“Art at the heart of teaching.” Week 1: DEL Essentials

By Rachael Oczkus, EDN! Volunteer

We’ve all been there, standing in front of the class struggling to find ways to explain a concept or grappling with the thought that you really don’t have control of the students. Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) in New York City explores the art of teaching and offers tools for educators teaching dance in various capacities to expand their practices in order to foster creative learning environments for all children. As a volunteer for Everybody Dance Now! and a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s dance department, I am completing the Dance Education Laboratory Summer Institute to further my development as a dancer and a dance instructor. I am looking forward to relaying the most prominent dance concepts and personal realizations about dance education and how these ideas apply to Everybody Dance Now! programs.

From DEL I learned that planning is the most important thing when teaching kids, especially undeserved, low-income, minority youth across the United States. These children may lack the discipline required for a “traditional” dance class, challenging the teacher to invent new methods to hold students’ attention. A lesson plan can differentiate a good teacher from a bad teacher. By lesson plan I don’t mean the kind of tedious, detail-oriented document pin-pointing all possible situations and scenarios plaguing your class time. Your plan can simply revolve around an exploration of a theme or an improvisation exercise to get kids interested in moving. The teacher’s plan sets the pace of the course and encourages expression and exploration from students.

In the DEL Essentials workshop, Jody Arnhold and Ann Biddle, founders of the Dance Education Laboratory, got my attention in several of the following ways:

  1. Dance is for everybody and anybody. Hip hop not only offers students a creative outlet for their curiosity but also provides many developmental benefits including mind/ body integration. Dance reaches students of all learning styles including kinesthetic learners, visual learners, and auditory learners.

  2. You can make a dance about ANYTHING. Ask students what they want to dance about or what songs they enjoy dancing to. Incorporating the kids interests will encourage more cooperation and participation. You can pull out a phone or a computer to discuss a popular move or a circulating dance video.

  3. Less is more. Focus on key elements and go deeper. Find unique movement in students to give them ownership of their dancing and learning. You can play a popular song of their own choosing and have them create dances in groups or you can show them a video to teach them the history of a hip hop style and encourage them to use the dynamics within the style to create their own steps.

  4. Movement is one of man’s languages. Dance can be used by everybody as a way to express. Hip hop has been called “postural semantics” and tapping into history, expression, and individuality can encourage students to learn and preserve forms of hip hop and even create their own language in movement.

  5. Dance encourages curiosity and creativity. Dance education seeps into a child’s way of thinking by promoting problem-solving and exploration through motion.

Stay tuned for more of my blogging this Summer during my time in NYC!

Stay tuned for more of my blogging this Summer during my time in NYC!