Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Kathy DeJean, dance teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

Scott Pivnik, dance teacher, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York

Kathy DeJean
Kathy DeJean has a bachelor’s degree in choreographic design and a master’s degree in performance/choreography. She also has extensive workshop training in contact improvisation, yoga, theatre, and other subjects. DeJean has more than 25 years of experience in teaching all age levels, prekindgergarten through adult, both privately and in school settings. She has performed all over the United States and Europe in modern and ethnic dance, musical theatre, ballet, and more. She has extensive training in music, costume design, stagecraft, theatre, and improvisational mixed media performance art.

Q. How does the auditioned dance troupe fit into students’ schedules and the curriculum? Is it an activity for credit?

A. The Dance Troupe class is scheduled every Friday morning as part of the weekly classes. It also meets after school two days a week and sometimes on Saturdays. It’s part of their normal school studies if they make it in.

Q. What are the benefits of grouping grades two to five together in the troupe?

A. Mentoring young and old together is a great way to learn and build tolerance.

The age span creates a “big sis/big brother” situation that helps developmentally, socially, and academically needy children to excel. The common ground is dance.

Q. What are the goals of the “journey” lesson? What dance standards does it address?

A. The goal of the journey lesson is to create and experience the process of working collaboratively and individually, then sharing the ideas in performance/showing. There are a ton of standards being addressed throughout the grade levels — too many to list here. See the National Standards for Dance.

Q. Do all students at Lusher have dance? Do all students have physical education?

A. Most students at Lusher, at some point, dance — some, year after year, some rotating, depending on the classroom teacher. All students have physical education.

Q. How do you integrate dance with what the students are learning in science, math, and other subjects?

A. Dance integration occurs through vocabulary words, concepts, anatomy, cultures, spatial relationships, counting, symmetrical/asymmetrical shaping — it’s everywhere if you are teaching holistically, as opposed to teaching isolated information that is not useable knowledge.

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Scott Pivnik
Scott Pivnik formerly taught traditional physical education. Most of his dance training has come from the school’s Lotus Music & Dance arts partners such as Caren and Kojo Plummer. He also has training in Native American, Chinese, Filipino, and Caribbean dance forms. He takes music lessons with a New York teacher, John Ward, and performs on the drums about twice a month. He has performed with the groups Kahlandayoo and Sewa Wekanda and has taken dancing and drumming workshops with some of the top practitioners in the world, including Moustapha Bangoura, Mamady Keita, Madou Dembele, Yaya Diallo, and Babatunde Olatunji.

Q. Has dance completely replaced physical education at your school?

A. Yes. Next year, however, we are moving into a new, as in brand new, building where there will be room for both programs.

Q. How does dance differ from physical education in the effect it has on students in promoting fitness, team play, and other goals of traditional physical education?

A. Dance has been effective in promoting cooperation more than anything else. That, in effect, has led to greater fitness, and then, by built-in trickle down, other physical education goals.

Physical education has never been thought of as an across-the-board integrated curriculum subject. Due to the multicultural nature of our dance program, it has been well integrated into other subject areas — reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Our school’s social studies curriculum has been brought into line with New York state standards through the use of curriculum mapping and our arts programs.

Because dance is now tied so closely to academics, there is a “seriousness” about it that was not there with the standard physical education program. There generally is greater participation by almost all the children. The activities have a purpose other than just having fun, and the children know this.

Q. If there are physical education standards, are they being met through dance? If not, how do you meet them?

A. Yes, the physical education standards as well as dance standards are met through our dance program, especially in the younger grades. The general dynamics of movement that are taught in the younger grade physical education program transfer over very well to the dance curriculum.

Q. What are the dance activities during the African strand?

A. The classes that are actually performing in the strand shows — first-graders — start out by learning specific African dances. Very important is a predance warm-up that is done to appropriate music. As the strand progresses, the classes create stories to be presented on stage, and dance is added, as well as staging and other skills such as public speaking and some very basic acting... .

