BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Missing: The Other Half of Your Performing Arts Program

By Cary Markin
Missing: The Other Half of Your Performing Arts Program

I’m a performing arts teacher in a wonderful K-8 school in Montana. Every day I get to see the impact that teaching dance and theater has on my students. As educators, we all know what it’s like to make real connections and truly engage our students with learning. I’m lucky enough to have a job that constantly inspires my students. So it is with consternation that I see that most of the best international schools in the world are forgetting or neglecting the second half of the performing arts.
Performing arts has two main components: theater and dance. In theater class, students read, create, and view various theatrical mediums. I teach theater. I love theater. I know that there is no better way to build confidence and self-worth in students than by sticking them in a class where they can be free to express themselves—loudly, imaginatively, and most often crazily. Every theater teacher revels in the moment that individual students are able to break free from the invisible constraints of “I’m supposed to act/dress/talk/think like this” and finally express true insight and creativity.
The second half of the performing arts is dance. Dance is the ability to move and express oneself with one’s physical body. Dance relies upon theory, movement, rhythm, communication, energy, and memory. My dance students spend equal time studying dance styles and choreographing their own pieces.
Creating choreography is similar to composing a great essay or writing a wonderful story: introduction, topic sentences, supporting details, repetition of theme, plot, humor, and variety. When I get students started in choreographing their pieces, we brainstorm the same way we would for a paper: we mind map, free write/move, look for inspiration, mimic, and share ideas. When a piece is finished and performed, it is more than just a beautiful dance—it is a composition that required weeks of cooperation, revision, and refining.
In my current teaching position, I teach middle school dance and drama. Both are survey courses that cover multiple genres and performances throughout the year. I also get to teach dance integration to K-5 students. Dance integration involves combining academic content with movement. For example, second graders were recently studying extreme weather in their science course and we extended their academic learning with a dance lesson that focused on students working in small groups to create dances inspired by tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, etc.
In order to create dances, each group needed to identify and define their weather event, describe its important characteristics, and find movements that replicated and communicated each event to an audience. Some of my favorite dances have been inspired by electric circuits, magnets, Cartesian coordinates, angles, snowflake symmetry, poetry interpretation, water cycles, and the civil war. Anything can be taught through movement and students absolutely love to learn and express themselves in this way.
In the four years that I have helped develop the dance program in our school, I have seen an incredible change in our student body. It’s safe to say that dance is the favorite class among most students. Amazingly enough, it’s the boys that seem most excited. The story I hear most often from parents is that their son now wants to grow up to be a dancer! It’s only logical. Dance class is a time for movement. It’s the class that all students excel in. But one kind of student seems to do better than others: the one who has trouble keeping still. You know who I’m talking about—the girl or boy who vibrates on another frequency, whose brain works so fast that the focus is always somewhere else. The teachers in my school love dance class for many reasons, but our favorite is that we finally get to see all of our students excel, engage, and learn.
In the world I live in—that of a dance educator—it is common knowledge that children learn better with movement. Most teachers try to integrate some kind of movement into their classrooms, but few have the resources, facilities, or training to be able to do this on a regular basis.
I know, my administrators know, my colleagues know, and most importantly my students know the importance of dance in their life. I encourage you to consider implementing a dance program in your school.
Cary Markin is an Arts Integration specialist at Bonner Elementary School in Montana.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


03/12/2015 - Lise
Well-said. Multimodality is key to broadening our understanding of what language and communication is. By considering the many ways in which students learn - without establishing a hierarchy between those literacies and considering that some are less serious or better thought of as hobbies, - we practice true inclusion. We have to look at our students as already having ways of making meaning and creating knowledge in the world, and we have to value those literacies by welcoming/making room for them in the classroom. This is the way we are making it possible for students to learn on their own terms.
03/12/2015 - dboogiemex
MYP and IM Performing Arts has three parts: theater, drama, and MUSIC. Please don't forget about music. All three parts need to be strong in a school.



University Visits in a Post Covid World?
By Robbie Jefferiss
May 2021

A Ferry Crossing from Love to Loss and Back Again
By Kathleen Naglee
Apr 2021