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The Arts In Every Classroom: A Video Library K-5

Teaching Dance

Two teachers with contrasting training and approaches to teaching bring rich dance experiences to students at their arts–based schools. Kathy DeJean, the dance specialist at Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans, promotes inquiry and self-expression in a multi-grade dance class. Scott Pivnik, a former physical education teacher at P.S. 156 (The Waverly School of the Arts) in Brooklyn, New York, uses African dance as a gateway to geography, writing, and personal growth for a class of second–graders.

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Second-graders at P.S. 156 in Brooklyn, New York, learn a West African dance called “Sunu.”

Two teachers with contrasting training and teaching approaches bring rich dance experiences to students at their arts-based schools:

  • At Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, lifelong dancer and dance educator Kathy DeJean works with an auditioned troupe of second- to fifth-graders as they create a journey in dance — brainstorming where they will travel, why they are going, and what they are feeling. The group explores how to use shape, space, and time to express these ideas with their bodies. DeJean also shares her insights on some benefits of dance education.


  • At P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts in Brooklyn, New York, former physical education teacher Scott Pivnik now teaches dance and movement. His class of second-graders is learning a West African dance that ties in with a schoolwide African strand unit of study. The children locate the dance’s country of origin on a map, discuss the cultural context of the dance and its rhythms, and write about what they learn. Then students explore the dance’s movement, first with their feet, then with their arms and upper bodies. Pivnik believes that learning and performing dance motivates students and promotes their self-esteem.

Featured People

Who’s Who

(In order of appearance)

  • Kathy DeJean, dance teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana (see interview below)
  • Scott Pivnik, dance and movement teacher, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York (see interview below)
  • Caren Plummer, visiting dance artist, Lotus Music & Dance Studios, New York, New York
  • Kojo Plummer, visiting musician, Lotus Music & Dance Studios, New York, New York

Featured Schools

Lusher Alternative Elementary School

  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Principal: Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger
  • Assistant Principal: Sheila Nelson
  • Featured teachers and collaborators: Kathy DeJean, dance teacher; Marti Dumas, fifth-grade teacher; Carolyn Cunningham, fifth-grade teacher; Amanda Newberry, theatre teacher; Warren Irwin, visiting artist; Megan Neelis, second-grade teacher; Eve Gitlin, third-grade teacher; Paul Reynaud, first-grade teacher; Geralyn Broussard, first-grade teacher; Nancy Lilly, fourth-grade teacher; Ann Rowson Love, curator of education, Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Louise Trimble Kepper, artist and student of Will Henry Stevens; Kathy Guidry, kindergarten teacher; Carolyn DuBois, fourth-grade teacher; Tricia Ruf, student-teacher; Adele Brown, fourth-grade teacher
  • Grades: K–5
  • Number of students: About 500
  • Number of faculty: About 49
  • Demographic information: Thirty percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Two percent of students are English language learners. The student population is 49 percent Caucasian, 41 percent African-American, 6 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American.

Lusher Alternative Elementary, a K–5 public school in the Orleans Parish School District, provides a student-centered curriculum in an atmosphere where each child is encouraged to develop academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.

Strong emphasis is put on a core curriculum with opportunity for development of individual needs and talents using varied teaching styles and strategies. Aided by the Annenberg-Getty Arts Partnership as an Art School Partner, Lusher upholds its school motto: “Celebrating Cultural Diversity Through High Academics and the Arts.”

Lusher’s Talented in the Arts program meets the needs of students who have exceptional ability in music, visual art, or drama. Students are referred by teachers and screened through an evaluation process by the school’s special education department. Students who leave their regular classes to take part in this program also are expected to keep up their regular class work.

Respect for the rights of others and oneself are of utmost importance at Lusher. Teachers use a positive approach to discipline through the Project Pride program. Project Pride’s four basic rules are: be kind, be responsible, do your best work, and respect people and property. At Lusher, the strong bonds of commitment and cooperation among students, teachers, administrators, and the community help provide a strong education for each child.

Information provided by Lusher Alternative Elementary School. Current as of February 2002.


P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts

  • Location: Brooklyn, New York
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Martha Rodriguez-Torres
  • Assistant Principal: Oswaldo Malave
  • Featured teachers and artists: Janine Eckles, second-grade teacher; Leonore Gordon, visiting writer, Teachers & Writers Collaborative; Scott Pivnik, dance and movement teacher; Caren Plummer, visiting dance artist, Lotus Music & Dance; Kojo Plummer, visiting musician, Lotus Music & Dance; Goldie Rich, African strand team leader; Allison Sicuranza, first-grade teacher; Diane Thomas, first-grade teacher; Laura Parkhurst, first-grade teacher; Suzanne Ramos, first-grade teacher
  • Grades: K–6
  • Number of students: 752
  • Number of faculty: 70
  • Demographic information: Ninety-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Student population is 80 percent African-American, 19 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent other.

P.S. 156, also known as The Waverly School of the Arts, is located in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood called Brownsville. It serves a student population of mostly African-Americans and Latinos. The school’s mission is to establish and maintain an environment that is stimulating, challenging, and nurturing. Parents and school personnel collaborate to foster a sense of well-being and growth among all children.

