Dance, the Imagination,
A ll children dance instinctively. The word dance comes
from the German danc—to stretch. In stretching mus-
cles, children feel the joy of movement and of their
own growth process. But something more than the physical
body is stretched—the spirit and the imagination of the child
become elastic and vibrant. Children have an intuitive sense
of rhythm and a natural drive to explore space in a fluid,
physical manner. The addition of music creates leaps, spins,
and turns. An observer creates an audience and a built-in
sense of showing off and performance. When two children
dance together, whether in conscious relationship or not,
there is a duet. Larger groups of children dancing take on a
style and energy all their own. Younger children are natural
dancers; their development ties their emotions closely with
their movement. Happy children run, leap, take chances, and
feel brave. Frightened children move in small kinespheres,
move timidly, and do not take appropriate risks.
This chapter will explore the transformational aspects
of dance for children and how the experience of dance move-
ment has a positive and affirming effect on a child’s life.
Dance is the one art form in which the performer is the sub-
stance of the art, or as W. B. Yeats said, “How can we know
the Dancer from the Dance?” 1 Dance is also unique in that it
creates a way for the senses to know that which is beyond the
cognitive. Information from the body is assembled in its own
right and becomes learned at the body level. Hence, felt expe-
rience is known on a body level through the physical senses.
Expressions such as a gut reaction, a pain in the neck, or but-
terflies in the stomach imply that our bodies have an intelli-
gence of their own that is innate and pure and, because it is
instinctive, stands on its own.
Dance is the creation of a metaphor in movement. On
some level, all movement has a meaning. Dance always com-
municates and concretizes and makes real the abstract and
When he was dancing, Pepito felt as if he could be any-
thing at all. He could be a king, or a clown, a lion, or a
mouse; or a pirate with gold rings in his ears. He could
be a seagull in flight or a blade of grass, or the wind
itself, when it blows on the sea. There was nothing he
couldn’t be, when he was dancing. Was it any wonder he
loved to dance? (Fern 7)
Movement provides a rich environment for the develop-
ment of imagination and creativity. This creative environ-
ment, in turn, enhances intellectual growth and encourages a
diversity of ways of knowing and experiencing the world. A
moving child becomes a myriad landscape of colors, emo-
tions, feelings, memories, and sensual recall. When children
dance, they feel the power of emotions flowing through them.
A classroom that has dance and other forms of crea-
tivity has a spirit of its own—a spirit where children come
together to explore, to grow, to adventure, and to have fun.
Sharing feelings and sharing experiences unifies children in
comraderie along the creative path. A rationale for including
dance in the school curriculum or in library programming is
that it provides children a freedom, a freedom of expression,
yet it also provides a kind of matrix for their expression. All
children need to be validated for their creativity. Dance is a
form of creativity that can be experienced on a body level and
often seems more immediate and more profound to children
than intellectual achievements. Creating dances provides chil-
dren with an opportunity to discuss, plan, and concretize
abstract material. Planning a dance utilizes the collaborative
method, not just among students, but with the teacher being
part of the team. Therefore, dances can represent the collec-
tive consciousness of the group.
Elements Of Dance That Combine To Create Dances
Space Time Rhythm Steps Form Spontaneity Creativity of Group Process
In Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood, Jean Piaget
said that children form mental images through imitation in
their symbolic or creative play. Piaget examines children’s
play as a natural process in their mental development.
Through symbolic play, children image, imitate action, and
construct internal models of their own worlds. As children
engage in imaginative play, they interact both on a physical
and mental level; and, during this period of concrete opera-
tional thought, children learn best from concrete, physical
activities. Piaget basically believed that children must inter-
act through movement in their environment to learn, must
move, and manipulate materials. Children learn differently
than adults. Their total physical involvement impacts on
their cognitive developmental process whereas adults might
sit at a textbook or a computer and master cognitive skills in
a non-physically-involving process.
Dance is such a strong compelling phenomenon because
it not only engages on a physical level, but it captures the
pre-conscious imagination. You can feel it—you feel the
movement in the emotions. The word emotion comes from
the ancient French esmovoir, removere “to set in motion, to
move the feelings.” Thus, to feel, to have an affective state of
consciousness in which to have emotions, like joy, sorrow,
fear, love, or hate, is experienced. Conversely, emotions are
often accompanied by strong physical changes such as
increased heartbeat or respiration, or manifested by crying,
laughing, or other physicalizations.
What captivates young children when they experience a
dance performance for the first time? It is not just the lights,
the costumes, the music, the rhythm—it is the sense of iden-
tification when the movement is seen. When they see dance
movement, they identify with it in a very unique way—they
feel it. When they see a tremendous jump or leap, they iden-
tify with it; they feel it through their bodies. They re-experi-
ence it: the push off the floor, the flying through the air, the
landing on the floor—the style, the flourish. It is felt in the
muscles and tendons of the body, and makes its way directly
to the brain and to the heart of the emotions. This identifica-
tion of self movement, or kinesthetic awareness, is what links
us to our own sense of feeling on a body level. Kinesthetic
empathy links us to other people through felt movement and
identified feelings and enables us to have emotional rapport
with others. This kinesthic empathy is one of the potentially
greatest civilizing mechanisms we share as human beings,
and it enables us to speak and share the universal communi-
cation of body language.
