HNM Dance Centre: Learning Space

HNM Dance Centre: Learning Space

Spatial Literacy

In a uniform sliding motion, the dancers sweep across the dance floor to a slow rhythmic beat. Anh Nguyen, the Artistic Director at HNM Dance Centre, leads the dancers by verbally explaining and physically demonstrating the routine’s next steps. The dancers move across the entire dance space to perform stretches and warm-up movements. Using the entire dance space to move, stretch, and warm-up allows the dancers to familiarize themselves with the space and their relation to other dancers in movement. Bednarz and Kemp state, “being able to think in, with, and through space, that is, to be spatially proficient, is increasingly valuable and generative” (2011, p. 18). They continue, “Spatial thinking, then, was seen as an amalgam of concepts, skills, and cognitive approaches that allow individuals to use space to model the world, real and imagined, in valuable and productive ways” (2011, p. 20). Watch the video below to see how Anh leads the dancers in a choreography that enhances their spatial literacy skills.

Metalanguage of Dance

In the following video, Anh counts the steps of the dance routine to help his dancers keep count and time while also instructing them using the metalanguage of dance. Schleppegrell (2013) defines metalanguage as “language about language” (p. 156). Anh’s use of subject-specific words and terms as means of instruction such as “turn out,” “parallel second,” “first position,” and “high lift”  is a metalanguage that pertains to dance as a form of communication. Bannerman (2014) sees dance as “meaningful, despite its difference from language or discourse” (p. 66). Bannerman goes on to question whether dance is a language and writes, “Dance shares commonalities with language and that like language it communicates according to cultural codes” (2014, p. 66). Anh delivers the steps of the dance and the name of each move simultaneously, combining modalities, as he takes centre floor and leads the dancers. The following video is a perfect example of using subject-specific linguistic markers to provide the dancers with a common language, a precision-based short form of complex technical ballet positions, if you will, which works as a mode of communication in tandem with the movement of dance itself.

Peer Learning and Support

In the following video, while the dancers await the song to sound and rehearsal to start, they rely on each other and confer with one another about the steps and the routine counts. The following video showcases one example of peer learning and support during informal moments during class time. Topping (2005) writes, “[Peer learning] involves people from similar social groupings who are not professional teachers helping each other to learn and learning themselves by so doing” (p. 631). In the case of peer tutoring (PT) and cooperative learning (CL), Topping (2005) states, “both CL and PT can simultaneously yield gains in transferable social and communication skills and in affective functioning (improvements in self-esteem, liking for partner or subject area” (p. 365). While peer learning and support, or cooperative learning and peer tutoring, as Topping calls it, can be formally written into class time, peer learning and support can also occur during informal moments between activities and have the same effective results. Watch the following video to see an example of peer learning and support during an informal time in an HNM dance class. Note in this excerpt how those talking through some of the movements are also being observed by other dancers, allowing for a ripple effect in the learning process.

Let the Breath Move You

“Let the breath move you.” Anh reminds his dancers that their movements should not focus on muscle movement, but their breath. Anh, by having the dancers become aware and conscious of the air flowing in and out of their lungs, fosters recognition that movement connects their bodies and minds. In writing about the arts, Parsons states, “art making and responding is often thought of as guided by bodily experience” (2007, p. 534). Traditionally, the arts were seen as subjective, and as Parsons states, “the arts have been considered as essentially about the human heart and its purpose as the articulation of subjective experience” (2007, p. 534). While the dancers share an art form with the audience that expresses and expands on human emotions, Anh, by saying, “let the breath move you,” and “let go,” helps the dancers connect mind and body for a more holistic dance experience. Watch the video below to see how Anh leads the dancers in connecting with themselves and their space.

Another Example of Spatial Literacy

The following video features another example of spatial literacy during a dance session.

Positive Rapport Allows for Risk-Taking

Wilson, Ryan, and Pugh (2010) sought to study the relationship between student-teacher rapport and student learning outcomes. They found that indeed, there is a significant connection between a positive student-teacher rapport and student outcome. Frisby and Martin (2010) concur and state, “a positive classroom experience is associated with positive academic outcomes” (p. 146). Students who perceived their educator to build a positive learning environment were students who took risks, participated at a higher level, and demonstrated higher understanding and achievement outcomes (Frisby & Martin, 2010). In the following video, Anh’s encouragement and positive rapport with the adult learners allow them the space to question, experiment and take risks in trying different dance moves during rehearsals. The adult dancers confer with one another as well as their dance teacher when dancing. The class environment is open, encouraging, and vibrant with laughter and music. This trust and genuine rapport is notable as well in weekly Contact Improv classes.

Small Conferencing on the Dance Floor

After rehearsing segments of dance as a class, Anh takes some time to speak to and touch base with two dancers. He speaks to the dancers one-on-one, quickly assesses their need, and delivers a demonstration of the proper dance move and body posture, while the rest of the class practises either individually or with another dancer. Gordon (2003) points to one-on-one teaching and feedback as something that comes with an educator who has built a positive environment and a trusting relationship with students. Gordon writes, “Another feature of one to one teaching is the opportunity to adjust what you teach to the learner’s needs— “customise” your teaching” (2003, p. 543). Similarly, as presented in the following video, Anh quickly reteaches and focuses on what each student needed to know before moving along with practice.

Listen to the Beat

While the music sounds in the room and the dancers begin to dance, Anh uses a tambourine to emphasize the beat in the song; thus, accentuating the beat and the time on which the dancers must move. In the following video, the dancers move to the beat of the music and the tambourine’s sound rather than verbal instructions. Hansen and Milligan (2012) found that within music education, teaching learners to recognize sound, timbre, pitch, and timing heightens cognitive processes, which are linked to language learning. Similarly, when Anh uses the tambourine, he allows the dancers to listen and use their judgment in deciding the opportune time to perform each movement and at which speed. Moreover, Anh’s lack of verbal communication allows the dancers to connect entirely with the music and the beat.