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make your day dance

Space — getting along without it

September 28th, 2008 · No Comments · Tags: ······

Dance requires space. Paradoxically, in order to make dance happen at all, dance educators spend a lot of energy trying to convincing people that it can happen in almost no space. And that’s somewhat true…

When I taught 6th grade, my students danced between desks and leapt down the hallway between classrooms. On Friday afternoons, we would push the big research tables in the library to one side. And we mastered the trick of sliding all desks snug against the classroom walls, with chairs stashed underneath or on top. Pyschologically, the conversion from furniture-filled space to a small clear spot in the middle of the floor seemed to create an expanse.

But space does determines outcome. I taught for eight years in a portable classroom. With 25-30 students in a class, it was big enough for students to sit in their own personal 20 square-foot territory, just 4 feet from the next child. If they were careful, they could move without touching or bumping, but if everyone actually held their arms out horizontally, they’d start whacking each other. Lying down all at once was out of the question. Even on the diagonal, two leaps were the limit.  Of course, 30 students are bound to include a percentage who move with abandon, despite the space limits, so there was a lot of management required.

The old classroom portable -- 25 square feet per child

The old classroom portable -- 25 square feet per child

And dance skills?  The kids developed an aptitude for moving in a confined space without bumping. This skill was most apparent when we moved to a large space for performance, where they clumped together and moved around each other like ants on an anthill, with a vast emptiness in all directions around their clump. It was an odd dance, weaving in and out of the alleys and channels between bodies.

After 8 years of confinement, my school started a remodel, intended to remove all portable classrooms. The Opportunity-to-Learn Standards for Arts Education, developed by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, say “the space must be large enough to accommodate all students of a class moving at the same time. At least 65 square feet per child is needed for dance activity space.”  I was so glad to be able to cite an actual publication as I began the fight for real space to dance in!

More to come… a real space…

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