My earliest memory of experiencing a ballet probably
occurred at the age of four, watching Balanchine’s New York
City Ballet. I can still see the passionate red costume that
Maria Tallchief wore in the “Firebird,” or the pale blue tunic
that Allegra Kent wore in Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun.”
When I saw their rippling muscles, I felt every nuance of
movement: the triple fouetées (turns), the arabesque penchée
(high leg extension), the leaps through space, being caught
on her partner’s shoulder, I identified with the movement.
Even though I had not yet danced these steps or danced en
pointe, my kinesthetic awareness was so acute as to imagine
and feel the dancer flying through the air, landing on her
partner’s shoulder, raising her leg in a stylish attitude, even
though my legs were not as long or highly trained as hers,
nor did I then have the same technical skill. To this day, I am
still able to feel the dance. And as I experience it in the mind’s
eye of my body, I am able to remember it, and to replay it
again and again.
KINESTHETIC EMOTIONAL IMAGINATION COGNITION
In Multiple Frames of Intelligence, Howard Gardner states
that he believes the kinesthetic is one of the seven affective
domains of human intelligence. Intelligence is not just a bot-
tom-line cumulative number on a standardized I.Q. test but
is made up of the possible combinations of talents and gifts
in the fields of linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spa-
tial, bodily-kinesthetic, personal intelligences (one directed
toward other people, one directed toward self (xi).
His 1992 edition postulates the possibility of two other
domains, the spiritual and the political. Children may be
gifted dancers or athletes, or have superb manual dexterity.
They could also learn well from observing movement, as they
see it and are facile to understand on a body level. Students
like this are quick to pick up steps, learn sports well, and
have keen physical dexterity. These students not only learn
well physically, but exhibit a great deal of emotional rapport
with other dancers, athletes, and movers.
In focusing educational goals primarily on a cognitive
intellectual level, we potentially miss developing a child’s
great gifts in the other domains of the total spectrum of chil-
dren’s intelligences. We must educate the whole child, not
just the apparent intellectual prowess that performs well on
quizzes, exams, puzzles, or building blocks. Gardner’s blue-
print for whole-child mapping encourages us to set up situa-
tions where children can explore the diverse realities of life
and deal with varying situations with appropriate tools. Chil-
dren who are not in touch with their feelings and interior
landscape can become intellectual automatons and mono-
chromatic in their ability to process and experience life.
When we expect children to sit still and think, the child
sitting at the desk without moving or fidgeting does not nec-
essarily have better concentration than a child who is wig-
gling, or moving about organically. In the child’s world, the
whole body is involved in the thought process. When an
infant reacts, she reacts with her whole body, beholding her
mother. A child who does not attend to a task with mono-
chromatic concentration and singular attentiveness may be
diagnosed attention deficit disordered. In fact, the child may
not have an affinity for channeling her inner energies toward
one conceptual goal. A physical involvement more com-
pelling than a mental effort helps harness and guide this
youthful energy into a cohesive force that the child can moni-
tor and utilize. Dance, which embraces the emotions, imagi-
nation, creativity, and physical exertion, provides a perfect
medium for such a channeling of energy.
The land of uncharted emotions can seem very strange
to a child. Anger or rage can be entirely consuming feelings.
Joy is a spontaneous movement that radiates out from the
center of the being. Helping students get in touch with their
feelings of anger or frustration is the first step toward self
impulse control. Children can learn to feel if they are becom-
ing angry before they act out in some rash way, and they can
learn to monitor and to understand these feelings through
sensing the development of movement within them. Rudolph
Laban referred to this pre-movement sensing as a pre-effort—
an impulse that occurs within the body before the movement
is initiated.2 There might be a tensing in the back of the neck,
heightened breathing, the adrenalin release of anger, or the
mellowing and relaxing of happiness and contentment,
the softening and letting go—the warmth in the pit of the
stomach, the heightened sensing of hearing, the sweaty
palms of fear. Obviously, every child reacts somewhat differ-
ently to basic strong emotions; however, what is important is
that children come to recognize their own inner dynamics, or
interior landscapes of their dialogue with their own selves
and the physical bodies of their emotions.
Dance is truly another way of knowing and processing infor-
mation. Children who know themselves through dance come
to know themselves in a deeper and more meaningful way.