The African strand is placed in the middle of the academic year so its presentation coincides with Black History Month. This has the added benefit of allowing the children to work together with me on appropriate dance and movement concepts for almost four months before they are actually introduced to the strand.

Q. What are some typical dance activities that support the strands for other grades?

A. All the other classes in every grade that come to me learn at least one strand-specific dance per strand. Upper graders are encouraged to create their own, or modify, movements and choreography for a specific dance they have chosen as a baseline.

All classes in the school study the culture of the strand in progress. By show time, all the children have a good knowledge of a culture that is appropriate to the strand. This puts them kind of “in the know” about some of what they are going to see, and thus makes it more interesting.

[Each grade gets a different opportunity to perform:]

  • The second grade’s presentation strand is fine arts.
  • The third grade’s performance strand is Chinese dance, although some of the third-grade classes instead take part in the Flamenco Strand Show with the bilingual classes.
  • The fourth grade does an opera performance.
  • The fifth grade performs in the Native American strand.
  • The sixth grade is in the jazz strand and does a musical performance.

This year, some of the sixth-graders were in the Native American Strand Enrichment Dance Group. The Enrichment Dance Group is usually made up of the most talented dancers in the grade-level strand. However, some of this year’s sixth-graders developed their own dance during the time we were all studying Native American dance basics. This led to them becoming the Enrichment Dance Group for the show.

Next year, our program, ever evolving, will include the best dancers from higher grades that have participated in the strand in progress in previous years.

Q. Are all dance classes tied into the various strands? If not, what do you teach in a nonstrand dance class? How often does each student have dance class?

A. Some classes involve movement activities that are not related to the strands, especially in the younger grades. Many of their early lessons deal with general and specific concepts of body awareness and movement, e.g., muscle isolation, use of direction, the location of personal and general space, and quality of movement (force, flow), to name a few. These concepts are explored through “make believe” and then are incorporated into musical aerobic activities. The upper grades, toward the end of the academic year, participate in a square dancing unit.

Q. How could a physical education teacher start introducing dance into his or her classes?

A. The first thing new “dance” teachers need to do is decide what type of dance genre they want to teach. Then comes the process of finding and learning an appropriately teachable dance and some background about it so that it can be determined how relevant it is to the children.

Q. How did you make the transition from being a physical education teacher to being a dance teacher?

A. It was decided, about seven years ago, that my program was to be called “Dance and Movement” instead of “Physical Education.” I had no idea at the time what was in the works. I started by teaching what I knew — basic, tried and true children’s dances, and square dancing. That first year I found sources for and introduced aerobic activities, including high- and low-energy workouts set to music... . And I culled from the physical education curriculum the basics of the movement curriculum that I have since expanded and use now.

Q. What materials do you put on the walls of the room used for dance and movement?

A. My room has a word wall that includes words that are usually but not always specific to dancing and music, a world map, pictures of native or culturally specific dancers in action, pictures of their native habitats, and pictures of our children over the years in various aspects of performance.

Q. What are some sources you use for information on African dance? How do you plan for a dance lesson or unit?

A. My initial source was our African dance artist, Caren Calder (now Plummer), who came to our school five years ago to teach African dance... . The drummer who came with her, now her husband, Kojo Plummer, came in with a type of drum I had never seen before, a djembe (jem-bay). As soon as he started playing it I was mesmerized.

Over the last four years I have been taking lessons and have learned how to play the djembe, as well as some other African drums necessary for this unit to expand. The strand, in its continuous evolution, now includes the teaching of some of the drumming rhythms I have learned to some of the upper-grade children who now accompany the dancers in the performances. This, too, will continue to evolve.

All the classes performing in the African strand also learn an African song appropriate for the dance. These have been obtained from Ms. Plummer, from my drumming teacher, and from my own research. I have been collecting West African drumming CDs, and some of them come with reference guides that contain song lyrics and written notation for the music. I also have West African dance videos that will help expand our program in the years to come after our grant money is gone.

I have materials for the other strands I teach, but since this program deals only with the African strand, I won’t list them here.

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