We Squirm Before We Squawk
by Sarah Maggard
There is an old saying, “Those who can not teach, do,” and it is utterly false. Dance Education Laboratory (a specialty school dedicated to training dance teachers) is revolutionizing what it means to be a “Dance Teacher.” Growing up, I thought good dance was movement you had to learn in a class or mimic from a video. I thought it was meant only for social gatherings or performing. I didn’t understand how it was a way of communication (other than conveying happiness/sadness), an avenue for deepening understanding and even developing one’s brain. In college I studied the modern, post-modern, and contemporary movements within dance history. Dance as communication was a new idea to me, but a very old idea within several cultures around the world. DEL built upon this knowledge and taught me how dance can be a tool for learning, both physically and mentally.
Dance For Every Child is a campaign dedicated to making dance a part of the core curriculum within public education. What’s their approach? Training teachers, designing class structures, researching how movement benefits each grade level, and educating schools, parents, and legislators of the need for dance in public schools. Children are naturally kinesthetic learners, and dance can be used as a way to build teamwork/community, explore different class topics, develop motor skills, and improve cognitive function. It allows students to get up out of their seats and into their bodies. After all, “you squirm before you squawk,” (Jody Arnhold, DEL Founder).
Because many dance/movement educators are teaching during the year, DEL offers a crash course during the summer. Students have the option to participate in up to four different workshops. This past week I participated in DEL Essentials: An Introduction to Dance Education Laboratory, a course designed to introduce teachers into the DEL teaching method. (And, unlike other programs, DEL is set on accessibility. They WANT teachers to use their method no matter the school they teach for and with no future financial obligation towards them. The Founder of DEL, Jody Arnhold, and DEL Founding Faculty, Ann Biddle, have one goal and that is “dance for every child”).
Structured more as a laboratory than a typical class, we were hands on and dancing 75% of the time. The other 25% was done mentally exploring, discussing, and reflecting on either the given activity or the teaching methods being used. Often we were asked: “what did you do? What did the teachers do? Why did we do this?” in order to deconstruct how the class was formatted and executed. We as students learned by experiencing the class and observing it from a sort of “birds eye view.” We learned how to format/structure a class and the importance of having a set, but flexible lesson plan when working with youth. Within the course, we learned how dance can explore ideas/subjects and be used to communicate via “movement sentences,” (a stringing of two or more verbs pertaining to the idea at hand). These are then explored and developed into a rough sketch through different choreographic structures, culminating in a dance.
Of the many tools given, I found the Laban Movement Analysis chart to be one of the most useful in both my own dance practices and teaching others. Based off the works of Rudolf Laban (a German movement scientist/theorist from the early twentieth century) this chart explores the concepts of body, dynamics, space, and relationship; all necessary factors when describing movement. The chart provides the user with a kind of guideline, just as a color wheel does for a painter, or chords do for a musician.
In just the three days of this workshop alone, I have been given so many tools and learned an uncanny amount. Honestly, I will be reading, reflecting, and going through all the material/information given for the next few months!