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Building Dance Literacy

West Ada School District's Arts Schools of Choice

West Ada school district is the largest school district in Idaho. With a large and diverse population to serve, the district has created schools of choice for families. This grant project was for the five WASD art schools of choice. The schools are Chief Joseph School of the Arts, Christine Donnell School of the Arts, Eagle Elementary School of the Arts, Pioneer School of the Arts, and Idaho Fine Arts Academy. The purpose of this residency is to bring the entire Repertory Dance Theatre professional dance company (9 dance artists), to the schools for three days of building dance literacy. RDT is the nation’s oldest and most successful repertory dance company. Out of the four art disciplines (visual arts, music, theater, dance), dance is the least taught/seen/written about/experienced art form in public schools. During this residency students learned about the elements of dance: body, energy, space, time, and how to describe the kinesthetic properties of dance—bodily position, placement of weight, sense of tension or freedom in the muscles. Students learned about dance while sharpening their language skills and began to engage in the cross‐disciplinary, cross‐experience thinking that builds understanding and sparks creativity.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do dancers work with space, time, and energy to communicate artistic expression?

Dance is a form of communication and expression. Space, time, and energy are basic elements of dance. The elements of dance, dance structures, and choreographic devices serve as both a foundation and a departure point for choreographers. Choreographers use a variety of sources as inspiration and transform concepts and ideas into movement for artistic expression. Dance is interpreted by considering intent, meaning, and artistic expression as communicated through the use of the body, elements of dance, dance technique, dance structure, and context. This project helped students develop capabilities, actualization, and confidence as a dancer. Students explored, “What is dance?” “Who are dancers?” Students developed dance literacy and found value in the art form of dance. Dance is a visual and physical and community. Dancers use movement to problem solve. Dancing can help dancers with different types of problem-solving. When people engage in improvised kinds of dance it helps them with divergent thinking; where there’s multiple answers to a problem. Dancers can dance stories with and without text, with and without writing, with speaking and without speaking, and always moving. Dance is interpreted by considering intent, meaning, and artistic expression as communicated through the use of the body, elements of dance, dance technique, dance structure, and context.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

“As a student at Pioneer Elementary School of the Arts, we incorporate the arts into our daily lessons regularly. In today’s dance lesson we learned a Jewish Folk dance which I immediately connected to our Social Studies lesson from yesterday when we learned…Amsterdam settlement…colonists who followed the Jewish religion.” – KT, 5th Grade

“My early belief was that girls are the only gender that can excel in the art of dance. However, through my personal involvement with today’s lesson I have altered my thoughts. Dance can be beneficial to both genders. Bringing grace, beauty, and poise to the movement of the human body.” – JB, 5th Grade

“I learned that you can put a verb with an adjective and make a dance move. Who knew that we can put grammar into dances?…As of today, I can make up my own dances at home. Overall, the dance class was a learning experience that I will never forget. I hope to incorporate this art form into everything I do in the future.” NJ, 5th Grade

“At first, I believed that dance is an art of movement someone makes with their bodies to either perform or just for fun, but my instructors have shown me that dance is more than that. They have shown me that dance is an art.” GH, 5th Grade

“Dance as an art form transcends decades of history dating back to early man. They use dance to celebrate life.”  SR, 5th Grade

“I learned that dance is a form of communication.” CDSA student


This project contributed to what students know and can do in the art of dance by teaching students National Dance Standards Pre-K through 12th grade; 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.
Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work. Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
 All those participating in this residency are dancers. Dancers took part in conversations or discussions to resolve a problem through movement. The Repertory Dance Theatre residency for West Ada School District’s five art schools of choice impacted over 2500 students and 200 adults. Nine RDT artists performed, choreographed, and taught for the art schools. Activities in this residency included watching and responding in group discussion about dance, modern dance master classes, creative dance exploration classes and workshops, dance assemblies, dance performances, dance reflection writings, group choreography, composition and improvisation classes, critical response on choreography co-created with RDT and students, and presented by RDT dance repertory performing, and after school family dance classes. All activities were well received. The artists exceeded all expectations and were wonderful teachers and performers for dance as an art form. All involved have deeper knowledge of dance. Student dance literacy has grown along with an appreciation for the art of dance.


“I had the privilege of being present during all of the dance instruction and performances on Friday, October 12, 2018 at Chief Joseph Elementary.  The dancers taught three classes in the morning focusing on folk dancing and dance movement in space.  The dance instructors used effective techniques in organizing the students for the activities as well as maintaining their attention and interest.  The activities involved the students in movement and creativity allowing exercise time for all.  The students moved their bodies into high, medium, and low levels of movement teaching them spacial awareness.  They were encouraged to create their own movements in each level.  The folk dancing showed students that cultures enjoy group dancing as a social enjoyment and as a way to be active.

In the afternoon an assembly for 2nd graders was presented for one hour.  As the narrator presented the story of dance, the dancers danced the story showing difference styles from different time periods.  Groups of students were chosen to participate on stage getting them to move with the music and the dancers.  The students seemed highly engaged becoming aware through the modeling of the various dances, of the variety of movements that the body can actually perform.  The music played while the dancing occurred was entertaining as well.  The dance presentations throughout the day were very engaging at a high interest level allowing students movements they may never have experienced.  I would recommend this residency to any school.”  – CJESA teacher

“I had the pleasure attending several of the activities in multiple schools during the RDT residency. The entire residency was artistic, informing, interactive, interesting, and enjoyable. I received positive feedback from all the artists and schools involved. The residency exceeded all expectations. We hope to have RDT come again.” -IFAA teacher