GASP Model Integrated Arts Project – Performing Arts


Model Project: Move Your Body! Using Dance To Tell A Story

GASP Artist: Trudy McCreanor |

Dance is inherent to all humans. From the moment we are born and can hear and feel music, we move. Since dance is an art form that uses the body as its tool, the connection to the elements of art/principal of design is related to those of the visual arts, although different because the artwork is created with movements rather than a brush or pencil and paper. Line, shape, form and space are integral to dance in the movements of the body as well as the patterns in the choreography. Rhythm and movement, balance, variety and emphasis along with harmony and unity are demonstrated in creating dance art. Connections to core curriculum can encompass many subjects from history, science, math, physical education, and language arts to other performance art forms such as music and drama.

This project focuses on the third grade student who has mastered the eight basic locomotor skills (walk, run, leap, jump, hop, gallop, slide, and skip) and can use their eyes, ears, mind and body to learn new movement and create dances to express character and emotions from stories, poetry or nature. Fairytales, historical stories, poems, folklore and nursery rhymes are used to inspire a dance piece. Choreography can be simple to more complex depending on the skill and comfort level of the teacher. Dance as a performing art form, encourages social attitudes and behaviors that are supportive and inclusive through collaboration and group performances. An enriched environment is created where students can give voice to understanding differences in values, beliefs, cultural diversity and physical challenges through the exploration of movement.

Third grade is a good time for students to create personal fitness and motor skill goals and monitor their progress. It is a pivotal time in the development of students’ movement skills. In third grade students begin to focus on combining locomotor and non-locomotor skills into new movement sequences. Students combine movement in place, movement across the room and a sense of space and time as they sequence the movements to different tempos. By practicing combining the various movements and the elements of dance, students create and perform original dance sequences that exhibit variety and kinesthetic and visual rhythm. For example, they learn to perform increasingly complex improvisations and movement sequences more expressively by emphasizing the dance element of force or energy. When students create dance sequences, they can identify a clear beginning, middle, and end and include a variety of shapes, movements, and levels in space. As students work to improve their proficiency, they also create, memorize and perform original movement sequences with a partner or a small group.

Learning to compare and contrast dances from various countries enriches students’ repertoires of movements and their understanding of how dance functions in many cultures. This can be done through watching and learning folk dances from various countries or viewing performances of different styles of dance such as Spanish flamenco, jazz dance with its roots in African American vernacular dance, Native American ceremonial dance, Mexican Baile folklórico and Chinese dance. Cultural dance influences can also be seen in classical ballets such as the Spanish inspired styles of Kitri’s dances in the ballet Don Quixote. Another great ballet to view is the second act of The Nutcracker which portrays a wide variety of culturally influenced dance styles in the Arabian, Spanish, Russian and Chinese divertissements. When students evaluate the dance performance of their peers, they can use specific criteria, such as how focused the dancer was during the performance. And they can comment on how dance skills help communicate the idea and mood of the dance. As they gain experience in creating dance in collaboration with others, they learn more about the time-management, problem-solving, and self-discipline skills required for dance and determine how those skills apply to other areas of study and to careers.

There are many wonderful stories and fairytales that adapt to dance movement. Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Little Mermaid, or Peter and the Wolf with its delightful music, are great stories to translate into dance.

Arts Area and Grade Level Focus
Performing Arts—Dance with Music and Theater, K-5th Grades, with 3rd Grade focus

Connections To Elements of Art/Principles of Design
The body makes lines in movement. Choreography uses lines for groups of dancers to perform. Like lines, the body and choreography make shapes in movement from circles to rainbows and more. Precise and abstract patterns and designs are made within the groups of dancers. The body and dance movements learned are three-dimensional shapes that can tell stories and express emotion in a non-verbal environment which together create form. The use of space in dance movement is obvious as movement can be confined or expansive. The interpretation of a story, problem, or emotion determines the use of space.

Connections To Core Curriculum and Content Standards
Science: The concept of different aspects of energy—how the body uses stored energy from food as fuel (very important for the dancer as a healthy diet ensures a healthy body) and how that stored energy is converted to movement—is explored and reinforced. Another example relating to science is designing props for productions such as The Little Mermaid which engage students in researching and then applying knowledge of creatures in the sea to creating props and costumes.

Math: Through counting music and exploring different rhythms (4/4, 3/4, etc.) and tempos students learn the understanding of fractions as numbers, the concepts of area and perimeter of plane figures and the attributes of various shapes. Another fun use of math can be to estimate how many “slides” or “jumps” (from the basic locomotor skills) it would take to cross the classroom.

Social Science/History: Folklore, customs and traditions can be explored through the study of cultures and their stories. Dance offers a wonderful medium in which students can “tell” these types of stories and also allows them the opportunity to experience the unity and contrast of different cultures and their traditions.

