders which have to be hauled into place. And then the themes of winter and summer solstice offer ideal opportunities for pagan-inspired dance routines.
Sir Ken Robinson seems to agree - he recently called for equal time to be spent on dance and maths! http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storyCode=6439343!
There must be myriad other history themes that lend themselves to dance interpretations of this type. Embed classroom learning in a fun way and get children active. What’s not to like?
Imogen Buxton-Pickles, BSc (Hons)Cert.ED is a presenter and tutor for imovesdance.com and has been teaching dance and movement to music with teachers and their students for 15 years.
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