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In Other Words

Dance bridges barriers that often impede communication, allowing interactions to take place that might otherwise be awkward or intimidating. When we move, we use non-verbal cues to exchange ideas and emotions, and to convey feelings we are not always comfortable sharing in words. In this way, dance serves as a means of expressing complicated themes and issues that may be universally applicable. This accessibility makes gesture a primary means of communication for many English Language Learners, including facial expressions, posture and stance, and sound effect.

When working with ELL students in a dance class, it is important to honour the movement they bring to the space, by including them in the group in whatever capacity that you perceive them to be comfortable. Be sure to use a variety of music and soundscape that is representative of a cross-section of cultures and instrumentation. Mirror and Flocking exercises encourage observation and imitation, activities that build rapport, compassion, curiosity, playfulness and acceptance.

The most powerful tool I have witnessed in use is the Laban Movement qualities. These words qualify types of movement and build a working vocabulary for dancers so they may describe and notate interpretive and abstract movement. When given a word that matches a movement, ELL students can offer the word in their native language that corresponds to the common gesture. The eight efforts (flick, dab, slash, glide, punch, float, wring, press) are the foundation for movement analysis that activate the verbal, physical and visual language that describe the movement we use and observe in class. Each element of weight (strong/light), space (direct/indirect), time (sudden/sustained), and flow (bound/free) informs the dancer how their body can move. 

Finding ways to express ourselves in order to feel understood, to build connections, and to find common ground amongst ourselves, is what feeds our humanity and purpose. Movement brings us back to our bodies, grounds us in our relationship with the earth, with other people, and with ourselves. Dance is intended to be joyful, to be witnessed, and to be shared. May we all find a way to dance so we may create more joy to witness and share with each other.

Guest Writer: Erika MacNeil, is a dancer by training and a teacher by trade. Mother of two teens and owner of two mutts, Erika is also the librarian at Rogers PS in Newmarket, where she lives with her husband and family. She writes primarily flash fiction and poetry and has been published in a variety of media. She offers editing and content services for students, bloggers, and writers, and serves at Open Mic and Student Coordinator for the Writers Community of York Region. She has been a judge and critic for writing and public speaking contests and enjoys singing and painting when she is not in the studio or buried in a book.


Embodied Learnings Resource: 
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Embodied Learnings Resource:  
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