Language Arts: Through reading stories and writing about personal/family experiences, students learn about themselves and each other. Students can also use writing to express how a performance makes them feel. In telling stories through dance, key language arts skills are supported and deepened for students including: distinguishing forms of literature (e.g., poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction); comprehending basic plots of classic fairy tales, myths, folktales, legends, and fables from around the world; and understanding the underlying theme or author’s message in fiction and nonfiction text.

Health and Physical Education: Because dance uses the body as its “tool”, the health of the body is very important. In working together to create and perform group dances, students learn tolerance, compassion, and community. In telling stories through dance, students learn about other classmates and their cultures and traditions including: identifying how to show respect for individual differences; examining why a variety of behaviors promote healthy growth and development; determining behaviors that promote healthy growth and development; and demonstrating how to communicate directly, respectfully, and assertively regarding personal boundaries.

Steps and Tips
Step One: (30-45 Minutes per session) Review basic locomotor skills individually and in combinations—walk, run, leap, jump, hop, gallop, slide, and skip. These are skills a child gains by age seven and can be used in choreography and games. For example, students can be asked to think of a basic locomotor skill and then of an animal or person that does that step—slide (ice skater), hop (rabbit), or horse (gallop). Choreography could build on the steps from walking to running, or jumping to leaping.

Step Two: (30-50 Minutes per session) Use basic locomotor movements to create patterns and display emotions and definition from vocabulary words, stories and poems. For example, words like “melting” or “shaking” can be found in science or language arts vocabulary and demonstrated by movement. Patterns can be created by making colored lines on the floor for different movement skills and connected in different orders to create original “dances”, or by using hula hoops or carpet
squares for students to express the locomotor skills and form patterns. Another fun way to introduce patterning and shapes is by playing a “freeze” game in which students form a circle where different shapes have been placed on the floor. Music is played and when the music is paused the students must make the shape closest to where they stop (see Introduction To Shapes and Shapes Handout).

Step Three: (50-75 minutes per video/live performance depending on venue) View performances of dance either live through a school tour performance (such as Peter and the Wolf, The Nutcracker or Little Mermaid performed locally by the Mendocino Ballet) or performances found on video (such as Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker or Carnival of the Animals). Because dance tells a story without using words, students are challenged to understand the characters, plot and the author’s underlying message by watching the movement and experiencing the story through the scenery, choreography and music. Students gain skills in interpretation and comprehension of storylines and their messages. Look to your local library for story ballets on video or online on YouTube. For live performances locally in Mendocino County you can check the Arts Council of Mendocino County for a list of upcoming performances. A little further away there are numerous venues that present live performances from the Wells Fargo Center (Santa Rosa), San Francisco Ballet and Sacramento Ballet.

Step Four: (30-50 Minutes after viewing the performance) After watching a ballet performance, discuss, write and draw from what the students observed. These reflections can be used in combination with discovery and analysis of characters, how a different turn in the story would affect the movement in the dance, what emotions were sensed and how students identify with them.

Step Five: (30-50 Minutes per session) Use the outcomes of the students’ perceptions to recreate characters, emotions or parts of the story. This can also be incorporated into a performance for families, other students or a special school occasion. This exercise can also be used after learning new “motion” vocabulary words, reading stories and/or writing about emotions and feelings.

Tools and Materials
• Dance music CD’s (see Resources List for ideas)
• Ballet videos (see Resources List for ideas)
• Stereo system or boom box (for playing CDS)
• DVD player/TV or computer (for showing videos)
• Books of stories, folklore, poetry etc. appropriate for grade level to draw from for character development or to complement a live performance. Mendocino Ballet posts activities and story information when they present story ballets in the spring for the schools at
• Mats, carpet squares and hula hoops (for patterning)

Supporting Resources
The Power of Dance Taught Well Handout
The Benefits of Dance Handout
Dance Shapes and Patterns Games Handout
• Dance CD, Book and DVD Resources—a sample of the cross section of music out there to use in the classroom (Note: Single instrument selections like piano work well with simple games and movements with younger students while orchestrated music works better with more complicated choreography and older students):
• Any music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and other classical composers
• Bobby McFerrin’s Bang! Zoom, and Medicine Music
• R. Carlos Nakai’s Native Tapestry
• Baba Olatunji’s Drums of Passion
• Putamayo World Music’s One World, and World Playground I & II
• Georg Philip Telemann’s Tafelmusik
• Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
• Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin’s Hush
• Herb Moore’s H2Overture
• Pachebel’s Canon in D

Additional Supporting Resources
Websites;;; and

• Journal of Dance Education, published by the National Dance Education Organization
• Dance Research Journal, published by the Congress on Research in Dance
• National Standards for Arts Education and Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California

