Legitimizing dance in education

Brian Madigan

Brian's company, Madmusik, has been providing music for dance/drama education since 1992, supplying thousands of schools, colleges and independent practitioners throughout the UK and now - thanks to the internet - across Europe and North America as well.

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Website: www.dancenotes.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As recently demonstrated in Richard Spencer’s Boogie Biology article, students have a blast shimmying their way through different subjects. Composer and educator Brian Madigan discusses the opportunities given by a classroom foxtrot.

I was lucky enough to spend the recent half-term break with my family and some friends on the beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, which I can heartily recommend for its stunning landscapes, friendly welcome and abundant wildlife.

One of the friends with us was Katrina Bates, my original collaborator in creating resources for schools, and we naturally spent some time talking about dance education. We are both of the view that dance being made a part of the PE curriculum probably saved it from - at best - marginalisation and – at worst – removal from the curriculum altogether. That move is now some time in the past, but we can all be thankful that dance is here to stay, for the foreseeable future at least, within our primary and secondary schools.

But where does dance really fit in? Is it primarily physical exercise or part of the expressive arts? Does it matter? Personally, I think the fact that dance is hard to define is part of what gives it its innate value. Within our wider society, we may go and see a ballet show and consider this to be ‘high art’. We may go to a pop concert and see dancers on stage who are simply part of the spectacle (not even stopping to consider that they are highly trained individuals with years of hard graft and experience behind them). We may go to an aerobics or Zumba class as part of a health regime. Or we may encounter a flash mob and feel both entertained and – perhaps – challenged by the experience.

In education there is a whole extra layer of value that comes from dance activity: being able to physicalise ideas that are explored in the classroom. When children get to play with their own physical impulses in response to a topic, they engage more fully with the subject and long-after remember the experience. For those that find the written or spoken word hard to follow, engaging their own imagination can help them to internalise information that otherwise might pass them by.

And it’s fun. Let’s not forget that, above all, children always want – and should be encouraged – to have fun. So when a child comes home from school and says ‘it was fun today, we were being Egyptian slaves’, they won’t even stop to consider that they have thought about what it meant to be a slave in ancient Egypt. It won’t occur to them that they had to put themselves into the mind of somebody who lived thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away. Finding Egypt on the map was just part of the ‘game’. Warming up before creating dance movements was a natural part of the whole process and also took the form of a game. Collaborating, leading, following – ditto: all part of the fun.

But, of course, we grown-ups need to know that children are not ‘just’ having fun. So we find it convenient to focus on the health benefits of moving about. Fair enough if that’s what it takes. And everyone’s happy: children are allowed to be children and adults get to feel good about themselves as providers. Long live dance in PE!

Do you use dance as a means to inspire your pupils? Leave a comment below!

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