They not only know how their bodies move and respond to
such stimuli as music, space, rhythm, and time; they also
come to know their inner feelings, which motivate them to
move with so many creative qualities. They can take the
abstract and internalize it, then spontaneously create a physi-
cal form for it. They can start with a physical format and
create a myriad of inner visions as they not only move, but are
moved in the process.
Three-dimensional learning occurs when a child learns
fluidly in a setting that encompasses a physicalized participa-
tion in the environment. Dance is a perfect medium for this
because it not only exists on a physical level, but also in a
metaphoric and an imaginative realm as well. As the move-
ments are performed, the mover creates an inner dialogue (or
landscape) where images flow freely from one to the other.
These images from the imagination become very real, and
can be reproduced and replayed from memory. The move-
ment as performed is able to simulate the image-making
process. There may be the same re-occurring memory images
or new ones may be created. Therefore, dance is a way of
connecting the world of external reality (the physical moving
body) with the virtual reality inside our own heads. Dance is a
way of processing information through the imagination and
the personal internal imaging system. The student may dance
steps “run, run, run, leap,” but in her mind, she may see and
feel that she is a deer running through the woods. As she
runs, she visualizes the entire landscape of a wooded glen, the
trees, the stream, other animals, sounds, smells. The senses
feed into provoking other creative images that are developed
very clearly within the mind’s eye of the imagination.
As the dancer moves within the environment, she imag-
ines herself to be part of the landscape. This vision of the
scene is held and envisioned clearly in the dancer’s mind. As
she moves within the environment she sees, she steps into it,
like entering hyperspace or a holographic reality. As the child
is communicating within her environment, she is communi-
cating within herself. However, this is not just a one-sided
communication because the observer sees the environment
too! The more intensely the child sees her environment and
interacts with it, the more clearly the observer is able to
observe the performer’s world. The more real the image is of
what the observer is seeing, the more convincing the per-
formance will be, through kinesthetic identification. If the
dancer really sees the large pool or lovely garden, smells the
flowers, dances joyfully through the meadow; so will the
audience experience the delights of a spring day—experience
the flowers and feel the warmth of the gentle breeze through
watching the dancer re-live the reality in her mind’s eye of
her imagination. This occurs because of the kinesthetic trans-
fer of experience between the dancer or mover and the audi-
ence (observer). The observer takes in the spectacle of move-
ment not only with the mind’s eye, but also it gets transferred
and transformed to other realms of three-dimensional know-
ing—the mind, the heart, the body, the soul. Not only can we
see the dancer leap across the stage and over the imaginary
brook, but we can feel, and re-live it; that is, experience
kinesthetically, imagine, the musculature and sensations
involved to master that moment of movement.
DANCE AND KINESTHETIC MEMORY
Movement is a strong sensual memory activator, just as other
sensual awareness can conjure recall and powerful reminis-
cences. For example, the smell of chocolate chip cookies,
warm from the oven, may remind us of a wonderful teacher
who years ago made a splendid batch of aromatic, fresh,
warm cookies for a birthday. Hearing a catchy theme song
may remind us that our favorite program is about to come
on. Touching the softness of a piece of dandelion fluff may
remind us of our pet cat when it was a soft little kitten. Move-
ment in its own right is a powerful sense collector. Body
memory is held deep in the muscles and sinews and released
when a combination of movements trigger a familiar path-
way that encoded it in the first place. When we perform cer-
tain movements that may have been in our memory bank
from our movement repertoire, they rekindle and remind us
of the prior experience. A child moving her legs around in a
circular fashion may bring back memories of riding on a bike
and the memory of a bad fall and a scraped knee. Rocking
back and forth may conjure feelings of being held by
grandma, sitting on a rocker, and a feeling of safety.
DANCE AND MEMORY
How do children remember dances? They are remembered in
both visual and kinesthetic memory. Visually, the child may
see the whole sequence like a movie animation. The child may
remember her part in relation to the other dancers, or just
her own part. When the child remembers kinesthetically, the
sensation is felt strongly on a physical level; and the child is
able to match her current conscious body with movement
that is remembered in her kinesthetic memory bank. Thus,
the movement feels right when it is reproduced correctly, the
same way as it was learned.
Other senses help in movement memory. The familiarity
of the music reminds us of the dance’s movement in relation-
ship to the sound. Rhythm and cognitive awareness through
counting and tempo may help to match the movement to a
specific beat or place in the music. This physical way of
knowing is a transferable skill to many other processes of
learning. A classroom that has dance and other forms of crea-
tivity has a spirit of its own—a spirit where children come
together to explore, to grow, to adventure, and to have fun.
