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Building Dance Literacy

West Ada Art 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 Repertory Dance Theatre professional dance artists, Nick Cendese (RDT Associate Artistic Director) and Lauren Curley (RDT Professional Dancer) to the schools for a week 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?

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 experience. Students built dance literacy from seeing it modeled by the professional dancers and other students, experiencing dancing themselves, hearing, writing, and speaking the dance vocabulary. Important student learning needs that this project addressed were the use of and developing creative problem-solving skills. While teaching dance literacy, students developed language skills, such as use of descriptive adjectives, colorful verbs that paint images in a reader’s mind, use of metaphor to describe dance, vocabulary of the basic elements of dance, how to write, read, and speak about dance to others.

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

Elementary Students wrote:

“I learned that choreography means that someone makes a dance.”

“I learned that dancing can be walking.”

“I learned that dance can be fun.”

“I learned what potential and kinetic energy are.”

“I learned that sitting is dancing.”

“The dancers were happy to help the children, The dancers made shapes with their bodies. Elements of dance are space, time, and energy…I liked that kids participated.”

Middle School Students wrote:

“I learned that there are different shapes and forms of dance.”

“I learned that dance doesn’t have to be complicated and anyone can do it. Dancing with the dancers looked do-able for most people…I learned that anyone can be a dancer. I liked seeing the non-dancers dance along the professionals.”

“I learned that contrast is important. When people were given the choice to take a low position or a tall one, a great deal of them dropped to the floor. However, a few dancers remained standing. I can see how the difference in height really changes the look of the dance.”

“I learned that a dancer has to use time, space, and energy to paint the picture of the dance. The way a dancer moves -up, down, around, left, right, slow, fast- is what makes the dance. The dancers were focused and ready to move their bodies in any way they possibly could all to create a beautiful dance. Dance is not made up of one part but many.”


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 of 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. Dancers were asked: “How can dance solve problems?” “How can dance communicate?” “How can dance express ideas?” Dancers used movement to problem solve. When people engage in improvised kinds of dance it helps them with divergent thinking; where there’s multiple answers to a problem. Dancers danced stories with and without text, with and without writing, with speaking and without speaking, and always moving. Dancers communicated with storytelling through movement. Writing inspired movement making for choreography, and dance movement inspired what is written. Various activities were performed to foster the mission of Building Dance Literacy and Teaching that Dance is Accessible and Approachable for All People. 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.


Elementary students wrote:

“The elements of dance were very memorable. I thought the scarf dance was very interesting. When the narrator was talking about how even walking was dancing, I was surprised. I didn’t know dancing could be so easy. Thank you for coming to or school.”

“I loved when you were dancing, it was beautiful. I loved the whole assembly!”

“Please come again!”

Middle School Students wrote:

“What I liked about the RDT assembly was that they allowed people from the audience to participate.”

“My favorite part…was writing the story because I liked that Nick took our own personal stories and made it into dance.”

“My favorite part working with Nick is taking a word phrase and turning it into movement. I loved this because you could turn a phrase…into something beautiful.”

“My favorite part from working with Nick was creating a dance piece from our own words, and our own thoughts…the process was satisfying.”

Teachers wrote:

“Eagle Elementary loved having Repertory Dance Theater visit, perform and teach us! The students enjoyed the knowledge shared through the whole-school assembly and through the many individual classes. Students really began to understand space as a concept and how it can be applied to dance. These experiences are what students will remember when they are adults. …RDT had students involved with inviting them to the stage to perform…The connections to the brain that is made from visually and physically experiencing a concept is so much stronger than someone only lecturing them about it.”

“I feel that there was a perfect balance of contact between schools and guest artists. Every school enjoyed the experience. I received positive feedback from all sides. We loved the organization and outcomes of the project so much, we wouldn’t change anything and hope to do it again soon.”