Monday, 9 January 2017

Dance-in-Education (DIE): Importance of Dance in Educational settings

Dance-in-Education (DIE)
(An excerpt from a longer article)

Tripura Kashyap
Movement therapist/Dance Educator/Choreographer


Dance in this context has become a ‘performing’ art, completely focused on technique and being performed by a select ‘trained’ few. Though the creative as well as therapeutic potential of dance is enormous, Indian dance is largely considered to be purely a ‘performance-based art’ whose sole purpose is entertainment. Continuous performance pressure, shifts the focus from children exploring, playing with and discovering movements to mastering group as well as body coordination, learning stage presence, precision of movement and imitation skills.

This is the dominant aspect of one end of the dance-in-education spectrum. On the other end, there are a handful of alternative schools in India like the ‘Center for Learning’, Aditi Mallya School (Bangalore, Karnataka), and ‘Aman Sethu’ School in Pune (Maharashtra state), among a few others, where classes have lesser number of children. There are 20 - 25 children in each class and it is in these schools that dance-in-education has taken shape.  Rajyashree Ramamurthy, a dance educator at Aman Sethu School, Pune, says “Dance at our school is being used more in a process-oriented manner instead of children having to produce a performance piece or a ‘product’ to be consumed”.

The biggest challenge in most Indian schools is the socio-cultural and ethnic diversity amidst children in any given group. In this context, ‘creative dance’ is an ideal form customised to suit children within mainstream, special and inclusive educational settings, from various age groups, gender, religious and economic backgrounds. This form is extremely relevant for fostering their creativity, learning and well-being. They also learn the alphabets of dance prior to learning a formal dance technique. Creating theme-based dances (as opposed to mastering a technique) and integrating reflective verbal dialogues after each movement activity helps children relate dance to their real lives and deal with their emotions as well as relationships, thereby learning better to adapt to the social settings they dwell in. 

Apart from its inclusivity, Anne Riordan (1980) argues that creative dance engages with the physical, psychological, mental, emotional, creative, social and spiritual layers of individuals. When undergoing movement experiences based on these layers; children heal, change, grow and also begin to let go of their hyper-active, surplus physical energy. No doubt that ‘creative dance’ is a concept that has emerged in the U.K and the U.S.A. When applied to Indian schools, specific adaptations are needed in the dance curriculum (Sharma, 1989). Therefore, dance educators need to negotiate with school authorities to change the way dance is taught and perceived.

Just as Math or Science take nine months to be taught and culminates in students taking those exams, dance too should have a similar time scale in which students learn the language from basic to the advanced levels before performing it at the end of the academic year. When a dance performance happens once a year, facilitators have enough time to let movement activities breathe, and for children to get deeper into the skin of an activity rather than superficially learn ‘item numbers’ of dance. Dance in this sense needs to become a ‘co-curricular’ subject rather than an extra-curricular past-time.

When we fully understand exactly why we want to transmit dance to the younger generation only then the teaching methods and outcomes, emerge more clearly. Elaborating on the above-mentioned idea, dance educators need to ask themselves specific questions – how do I teach dance (define methods and techniques), what do I teach (creative movement or a dance technique?), when do I teach what? (grading movement activities according to their complexity), and what outcomes do I expect at the end of the year? Dance facilitators should also possess the passion and skills to work with children. In most cases, good stage performers might not possess qualities like the ability to motivate and increase children’s receptivity to dance or facilitation skills and evaluative tools to track the children’s or even their own progress.

Every dance facilitator should create a movement activity basket that contains at least a 500 games and movement activities. These activities are based on specific ‘themes’ and promote confidence, self-awareness, social skills, trust, stress release, emotional expression and creativity. As children go through these activities, they befriend their bodies, get in touch with pent-up emotions or thoughts, and are able to unleash their creative energies in a ‘safe’ space that is created by the facilitator. Creating and linking these activities in sequential sessions and embedding them into a dance curriculum spread out over one year is the primary prerequisite that precedes dance teaching.

There are different steps to be considered when introducing movement activities to children, especially because in most Indian schools children have never been exposed to creative dance. For example, a simple movement sequence might be for them to make a hand gesture in which the right hand’s fore-finger is extended while other fingers are folded in (Suchi). Children in this activity need to follow their Suchi with their eyes and bodies. A physical and visual adaptation takes place as children get accustomed to this activity. The facilitator then gradually introduces variations of the same by asking children to move their suchi in different levels and directions of space. Later, each child follows a partner’s ‘Suchi’. Gradually, the facilitator encourages children to use this activity in a thematic manner relating it to images from their lives. For example, a child once said, “I want to use my pencil to draw big pictures in the space around my body, rather than doing math in my note book”. After a certain point, children, rather than imitating a facilitator, create their own movement-patterns in space.

In this simple activity, lies out-comes such as discovering one’s movement language, adapting to a partner, learning about spatial awareness and working independently of the facilitator. For activities similar to this to be effective, it is important to keep these sessions ‘interactive’ and ‘playful’ between children in a group and between children and facilitator as well. Children at the Baldwin School, Bangalore, during a session have used different body parts as paint brushes to colour the imaginary bubble-like canvas around their bodies. At the end of the exercise, they were guided into reflecting verbally what they had painted. One child had painted colours of the rainbow around her to create happiness; another felt he was part of a Holi celebration and threw colours in space; yet another painted a ‘fantasy cave’ in which he wanted to stay forever. Effective techniques and approaches to encourage children to think, feel, learn, memorize, express and communicate through their bodies need to be continuously articulated by dance educators in their sessions.

Similar movement activities in addition to other creative ones can be done in a meditative silence without the aid of pre-recorded or live music. Yet, the first question children ask as they prance into a class is “Where is the music?” This is because in their minds, music and dance are interlinked, and they cannot think of one without the other. Music does provide the motivation for children to move with ease and confidence, and therefore, pieces of music need to be selected carefully according to the objectives of a planned activity. For instance, if the goal of a particular activity is to encourage gross motor movements, Indian orchestral fusion music helps children move across the floor, performing largish movements. These not only expand their personal kinesphere, they also generate a sense of self-confidence and open body language.

Dance helps students discover their own creativity and encourages them to tap into innate abilities worth considering, reacting and responding as per their own thinking. This involves a focused and alternative reflection on various ideas, as well as perspectives, to learn something new, and eventually to construct a cohesive, organic personal sense of meaning and understanding. Significant levels of movement and dance erudition occur only when tutors develop unique insights into ways of thinking, learning and communicating dance etymology in a manner that enlightens and illuminates the pupil rather than debilitate or institutionalize their productivity.

CMTAI presents the Dance-in-Education workshop at Bangalore for teachers, special educators, artists working with kids.



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