Beyond Pirouettes: How Dance Fosters Global Citizens in the Classroom

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I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what it too deep to find for words. – Ruth St. Denis

As a proud dance dad with four daughters who eat, sleep, and breathe dance, I’ve come to appreciate dance’s impact on shaping young minds. It’s not just about pirouettes or a flawless fouetté – it goes way beyond the technical skills.

Dance is about the stories behind the steps, the cultural traditions woven into every movement. I have seen firsthand the transformative power of dance in fostering intercultural connections. Even participating in an African drum and dance ensemble in college, where we learned the rhythms and movements of traditional songs and dances, showed me this.

Nevertheless, beyond the costumes and choreography lies a more profound truth: dance is a gateway to cultural exploration and understanding. Amidst the chaos and laughter with the other fathers during my daughter’s yearly end-of-year recital, where I foolishly stepped onto the stage for the infamous “Dad’s Dance,” I discovered a newfound appreciation for dance, even though my moves have room for improvement.

It’s crucial to help our students understand and appreciate different cultures. We want our classrooms to be welcoming places where everyone feels respected. Dance is a form of communication everyone can understand, no matter where they’re from or their language. It lets people share stories and feelings through movement. Through international dance experiences in our classrooms, we’re giving our students a chance to experience and learn about different cultures in a fun and hands-on way. 

Let’s choreograph some routines to introduce international dance into classrooms! 

Cultural Dance Workshops: Invite local dance instructors or cultural experts to conduct workshops on various international dance styles, such as salsa, Bollywood, or African dance. Students can learn the basic steps and movements while gaining insights into the cultural significance behind each dance form. Check out All the World’s Stage (reviewed here) for resources on incorporating dramatic arts and dance into the classroom. 

Multicultural Dance Performances: Organize multicultural dance performances where students can showcase dances from different countries or regions. Encourage them to collaborate in groups to choreograph their own routines inspired by international dance styles they’ve learned about. The Kennedy Dance Center (reviewed here)contains groups, lessons, information from featured artists, and more, covering many dance genres. In addition, media resources feature videos that teach dance, provide information on dance companies worldwide, and visit featured artists.

Dance History Lessons: Incorporate dance history lessons into the curriculum to explore the origins and evolution of various international dance styles. Discuss the cultural contexts in which these dances emerged and their significance in different communities. Encourage students to create a poster or presentation using Canva (reviewed here). Learn how to create with Canva by watching this on demand OK2Ask virtual workshop.

Thematic Dance Units: Design thematic dance units focused on specific regions or cultural themes. For example, explore Latin American dances during Hispanic Heritage Month or traditional Asian dances during Lunar New Year celebrations. Use the Baila! Latin Dance in the Spanish Classroom from The Kennedy Center (reviewed here) to familiarize students with traditional Latin dance styles by utilizing videos and comparing dance elements using standard terminology. It covers various types of dances, such as salsa, mambo, merengue, rumba, cha-cha, bachata, and samba. 

Cultural Dance Research Projects: Assign research projects where students explore the history, costumes, music, and significance of a specific international dance style. They can present their findings through presentations, posters, or dance demonstrations. Students can utilize the Kids World Travel Guide (reviewed here) to research information and create a presentation using Sway (reviewed here).

Incorporate Dance into Cultural Units: Integrate dance activities into existing cultural units across subjects such as social studies, geography, and language arts. For example, students can learn traditional folk dances from different countries as part of their study of world cultures. Students can collaborate through Figjam (reviewed here) and create an interactive experience using Google My Maps (reviewed here). Review our Google MyMaps Basics OK2Ask web workshop on demand for tips and resources. 

Introducing dance into the classroom might feel like a challenging choreography, especially if you need to become more familiar with the steps. However, like in dance, many resources are available to support teachers, such as TeachersFirst’s Dramatic Arts and Dance Resources special topics collection. The reward – building a classroom where diversity shines, and students embrace empathy as global citizens – is worth it. In the comments below, we’d love to hear your strategies for integrating dance in the classroom to promote intercultural experiences. Let’s glide through this together and waltz towards a more inclusive world! 

About the author: Kevin Bower

Kevin Bower has 21 years of elementary teaching experience, is a certified reading specialist, and teaches instructional technology to pre-service and practicing teachers. He has presented nationally, had his teaching practices cited in various publications, and published a collaborative article on infusing technology into the balanced literacy classroom. Kevin’s research interests focus on using technology to best meet the needs of students with diverse abilities.

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