This is an archive. I have retired, and is no longer being actively updated. If you have questions about old posts or dance education, please contact me via email.


make your day dance

Math In Your Feet

December 27th, 2011 · ····

I may be a dance specialist, but I’m no step dancer! Nonetheless, it’s been great to see my students working on precision footwork, thanks to Malke Rosenfeld’s Math in Your Feet unit, published last year in the Teaching Artist Journal (one of the sources I count as part of my Professional Learning Community).  Through a quarterly periodical & ALT/space website, TAJ offers insight for me as a dance specialist in the public schools, despite the variety of perspectives covered by its authors, who represent all of the art disciplines & a variety of educational contexts. It’s a lively community, full of ideas and inspiration about arts education.

But the article “Jump Patterns: Percussive Dance and the Path to Math” (TAJ vol. 9, number 2, April-June 2011) provided much more than food for thought. The article unwraps the dance/math residencies Malke Rosenfeld teaches in public schools. The fact that she shares her methodologies with classroom teachers for use in the classroom lit a spark for me. Even without being a step dancer myself, maybe I could lead my dance students through the jump pattern curriculum!

I’m about to begin Week 5 of 6, finishing the jump patterns with my second set of 4th & 5th graders (six lessons per group), and we’re all enjoying it. Malke’s outline provided lots of material to work with, and I’ve worked the pacing & focus of instruction for each lesson to fit my ELL learners & my circumstance. The movement variables are broken into malleable chunks, and we’ve explored the math-related concepts of precision, congruency, reflection, and turn symmetry, with students choreographing patterns in teams of 2 and 3. In addition to integrating dance & math, there’s a problem-solving (choreography) component that parallels the “workshop/conferencing” structure that my students are familiar with through Writers Workshop, allowing me time to confer with & jump-start individual students. In addition, there’s a spatial arrangement that supports classroom management (personal dance spaces for each team — wow, what a concept!). Add in some dance videos to “mentor” the kids in their choreographic process & journaling questions to provide feedback on what students are learning, and it’s no wonder we’re all engaged!

My first groups of 4th & 5th graders finished the unit before the holiday break, with some of them performing their patterns, both congruently & in mirror symmetry. They nailed the precision steps they’d created, even without the support of their personal dance spaces, and their peer audience was able to talk about what they were seeing with insight and new vocabulary. What a pleasure to watch… I’m so grateful to be able to learn from colleagues!

rehearsing for congruency

Practicing 270-degree turns

→ 1 Comment

Thanks to my Professional Learning Community: you & you & you…

December 21st, 2011 · ··

Teaching as a dance specialist in a public school can be an uneasy fit. Dance isn’t your usual content area, with various curricula to choose from and years of practice in the public schools. Even in states where dance educators have a solid foothold (of which mine isn’t one), there aren’t many of us. And in any given school, there’s probably only one. Yet as part of the full-time scene, dance educators have many requirements in common with teachers of other content areas: writing goals based on student achievement, assessing and giving grades for students, participating in professional development…

This year, as part of my district’s contractual stance on professional development, I’m required to be part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC), meeting on a regular basis to share data-driven reflections and discussions with like-minded educators in order to raise student achievement. So I facilitate a Dance PLC within the district. However, since I’m the only full-time dance specialist in the district, this PLC doesn’t meet often enough to fulfill my contract.

Happily, I have a principal who’s willing to accept the fact that I cast a wide net in my search for a Professional Learning Community. The folks & organizations that I consider part of my professional development network probably don’t even know they’re members of my personal PLC.  Nonetheless, I’d like to note & thank some of these folks from across the country who are willing to engage in cyber dialogue about dance education!* THANK YOU IF YOU’RE ONE! And please feel free to let me know other links to add to my network.

Dance Educators Association of Washington: these folks are spread thinly, but near at hand, and we’re all dealing with the context of Washington State. I get to meet with them face-to-face occasionally.

K-12 Members Online Forum, National Dance Education Organization: dance educators who are willing to share their vast variety of experiences from across the nation.

Dance and Disability Online Forum, National Dance Education Organization: ditto above, but with experience in teaching special needs students like my students with Autism.

Malke Rosenfeld & Math in Your Feet: a resident dance artist who actively pursues & blogs about the intersection of dance with math, while editing the ALT/space website for Teaching Artists Journal.

ALT/space & Teaching Artists Journal: a coalition of arts educators who work at & blog about the intersection between art & the public schools, sharing their perplexions, discomforts, victories & stories online.

*This isn’t an exhaustive link of blogs I follow when I have the time. You’ll find those in my links list. This is a short list of places/people I go to, to ask a question, collaborate on ideas, or be inspired. Again, if you have suggestions, it’s not a closed list!


