Learning by discovery vs imitation

In life as well as in a class we learn steps and skills through observation and imitation. In a dance class a teacher demonstrates a step and students copy the step until, eventually, they have mastered a new dance move! While this is a beautiful and valuable thing, steps are only one aspect of dance and, therefore, imitation should be only one aspect of dance education.

Exploratory learning gives children the opportunity to learn the elements of dance through discovery. During a guided discovery, all of the students are making decisions, problem solving and creating. We may ask the children to come up with as many ways as they can to “dance a circle”. Some children may run in a circle, draw circles on the floor with their toes, trace circles in the air with their elbows or round their arms into a circle.


The sweet balance between limitation and free expression

If you have ever spent time with a preschooler, you know that they crave a sense of control and independence. Following directions is not what lights up an early learner! Young children are excited to take charge of their learning and choose whether they will float across the room like a bubble or roll across the room like a ball! Independent thinking and creativity increases motivation, responsibility and emotional engagement. This excerpt from Jacques D’Amboise’s book, Teaching the Magic of Dance describes the power of guided improvisation beautifully.

“In order to be free, in order to create, in order to learn, a student has to have limits imposed by his teacher. Students have to be given a framework within which to create. If you tell a class, “make up anything you like,” what you get is chaos. But impose a limit, “Make up anything you like, but do it in a one foot square,” and you have the beginnings of creative thinking.”

In Full Circle dance classes, we give these limitations in the form of contrasting movement concepts such as, “Do anything you like, but it must begin with dancing very low to the ground and end with a leap that is high in the sky.”

Having the freedom to be inventive fosters artistry and individual expression. Children will adapt the learning activity in a way that has meaning to them, facilitating deeper engagement and learning. The incredible thing about this type of movement is that everyone, from toddlers to professional dancers can discover new things through this process. This type of holistic, structured improvisation gives students a movement vocabulary that is dynamic, versatile and unique to them.


Planting seeds in early childhood

In addition to forming dancers who have an individual artistic approach to dance, improvisation is a skill that serves people in all aspects of life. Using problem solving skills helps people become better equipped to come up with creative and innovative solutions. In teaching children to adjust to new situations and challenges, we are giving them the tools they need to be resilient when faced with challenges. In exploratory learning, there are no right or wrong answers, giving children real time opportunities to appreciate and honor people’s differences.

Through dance and the arts, we can create a community of people
who have enormous respect for themselves and the world around them.

“The joy of dancing is the joy of invention.
When the invention is left out, dancing becomes mechanical and dull.”
-A.S. Neil