With a strong emphasis on individual, child-centered learning and ongoing student assessment, the commitment of the school’s faculty and staff to personal and academic growth has paid off with academic improvements, notably in reading achievement. Additionally, with funds from the Center for Arts Education in New York City, P.S. 156 enhances its curriculum with instrumental music, dance, and movement.

Close collaboration with local art partners who have specific expertise in multiculturalism and the language arts exposes students to a variety of arts organizations and activities. For example, Lotus Music & Dance provides traditional dancers, musicians, and visual artists from around the world to collaborate and team-teach with faculty. The Teachers & Writers Collaborative provides writers to work with classroom teachers in the use of creative writing across the curriculum. The local teachers’ union has established a Teacher Center to provide ongoing staff development to school staff in curriculum integration. These efforts encourage students to strive for excellence academically, socially, and emotionally.

Information provided by P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts. Current as of February 2002.

Featured Approaches

Benefits of Dance Education

Kathy DeJean makes these observations about dance education:

  • “Dance for children is much needed in a school curriculum along with physical education because it explores their potential in movement … on any size, shape, or color of body.”
  • “I get a lot of feedback from classroom teachers who say, ‘I can tell these children have been with you and had dance because they are more assertive — not aggressive, but more assertive in their thinking and being able to share their thoughts.’”
  • “Dance is a good experience for children who have a hard time sitting down. Once they come to movement and burn off some of that energy, they can focus on more sequential, factual information.”
  • “Boys do like to dance. I start them off using the word ‘movement.’ Some boys are beautiful at movement. They get to explore that. Girls widen their perspective. They see that it is not just one style — dance is about what you think, what you feel, what you see.”

Motivating Students Through Dance

“The motivation [for students to write about what they learn] is built-in, because the students get to do what they’re writing about,” notes Scott Pivnik. Dance provides other motivations as well, he adds:

  • “The nice thing about dance is that it is nonconfrontational and completely cooperative. You learn how to work together as a group to make a final product, and everybody has to participate in order for it to look good.”
  • “Some people are going to look at this whole thing and say, ‘How do you know this is working?’ You just have to come in and look at it. There’s a level of self-confidence that develops, a level of poise that comes from this. Deep down inside it’s: ‘Wow, I can do this.’”

Who Should Watch This Program

“Teaching Dance” offers good examples of how teachers can adapt their training and practices to teach dance, either with other subjects or as an art form. The program is a useful introduction for new teachers and can be a thought-provoking inservice training piece for classroom or dance specialist teachers exploring arts integration.

Other audiences for this program might include:

  • curriculum or arts project planners, to expand their ideas about how dance contributes to learning; and
  • mixed groups of teachers and dance resources from the community, to explore ideas for collaboration.

Before Watching

This program explores two contrasting approaches to teaching dance:

  • At Lusher Alternative Elementary School, Kathy DeJean used an inquiry-based approach in which children create their own movement. She encourages students to use the dance elements of shape, space, and time to explore their feelings and ideas about a subject.
  • At P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Scott Pivnik uses existing dances from many cultures. As children learn the traditional choreography and rhythms, they also explore the geography, history, and social context of the dances.

As you watch the program, consider the benefits of each approach:

  • In what circumstances would each be effective?
  • How would you incorporate each into an integrated curriculum unit?


Kathy DeJean

Dance teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

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, pre-kindgergarten 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.

Scott Pivnik

Dance teacher, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York

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.

Arts Education Standards


    • Content Standard 1 — Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Accurately demonstrate nonlocomotor/axial movements (such as bend, twist, stretch, swing)
      • Accurately demonstrate eight basic locomotor movements (such as walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide, and skip), traveling forward, backward, sideward, diagonally, and turning
      • Demonstrate accuracy in moving to a musical beat and responding to changes in tempo
      • Create shapes at low, middle, and high levels
      • Demonstrate the ability to define and maintain personal space
      • Demonstrate movements in straight and curved pathways
    • Content Standard 2 — Understanding choreographic principles, processes, and structures

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Create a sequence with a beginning, middle, and end both with and without a rhythmic accompaniment
      • Use improvisation to discover and invent movement and to solve movement problems
      • Create a dance phrase, accurately repeat it, and then vary it (making change in the time, space, and/or force/energy)
    • Content Standard 5 — Demonstrating and understanding dance in various cultures and historical periods

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Perform folk dances from various cultures with competence and confidence


    • Content Standard 2 — Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Perform on pitch, in rhythm, with appropriate dynamics and timbre, and maintain a steady tempo

Source: National Standards for Arts Education, published by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Copyright © 1994 by MENC. Used by permission. The complete National Arts Standards and additional materials relating to the standards are available from MENC, The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191, telephone: 800-336-3768.

Source, Dance Standards: This article/quote is reprinted from National Standards for Arts Education with permission of the National Dance Association, an association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. The original source may be purchased from: National Dance Association, 1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1599;
or phone 703-476-3421.