how DANCE is educational

Jenny Cyphers

A new friend wanted to know how dance was educational. My first response is that everything is educational. An interest is an interest, a passion is a passion, and that is awesome in its own right. In light of unschooling and the connectedness of being alive and interested and engaged, a passion leads to everything else in the whole wide world.

In college I wrote papers on dance as a means of educating, but it was kind of like educational video games disquising themselves as fun, but when you take away the graphics and game play, it's just another boring workbook.

I wondered this back then, and it still plagues me today, why can't dance be dance and acceptable on its own terms, why must it be viewed as somehow less than dare I say "math"? The arts in general have this stigma as being peripheral, somehow less than other things in life, like, "That's nice dear, your drawings are nice, but now you need to go out and get a real job," or "How can you use that skill to get a job later?" As if art can't be your life, as if it is just something you do in your spare time, like a hobby.

To make it more personal, I will share what I learned through dance. For as long as I can remember I've loved dance. I didn't get much opportunity to study dance as a child, but it didn't keep me from dancing at home on my own. By the time I was in high school, I was taking dance classes. I continued on taking classes in college while earning a BA in fine arts. After a couple of years, I changed my major to dance which coincided with a change in universities.

I completely immersed myself in dance. I even got a job in the campus theater as a tech, to support myself. It had the added bonus of being able to see dance performances for free, as well as being able to meet the performers, and learn other aspects of performance arts from behind the scenes.

Taking ballet inspired me to study french, as much of the terminology is french. Through studying ballet, I expanded my dance skills through many genres of dance, afro-cuban, modern, ballet folklorico, jazz, hip hop, as well as other things like tai chi and NIA. Each and every form of dance comes from somewhere, each style drew my interest and I wanted—no, needed—to know more. To know where something originates is to better understand what you are doing physically with your body.

I learned about costumes, I even had a small part time job working for the local ballet company fixing costumes. I learned about lighting and staging and special effects and props and scenery. I learned about theater and the history of theater and how it evolved and how dance evolved with it. I learned terminology, I learned about amp, volts, and watts, to safely plug in lighting equipment. I learned how to use tools and build sets. I learned about proper flooring for theater performances and classes, which led to safety and understanding about how our bodies work. I learned about physiology and kinesiology, and anthropology. I learned about various body arts like feldenkrais and Pilates.

When studying dance and anthropology, I learned about the slave trade and African history and the evolution of dance in the Carribean and South America. I studied about the Maroons of Jamaica, which connected to me in my own personal study of the history of reggae music, which also bounced back to Ethopia and Haile Selassie and Bob Marley.

I learned about music and counting and rhythm, and the beauty and conventionality of counting in 4's and 8's as well as those nice waltzing 3's. I also learned some not so conventional counting in 5's and 7's (you try it if you don't think it's hard!). I learned about experimental dance of the 60's and 70's. I learned all about the beautiful mother of modern dance Martha Graham, and realized in my studies that we have a common ancestor, which coincided with my own personal study of my own origins.

I learned about Loïe Fuller, who is also considered a founder of modern dance, who was also a personal friend of the man who built Maryhill Museum, which is an interesting museum in the middle of nowhere on a hill overlooking the Columbia River. There are some amazing sculptures on the grounds there. It led me to learn more about art nouveau and how it connects to fashion and fine arts and advertising. It also inspired me to learn more about theater lighting and effects, something that still inspires me and excites me. Loïe Fuller also inspired me to learn more about the women's suffrage movement, not that she was connected to that in any particular way, but simply that she was a woman doing her thing in that time.

Dance gave me a job that I could take my daughter to. I saw her use her body with detail and fine motor skills that awed and amazed me, and eventually sparked the idea that experts don't know my daughter anywhere as near as I do, and that school may just be wrong about lots of things (that's a whole other post about what led me to unschool). I learned how to teach dance classes and create simple choreography, which is really different from performing. I learned how to mirror movement for my students, which forced me to do everything left and right sided, switching back and forth in an instant. I learned the politics of parents and their kids taking classes.

Dance led me to meet my husband, John. It led me to everything I am today, and I actually like that person!

...And if you even clicked on half the links I just gave, and you hadn't known about them before, well, now you know just that much more about this wonderful thing called life. So, yes, dance is educational, if...
you can see everything in the whole wide world as leading you to what you need to know in life, thereby creating the unique individual that each of us are!

Posted by Jenny Cyphers on her blog "LIVINLOVINLIFE" on May 30, 2008

(Old posts aren't there now, so I'm glad to have this one.)

watercolor by Jenny Cyphers, at Robin Bentley's house

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