Sharing feelings, sharing experiments, sharing the adventur-
ous path of creativity are some of the rewards of dance for
HOW MOTION EVOKES MEMORY
EMOTION COGNITION l
AND THE RECIPROCAL IS TRUE:
A POWERFUL MEMORY CAN PRODUCE
A MEANINGFUL MOVEMENT
COGNITION EMOTION l
FUELS T ODUCES
FUELS TH RODUCES
FUELS THE PRODUCES
Rhythm is a powerful organizing element to a child as a
young nervous system establishes itself. Rhythm is a con-
tainer of time—of beats per second. It involves pattern, repe-
tition, surprises, and counting. Children enjoy learning
rhythm. Hearing the beat in dance music and watching its
enactment in dance is good mental exercise; so are creating
new rhythms and listening to different rhythms to identify,
perceive, hear and feel them. Rhythm is useful in training
special education children. Everyone can come together on
the BEAT, and this rhythmic organization is unifying to indi-
viduals who are having trouble organizing themselves and to
the group to promote togetherness.
Movement can take place in a great deal of space or hardly
any space at all. Children can dance in a huge room or in the
tiniest compartment by their desks or chairs. Sometimes,
even finger dance is appropriate; or hand dancing, expressing
oneself right at your chair. Space to move in is a given nat-
ural resource to a group of young movers, but it is also rela-
tive. A large space is not necessarily optimal, because a vast
open area can either be empowering or overly stimulating
and solicit a great deal of energized running around and ran-
dom movement. Too much space, swimming in a sea of
space, can be overwhelming and intimidating and have the
reverse effect of stymieing the child to not move at all. Close
teacher supervision can help decide which use of space is
inherently better for students. If a space is really large, chil-
dren will run out into it, running wildly to try to fill it, and
they will exhaust themselves in a short time. This can be
dealt with by dividing it into stations or areas—for example,
the areas where children move slow or fast or smooth and
connected and sudden. The slow area can be assigned to a
specific emotion—slow can be assigned to sad, fast can be
happy or in a rush, etc. However, just the movement itself
will evoke emotions, the body prompts the mind to describe
how it feels. Children will say, slow: “I feel stuck,” or “I feel
sleepy,” or “I feel like I’m sneaking up somewhere really
quiet.” Fast: Children may respond: “I feel rushed—I’m late,”
or “I’m running in a race,” or “I’m a mosquito buzzing
around really fast.”
All movements have a corresponding mental vocabu-
lary; however, there is not necessarily a direct one-to-one cor-
relation. Movement interpretation is totally relative to its situa-
tional context. If Ami is moving quickly during an
improvisation, this may be within her standard movement
vocabulary and nothing particularly new. She is accustomed
to running and jumping, climbing and taking risks. However,
if Soli is moving quickly and jumping and running, it may be
new to his movement vocabulary, if his normal movement
style consists of being physically timid, not taking risks, and
staying in the background.
Making up dances involves combinations of patterned move-
ments. Children love teaching each other steps. Patterns
should be kept simple. Ideas can be shared in a collective
work. The feeling of success comes in completion of a dance
through experimentation and group process. There is a great
deal of problem solving involved. Frequently a step has to be
invented to fill in a blank or cover space. As they explore pos-
sibilities, create new steps, and teach them to each other,
children expand their movement repertoire.
There is a delicate balance when improvising between syn-
chrony vs. chaos—moving together and moving in dishar-
mony. Some children feel controlled and out of sync when
they perform a unison movement. Other children find it em-
powering to be part of the whole group and dance in unison.
Children need a lot of time for exploring and expressing
themselves, as well as showing off or displaying their new tal-
ents. There is power in the uniqueness of each movement.
Steps or movements can be strung together in Add-A-Dance
style. Children are validated as each step is included, or as
they take a chance dancing in the center of the group. If chil-
dren are all doing the same movement together, it should be
one that they all can do!
Technique is gaining physical skills to help make children’s
dancing more expressive and physically compelling. Dancers
need to grow physically through stretching, limbering, and
gaining new ideas. Form implies that there is a way of doing
a movement that is closer to a perfect ideal of a step, some-
thing that all dancers aspire to. Style occurs when a personal-
ized signature of movement is overlaid on correct form with a
personalized emblematic signature. Technique can come
from the teacher modeling a new movement; however, teach-
ers must be very familiar with dance for children and remem-
ber that the young body responds differently from the adult’s
in terms of strength, bearing, coordination, stamina, and
other physical skills.
Children with developmental delays or neurological chal-
lenges particularly appreciate the way movement feels in
their systems. Creative movement and dance are totally
encompassing. For special learners, it is important that there
is no right or wrong way to move. True self-expression and
self-actualization in terms of child-generated movement are
the goals to be achieved. Movement creates new and exciting
patterns that stimulate the brain. It is a powerful way of
accessing consciousness and enhancing the learning abilities
of special learners.
Kids with physical challenges love movement as much
as any other kids. Hearing or visually impaired children
really enjoy free dance. Sometimes a student may be paired
with another student, particularly with the use of wheel-
chairs. Since all creative choices are validated, all movers fit
in well to the improvisational ensemble.
