Belinda Aimé Sáenz, MA, MEd, BFA
Multidisciplinary Performer, Teaching Artist, Instructional Specialist, Choreographer,
Scholar, Performing Arts Entrepreneur
Intérprete Multidisciplinaria, Artista Docente, Especialista en Instrucción, Coreógrafa, Académica, Empresaria en las Bellas Artes
"When you do dance,
I wish you
A wave o' the sea,
that you might ever do
Nothing but that".
--Shakespeare (Winter's Tale)
My Vision Statement: A Reflection on Teaching and Learning Dance
My teaching philosophy sustains holistic, intercultural, socio-culturally competent, and creative ideologies that emerged through my studies, background, and research over the last 25 years. My inspiration for inclusive, empowering, collaborative, and enriching curriculum design and teaching methodologies come mainly from personalities such as Dr. Maxine Greene, Muska Mosston, and Paulo Freire.
Dance in my Life
I have experienced the magnificent and intriguing process of learning and teaching dance. Dancing was my major inspiration as a kid—the perfect hobby, and a tremendous incentive to hurry up with homework and chores so I could head to the dance studio at 5 o'clock. My dance journey started as an activity my parents considered positive, as an encouragement that developed into a sport and art form that filled me with joy, and ended in a lifetime exploration. I became to realize that learning and teaching dance are processes that provide me with ample cognitive, spiritual, social, and emotional development. In other words, dance played a major role in the formation of my identities as proposed by Andrzejewski (2009) in her holistic model of dance teaching. I carry “assemblages of believes, values, ethics, and morals" (Andrzejewski, 2009, p.20) that construct my vision for dance.
Dance provides educators and students with high quality academic tools and empowers education through visual, aural, and kinesthetic experiences. McCoy (2007) states that, “the arts promote brain development, growth, health, and a positive self-esteem… [The arts] link us to our culture and history; support higher-order learning skills; and engage all students. The arts are [the] key to academic success” (p. 29). Dance education empowers curriculum through comprehensive, collaborative, multi-dimensional, and ample learning experiences. Besides, it enhances students’ psychomotor, sensorial, social, and artistic abilities. Koff (2000) states that multidimensional strategies can bring enriching curricular experiences to children of any age as they are involved in activities that increase in depth understanding and learning. She also notes that “Dance can be used to integrate curricular content in at least two ways: as a way to consider discrete concepts, and as a medium for the holistic weaving of multidisciplinary content” (Koff, 2000, p. 30).
Why is Dance Important in Education?
This is why dance is so important for me… it has provided me with endless learning experiences that have helped me grow as teacher, dancer, choreographer, but most importantly as an individual. The sensibility and artistic aspects of dance have been fascinating, enriching, and meaningful. “I end up concluding that the arts in general, and dance in particular, are important ways for me to make and find meaning in my life, and the impulse to seek meaning is another one of those qualities that define a human life” (Stinson, 2001, p.33).
Dance and Differences
Everyone is unique in their own way, as are their learning processes and the development is particular to every individual. “Dance can be a way to teach students to recognize and value individual differences and to recognize their connectedness with others" (Stinson, 2001, p.32). For instance, Math, science, and social studies are different for every student as they think differently and connect their experiences in diverse ways. In Experience and Education, John Dewey (1938) developed the idea of connecting education and experience as means of genuine educative progress. His philosophy of experience relates to continuity and interaction within a personal and social experience based on past, present and future experiences.
Teaching and Learning Dance
Teaching dance is as complex and subjective as learning is because every teacher has his/her technique, background, perspective, preferences, style, etc. For me, it is a marvelous profession that elevates my soul and motivates me every single minute. It inspires me because it gives me opportunities to create, to change, to inspire, to express, to question, to encourage…According to Brookfield (1990), “Teaching is about making some kind of dent in the world so that the world is different than it was before you practiced your craft” (p.18). This was not necessarily my vision as I started working at the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas four years ago, but looking back inspires me to be the best dancer I can possibly be. The programs at the schools I worked at changed for the better; students changed and became inspired and interested in dance.
I think learning and teaching dance should be a collaborative experience/activity that is available to every single person from early ages and allows students and teachers to explore their capabilities. Koff (2000) mentions that, “dance education does not have complex mastery as its goal. Rather, it enables every child, regardless of physical capabilities, to be expressive in a nonverbal manner—to explore and incorporate the physical self as a functioning part of the whole social being” (p. 27). Teaching and learning dance becomes a communion between dancers and teachers and the processes are creative and motivational. Regardless of the levels and teaching practices, both become learning experiences where the learners teach and the teachers learn. “Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning” (Freire, 1998, p.31).
“Movement is a natural form of communication” (Koff, 2000, p. 28). It is embedded in human life. It is part of our nature and very well connected to our senses and emotions. If it’s human, it’s natural; if it’s natural, everyone should experience dance. Learning should be a right for everyone as a relevant piece of inclusive education. Regardless of diversity, language, social and economic background…dance can be a major asset in education as it supports human development intrinsically connected to the innate hunger for exploring sound and movement. Koff, (2000) states that, “Dance and motion can help resolve the problem of satisfying a child’s innate desire for action” (p. 29). She also argues that “developmentally, a child explores the environment through movement even before learning to speak” (p.28). We were created to move and were given the tools to do so. That is why dance has been part of human history and evolves and transcends along with its social, political and artistic currents.
