Updated: Jun 28, 2022
When I first started working in the classroom I was fresh out of dance school. I must admit, my first class was not my best work as an instructor. I was teaching with an arts-in-the-classroom funded program in Ontario, Canada. We had received training about how to teach the curriculum through our art form, but of course, nothing really prepares you for your first day in the classroom. Teaching in a public school is nothing like teaching eager young performers in a dance academy.
I was teaching habitats through movement, and sadly, at the end of my lesson, I has accomplished nothing more than entertaining the students. They rolled and roared around the gym, and it was fun, but what did they learn about habitats through dance? The purpose was to TEACH the curriculum not just explore dance, so I was back to the drawing board. How could I include dance without relying on and making it about drama or telling a story? Could dance really be used to teach the curriculum?
20 years since that first lesson and I can undoubtedly say YES! The more classes I worked with the more I started to be drawn to the math curriculum. Teaching mathematics through dance pulled me away from the dramatic element of dance and we could really dive into math material. I could actually introduce concepts, like symmetry, translation, and rotation better and faster in the space and with the body. Ratios, numbers patterns, and other arithmetics fit well into dance improvisation. So I began to explore more concepts like functions and calculus. Eventually, my math-dance teaching influenced my choreography and my future was laid out before me.
The best part about what I was doing, is that teachers felt confident to teach dance. I used creative movement and gave teachers accessible tools to rely on. Many of my exercises can be used in the classroom on a daily basis. In my books, I go in-depth with teacher-led explorations and larger projects but math board activities and centers are a fun and easy way to start to use dance in your classroom.
Here are 7 math-board (dance of the day/week) or center ideas for your classroom:
Symmetry dances: with painter's tape, define the line of symmetry and allow partners or small groups to explore symmetry with movement. Each dancer has a chance to lead while the other follows the movement symmetrically.
Number pattern dances: Come up with a simple repetitive movement phrase that can be completed on different counts. A number pattern like 8, 8, 4, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1 is a good place to start and is used a lot in dance training.
Rotation dance: In small groups, students can come up with dance steps that use different angles and rotations. Can they jump 360-degrees, spin on the floor, face new directions and define how many degrees they turned?
90-degree square dance: come up with a short dance phrase that makes right angle shapes with arms, legs, body, hands, and fingers. Put it all together with music.
Geometry, area, and volume dances: make geometrical shapes (with the body) individually and with partners and measure the volume and area of the shapes. Explore ways to make both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional shapes.
Fraction dances: in small groups come up with one step or movement that can be easily performed at different speeds. Using counts of the music, demonstrate an understanding of fractions by performing the steps at normal speed, half speed, and at a quarter speed, etc. Allow the students to come up with their own count structure.
Dice dances: come up with 6 dance moves, and roll the dice to determine what steps are used in your choreography. Right down the steps and notice which numbers are rolled more often, can you calculate the probability? Which steps are the most popular?
Join my 5-Day Dance Challenge to receive PDF files of 5 similar dance board graphics.
In my program Dance Equations, I use mathematics to develop choreography. There is more you can explore with dance than what I’ve mentioned above. If you think about it, velocity, frequency, fractions, ratios, and functions are used regularly in dance even if not universally recognized within the profession. Numbers are abstract and in the same way we use symbols on paper to represent a base-ten number system, we can use dance steps in a symbolic way too. With this, the possibilities are endless. You can find out more about teaching mathematics with dance via my Dance Equations main site and courses page.
Dance on! Please message me if you have any questions about my work.