MOVEMENT IN CONTEXT
The motivation of movement is highly varied. A movement
per se cannot be interpreted in any one correct way. Seeing a
child running may have several interpretations. A child may
be running happily toward a friend; a child may be running
away from a scary barking dog. A child may be running a
race with a great determination to win. The movement is
interpreted on many levels—an outside observer can see and
interpret or misinterpret the movement. (I thought you were
running to me happily; now as you get closer, I see that you
are being pursued by an angry dog.) The participant can mis-
interpret her own movement, as well, by misinterpreting
signals the body is sending the brain.
Ethnic dances are a good way to bridge the cultural gap
among students. Greek dances or African or Japanese are
wonderfully captivating. Looking at pictures, building char-
acters and painting scenery, are all activities that contribute
to a multi-cultural environment. Finding and learning ethnic
music really captures the mood and flair. For children sing-
ing and playing this music, recording it onto tape is par-
ticularly appealing. Children love using something they have
created for a later rehearsal or performance.
Of course, many children are familiar with popular contem-
porary styles of dance; so why not use them in the class-
room? These dances tend to be societally based, with adult
social themes and values, not necessarily relevant to the mis-
sion of the classroom. This is particularly true of some of the
music and lyrics accompanying these dances. Since these
dances are so mainstream, they may be a good jumping-off
point for many children; however, more original and child-
centered dances can certainly be explored.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS ON DANCE
There are many unique and wonderful books that present
aspects of dance in children’s lives. Topics range anywhere
from how-to techniques, to role models, to fantasy, to books
on the creative aspect of dance. This world of children’s liter-
ature encompasses books that can inspire as well as intimi-
date or reinforce dangerous sterotypes. As I read through
hundreds of books for children on dance, I looked for clarity,
inspiration, education, humor, and creativity. Some of the
selections on this list are classics; some are new. Most are
readily available in public libraries, bookstores, or school
library media center collections. There are many books that
were omitted not out of lack of merit, but lack of space.
In the 1970s, books on dance were primarily about bal-
let and ballet dancers. They represented the strict sense of
discipline necessary for children to pursue ballet. Many illus-
trations were rendered in monochrome sketch style. A few
books had clearly photographed young dancers in anatomi-
cally correct form and line. Dance books of this time implied
a certain philosophy: that only through hard work, persever-
ance, sacrifice, and discipline could a child become a ballet
dancer. For the most part, these books were for little girls
who wanted to become dancers and dreamed of being in
elaborate ballets with magical sets and fanciful costumes.
These books appealed to children and parents who could
afford to take them to private dance lessons. Ballet class was
something that was definitely an extra-curricular activity at a
special school where parents of means could afford to take
GENDER AND INDIVIDUALITY
The decade of the 1980s brought some books that were more
enlightened in terms of boys as central figures in books about
The book I Love to Dance, by Gerry Zeck, is a true story
about 10-year-old Tony Jones, a student at the School of the
Minnesota Dance Theater in Minneapolis. Tony has a passion
for ballet and loves to leap. He says “Some days I feel like I
could stay in the air forever. That’s where leaping is such
great fun. That’s when I’m feeling the happiest” (43). This
exuberant photo essay shows Tony hard at work to achieve
his goal to become a dancer with the American Ballet The-
ater in New York City. He practices the same steps that were
made up 200–300 years ago, to achieve the concept of perfect
form. “People are always telling me that dancing sounds like
a lot of work, but the harder I work at it, the more fun I have.
I guess I just love to dance” (63).
In Baseball Ballerina, by Kathryn Cristaldi, the heroine
plays shortstop for the Sharks, who wear “neat hats and cool
green T-shirts.” (5) Her mom thinks she should be more like
a little girl: “Pink is for girls” (8) and enrolls her in a ballet
class. She and her best friend keep it a secret because the
Sharks “would think we were wimps.” (13) In ballet class “We
practice five positions—there is only one position for me.
Shortstop.” (16) During the recital, she exhibits some extraor-
dinary catching prowess as she combines her ballet skills
with her baseball talent. She learns she can’t let her new
team down, and that ballet isn’t so bad, after all.
Max, with story and pictures by Rachel Isadora, is one
of the nicest examples of non-sexist childhood adventures.
Young Max is a great baseball player. Every Saturday he
walks his sister to ballet class. He is invited to join the class,
and after much reluctance, he takes off his shoes and joins
the class. Although he struggles at the barre he excels at the
leaps. When he hits a terrific home run, he figures that ballet
is a new way of warming up and resolves to attend class each
Saturday. The fine-line pencil illustrations show character
and action and are filled with marvelous warm human
Boy, Can He Dance, by Eileen Spinelli, is a very funny
book in which the main character’s individuality and creativ-
ity triumphs over mainstream and traditional values. “Even
before Tony learned to walk, he was dancing . . . an infant
dance . . . kicking his legs and moving his arms so hard that
his crib rolled to her side of the room” (4). However, his
father wants him to follow in the family tradition, and be-
come a chef. His dad acknowledges dancing is fine. “I dance
with your mother once a year—on New Year’s Eve.” (7) These
energetic illustrations show a slapstick comedy of Tony danc-
ing his way through his cooking lessons—with lemons flying
through the air, landing all over the place, bushels of pota-
toes and chopped carrots riotously rolling through the room.