I believe that students should understand the implications and impact of dance in their culture, community, and the world as a whole. Through vernacular dance, for instance, students are able to reflect on dance as a mean of expression about everything… values, ideas, statements, etc. “Jazz dance, together with jazz music, is a living form of American history because it reflects the social, political and religious issues of the era in which the dances were created and made popular" (Hayes, 2010, p.60). Students must understand the various settings of dance expression (religious, social, performance, and individual) in order to fully understand the current “popular” dances they enjoy…hence understand the present. “The achievements in the past provide the only means at command for understanding the present” (Dewey, 1938, p. 77).
I have mentioned comprehensive aspects about learning dance that also involve good teaching strategies. Sensitivity and respect for an individual's cultural, social, and religious background are good resources for dance teachers. “A culturally democratic curriculum helps students know and value the diverse traditions that enrich and dignify the nation’s heritage and engages them in learning and maintaining their own heritage and language” (Oakes, 1999, p.117). Undeniably, teaching dance is founded with dominance of subject matter, with ability, technique, experience, background, etc. However, good dance education is firmly grounded on appropriate pedagogical methods. I am talking about the combination of strategies that make good dance teaching: personal, professional, cultural experience, professionalism, continuous training and development, the use of active and proactive lesson planning, the implementation of activities that target all learning styles and various abilities in the studio. “Dance teachers need to master and apply learning and child development theories, pedagogical knowledge, and classroom management strategies” (Andrzejewski, 2009, p.18).
This combination will result in good dance learning processes because the teacher is prepared to offer something meaningful to a heterogeneous group of students. This holistic approach results in a creative and rich process where teacher and learners collaborate. Dewey (1938) developed the notion of continuity and interaction as principles of a multidimensional aspect of experience that I consider essential for a collaborative education environment. He mentioned the pedagogical decisions including materials and equipment as a total set up for an engaging situation in education. In this instance, there is management, readiness, material, space, etc. I would like to include love, passion, patience, and hearts because “teaching requires various kinds of energy including but not limited to intellectual, physical, spiritual, creative, and emotional energy" (Andrzejewski, 2009, p.20).
My Future Aims in Teaching and Learning Dance
I learned dance through observation, repetition, and performance. I appreciate these standard strategies to build on technique because it gave me the fundamentals to fall in my love with the arts. However, I became fascinated with the creative and magical feeling when improvising and choreographing because it motivated and enhanced my artistry and imagination. I would love to incorporate Maxine Greene’s notion of imagination as a means of enhancing creative expressions for movement. I will incorporate her connections between arts, imagination, perception, and full awareness in order to encourage my dance students to explore imaginative improvisation as a choreographic tool (Greene, 2001).
In future programs, I will include ideologies and methodologies that will empower my current approaches. I will integrate and advocate for philosophies and programs based on Freire (1998) because I relate very much with his vision of a better world. The “Freireian” thoughts of a liberating pedagogy combined with my special intakes about positivism, empowering education, and dialogical relationships relate to my identity as dance educator. I am eager for a convenient balanced combination of the styles explained by Mosston (1973). Guided discovery, task, and reciprocal styles relate to my pedagogical preferences because they support students’ participation, collaboration, discovery, and critical thinking.
My preference for midway models as presented by Smith-Autard in The art of dance in education is solid because of its mixture of educational and professional models and “its three strands—creating, performing, and viewing dances— culminate in appreciation of the art of dance. It also confirms the kinds of education towards which the art of dance strives to contribute, i.e. artistic, aesthetic and cultural education (Smith-Autard, 1994, p.50).” It is this creative and comprehensive environment that captured my passion for teaching dance in the first place. It is time for me to retake the past, present, and future for building the best dance experience I am capable of. I hope I could transmit this feeling to my students. “Only by fostering and developing creative activities of mind and body, and according to his own endowments, in creative activity expression, can we hope to renew the much-needed spiritual aspects of our life today” (H’Doubler, 1998, p. xvii).
Knowledge is a gem that I cherish and desire to share with others. Inspired by my “motivations and convictions based upon [my] dance practice and exposure to [dance] … and a philosophical belief in the value of education” (Andrsejewski, 2009, p.20). I declare myself a passionate teacher who enjoys the learning/teaching process who becomes committed to offer the best to her students. I view myself as a teacher who inspires and encourages students to find the best within themselves and discover the best dancers they can be. I am a teacher who is actively searching for innovative ideas not only about my teaching methods but content and exploratory activities. I am a teacher who exploits my potential, my experiences and fights for changes. I discovered this is possible through dance; I became enamored, and have consciously chosen to take it as a professional and academic pathway.
Andrzejewski, C. E. (2009) Toward a model of holistic dance teacher education. Journal of Dance Education, 9(1), 17-28.
Brookfield, S. (1990). Developing a personal vision of teaching. The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. NY: The Macmillian Company.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a blue guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute lectures on aesthetic education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hayes, H.M. (2010, Sep). Carrying the jazz dance torch: Educators make a case for keeping the history alive in the studio. Dance-teacher. Retrieved from www.dance-teacher.com
H’Doubler, M. (1998). Dance: A creative art experience. NY: Basic Books.
Koff, S. (2000). Toward a definition of dance education. Childhood Education, 77(1), 27-31.
McCoy, A. H. (2007, Winter). The arts: Who needs them? we all do! The
Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 73(2), p. 29-32. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from Wilson Web database.
Mosston, M. (1973). Teaching physical education: From command to discovery. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc.
Oakes, J. & Lipton, M. (1999). Teaching to Change the World. McGraw-hill College.
Smith-Autard, J. (1994). The Art of dance in education.
Stinson, S. (2001). Choreographing a life: Reflections on curriculum design, consciousness, and possibility. Journal of Dance, 1(1), p.26-33.