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Learning Social Studies Through Dance

It’s not unusual to find students learning social studies through dance in an arts academy middle school or high school. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to teach this topic.

Dance is the ultimate physical form of expression. It’s even recommended in somatic healing modalities to release trauma from the body. 

The history of dance is a little harder to pinpoint though.

The History of Dance

Since dance doesn’t leave behind any physical artifacts, no one can say exactly when it began. It’s likely that it’s been around, in one form or another, since humans have existed. 

At its most basic level, it has been a means of encouraging social interaction not only between different members of a tribe or group but among different genders and castes.

Celebratory dances have long marked occasions such as birth, a good harvest, or a wedding. There are many dances that have a vital religious component. There were even the danses macabres during Medieval times when the ill would dance to release disease. (Unfortunately, such dances often had the unintended consequence of killing the sick person with exhaustion.)

Look throughout history and you’ll find dance as an integral part of various rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations across myriad cultures. Ritual dance is a component of many cultures including African, Indian, and even Tibetan. And that’s just to name a few.

Some of the earliest depictions of dance come from painting in Indian and Egyptian tombs. These date as far back as 3300 BC. Given all of this, we know that dance has a long and storied history.

Embracing Challenge

The scope of social studies seeks to help students understand the many different types of people and events that have led to the world as we see it now. Inherent in these stories is plenty of challenge. 

This is also the history of dance. Dance is steeped in a background of challenge. It’s about questioning societal norms and pushing the envelope. So this makes it a natural learning tool for teaching social studies.

Learning Social Studies Through Dance

There are five basic elements in dance. Though social studies teachers don’t necessarily use all five elements, they often find some of them as a powerful means to convey an event in a more visceral way. These elements are easily remembered by the acronym BASTE.

1. Get Basted

BASTE stands for body, action, space, time, and energy. Social studies teachers can use these elements when encouraging students to discuss or analyze a topic.

What is moving is the body. What the body is doing is the action. Where the body is in relation to others or the surrounding is the space. When or for how long they’re moving is time. And finally, the quality of movement is energy.

In social studies, most teachers focus on actions and how they pertain to historical events or people. They may have students display different types of movements inspired by historical events or people.

By the same token, teachers can incorporate energy elements to help students process thoughts and feelings about past and present events.

Whichever approach the teacher takes, dance element concepts are a highly effective way for students to create, perform, respond, and connect with social studies topics. 

2. The Power of Cultural Dances

The unique music and movements of different cultural dances have been used throughout human history for multiple reasons. As such, cultural dance can be a significant part of a social studies curriculum.

Students can study these unique art forms for their rhythms, costumes, movements, etc. to gain a better understanding of culture’s history. How do these elements tie in with religion, regional geography, a celebration? What is the context? 

Looking at social studies and history through the lens of cultural dance is a singularly fascinating way to draw in students who are otherwise bored with the textbook approach. And it can be a lot of fun for the students too!

Is Your Child Struggling With Conventional Education?

If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that every student learns differently. For artistically-minded kids, learning social studies through dance or math through music, for example, gives topics more substance.

This is the thinking behind arts-integrated education. 

So if you think your child would thrive in this sort of educational setting, then contact us today to take a tour of our school. And be “prepared for possibility.” 



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