The movement depicted in the drawings is truly marvelous,
and the harder you look, the more humorous details emerge.
Pepito’s Story by Eugene Fern is a touching story of a
boy who loves to dance and who has the great gift of being in
touch with his heart and his true feelings. The story was orig-
inally published in 1960 and re-released in 1993. It reflects
the challenge of being accepted by peers because of unique
beliefs. In the little fishing town of Pandingo, Pepito is sad
because, while all the children enjoyed swimming, fishing,
and playing games, there is no one to share his love of dance.
He would run into the woods and hide or dance on the lonely
beach. Only his grandmother would comfort him, reciting
her wisdom in poetry.
If every child were like every other,
You wouldn’t know who was your sister or brother.
And if every flower looked just the same,
“Flower” would have to be each flower’s name. (12)
Pepito becomes involved in saving Estrellita’s life—a
little girl who is shut in because of ill health. He gives the one
gift he can afford—the gift of his dance.
“Pepito danced as he had never danced before! Into his
dancing he poured everything in his heart: the loneliness of
the little girl’s living on the hill, his own loneliness among the
other children, his sorrow that she was sick, and his hope
that she would soon be well and able to play with her friends
This book clearly illustrates the power of dance to con-
vey emotion and sensitivity on a universal level. The illustra-
tions may seem timeworn in their faded primary colors and
simplicity; however, the language and the message remain
every bit as passionate and freshly vivid.
Hop Jump, by Ellen Stoll Walsh, shows Betsy the frog to
be the only frog on her pad that dances as well as hops. First
the other frogs are curious, and then they all begin imitating
her. The gouache illustrations energetically done in blue,
green, and yellow splatters show excellent examples of dance
steps accurately depicted in good ballet form.
ETHNIC EXPRESSIONS THROUGH DANCE
Dance as a universal language needs no translation in multi-
cultural settings. Many groups use dance as a primary mode
of expression in celebration of birth, death, marriage, and
war and peace. These books demonstrate rugged individual-
ism manifested from a strong sense of ethnic awareness. Sto-
ries may be simple and direct, but the morals are uplifting
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman has some of the most
amazing illustrations rendered in the world of children’s lit-
erature. Caroline Binch’s color paintings sensitively depict
three generations of African-American women who live
together in a loving household—Grace, her mother, and her
grandmother. The drawings of the mother and grandmother
show what outstanding role models they are for Grace and,
at the same time, show that the book has a tenderness and
lightness. In school Grace finds out that the role of Peter Pan
is being cast. At first, she believes she will never get the part,
but after seeing an inspirational poster of a new prima balle-
rina dancing the lead in Romeo and Juliet, she realizes that
she should try her best. Her beaming smile flying through the
air as Peter brings joy to all who behold how much her belief
in herself helped her accomplish her goal!
The picture book biography of Alvin Ailey, internation-
ally famous choreographer, is gracefully traced by wife and
husband, writer and illustrator Andrea Davis Pinkney and
Brian Pinkney. The book has an elegance and flow to it,
thanks to Mr. Pinkney’s majestic color sketches. The biogra-
phy chronicles Ailey’s early influence from when, “Alvin’s
soul danced along when he saw Katherine Dunhan’s style” (9)
to his early dances at the Lester Horton Dance Theater where
“his steps flowed from one to another. His loops and pliés
just came to him, the way daydreams do” (15). This book
pays homage to a great creative genius who deeply loved his
African-American heritage, blues, gospel, and his early mem-
ories. The text is sprinkled with artfully pithy definitions,
such as when describing the piece “Revelations,” he depicts
the Blues as “that weepy sadness all folks feel now and then”
(21). The universal language of both music and dance speaks
to us all.
Dance on the Dusty Earth, by Christine Price, is a rich
book written in an almost anthropological tone with evoca-
tive dusty hues and black sketches full of rhythm, power, and
grace. Each section depicts a different group of people from
various regions of the world, such as the Indians of the
pueblo temple dancers or dancers from Bali or Micronesia.
For example, in sections such as “Hands That Tell Stories,”
Indian temple dancing and the mudras, intricate positions of
the hands, are explained. The book points out that, in West-
ern culture, dance has come to be a form of entertainment
and has lost touch with its roots in the earth. Here we recap-
ture the urgency of ritual dance in everyday culture. Magic
Circle Dances, Dances of War, Dance Maps, and Leaps to the
Sky are depicted in captivating clarity.