• Nicola Baxter, ed., My Treasury of Stories and Rhymes
• Wayne D. Cook, Center Stage: A Curriculum for the Performing Arts
• Thomas Locker, Waterdance
• Susan McGreevy-Nichols and Helene Scheff, Building Dance: A Guide to Putting Movements Together
• Paul Rooyackers, 101 Dance Games for Children: Fun and Creativity With Movement and 101 More Dance Games for Children
• Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends
• Sue Stinson, Dance For Young Children: Finding the Magic in Movement

PowerPoint Presentation
Move Your Body! Using Dance To Tell A Story (Printable Handout)

Project Objectives & Habits of Mind
The major objective of teaching movement to children is having them be comfortable in their bodies. Using movement to learn helps students in their academics, as many studies from organizations like Americans for the Arts have shown (see website listed above under Supporting Resources section). Children who are regularly engaged in dance acquire so many skills—they walk tall, are not afraid to speak in public, learn tolerance for cultural and physical differences of peers. They gain self-esteem, poise and grace along with the physical benefits of strength, flexibility, and appreciation of their bodies. They are less likely to engage in drug or alcohol abuse. They finish school, go onto successful careers. Dance, even in its more pedestrian elements, can encourage benefits and skills that learned early, last a lifetime.

Objective One: There are many ways students can engage in expression of feelings, convey ideas or a personal reflection through movement. Inspiration can come from poems, literature, historical stories or even vocabulary spelling words. Words like “melting”, “freeze”, “gravity”, “float”, “under” and “over” found in science and language arts vocabulary can be demonstrated by movement.

Objective Two: Simple things like taking a walk and observing nature (leaves shaking, animals running or wind blowing) can inspire movement. Before attending a performance or watching a video of a dance performance, discuss the plot and characters to form an idea of what might be seen. As the students watch the performance, they will interpret differently based on their personality, family and/or cultural perspective. Discussion and re-enactment of elements from the performance gives students a chance to see the similarities and differences of their classmates, and with guidance, encourages respect and support of each other and their differences.

Objective Three: Many people are afraid to move—to stretch and explore physically. They are often uncomfortable in their bodies for many reasons including that there is so much emphasis in our society placed on “beauty”, “perfect bodies”, and not making mistakes. Teaching children at a young age to appreciate themselves as they are engenders them toward being more respectful of themselves and others as they mature into adults. Dance is a wonderful medium to explore the body, our emotions, and develop cooperative skills. Free dance is a tool in which shapes, movement and emotions are first explored verbally and then students use these elements to create their “free dance”, which is short, and performed individually. This exercise can be easily used at all grade levels, but if children are introduced at a young age, it becomes easier to express themselves as they get older. As students practice and watch each other, they gain skills and confidence. Every dancer falls or makes a mistake in movement at some point. Dancing comes from the heart and allows us to get up and do it again, freeing our insecurities and allowing us to “play” while we take risks by stretching and exploring physically.

Making Learning Visible
The best way to make learning dance visible is to be physically engaged in the movement or watch live performances. When students watch each other, create movement with a partner or view a ballet or dance performance, their bodies, minds, hearts and spirits are all involved on some level. When students dance, they engage both the right and left side of the brain. Through choreography created by students and teachers and presented for an audience (whether it is in front of classmates or more formally presented as a performance for families and friends), students gain the benefits of dance by being directly involved in the process from learning the basic steps to creating the performance. In more involved and larger scale projects, students can create costumes and props which can connect to and support learning in other subjects in the classroom. For example, for school performances throughout Mendocino County the Mendocino Ballet presented The Little Mermaid and the students from the ballet were involved in creating fish and painting seaweed (both based on looking at and learning about real species) for the production. They were also engaged in the creation of mermaid costumes which provided them an opportunity to explore design.


"Thank you so much for a very enjoyable performance. It is wonderful [that] in our small community town we can offer our children this cultural experience." 3rd Grade Teacher, Ukiah


Tips For Scaling Project and Further Opportunities
Adaptations to other grades would fall in the natural professions of each grade level by using vocabulary words, stories, science, math etc. to explore and create movement. In the kindergarten classroom, patterns would be simplified. Instead of telling a complete story with dance movement, students could link three to five dance movements together to express emotion or re-tell a portion observed from watching a ballet or listening to a story or poem. Students in the 5th grade would be able to link more movements together to create their own choreography or re-tell a story.

Locally, the Mendocino Ballet performs story ballets every year specifically for school children and teachers. The performances include ideas for classroom activities both pre and post-performance, presented online at Near Near and Arnold’s School of Performing Arts and Cultural Education (SPACE) in Ukiah also performs musicals that include singing and some dancing for children ( Further away, the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rose (, brings in wonderful dance and theatre groups for children and the San Francisco Ballet ( also offers a special dance series for children.

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