Open Invitation

We had our annual termite inspection at the house today (all clear! ) – with a great, smiling guy named Rocky. He made his way through my husbands darkroom, filled right now with photographs of landscapes and old trucks, and then the movement studio, with scattered balls and foam rollers on the floor. He laughed and made a joke about having two left feet but really liking trucks. As he was leaving through the back gate he did a ( very) little jig kicking both feet up to the right in a final flourish which immediately disproved his claim of two left feet.

It’s a statement of the obvious yet one that we often forget – we are physical beings who are born to move. Our neurological development and health is dependent on our movement. Movement enables us to process information effectively and efficiently. Movement can be our joy, our challenge, our expression, our learning process. It informs our days and our lives. And dance, like sports, is movement that plays out in many different ways. The term dance may bring to mind ballerinas on stage or ballroom dancers kicking through a two-step, yet it is also a celebration dance at the arrival of good news, a rocking the baby to sleep dance, a flashmob at the museum, and the renaissance dance included in a social studies unit in middle school. Our dances communicate who we are and what we value.

While traveling in Uganda last month I spent time in a couple of schools and danced with lots of students. It was so great, – these kids in their school uniforms, shorts and sweaters and gingham checked dresses, many barefoot, dancing with limbs akimbo and beautifully controlled young grace. They welcomed me with dances, taught me a language lesson through dance, bid me good-bye with a dance. They were all dancers! Dance was one of the languages they spoke beautifully and effectively. It was one of the ways they connected to one another and to me, a visiting teaching artist from the southwestern United States. They danced with commitment, as a way to express themselves and their culture, wholly present to the whys and hows of their dances.

It set me to thinking about the ways dance plays out in schools in the US. Dance education here may include learning about history, health, and music and provides practice with imagining, persevering, and collaborating. Yet outside the social events of “school dances” we tend to focus on dance as performance. Dance class, particularly in the older grades, addresses style and technique and results in particular individuals becoming beautiful, skilled dancers. Yet as wonderful and rich as that training may be it tends to separate dance from other aspects of life, to keep it only on stage or in competitions, and helps build our identification as dancers or “non“ dancers.

Watching all those Ugandan students dancing – seeing their engagement and joy, the meaning they expressed, the comfortable way they used the language of dance I thought of the ways we might be short-changing students in our schools here. There will always be artists, like athletes, who are exquisitely skilled and expand existing limits. Dance is a performance art We need to support and celebrate the artistry. But dance is action and idea – big enough to provide an invitation to all of us to participate in ways that are social, spontaneous, trained, fun, purposeful, professional, performance, or approach to learning. It can include a welcoming, in classroom and out of classroom learning, a jig at the gate, and a way of saying good-bye.

Alison Marshall

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