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Klaus Kramer

Dance didactics as applied to children.

Kramer, Klaus: "Dance didactics applied to children", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

It is generally accepted that children like to dance. And according to the intention of many famous pedagogical scientists, children have to dance. The founders of modern physical education in Germany already took dancing as an important part of education (Kramer 1977). This has not changed till today. Dance is regarded as an essential medium of education by many enthusiastic dance pedagogues (Artus 1985, Fritsch 1988, Jürgens 1982, Kramer-Lauff 1978, Haselbach 1971 and later, Lander/Zohner 1997, van Doorn-Last 1985). From a historical view, in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century people began to think about an appropriate way for children to combine movement and music within dance. Dances were created especially for children, and thinking about dance education was pushed forward.

1. Dance education

One can define "education" as a purposive influence of (mostly) grownups. Even dance education consequently has to be directed to certain goals or aims. And on this point, so it seems to me, we need more clearness.

2. The aims

The spectrum of aims reaches from support or promotion of creativity to self-fulfilment, from meditation to bodybuilding and improvisation, from integration of different nations into the host society to promotion of identity of groups. Or dance has to substitute the musical education or it has the function of a remedy and much more. Clearness and system are lacking in the target of dance education, as it seems. It rather leaves the impression of a pedagogical roundabout. Too many authors replace clear argument by ideology, and they neglect the factthat with subjects that you use as a pedagogical medium, you only can reach effects that are based on the subject. Concerning dance education: by dancing you can only manage to reach such goals of education as are inherent in the basics of dancing and in the different phenomena of dance.

But the question how under these proposals young people, especially children, can be influenced by dancing and dance, has hardly been treated systematically (Kramer-Lauff 1978). A didactic analysis of dance under appropriate aspects is missing. If we understand "didactic" as the "art of teaching", a didactic analysis of dance has to ask the following questions (Jank/Meyer 1991, p. 16):

- Why is it supposed to be good to teach dancing and what is it for? (= reason and goal)

- Who can or may teach dance? (teacher, students, relatives)

- Whom shall we teach or who shall learn to dance? (conditions of learning of the learning group)

- What kind of dance shall be taught? (contents of teaching)

- How and by which mediums shall it be taught? (methods and mediums of teaching)

- When and where shall teaching take place? (time and place)

- In what social context shall teaching and learning take place? (social education).

There is no space here to answer all these questions. We will only can try to give some spots and this very briefly. First, as is said above, I am convinced that the central aim of dance education must be to make the children able to dance - independently of anything else we want to reach by dancing. Furthermore you have to distinguish between goals concerning to the subject (i.e. dance) and goals concerning education in general. For example, the teaching of a certain technique within a dance is meant to be a goal concerning to the subject, and the development of social competence is meant to be an educational goal.

To give a point of orientation I have to say that the following points concern:

- the dancing of children, i.e. of grown up people between 3 to 12 years old,

- the goals derived from the analysis of the subject,

- the conditions of learning in relation to the age of children.

3. Goals derived from the analysis of the subject

No matter how one will define "dancing", to dance is to move. Consequently the qualification of moving has to be an essential goal. It is condition of dancing and goal of dance education simultaneously. And first of all you have to qualify the basic movements like walking, running, turning and so on. Under this premise I shall describe some goals in detail.

3.1. Coordination

Coordination in dance normally is not used to move an object, for instance to move a ball or to jump as far as possible, but it serves for embodiment of an intended form, determined by music and choreography, in any case by a typical proceeding of space, time and dynamic. In the basics of dance education the improvement of coordination does not need very complicated techniques as the technique of isolation in jazz dance, it suffices to improve the rhythmical performance of every day movements or the two step or the step hop (right or left), as we find it in folkdances. Further on coordination in dance has a social aspect. For if you dance, you usually dance together with other people. So you have to coordinate your own movements with the movements of your partners, you have to assimilate self- and partner-movement.

So coordination in dance simultaneously demands and supports the development of:

- body image. This is the notion of one's own body and its possibilities of movement. It decisively depends on the movement experience and the thinking about body and movement. This can be in a very simple way.By this way to dance leads to:

- body and movement consciousness. Pithily expressed: not the head, but the back has to know what to do. Exactly this consciousness enables the dancer to:

- movement-expression and expressive movements. S. Freud already realized, that every movement has a psychical correlation, i. e. a movement fulfils not only a certain function (for instance to take a cup of tea to the mouth), but also it is representative for meanings, a sign of feelings of the mover. This is very important in dance, because the dancer always wants to impress the spectators or his partners by his expressive movements. In this way he communicates either with his partners or with the spectators or with both. So:

- nonverbal communication or communication by movementis a constitutional mark of dance. When people discuss communication in connection with dance, they too often forget, that in dance body and movement are the central mediums of communication. Everything you want to express you have to express with body and movement. Therefore you have to build up this ability.

