A complex visual representation – dance is a form of art and a means of communication through movement. Often presented conjointly with music and poetry, dance is a creative outcome of bodies moving through space and time (Kaeppler). The art of storytelling is as old as humans. Historically, the ancient tribes utilized storytelling as a means of entertainment and to foster life lessons among its people. Storytelling not only enables us to make sense of our experience but is also a tool to share that experience with others (Lawrence and Paige). While the body is the medium for telling the story, the language is the body movements. This paper presents how the two concepts i.e., dance and storytelling can be integrated and used to develop a program for inculcating life lessons among toddlers.
The concept of storytelling is most often associated with oral narration however, learning from our ancestors’ experience of representing stories on rock walls and animal skins, it can be concluded that storytelling can be visual or personified. Relating storytelling to an artistic expression like dance can be a means of unlocking our unconscious and bringing stories to our immediate awareness thus promoting mindfulness about the world around us (Lawrence and Paige). Dance provides muscle to our imagination, and not only illustrates ideas but also enables us to think, sift, feel, embody and ultimately internalize learning. Involving the mind, body and soul, we can dance our stories (Snowber).
Body movement is one of the first means of communication for a child therefore, there is a primal instinct within us to narrate stories through our body language. The integration of storytelling with dance comes naturally for children, it develops creativity and inspires confidence in toddlers by empowering them to deliberately engage with the world around them. The artistic expression of anecdotes is related to provision of safety, development of coping mechanisms and building healthy peer relationships (Bath). This can also be a form of play for children which not only helps them strengthen their imagination but can also be used as a medium to teach life lessons through internalization of the characters’ experiences.
Narrative dance pieces teach children to convey meaning through gestures and expressions; it establishes a new dynamic of conversation and helps children realize that dialogues are not limited to spoken words. By embodying a character, children develop empathy and also acquire self-awareness about their own actions and feelings. This mindfulness is especially helpful to impart discipline in children with behavioral issues and can also benefit the ones with special learning needs as they “learn to apply emotion to activity, expressing themselves outwardly without speaking – which requires some thought, focus and practice” (Sarah).
Young children often identify themselves with real-life characters or imaginary ones and with free bodily movements, they can break barriers, learn about positive body image and develop confidence to perform in front of others at a very young age. There are various life skills that can be learned through the art of storytelling through dance; children learn accountability as they are part of a team; they learn personal responsibility to play their part well and persistence while learning the skill. They also learn cooperation, acquire creativity, develop balance, become physically flexible and gain passion for the characters of their story (Shannon Dooling Dances).
With numerous benefits associated with movement anecdotes, a program focused on toddlers can be developed. Since toddlers are in process of language acquisition and development, such a program would enable them to express themselves through the medium that they are best equipped with i.e., gestures and expressions. The opportunity to dress up, playing imaginary characters and dancing can provide toddlers with a sense of freedoms as well as enjoyment with the added benefit of learning.
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Kaeppler, Adrienne L. “Dance.” The International Encyclopedia of Communication (2008).
Lawrence, Randee Lipson and Deninis Swiftdeer Paige. “What our ancestors knew: Teaching and learning through storytelling.” Nanton, Carmela R. Tectonic boundaries: Negotiating convergent forces in adult education. John Wiley and Sons, 2016.
Sarah. Storytelling in dance. 2019. <https://westendinschools.org.uk/blog/storytelling-in-dance>.
Shannon Dooling Dances. 8 life skills learned through dance. 2019. <https://shannondoolingdances.com/2019/01/16/lifeskillsdance/>.
Snowber, Celeste. “Dance as a way of knowing.” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 134 (2012): 53-60.