Dance education offers many opportunities for students to explore movement and rhythm physically, while also gaining valuable cardio-vascular exercise. But learning through dance provides benefits that surpass strengthening muscles and improving one’s heart beat. As BAC’s Dance Teaching Artists know, the art form can build a range of cognitive abilities and socio-emotional skills.
For example, pre-K students at PS 29 in Brooklyn, who studied dance foundations with Teaching Artist Asma Feyijinmi, practiced moving from high to low and in different directions. These exercises helped them develop their spatial awareness while also increasing their sense of self-control, which is important for any four-year-old.
Similarly, third grade students from PS208 learned the foundations of traditional Indian dances, including specific proper footwork and movement techniques, from Aeilushi Misty. Students then applied their understanding of both traditional and contemporary dance styles to create original choreography. By expressing their own ideas and perspective through movement, many participants gained a positive sense of self, and one student proudly proclaimed, “Dancing is fun. It makes us confident and enthusiastic.”
In addition to supporting skills of self-control, personal expression, and confidence, dance can also incorporate essential non-verbal communication skills. Earlene Greene’s students at the St. Augustine Senior Center studied and practiced line dancing over several months last winter. Participants intentionally focused on using non-verbal cues, such as eye contact, hand and arm gestures, and facial expressions, to stay in sync with their dance partners. The seniors believe these experiences contributed to a newfound sense of community.
For the youngest to the eldest of learners, studying and learning through dance—especially with a talented a BAC Teaching Artist!– clearly offers many opportunities to strengthen the body and the mind.
This past summer, second and fourth grade students at PS 217 in Brooklyn participated in BAC theater and visual arts residencies investigating the theme “Exploring New York City”. These residencies, supported through a long-established partnership with Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC), allowed students to bring their home town to life in fresh and personally-relevant ways.
Over the course 8 sessions, teaching artist Valerie Hager led students in creating an original performance piece which depicted life and landmarks in the students’ native city. “What is it you want other people to know about New York?” This question guided and grounded the fourth graders’ show plotline, which ultimately highlighted the various occupations and daily routines of New Yorkers.
During class sessions, students worked in small groups to create shapes, buildings, parks, and traffic jams, using only their bodies. This movement exercise encouraged students to determine how to portray images in such a way that would be immediately recognizable to an audience. In addition to enhancing their spatial awareness and communication skills, fourth graders developed physical, vocal, characterization acting skills.
In their final production, students portrayed, through movement, one day’s chronological activities, from brushing one’s teeth to riding the subway to admiring NYC’s skyscrapers. On stage, students depicted the work and social lives of everyday New Yorkers including businessmen, construction workers, and dancers. Their collaboration skills shone through as they thoughtfully moved about the stage in multiple groups, especially when portraying the hustle and bustle of commuter rush hour. Given their enthusiastic performance, it was clear that PS 217 fourth graders have a firm grasp in performance, teamwork and have unique viewpoints on life in the Big Apple!
While the fourth graders were engrossed in performing, second grade students were immersed in creating visual art. These students, led by teaching artist Abigail Weg, also focused on the landscape of New York City, particularly its buildings and skyline. They gained a foundation in a variety of visual arts media including stamp printing, drawing, collage, and watercolor. For many participating students, this was their first time working with many of the art materials provided, including printing ink and watercolors. Students used these materials to explore artistic concepts of form, line, pattern, and texture.
One of second grade’s most captivating projects was collage cityscapes. Final artworks included imagery of skyscrapers, bridges and fish that live in NYC’s rivers. Through use of overlap and layering of construction paper, students learned the concept of foreground and background; they also explored techniques in how artists visually depict these concepts.
As part of art class, students took part in weekly small group discussions and class critiques during which they practiced speaking clearly to communicate their ideas. For example, students looked closely at scenic paintings of NYC; they shared observations about the imagery and techniques used in the paintings plus shared their interpretation of the imagery. Students also discussed specific art mediums they used, such as watercolor, and relayed proper technique for using the medium; one student even declared he enjoyed using watercolor most because “it brings the picture to life.” Like their fourth grade peers, these second graders learned quite a lot this summer.
We’re thankful to FDC and the committed TAs, who have enabled the students of PS 217 to explore, in depth, their city through art.