Dancing Is, by George Anocona, is an easy reader that
contains a great deal of information on ethnic dance in a very
simple format. Mr. Anocona was a small child when his
father taught him the Mexican Zapataedo, the cowboy heel-
stamping traditional dance. Now he dances with his children
and wants to show how other people around the world make
dance a part of their daily lives. The book contains black and
white photographs of actual ethnic celebrations in costume,
such as weddings and family celebrations where people
dance to share happiness and the joy of being alive. He
includes a glossary describing dances such as the Rumanian
Troika, the Swedish Hambo, and the Nigerian Ijo Agbara.
Shimmy Shake Earthquake: Don’t Forget to Dance
Poems, collected by Cynthia Jabari, is a truly eclectic collec-
tion of fun poems skillfully tied together by Ms. Jabari’s user-
friendly illustrations which give many ideas for dancing or
physicalizing. The richness of poetry about dance ranges
from works by Nikki Giovanni, Ogden Nash, and Langston
Hughes to the traditional Mother Goose. This cheerful collec-
tion is easily adaptable for classroom activities. The ironic
wit is suitable for all ages and adults who appreciate rhythm
and rhyme. In “B Boy” by Lillian Mansion,
“I’m graffiti in motion,
a sidewalk tornado . . .
Meet the baddest break dancer (5)
“Dance Poem” by Nikki Giovanni is visually arresting
and viscerally involving. Also noteworthy are Ogden Nash’s
wonderfully odd word puzzles and precarious iambs that
always manage to come out right in the end.
Dancing with the Indians by Angela Sholf Medearis is a
true intercultural story that traces the journey of a slave who
escaped from a plantation and was rescued by the Seminole
Indians in 1862. The great-grandson travels to Oklahoma
every year to participate in a powwow and dance the rat-
tlesnake dance, the ribbon dance, and the stomp. The illus-
trations by Samuel Byrd capture the glow of dancing with
the Indians by firelight, as well as the sense of destiny forged
by the early bond of the blood brothers.
To make professional and ballet dance seem effortless, there
are countless hours of practice required, as well as a careful
study of technique, style, and tradition. This dedication to
one overriding goal may seem alien to most young children,
but to those dedicated youngsters who have set their sights
upon a star, the story of endless discipline and sacrifice
toward a long-range goal is a way of life. There are many
well-detailed books that chronicle the passage of young
dancers to professional ballerinas and dancers. Most of them
are realistic in their nature of commitment, yet romantic in
the final outcome.
In Lili at Ballet, the author’s delectable illustrations,
wistfully drawn delicate watercolors, capture details from
Rachel Isadora’s own life as a young child studying at George
Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. The book is a vision
of poetry in motion—from the opening sketch of Lili dancing
in her blue jeans with her pet cat Pandora, to the final page
where she sits backstage amidst all the costumes and makes
a “secret wish.” Ms. Isadora shows ballet positions and steps,
all correctly named and accurately drawn. The girls dance en
pointe; the boys have a special class practicing jumping and
turning fast. The illustrator conveys a sense of the classic cos-
tumes of The Firebird, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping
Beauty, Giselle, and Petrushka and depicts in some detail the
great history of ballet. When Lili dances the part of the
flower fairy and waves her wand, she captures the wonder-
ment and elegant fantasy of the enchantment and legacy of
The Young Dancers was written by Darcey Bussell, in
association with the Royal Ballet where she is a principal
dancer. Ms. Bussell, who started ballet classes at age five,
states “Dance is one of the few arts in which we ourselves are
the material, and every dancer becomes the ultimate artist,
creating his or her own work” (6). This book contains hun-
dreds of clear, colorful, and inspiring photos. Demonstrated
steps are easy to follow because of their clarity and accuracy.
The young dancers pictured have exquisite form and demon-
strate not only technique, but also feeling, expression, and
tradition. The book can be used as a reference for many years,
as it describes how the preparation and training is related to
the execution of the steps. There is a great attention to detail
and a thorough glossary of dance steps and terms. The book
concludes with cogent descriptive photos of classic ballets
such as Coppélia, The Firebird, Les Sylphides, and Petrushka.
I Feel Like Dancing, by Steven Barboza, features the
work of Jacques d’Amboise, world renown dancer, choreog-
rapher, and impresario of the ballet who is lovingly called the
“Pied Piper of Dance” as he produces his fifteenth annual
show for the National Dance Institute. The dancers are over
1,000 children, including children with special needs, who re-
hearse an arduous schedule to produce the spectacle entitled
Chakra. The well-known artist Red Grooms created the set,
and David Amran was the composer. The role of Monkey
King was performed by juggler Michael Moschen. Students
from the Lighthouse School for the Blind play the astrologers
who foresee the future. Mr. d’Amboise traveled to India to
recruit dancers to dance the Dance of the Hand Maiden. Mr.
