So how about a little fun?

 Last week I had the chance to design and deliver a professional development workshop for educators on ways to integrate dance into the full curriculum. That work is familiar terrain – Throughlines has been working with arts learning and professional development for a batch of years in a great variety of places. This particular workshop was for a group of STEM educators – teachers of sciences, technology, engineering and math. 

Teachers of engineering and science?  Now that was exciting to me.  I mean, what  better example of magnificent structural engineering is there than the body? A structural engineer depends upon a detailed knowledge of physics  in order to understand and predict how structures support and resist self-weight and imposed loads. Heck, we can explore that just walking down the street or through  the steps and patterns we use to travel across a dance studio floor.   Body, space, force and time are the central elements of dance. Those elements are key to others arts and academic disciplines as well.  Science and math rely on so many of the same tools we use in dance making: consideration of cause and effect, attention to sequence, investigation of the relationship of part to whole, spatial orientation, and use of pattern.

Yet out there in the broader world, beyond the dance studio– including the world of educators  – there is often a raised eyebrow when I say something about  how we can dance our way to an understanding of content information and academics. In this era of wide open possibilities the general population still tends to think of dance in a particularly limited way. The view, often, is that dance takes place solely on stage with some variation of pink tutus and falling snowflakes or  as  dancing feats  from the  “Dancing with the …..”  somebody or other competition.  Dance – beautiful, engaging, extraordinary dance – happily includes those forms, techniques, history and expressions.  But in terms of what dance can be – the ways it can enable those of us who live within and through our bodies to explore, consider,remember, enjoy, feel, make, connect – it is also more.

So anyway, back to the fun. Within moments of the workshop start we were crossing the floor with variations on the kinds of  walks we use all the time to get from one place to the next– increasing or decreasing the size or range of the steps, changing levels, varying speed, creating repeated patterns. Sounds like math (counting patterns, similarity and difference) and science /engineering (load, level, and scale), yes?  We created body sculptures to explore tension and compression ( the physics of bridge building anyone?) and rotation. We played off  one of STEM’s  scientific benchmarks –  when a science investigation is done the way it was done before we expect to get a very similar result. Our science experiment was played out in  sculptural form, built with bodies. Guess what. As we built and re-built those forms, working silently, we did achieve the same result!

So we moved on to a variation on that idea: when a science investigation is done again in a different place, we expect to get a very similar result.  We thought about energy resources as a topic to explore; sun – solar, water-hydroelectric, and wind- wind turbine.  We created various sculptures for each energy source using 2, 3, or 4 people, always paying attention to the component parts needed for each sculpture. We made – and re-made in different parts of the studio – varied sculptures with different partners. Conversation was buzzing between people in the act of creating. Where does the photovoltaic cell go in the solar energy sculpture? As water moves through the tunnels of a dam wall how does it turn the generator and run the turbine, to create electricity.  What’s the spatial relationship of the generator to the propeller in the wind turbine? How can we make that physically – how can we show what we think?

Using a quick, ongoing mix of walking patterns to travel across the studio when  given a cue we  moved into our various sculptures based on the specific source of electrical energy. Laughter ensued.  A soundtrack of laughter  underscored the work. Thoughtful, informed,  spontaneous,  gales of laughter erupted as people worked together collaboratively and solved problems as they arouse (If the wind is coming from that direction them the propeller needs to move in that direction…)   all the while using the tools of dance.

Yes, we were making dances. Learning was happening.  We were having fun. And it struck me – we so often think of learning as serious business. And it is. But when we explore ideas using movement – when we work with others- have a chance to explore ideas – draft and revise how we demonstrate our understanding – learning leads to lots of laughter.

Learn. Laugh. Dance. It’s a good combo. Here’s to science, math. – and dance.

Alison Marshall

 Arts Integration Solutions:


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