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The place of dance in a broad and balanced curriculum

Written by: Tori Drew
9 min read

The decline of the arts in education has recently gained media attention, with headlines like ‘Arts in schools: The end of an era’ (Tambling, 2019). Meanwhile, the Creative Industries Federation have reported that the creative economy accounts for one in 11 jobs and employs 700,000 more people than the financial services across the UK (Creative Industries Federation, 2017). Dance sits within the physical education National Curriculum but, beyond this, dance is key in delivering creative skills that use the body as a tool for expression.

Dance in education

A key part of One Dance UK’s work involves delivering primary dance CPD to specialist and non-specialist teachers. The biggest concern for non-dance specialist teachers needing to teach dance in schools is not being confident dancers themselves. However, teachers do not need to be trained dancers or choreographers to facilitate high-quality dance education. The right dance language and terminology can inspire and facilitate students’ creativity, without the need for teachers to model physicality.

Creative skills are built in dance through opportunities for students to create their own movement and dances. Dance in the school curriculum has been widely inspired by dance educator Jackie Smith-Autard’s ‘Dance as art’ model. The model combines the process of dance (educational dance) and the dance product (professional dance). The process of dance refers to the making and gaining of skills in dance, involving open-ended questions and tasks. Whereas the product refers to the dance you might see on stage or in music videos, where the final product is seen as the most important outcome. Smith-Autard’s ‘Dance as art’ model addresses both the professional product and the educational processes (Smith-Autard, 2002). The model allows students to gain the most from dance through lessons addressing and incorporating the three components of creating, performing and appreciating.

Creating and choreographing is at the heart of dance in schools. When students create dances in groups, there are added transferable skills involved such as teamwork and leadership. A student who is leading a group in creating a dance must gain skills in getting their creative thoughts onto other students’ bodies. Students working together on a dance learn how to share ideas and communicate effectively. Research into the perceptions of dance teachers and artists in Yorkshire found that creativity in dance was an important attribute (65 per cent), and 94 percent of participants viewed dance as able to offer pupils a chance to be creative in a physical way (Connell, 2009).

Every movement begins with a starting point or initial idea. As a teacher, you may be using a subject topic, theme or idea as a starting point, in the hope of creating a dance about said topic. In dance, this is called a stimulus. There are four elements of movement that can be used to guide students through the process of creating, performing and appreciating. Action, space, dynamics and relationships are the key components of movement, and can aid the understanding of:

  • what movement it is (action)
  • where the movement is happening (space)
  • the quality that the movement is performed with (dynamics)
  • the number of dancers performing the movement and how they interact (relationships).

These elements can be applied to any cross-curricular topic or stimulus. The stimulus can range from art, history, poems, stories and music to dance styles, world dance, news, emotions, nature, props, ideas and concepts. A positive way of providing breadth and balance within the curriculum is to use areas of study specified within the National Curriculum. For example, a lower Key Stage 2 class may be learning about magnets, which could translate into a creative dance exploration of force, and how the concept of ‘attracting’ and ‘repelling’ can be shown through movement.

The value of dance is also seen in performing, where students develop a variety of dance-specific skills, such as flexibility, stamina and characterisation, alongside a variety of transferable skills, such as leadership and communication, characterisation and nonverbal communication. One Dance UK’s work involves speaking to young people about what they value in dance, and often these children talk about how dance allows them to be free, express themselves as individuals and achieve their ambitions (One Dance UK, 2019). Some children may find performance daunting, and therefore, over time, they will work to build the resilience and confidence to do so. A performance gives students a goal to work towards and takes time and effort, which in turn develops self-motivation. Working towards the end product of a final performance removes detracts from any form of instant gratification, and enables students to celebrate successes as they master difficult movements. Memory retention is also strengthened as students must remember a dance routine over a period of time. Showcasing dance routines in assemblies gives the opportunity for others, including peers, staff and parents/guardians, to see students in a different light. Performing offers students a natural high as they receive applause for their dance, and the act of watching others perform can raise aspirations.

In order to prepare students for performance, teachers will need to ensure that students have performance opportunities in every lesson, which are scaffolded in a way that will increase confidence. This could start with one student showing a short movement sequence to another student, and develop into a small group of students performing a preview of their work for the rest of the class. This naturally feeds into the final component of Autard-Smith’s (2002) model: appreciating.

