A Cultural Perspective: Thoughts on the integration of Dance as a kinaesthetic tool for learning in the school system in England, Trinidad and Tobago

My experiences with Developmental Dance Movement®

In Trinidad and Tobago and most of parts of the UK, dance is not generally regularly incorporated into the academic curriculum of nurseries, mainstream primary schools and special educational needs schools. The idea of particular aspects of dance being a key component to a child’s learning foundation is emphasised by the Creative Director of MovementWorks, Ms. Ali Golding. It was during my internship at MovementWorks, I was first introduced to Developmental Dance Movement (DDM), an innovative concept in the UK, developed and taught by MovementWorks in London primary schools and other learning and community settings.

According to the organization’s description of DDM, it is an innovative whole body learning, which encourages children to engage and practice fundamental physical skills which enable them to appropriately stimulate the senses; visual, aural, tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive in order to develop a strong foundation for learning which will be beneficial to the children as they become older. Children who experience the DDM programme tend to be more prepared emotionally, cognitively and socially to be enrolled in school and excel in learning because DDM helps them develop specific coordination and control of their bodies and the associated aspects of developmental maturity.

The DDM Programme is being taught to nursery age (3-4 years old) and reception classes (4-5 years old) across several London boroughs; Lewisham, Greenwich, Southwark, Bromley Wandsworth, Kingston and Essex as part of the academic curriculum. During my internship, I had the privilege of attending three nurseries, including a Montessori nursery, mainstream primary schools and special needs schools in South East London. I observed how beneficial DDM was to all children.

From my observations, some of the benefits of The DDM Programme are:

  1. Enhancement of attention skills

I observed that the students who engaged in good listening and keen looking performed well on the tasks and were able to imitate the specifically choreographed routines without any prompting compared to the children who were less attentive. MovementWorks’ practitioners frequently remind the children to engage in good listening and focused looking which helps the children to stay attentive. I also observed that The DDM Programme is structured in a specific way which encourages the children to engage for an entire session with the activities being crafted for change and progression. This caters for growth of attention span. Most of the activities also require much attention for imitation and mastery to be successful.

  1. Improved movement control

I saw that DDM was used to help children learn how to gain control over their body in order to reproduce the desired movement tasks. I observed children really making an effort to control their bodies.

  1. Development of co-ordination skills

The DDM Programme combines building an awareness of bodily movement with spatial awareness. For example, in DDM, one of the actions the children are required to do is to spin. This stimulates the vestibular system helping to develop body-environment awareness, balance and general stability. The DDM Programme also teaches co-ordination through the combination of specific movement patterns in a rhythmic, sequential and efficient manner. I observed that some students were not able to achieve this as quickly as the others, but are allowed the time to assist in this development.

  1. Promotion of social skills

I noticed that in every session the children were encouraged to interact with their peers in various ways. Most of the tasks require non-verbal communication and the children are encouraged to make eye contact with each other. For some children this is easy while others have difficulty doing so. Not only is eye contact a primary form of non-verbal communication, it is also an important conversational skill. The turn taking activities also promote social skills because the children are learning to interact and socialize with each other.

  1. Encouragement of social support and positive reinforcement

I noticed that the teachers were encouraged to physically participate with the students and also assisted with reinforcing positive behaviour. At one specific school it was lovely to see that the students have absorbed this approach and also positively reinforced their peers’ behaviour.

  1. Initiation of creative thinking

I observed that some of the tasks are quite thought provoking. Students are given the opportunity to work with their imagination within a given task context. Students are given the opportunity to contribute ideas which allows them to be innovative using their bodies, voices and minds.

  1. Learning Early Numeracy and Literacy Skills

I observed integrated academics being a key component of the DDM Programme. This made me realize how the traditional components of academic learning are incorporated into the DDM Programme. One activity in which the children were regularly involved required them develop a visual-motor pattern from left to right. I learnt that this pattern was incorporated in the activities because it is the essential direction patterning we must embody in order to read and write in English. Overall, these activities have shown me the possible harmony of traditional learning and dance.

  1. Challenging inhibition

Children’s inhibition was challenged when they were asked to lay on the floor quietly. Some children found this difficult and kept moving and fidgeting while doing so. However, this activity challenged their inhibition because they had to lay still on the floor and learn to inhibit other responses and impulses.

  1. Promoting Inclusion

For the first time ever in the education system, I saw typically developing children and special needs children sharing the same educational setting and doing the same academic subject (DDM) together. The typical children co-operated with the special needs children as equal peers and I think because of the way DDM is taught, it allows children to experience this unity. Looking in, from the outside, there seemed to be no difference among the children and they were all trying to achieve the same outcomes.

Developmental Dance Movement as an academic subject across cultures

In Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in other parts of England, the only time dance is viewed as an academic subject is when it is incorporated into the tertiary education curriculum. It is valued only as an academic major for persons who wish to pursue a career in dance. Dance as an academic major follows the traditional characteristics of dance such as creativity, expression, performance and choreography, and does not place emphasis on the characteristics/methodologies of DDM.

Generally, less curriculum time is spent on dance than any other sport or art form in primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago and England. From my experience, I learnt that aside from the contributions of MovementWorks in primary schools, little similar opportunity exists in the education system in England or Trinidad. I saw that the schools in South East London that I visited allocated curriculum time for DDM with the same value as other subjects in the curriculum.

Across both cultures, dance is most usually offered in primary schools as an extra-curricular activity rather than an academic subject. Growing up in Trinidad from my personal experience, dance was not taught as a subject at pre-school or primary level. However, I recall participating in dance performances for entertainment purposes for school functions such as graduations and carnival competitions.

My experience at MovementWorks has made me realize just how crucial and beneficial dance can be to an individual child’s development aside from it being recreational and for entertainment. DDM is used as a tool of learning for the holistic development of an individual. I saw children both learning and enjoying their DDM sessions, which shows the great combination of learning and pleasure which makes the approach more fulfilling to the children’s lives. I think that if something has such potential to benefit individuals it should be implemented across all cultures.

My Experience at MovementWorks

Although DDM is not incorporated in all schools throughout England as yet, it is certainly making a difference in the schools in which it is implemented. Before my internship with MovementWorks, I had only seen dance being taught to typically developing children and not from a developmental perspective, and I have been particularly impressed with how inclusive DDM is. MovementWorks should surely be complemented for their endeavour and I hope their efforts will be appreciated and spread to other parts of England and other countries including Trinidad and Tobago. I express great gratitude to Ms. Golding and the entire MovementWorks Team for a memorable internship.

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