The Real Dance Revolution: How to Make Dance Meaningful for All Students

By Zavatto, Laura; Gabbei, Ritchie | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, May-June 2008 | Go to article overview

The Real Dance Revolution: How to Make Dance Meaningful for All Students


Zavatto, Laura, Gabbei, Ritchie, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


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Motivating students to achieve learning goals in physical education is a challenge for physical education teachers. Dance, in particular, has long been considered an instructional unit in which it is difficult to motivate students. This article presents a practicing physical education teacher's reflection of her successful curricular reform and combines it with a discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of that success. What emerges is a good example of implementing theory into practice.

Reflection and Reform

A persistent myth among physical education students and teachers is that dance is not fun, or it is just for girls. However, dancing was always something my friends and I loved to do. "The Bus Stop" and "The Hustle" were the two most popular line dances at the time, but we also had fun making up our own moves. Most of our peers participated, while only a handful of chose to sit and watch. Girls danced with girls, boys danced in groups of boys, girls danced with boys ... we just DANCED! The funny thing is we had little formal instruction.

Meaningful dances can be considered a matter of situational interest (Chen, 2001). Situational interest can be defined as: an enduring engagement with a subject due to an emotional reaction (motivation), based upon conscious connections made between the superficial components of the task and the cognitive, or psychomotor, schema of students (Chen, 2001; Mitchell, 1992; Yarlos & Gelman, 1998). Therefore, students make conscious connections between current music and dance steps, which, along with influence from their culture, creates the emotional reactions that promote enduring student engagement.

When I became a physical educator, one of the things I looked forward to the least was teaching dance because of the persistent myths associated with it. However, my first teaching experience was in a private K-12 all-girls school where dance was a large part of the curriculum. I was surprised to find that the girls were very well-versed in the steps of "Teton Stomp," "Red Foley," "Duck for the Oyster," "Tennessee Wig-Wam" and numerous other American folk dances. It was because of this experience that I began to rethink the value of teaching dance.

When I began teaching at my current school, I co-taught with a teacher who exposed me to a wider variety of rhythm and dance activities. My colleague was a firm believer in teaching square dance to the students in our school, which is located in the New York metropolitan area. This resulted in little student effort and many off-task behaviors. At times, it was painful to watch. When students did not try hard enough or showed any signs of disgust, they were asked to come back during recess to "do it properly." I realized that the students' display of disgust was not as a result of a poor disposition toward dance, but rather a lack of culturally relevant choice in dance form.

When my colleague retired, I decided to reform the dance unit to include basic dance steps and concepts in several different modern line dances in an effort to be more Culturally relevant. Bennett (2006, p.7) points out that "a master teacher makes dance inviting and connected ... to everyone's life today." He goes on to say, "My number one hook in the classroom has been to use music that students know before going to the traditional sources (p. 7)." These reform decisions are examples of culturally responsive curriculum and instruction (Sparks, 1994).

Culturally responsive curriculum and instruction is defined as choosing lessons and methods that address the cultural identity of students. Culturally responsive teaching includes choosing content (in this case dances) that students recognize from their culture. For example, the square dances to country music are not likely to be culturally responsive content for students in urban areas. However, these types of dances may be culturally responsive to students living in rural areas. …

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