Wellness via Dance

 A year ago AD4L was launched as a mode of promoting the connection between the science behind the movement (from the studies of sport & dance science) and dance teachers, students, and parents.    To further broaden the scope of health & wellness in relationship to dance the ‘tagline’ for AD4L is being updated to the following:

“Promoting health & wellness in, and through, dance.”

 

 Why the change?

Health & Wellness is no longer solely related to nutrition and how often one works out at the gym.  With the current health trends we, as educators (classroom & studio alike), need to (must) rethink how and what we promote as physical activity.

Presenting at a recent arts in education conference health & wellness panel I concluded my presentation feeling that I hadn’t shared my views specifically on how and why dance can be a method of promoting physical activity in today’s youth.

 

(this is me, getting up on my soapbox…bear with me)

 

In this teachers view, dance is one of the most malleable, flexible teaching tools available.  We have more dance classes and performing arts programs in our schools now than ever before; Preparing performances and assemblies, we also have more of these groups participating in competitions & festivals.  More provinces also have specific dance curriculum within both arts and physical education.  Isn’t that enough?

Perhaps we are limiting ourselves, and the discipline of dance.  We tend to hold dance within the boundaries of the discipline and the starkness of the studio & space setting, ultimately excluding those with less movement experience and natural ability for dance.

Everyone can connect to dance in its most basic form and structure – space, body, effort, & relationship awareness.  The beauty of approaching dance from this perspective is that it can be applied to virtually any subject– math, history, science, english/literacy, geography, physical education, music, etc.   Most importantly – this perspective of dance is also extremely adaptable to individual needs and abilities.

The recent addition of programming to AD4L (Dance-Ability programs) is based on this notion.  Taking these concepts of movement and wrapping them around more formal dance disciplines to create a dance environment which can be molded to the needs of the individual and the group.

What I wanted to say to the educators at the arts conference (gotta love hindsight)…

Let’s step away from the notion of [the joy of] dance being held captive within the boundaries and limits of the formal dance disciplines, stark studios and spaces, and bring dance [movement] into our everyday teaching.  take a moment to explore lessons through movement and encourage students to incorporate music & movement in their presentations.   Avoid leaving the task entirely up to the music & dance teachers.  Dance (& creativity) teaches students how to take a risk, to put all of your effort, creativity, and thought into a movement/performance.   Challenging ourselves as educators to bring a movement perspective to our teaching will not only bring a new dimension of learning to students, but will also provide our youth with a new lens to view the benefits of physical activity for daily life.

 

Here are some example of how using movement  more actively in our classroom teaching can affect a child’s health and perspective on wellness.

Let’s look at the dimensions of health:

 Physical:  On a physiological level, movement = increase in endorphins (which make us feel good & gives an energy boost).  When we move we take in more oxygen (energizing our blood and therefore the brain as well).  For youngsters, often this activity reinforces and creates more opportunity to develop the crucial psychomotor skills necessary to participate in all forms of physical activity (for life!).

 Emotional:   See point regarding endorphins above… increasing our energy puts us in a more positive mindset.  Dance & movement in a less formal setting reinforces positive, healthy, respectful ways to express our emotions.   Confidence and self-worth increase when we repeat this activity.

 Spiritual:  Regardless of your belief system, when we feel better about ourselves we see our world in a more positive light.  When we make this action part of our daily lives we instill this positive perspective throughout the whole of our lives – at home and at school.

 Intellectual:  Fostering active learning through the creative arts provides problem-solving (critical thinking!) challenges for students (& teachers).    Challenging our cognitive skills and encouraging the development of critical thinking.

 Social:  Children & youth of all abilities moving together, learning together, presents a myriad of social learning opportunities.  Learning to work together as a team,  being respectful of everyone’s ideas & stories, giving each participant the opportunity to contribute to the final product – all worthwhile and important social skills.

 Occupational:   Essentially being a student (at every age) is a form of occupation.  We prepare for it and spend a large part of our day doing work that is delegated to us by our teachers.  Making it an active experience makes the process much more enjoyable, and therefore going to ‘work’ is a more pleasant and enjoyable part of our day.

Betwixt and Between

Alessandra Ferri and Sting: Bach Prelude

[A special thank you to my students for inspiring this post. Pay attention to the ‘bits in between’ and follow your dreams. : ) ]

Learning  is two-fold, there is the information that is given to you and the connections we then make between life and the lesson.   In the summer of 2010 my students made that connection.  It was a case of the students teaching the teacher,  one of those amazing teaching moments when a deeper conversation between teacher and student [and they were teenagers!] occurs.  Love those moments!

I asked this group of pre-teen/teen students about what makes music and movement mean something to us as dancers and audience members.  What moves us/you?  They said that it is the ‘in-between’ bits in the music (click on this text for Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation) that tell us the most.   Connecting this to dance, we concluded that it is what happens between the steps which speak to us and move us.  This is where the story is relayed from dancer to audience (click on the text for Alessandra Ferri and Sting’s interpretation).    In music, if we didn’t have the notes in between the beat/pulse the music would be just a straight pulse or beat – no melody, no rhythm.  Movement is very much the same, if there was no ‘in-between’ dance would just be a bunch of steps put together sequentially with no fluidity, no emotion, no connection.  The result of both would be bland, flat, boring, in a word – mechanical.

For those readers who are not dance lovers,  I suggest that something similar happens in sport.  If athletes only execute the skills of a sport, without effort force, or passion, the sport is diminished to the mechanics of the skills alone.  There must be energy,  force, velocity,  and a [healthy] competitive spirit behind the performance of the skills in order for the event to have meaning for the observer, and certainly for the athlete to achieve any success in competition as well.   That energy and spirit is what makes up those ‘in-between’ bits of the sport, makes it exciting to participate in and to observe, and is what make us cheer when an athlete puts all of their effort into a play or event (in addition to team/country pride).

My belief is that art [in all its forms] and sport help us appreciate the ‘in-between’ bits of life.  When we watch a dance performance we tend to appreciate more fully those performances where the dancers have found a way to express the moments in between the steps and/or the motions of the characters.  Somehow they have found a way to internalize the movement and the story to then relay it back to us through their form and their dance.  At its very best it touches us, even those who do not feel that they understand the music or the dance.   In sport, the emotion behind the force and energy is raw, true to life and tangible.  We see the raw emotion given to a race or event and when the athletes take the podium, or watches competitors take the podium.   The [sport] athlete learns to use and manage the ‘in-between’ bits throughout training and in performance, becoming conscious of emotions  felt and learning how to manage or use those emotions in performance situations.   Both similar situations – one translates the ‘in-betweens’ and one manages/uses the ‘in-betweens’.

The ‘in-between’ bits of life [the yummy and the painful alike] which make life interesting, giving us something to obsess over (a little obsession is healthy!), to relish, and in the end what makes us who we are.   Learning to translate, manage and use those moments is what makes life meaningful and leads us towards our purpose in this life.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson  [Please note that this is a re-post from my first blog, Something to Learn.]