Using Dance Experience and Drama in the Classroom

By Schoon, Susan | Childhood Education, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Using Dance Experience and Drama in the Classroom


Schoon, Susan, Childhood Education


Dance experiences and drama activities provide children with opportunities to express thoughts and feelings by using all of their senses. Furthermore, creative movement and drama can expand children's understanding of their environment, extend knowledge levels and broaden creative self-expression. Cecil & Lauritzen (1994) state that dance, through kinesthetic self-expression, provides an intuitive, affective mode of knowing.

When included in the classroom curriculum, movement and drama can be significant tools for developing literacy behaviors appropriate for children in the early grades. Drama, like movement, is an art form that communicates an idea through actions and/or speech. A curriculum rich with creative dramatics has the potential to develop children's language and communication skills, increase their sensory awareness and sensory recall, aid concentration and foster group collaboration.

It is helpful to separate dance into different categories when incorporating it as a literature extension experience. Barbara Mettler, in her book Materials of Dance (1989), describes two unique uses of dance: "Basic Dance Experiences" and "Rhythmic Elements of Dance." Dance experiences include: free movement expression, body as instrument, language of movement, and movement qualities derived from familiar things. Such dance components can be the matrix for designing a literature extension experience that is spontaneous, instinctual and unique to the individual's authentic interpretation of story. Books such as Color Dance by Ann Jonas and Swimmy by Leo Lionni lend themselves well to the development of expressive movement activities.

In addition, literature containing repetition, rhyme or themes relating to dance also could be extended so that the text is integrated with rhythmic elements of dance. Books such as Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Cauley, Jiggle Wiggle Prance by Sally Noll and Musical Chairs and Dancing Bears by Joanne Rocklin work well for these types of activities. Teachers should model for children how to work with body patterns and rhythms set to music and sound. Even within the context of these more structured activities, however, children still need the freedom to explore and discover internal rhythms and patterns through the use of movement.

A wide variety of literature and folktales from various countries can be the springboard for children's expressions of their rich cultural inheritance, and they can provide a starting point for activities and discussions about individual differences (Pica, 1995). Culturally diverse literature and opened-ended activities such as dance, expressive movement and drama can help children learn how different cultures represent stories. Cecil and Lauritzen (1994) point out that body movements can conceptualize or even convey cultural tradition and ideas. Children's books that are well suited for this include: Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, I Am Eyes/Ni Macho by Leila Ward and Dancing Tepees by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.

Children's Literature, Drama and Dance: Suggested Activities

By combining dance and drama with children's literature, teachers may spur children's interest in literature and reading. Listed below are several children's books, along with suggested related activities, that lend themselves well to the integration of literature, culture, dance and drama. These activities can help children develop their ability to interpret a color symbol through creative movement, use their bodies to respond to visual symbols, develop an awareness about how their bodies can express ideas and feelings, and develop an awareness for working cooperatively with a group.

Warming Up. Begin with warm-up exercises, just as you would with any physical activity. This step is particularly important because it is an excellent way to warm up, both physically and mentally, the "actor" that resides in each child (Gilbert, 1992). This warm up can be a simple movement routine. …

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