Over the past few years, I have included numerous dances from various parts of the world into the elementary music and movement classes. If you utilize any of the common elementary music methodologies in your classroom, then you know how wonderful and important it is to include dances. In my classroom, I try to level it up and include other subjects into our dances.
All of the my students are learning about SEL in their classrooms. However, if SEL is not being addressed across every subject, then the students will have challenges fully understanding and using their SEL skills throughout the day.
In my classroom, when it comes to dancing, SEL is utilized when choosing a partner and when performing a dance. When the students have to choose a partner, they must be their BEST: Body Language, Eye contact, Say good words, and Tone of voice. I use stuffed animals to teach these skills to students in grades K-2. The stuffed animals experience situations where they are not being their BEST (their tone of voice is opposite of what they are saying or one stuffed animal has to choose between two who asked it to dance, etc), and the students have to problem solve the challenge.
Though it might seem humorous to watch, the students are quite successful in choosing partners because of this strategy. In addition, this BEST procedure is used every time (without the stuffed animals in grades 3 and up) we dance. Therefore, the students are aware why we use it and why the successful results are important.
When performing the dance, the students realize and use their SEL skills to perform a dance successfully. Dance is something that is very special and unique. The students must work as a team to perform a dance. However, when they do this, they achieve a sense of camaraderie. And this camaraderie comes from working together to achieve a goal, as opposed to working together to win. That is a very important distinction and one that truly occurs when performing a dance, or performing in an ensemble.
There are numerous musical elements involved in dances from rhythm, instruments, melody, and more. Dances are a great way to teach about cultural instruments, meter, dynamics, pitches, tempo, musical phrases, and any other elements your students might be learning at that moment.
Music and Movement also enhances locomotor skills, non-locomotor skills, body awareness, simultaneous imitation, crossing the midline, bilateral alternating, and spatial sense.
Phyllis Weikart explained it the best when talking about movement being cross-curricular: “Movement is the base for many things – physical education, sport and game, math, language, helping the understanding of all academic subjects – movement can be brought into play in teaching each of these endeavors. Asking five children, for example, to group themselves into as many pairs of combinations (1+4, 2+3, 5+0) can be much more beneficial for learning than merely showing the concepts with objects or on a board.” (Townsend, 2014).
I love the way that Phyllis talks about bringing movement into the classroom. Integrating music into other subjects is as important as integrating subjects into music.
Finally, I love to teach the students about the history and the culture of the dance. Though learning a dance has multiple advantages to it, diving deeper into the dance has wonderful benefits. It gives the students the opportunity to understand the history of the dance and how the dance relates to the history and culture of a country. In addition, it gives the students a more engaged connection to all of the concepts being taught.
Recently, my second graders have been studying dances from America, Mexico, Russia, and Canada. Our new Lower School Spanish Teacher, Señora Maria Saba, is from Costa Rica. I asked her if she knew a dance where we could experience all of the characteristics listed above. She told me about Baile Folklorico El Torito (The Little Bull Folk Dance). She showed me a few videos, which showed variations of the dance. I researched further and found this excellent Prezi by Jonathan Quintana Soto, Liz J. Méndez Rodriguez, and Luis L Quintana Soto, which explains the dance and how it relates to the country. Maria helped me translate the prezi and we planned the music and movement class together.
Maria joined the class (giving up a prep time because she is an amazing person and teacher!) and spoke about her country and the dance. The students thoroughly enjoyed learning the dance and understanding why the country’s flag’s crest has two ships and seven stars. We finished by creating a video of the dance and posting it on Seesaw for their parents to view and enjoy. It has been their most liked music post so far this year!
Townsend, R. (2014, September 6). Phyllis Weikart: Helping Others to Succeed. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from http://www.ecmma.org/blog/parent-connection/phyllis_weikart_helping_others_to_succeed
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com