Arts Engine, Inc.
Teaching Channel: Arts Essentials
NARRATOR: In this episode of Arts Essentials we look at two very different classes that use dance as a way to teach non-verbal communication.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: A five, six, ready and -
NARRATOR: Jeffrey Dobbs is a dance teacher P.S.164 in Queens, New York.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: I want somebody to give me a movement that we can do that shows we’re tired, bored or cranky, but I want you to use swinging energy.
NARRATOR: He has a dedicated room for dance instruction and he’s able to teach elaborate movement skills with the space. Liz Odassey (sp?) is a 5th grade classroom teacher at P.S.499, also in Queens.
LIZ [in the classroom]: So we’re going to start by remembering some of the Spanish words that go along with the movements that we’ve been practicing.
NARRATOR: Liz teaches most subjects in her class, including a movement dance component, despite the space constraints of her classroom. She is teaching her kids flamenco dancing as a form of communication. These two teachers demonstrate that the arts can be taught and learned in almost any classroom environment, whether it’s a dedicated space or within the general classroom setting.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: We talked before about dance being a language and how we can communicate through movement, that sometimes our bodies reflect our mood. Can somebody show me what your body would look like if you’re tired? Anna, stand up. What would your body- if you were standing there- show me what your body would look like if you’re tired. [Anna hanging heavily] Ah, she’s kind of sort of ah hunched over. Somebody else. Show me a tired body. [another student stands up to demonstrate] Ah, I’m seeing that hunch. Uh, one more-
JEFFREY: Dance is the only art form in which we ourselves are the instrument. We’re not playing a violin, we’re not singing some music that someone else has written; we are actually creating the art with our own physical selves.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: Can you show me a frightened body? [sitting student falls backward; Jeffrey and other students laugh] So we use our- we use our bodies to communicate what we’re thinking or what we’re feeling sometimes, and sometimes we don’t even know it. But choreographers, when they’re making dances, they’re conscious- they know what they’re doing. They use their bodies to communicate what they’re thinking or what they’re feeling.
JEFFREY: Dance is a language; it’s very communicative, and many students don’t realize that the arts are a way to express what they’re thinking or what they’re feeling. And today we’re going to be experimenting with how do we communicate to an audience what we’re thinking or feeling with movement, with dance.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: We’re going to step to our left. One. Two. Drop that head, shoulders down, head down, right foot is going to go back. Three. Stay in plié, head up to the celing, and back down. Four.
JEFFREY: Ever since they’ve been in kindergarten, they’ve been learning the fundamentals of dance. They learn about time, space, energy. They learn about the elements of dance, the things that go into making dance happen. And as we build on hose skills, they learn how to put those elements together and eventually not only become dancers, but choreographers themselves, how they can express themselves through the movement, through the elements that they’ve learned.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: Two, and three, and four, and five, and six, and seven, and eight. Yes. Can I see that by yourselves?
LIZ [in the classroom]: When I have the first type of clap [Liz clapping], which one is it? Maya? [Maya says palma sordas] Ah, repitame, palma sordas. [class repeats it] Beautiful. And the contrasting body part that we’re using to make motion today would be what? [students offering unintelligible answers] Mmm, Sammy louder for the class. [Sammy says tacones] Tacones. Can you say tacones? [class repeats it] So we’ve got the palmas and we’ve got- [class says tacones] Muy bien.
LIZ: I teach 5th grade; there’s two 5th grade classes in our school and we’re responsible for reading, writing, math and social studies instruction.
LIZ [in the classroom]: Palmas, tacones y…? [unintelligible answers from students] Put them together we get? Ah, Kian (sp?), one more time. [Kian says palos] Palos. Can you guys all say palos? [class repeats palos] See it here on our word wall?
LIZ: Teaching four subjects, it’s a very difficult thing to do. We don’t have as many experiences as I feel the kids need to move around and express themselves through different art forms, and I think that’s one thing that truly helps. It’s a challenging thing because you need to be comfortable with dance and movement yourself and, um, many individuals may not be. But the advantages are wide.