The power of a hula hoop

December 19th, 2011 · ·

Early in my first months of teaching my students with Autism, I discovered that hula hoops held a special power. One day at the end of class, we’d been working hard on structured activities with variable success: lots of cajoling of individual students, with them alternately joining and wandering away from our activities. Exhausted, I needed a break, so I passed out hula hoops. Suddenly they were all there! I put on music and let them go. Not trying to lead, I didn’t talk. I joined them, and we all did hula hoops for the span of a long musical selection — quiet and calming — with everyone doing their own thing.

So hula hoops became a frequent ending activity. No matter how the class had gone, everyone would take a hula hoop — to carry or twirl or roll or step through or run with or hula with. I always take one too, and I’ve almost recovered some of the hula hooping skills I had in my youth! Some students try out what I’m doing, sometimes I use the concept we’ve been working on in class, but I always quit talking. Which is probably a relief for my non-verbal learners!

And then last week, there came a hula hoop moment with 8-year-old Hank that was pure magic! Hank started two years ago with 0% participation, lying on the floor and sobbing. He’s gradually begun to join us, and his skills are growing, but he’s still unpredictable. Sometimes it helps for him to wear silencing headphones — when he’s suddenly overwhelmed by sound. Often as not, on a bad day, he retreats to a tiny dark corner of my space with his headphones on and won’t come out til it’s time to leave.

Last week he stayed with our activities pretty well throughout the class, and at the end, I passed out hula hoops. In the midst of our parallel play, I noticed Hank just a foot away from me, and he seemed to be watching. Much as we work on eye tracking activities in class, eye contact with or among my Autistic students is almost non-existent. But Hank seemed to be focused. And he seemed to be doing what I was doing.

Moving slowly, I continued moving, and he stayed with me. I eased off, and he kept moving. I stayed with him. Our space grew very small, just he and I moving together in a single sphere, trading leadership. As we continued, I’m sure there were moments when our eyes met.  There was a magnetic current of interaction that ran between us, such that Marnie, one of his instructional aids, stopped and just watched. When the music finally ended and I thanked Hank for dancing with me as we put away our hula hoops, my eyes met Marnie’s, both of us with the wide eyes of amazement.

And smiles of hope.


John Bohannon, Black Label Movement & big ideas

December 4th, 2011 · ··

Wow. This is fabulous. If your pursuit has to do with dance, education, science, learning, humanity, a new world order, WHATEVER, then you’ll enjoy this post from TED: John Bohannon & Black Label MovementThanks for passing it along, Maya Soto!


Defining success

November 23rd, 2011 · ·

Success is defined differently when I’m teaching dance to my students with Autism. Given the very unique ways in which these students interact, there’s a feeling of victory when a student joins me in what I’m modeling, allows me to help, follows my lead, works with me. If every one in our small class moves or stops together with a musical cue or joins me in a belly crawl, it’s almost shocking — and the instructional assistants and I trade startled glances. Success is when interaction — so natural with other students — happens at all.

And it means so much more if the effect of dance class reverberates for a student outside the classroom.

Tommy is 7 years old, and he’s only just begun to join our activities. A few weeks ago, we were working on body shapes (twisted, straight, angular, curvy…), and I read Alphabet Movers by Teresa Benzwie to his class. Tommy loves the alphabet! He listened when I read the book, he immediately tried all the poses, and by the second time through the book, he was taking the shapes before I even turned the page.

a body shape for every letter...

I excerpted the stick figures from the book, so I could do them in sequence with the kids to music (Pizz.ah! by Eric Chappelle on Music for Creative Dance, v. II).

Letters O-U

This week his teacher sent me a picture of what he had doodled on the white board in their classroom, while she and his mother were having their parent-teacher conference:

Tommy's doodles on the white board


Success!  So cool!

Comments Off

“Meeting performance standards at this time, with steady progress”

November 20th, 2011 · ····

It’s been 12 weeks since school started, and the dust is just beginning to settle. The term “ratchet up” came to me this last week, as associated with pressure. Such is the climate in education of late, midst educational reform, standardized testing, furlough days, and cries for teacher accountability. I’m wondering when — if — the pendulum will ever swing back the other way.

In my own corner, which happens to be occupied by the only full-time dance educator in my urban district (that’s me), Dance is now on every elementary report card in the district. For my first 15 years of being a certified dance teacher in a public school, there was one box, labeled “Art.” Teachers would cross out “Art” and write “Dance” — or I always assumed they did. Maybe they didn’t.  Then they would copy a check, a plus, or a minus into the box from the student lists I gave them. No one knew what the symbol referred to: behavior? skill? effort? talent? And I never received feedback indicating that anyone cared.