Sometimes referred to as observing and evaluating, appreciating provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their own work and the work of others, be that a dance created by their peers or work choreographed and performed by professional artists or companies. It is an important part of the creative process as it allows students to receive feedback from peers and teachers on the strengths of their work and what could be improved. Most importantly, the feedback should determine whether the initial idea is clearly conveyed in the final performance. Dance is open to interpretation, which enables creative thinking, as there is no right or wrong answer. This encourages independent thinking and pushes students to provide evidence for their own interpretations and thoughts, something that they are required to do in other subjects.

Appreciating dance also develops literacy and language skills, giving students a platform to verbally articulate their opinions when providing feedback at the end of a performance or sharing of work. Teachers can facilitate this through effective questioning – how did the dance make you feel? Could you understand what the dance was about? How could this be made clearer? How could the action/space/dynamics/relationships be altered or edited to improve the work? This allows the students to engage in an ongoing cycle of feedback and refinement, something that could be incorporated into every lesson to underline the value of drafting and redrafting your work. Allocating time for students to provide feedback also encourages them to understand and appreciate the views of others. Due to the subjective nature of dance, one student may enjoy what another does not, and it is a valuable lesson to learn that different viewpoints on the same performance are valid. As well as incorporating live performances of work within practical lessons, teachers can also film student dances to be watched back in the classroom for discussion and debate.

The three components outlined can be used to facilitate the creation, performance and appreciation of movement to cement dance as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. The focus is always on the creative process, with added opportunities for performance and appreciation, ideally within each lesson. This format could then be expanded to cover a unit of work over several weeks or a term.

A six-week scheme of work could use the Key Stage 1 science topic of ‘seeds and growth’ as a stimulus (Department for Education, 2013). To begin with, students could physically explore the concept of a seed; starting as something small and contained before growing into something bigger. As the teacher verbally describes the process of a seed being planted; growing roots; travelling through soil; reaching for light; growing a stem and leaves and finally flowering, students could improvise movements to convey this process. This encourages students to create unique movements that they feel comfortable performing, rather than just learning set movements modelled by the teacher.

Week six would be a final performance and reflection on the work created. Therefore, through weeks two to five, students would continue to create, share, reflect on and edit their movement, using the elements of action, space, dynamics and relationships. Tasks to consider could be using the movements developed in week one and experimenting with space to make those movements travel. The teacher could pose leading questions – can the movement travel from the back to the front of the space? Can the movement be performed on a low level (the floor)? Can jumps be added to increase the height of the movement? Students could work in different groupings to develop movements, or even explore a more narrative idea of two plants fighting to survive in the same conditions. To expand their ideas and movement vocabulary further, students could look at other aspects of the same topic, such as how plants require light, water and a suitable temperature to grow and be sustained.

This learning can translate into theoretical knowledge when students observe each other and provide feedback. They may begin using dance-specific language as they become more familiar with it from the practical tasks. The teacher should encourage students to comment on the types of movement they have seen, where they take place, the quality of the movement and how the group of performers work together. This process helps to embed classroom-based learning, as it provides students with a visual memory or physical representation of relevant knowledge. Cross-curricular learning in dance supports the myriad of different ways in which learners access, organise and retain knowledge, and promotes an inclusive learning environment.

The power of dance

Through our work, One Dance UK has seen first-hand some examples of the outstanding cross-curricular work that is taking place across the UK and, most importantly, how students are benefiting from this. Best practice has seen groups of local schools creating work based around a shared stimulus, before coming together for a final performance and sharing of work in a public setting. For the students, this is an exciting opportunity to do something different from their normal school routine. However, from a teacher’s viewpoint, it is enabling students to take theoretical knowledge and translate it to their bodies, developing their creative thinking as well as promoting good physical and mental health. It is providing platforms for students to engage with other people and schools in the local and wider community. It is teaching the importance of working hard to achieve something, and increasing resilience and confidence in the next generation, whether they turn out to be dancers or historians, scientists or sales assistants.

Dance deserves a place as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. If current projections are correct, there will be an increase of 5.3 per cent of creative occupations by 2024, which amounts to an increase of over 119,000 creative jobs (Creative Industries Federation and NESTA, 2018). To meet this demand, creativity must be seen to be valued within education, and ensuring that schools have a high-quality dance provision that develops creative thought, embraces the unique qualities of each child, establishes clear connections with other subjects and promotes health and wellbeing, is part of One Dance UK’s mission.

If you are interested in accessing more primary dance CPD, or to find out more about our resources and courses, contact One Dance UK at or visit


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