LIZ [in the classroom]: [Liz clapping a rhythm and the students mimicking it with their feet] What do you think, guys? Very good? Alright. You’ll notice when my partners were with me, I was- we were…? [Liz trying to get the students to offer answers] Communicating. Oh my goodness, were there words used? [student says no] So we’re going to notice really deeply the movements that our partners are using, right? And that possible because we’re facing one another, working in a partnership, focusing-
LIZ: There’s many different ways to communicate, and flamenco music does communicate through, um, almost like a lack of words at some points. Those capacities enable the types of learning experiences that can be incorporated into other subjects as well. So we focus on those capacities, for example, noticing deeply. I had the student notice what their partners were doing in a way that they could repeat it with the different body parts. So if their partner was doing a pattern with their hands, they needed to repeat the same pattern with their feet, so that they’re not just looking at it and then, you know, doing whatever they feel after they are looking at it and repeating it, like taking it in, making it their own, but repeating it to let the person know that, you know, that they’re acknowledging what they’re doing, they’re looking deeply at it. [students demonstrating this exercise] Basically, what we’re trying to get the kids to understand is that looking at an image or an object and not putting your thought behind it is a lower level of noticing, so that they’re really involved in the work of art and their minds are going at all times at a higher level than if they were to, say, just look at the picture at face value.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: Three, and four, and five, and six, and seven, and eight. [Jeffrey continues to count while he and the students begin the dance] We were using our bodies to communicate that thought, or that feeling, or that idea. That movement- I’m feeling tired, I’m feeling achy, I’m feeling sad, I’m feeling bored, I have the blues, oh boy, oh oh oh. At the beginning, I saw a lot of you do that same hunched movement and it’s the same hunches movement that I did at the beginning, right? Now I’m going to change the music and we’re going to do the same movement and see if the mood changes. A five, six, ready and [Jeffrey continues to count while he and the students begin the dance] Oh yes, switch lines.
JEFFREY: There’s a moment when they realize, you can sort of look in their eyes and the light bulb goes on in their heads when they realize and they get it so to speak, and they say, “Oh ok, now I understand, now I realize what we were learning in class, now I can put that into practice effectively and consciously. But whereas before, I was not conscious about what was happening, what I was doing, what my body was doing. Now I’m conscious about what my body is doing and because I’m aware and conscious about what my body is doing, I can communicate more effectively.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: Did it change? Did your mood change any? How did you feel when we did it to the faster song? Yes. [calling on student; student answers excited] Excited? So you felt a little different when we did it to the faster song. Anybody else? Uh, yes [calling on student; student answers happier] Happier. Yes. [another student offers that she was going to say that] You were gonna say that.
JEFFREY: They’re learning about body alignment, how they can move around in personal or general space, how they can use their bodies on different levels to communicate a thought or a feeling or an idea. So there are a lot of different elements that go into making dance happen and to actually communicating the thought or the idea tahat you’re trying to express.
JEFFREY [in the dance studio]: You guys are so smart. You know something? Tomorrow, when I’m rich and famous, I’m gonna hire you as my assistant choreographers, ok? [students laughing] Let’s take that a little faster, ok?
JEFFREY: Dance, and the arts in general, are a chronicle of the history of mankind. We can chronicle our culture through the arts. And the arts cross over from their individual disciplines to other disciplines. In the early grades, we talk about how dance is mathematics, how they learn counts. We talk about how dance is a part of culture, we learn about geography, how dance changes from one particular area of the world to the other, and sometimes from one particular area of a city to the other. So the arts, in general, contribute to all other subjects. They don’t stand alone.
LIZ [in the classroom]: You’re noticing deeply what we do to communicate right now. Ok, think about these terms [pointing to “time” and “energy” on the blackboard] Are you all ready? So I’m going to start the conversation and then you use your movements however you want to respond to me. You don’t have to do the same one like we did before, ok? [Liz clapping and student responding with her own movement/noise back and forth] Did you guys notice that changes, the contrasts in our movements at certain times, right? According to these things [pointing to the terms on the blackboard]? Can you turn and talk about that for a moment about what you noticed?
STUDENT 1: I think the shape- I don’t think there really was a shape, but there was a lot of energy through the, um, back and forth and contrast, yeah, back and forth.
STUDENT 2: It seemed as if Ms. Odassey was angry, right?
STUDENT 1: Yeah-
STUDENT 2: Because stomping sort of showed-
STUDENT 1: Emotion.
LIZ: We use partnerships often so the students are used to working in partnerships and expressing their thoughts to one another and in that way, rather than just, um, sharing your thoughts by raising your hand, everybody is more involved. It’s a higher level of engagement and everybody gets to share their thoughts and they’re also held accountable for them, like, they need to have a thought, it’s expected and the kids really love that because they love to be heard.
LIZ [in the classroom]: Uh, Sammy, one more comment.
SAMMY: Actually, yeah, uh, same example as [unintelligible name] but I have a different emotion for it, sort of like sassy, talk to the hand.
LIZ: And if they’re more engaged and they’re excited and having positive learning experiences, it’ll affect them in a positive manner across subjects. Benefits for me as a teacher always are to see students shine that don’t shine in the traditional setting, and then you can connect with your kids more and it’s fun for them. You know, they need to know that school is a place where you can have fun as well as learn a lot.