This year, however, a new electronic report card system has put Dance on the page — or at least on the report cards — all of them, with four Dance-related boxes per child. In 52 of the district’s 57 elementary schools, of course, the dance boxes are marked with “N,” for “not evaluated,” AKA “not taught.” In four schools, grades will be filled in at several grade levels (by my part-time colleagues). And in my school, they’re filled in for each of my 360 kindergarten-5th grade students. That’s 1,440 little electronic boxes, indicating achievement (1 through 4) in three standards unique to each grade level [a blog post from July has details], plus a symbol to show minimal, steady, or significant rate of progress. And comments of up to 1,000 words, where appropriate.

Having never done this before, and working with a system which is only in its first year of review and revision, filling all of these little boxes over the past two weeks took about 12-14 hours, outside of the usual schedule of classes. That’s after school and most of last weekend. I did the kindergarteners three times over, wrestling with the software and the scoring system.  I wonder if I’ll have any feedback indicating that anyone cares?

Meanwhile, a jumble of thoughts haven’t yet come to order in my own mind. Here’s a few…

  • There could well be parents all over the district thinking, “Dance? Why doesn’t our school have dance?” I’m OK with that.
  • Many of our parents still won’t have any idea what the standards are in dance, because the district hasn’t even finished translating all the academic subjects into all the home languages.
  • I did have a moment or two of satisfaction at finally having a way to communicate how inadequately several of my (360) students behave during class.
  • If I’m going to have to score my students on these priority standards, I need activities, assessments, and rubrics specifically designed to support the scores. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.
  • And how about a curriculum? As we put the structure in place to incorporate Dance as a full-fledged member in education, a K-5 curriculum would be useful. At least as a springboard.
  • If we can get the kinks worked out, report cards may be a new way to communicate about the value Dance adds to education.
  • I still need to sort out which of the standards we wrote are workable and which aren’t — so we can make recommendations for revisions.
  • Gee, I wish there were more full-time dance educators to talk to about this!
  • And, most important, how do we continue to ensure that dance class in public education is dance — fun, creativite, expressive, collaborative, and engaging because it’s dance? Can we bring it into the fold, without squishing it into a mold?!

If you have any thoughts on any of this, I’d welcome your feedback or conversation!


Dance / Panama

August 25th, 2011 · ·

It was a great summer! Among other adventures, we spent three weeks in Panama — and finally saw traditional dances on our last night in Panama City. It reminded me a bit of the dances we saw in Merida, in the Yucatan, several years ago — but quite unique as well, especially in the way the men hold themselves & their arms.

Anyway, I wanted to share. Not the best videos but perhaps you can get an idea of the dancing…

Traditional Dances / Panama from Meg Mahoney on Vimeo.

Las Tinajas Restaurant in Panama City does a great job of staging traditional Panamanian dances.


ALT/space: Teaching Artist stories from the field

August 16th, 2011 · ··

ALT/space — a lovely new site for ideas & inspiration!

ALT/space is a project of the Teaching Artist Journal — an arena for Teaching Artists to share stories of their students, moments of learning, questions and obstacles, reflections, and successes. I’m honored to be part of ALT/space, representing dance education in a public school setting and adding my voice among other arts educators and advocates. Thanks to the folks at TAJ for putting it together!

I hope you’ll check it out… perhaps you’ve read my story before on dancepulse, but some of the other voices have blogs too, so do browse!


Dance survey — reflect & share!

August 12th, 2011 · ·

If you’re a teaching artist in theatre or dance, I recommend this survey. Like it says, it takes about 20 minutes, but it’s a great opportunity to reflect on your own work.

There’s also the hope that it might support our profession by collating opinions / experiences in order to gain perspective on next steps…

Participants Needed for Research Study of Teaching Artists in Dance and Theatre

Title of Study:  A Qualitative Study of Teaching Artists in Dance & Theatre

Professional teaching artists in theatre and dance are invited to participate in a research study investigating the experiences and attitudes of arts educators working in urban environments in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The on-line survey will take approximately 20 minutes to complete. Participants may also be invited to participate in an interview or focus group that asks similar questions. For those participating in an interview or focus group, an additional one to two hours will be necessary. Taking part in this study is voluntary.

Please click on the following link, which will take you to the Zoomerang survey:

Comments Off

Dancing your own way

July 17th, 2011 · ···

My 5th graders want to dance their own way, which has as many meanings as I have students. As I work on expanding their interest in all kinds of music & expressing all kinds of ideas their own way, this video should help.

I’m filing it here, so I can use it next year to show them that dancing their own way doesn’t require R-rated music!

Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma

Comments Off