Furthermore the connection between dance and music supports the musical education, especially the:

- rhythmical abilities. Here you have to consider the difference between rhythm in sports and in dance. Within sports movements the rhythm is a result of functional proceedings of tightening and relaxing the muscles, derived from the goal (i.e. to throw a ball as far as possible). In dance the realising of rhythm by itself becomes the goal of intentions.

At least let me briefly speak about two basic categories, space and time, which have specifications in dance:

- space. Space is formed by dance movements; the dancer creates his dance room. For children it is important that they learn abstracts like above, down, left, right, forward, backward, circle or line by really doing.

- time. The division of musical processes in measures and rhythm gives an extraordinary medium in connection with movement to make time comprehensible for the children, for human beings do not have a sensitive organ for time.

No doubt there are many other goals one can derive from the analysis of dance. But here it was my intention to give a few spotlights, no more.

4. Goals derived from the analysis of the learning group

Dance didactic has to analyse the learning conditions of the group to be taught, too (see above). This is extremely important in connection with groups of children, because children develop very quickly and the conditions change all the time. This is especially valid for the development of body and movement.So we have to ask: what can we, what may we, what shall we or what must we demand, if we want to support the development of our children in an appropriate way?

To give a clue what is meant, here are a few some annotations to the marks of development of children, which are important for dancing, and to the consequences in teaching children. It is: a) coordination (in general); b) rhythmical abilities; c) ability to keep balance; d) movement combination. These points we have to set in relationship to the age of 3-6 years old (kindergarten), 6-10 years old (primary school), 10-12 years old (prepuberty)

4.1. The 3 to 6 years old children

For this age is characteristic:

- the perfection of these movements, which are gained till this age, i.e. walking, running, turning and so on.

- the ability to do the first simple movement combinations (Meinel/Schnabel 1987, 301 ff.). The first years are more for the stabilization of basic movements; from the age of 5 years they build up the ability to combine these movements. For dancing it is important, that in this period the formation of body image is beginning and first steps in space perception are made (Dordel 1987, 126).

- coordination generally. The coordination ability is on a low level, but it begins to improve from the age of five.

- rhythmical abilities. By appropriate challenges you can get good effects in teaching simple rhythms (2/4-meter rhythms). A 3/4-meter rhythm is rather difficult.

- balance. The balance ability is not well performed in the first years, but develops later to a higher level.

- movement combination. Simple combinations - so that changes between walking, running and hopping or jumping are possible in the second half of the period.

In general we see, that the age of five is a very good age to begin real dancing. The years before you can try propedeutica.

4.2. The 6 to 10 years old children

For this age the rapid increase of motor learning ability is characteristic – that is important for the reproduction of techniques in dancing and forms of dances as well as for production of own ideas and for improvisation in dancing.

- coordination generally. In this field the children show the biggest rates of increase of all their schooldays. The age from seven years to the beginning of puberty is called the «sensitive phase». In this time "the appropriate stimuli are answered by particularly intensive effects of development, which you hardly make up in later years" (Mückelmann/Schmidt 1981, 102).

- rhythmical abilities. During the first years the speed of movements is still a barrier in rhythmical processes, but then after the second school year (in the age of 7 till 8) there is an enormous increase in all dimensions of rhythmical abilities. The children become able to realize various step rhythms, to realize even the 3-meter rhythm, to perform swinging movements as well as crescendo and decrescendo movements.

- balance. From the 2nd school year onwards this ability is perfect, you need no special education; it is trained by dancing itself.

In respect of these aspects this time is the best to begin with dancing, especially the age from eight to ten years.

4.3. The 10 to 12 years old children

The age from about 9 years to the beginning of puberty is assumed to be the best age for motor learning. In this period children virtually learn every movement nearly straightaway. All the parameters mentioned above are on a very high level. Therefore it does not seem necessary to discuss them separately. But psychical and social factors are of prime importance. This should be discussed in connection with questions of style of teaching. But that is another chapter.


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