d’Amboise is very demanding, and his high standards of
perfection are shown in his production and attitude toward
On Their Toes: A Russian Ballet School shares Ann Mor-
ris’ unique glimpse of the dance students of “Theatre Street”
in Leningrad, which prepares dancers for the Kirov Ballet. A
multicultural tour with sensitive photographs by Ken Hey-
man shows the total dedication of these Russian students to a
lifestyle and school where over 1,000 children from all over
Russia apply each year, but only seventy are chosen. The sub-
tle difference in style between American and Russian ballet is
explained. The Kirov dancers are taught that the upper part
of the body is the most expressive. They move more slowly
and with the great classic elegance of Leningrad. The dancers
trained in the West are influenced by George Balanchine,
where long, lithe legs capable of great speed are a reflection
of the fast and energetic pace of life in New York City. Stu-
dents in the Kirov Ballet School follow in the tradition of the
world prima dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky,
Rudolph Nuryev, and Mikhail Baryshinkov.
Silent Dancer, written by Bruce Hlibok, is about his sis-
ter who attends the Lexington School for the Deaf in New
York City. In a special project, she goes to the Joffrey Ballet
School. In addition to the normal challenges of mastering
ballet technique, Nancy and her friends learn their classes
through the use of sign language. When they perform their
final recital at Lincoln Center, the applause is so loud that
they can feel it.
DANCE, THE IMAGINATION, AND TRANSFORMATION
One of the most important aspects of dance in children’s lives
is the quality of transformation through the power of the
imagination. Because of the ability of dance to affect the
inner vision of perception, dancing creates a momentary
world where time, space, feeling, and awareness come
together in a heightened reality. This feeling, the nuance of
emotion and motion together, is truly the feeling of artistic
experience. There are several books that deal thematically
with this unique transformation of vision.
In Annie’s Dancing Day, by Hermann Moers, not only is
Annie transformed through dance, but even those whose lives
she touches, however briefly, become charmed and trans-
formed as well. Annie is as light as a thistle down; and, when
at home, she even dances when the music is turned off. “It
makes no difference,” she says, “the music is in my legs. And
I can dance all day!” (2) One day after dance class, she
dances out into the street, wearing her white tutu. When she
cannot find her way home, she has quite a journey, encoun-
tering people who are in pain or suffering in some way, but
who through her magical presence are brought peace. Out-
side the church with two steeples, she even meets a swan
that had forgotten how to fly. The swan, the quintessential
symbol of the dancer and essence of purity, learns to fly
home, as Annie’s search continues. She has many adventures
on her dancing day. Just before she reaches home, she
dances her way up to the moon on a moonbeam and looks
down on her sleeping village at night. The story, richly evoca-
tive and mysteriously symbolic, seems fragile and luminous,
largely due to the evanescent drawings by Christa Unzner-
Magic House, by Robyn Herbert Eversole, is one of the
most profound books on the ability of the imagination to
transform. The story line is simple, April is a girl who lives in
a house that is magic. She has a waterfall in the middle of
her house, a desert with cactuses on the first floor, and two
tremendous monsters April’s mother must feed in the base-
ment. In April’s imagination, the waterfall runs down the
staircase, the living room has cactuses for furniture, and the
washer and dryer are monsters April’s mother feeds baskets
of clothes. The extraordinary illustrations are rendered in a
way so as to superimpose surrealism with superrealism and
to make April’s vision the most logical explanation of the
family’s reality. When her older sister Meredith is studying
ballet, there is an essence that is sorely lacking in her perfor-
mance. April leads Meredith through a three-dimensional
visualization process that ultimately transforms her into the
swan she is trying to portray. The Magic House takes the
unseen and makes it bold, vibrant, and tangible in a very
heightened and poetic way.
In I Have Another Language, the Language Is Dance by
Eleanor Schick, a young dancer discovers that thoughts and
feelings she cannot express through words she can communi-
cate in dance. “Inside the music, my body remembers last
night’s dream. Things I can’t say in words run through my
body as I dance. I feel them again in a new way” (21–23). A
first performance on a stage brings immense joy to the narra-
tor as she shares her gift of dance with the audience.
Dance Tanya and Bravo Tanya are two exquisite books
written by Patricia Lee Gauch and illustrated by Satomi
Ichikawa. Little Tanya loves to dance, and we see her dancing
around the house to the music of Swan Lake with her faithful
ballerina bear Barbara. The essence of her spontaneity and
joy is gently captured by the soft-hued watercolors, as is her
yearning to be a ballet student like her big sister. One evening
she dances the sad swan for her family, and her talent is rec-
ognized by all. Bravo Tanya shows Tanya dancing in the
meadows to music she alone hears. When Tanya goes to bal-
let class, her teacher’s loud clapping and counting makes it
difficult for Tanya to hear the music at all and makes her
very unhappy. One day she learns to hear and dance to her
own music again and to become a real ballerina. Both of
these books show the power of a child’s imagination to visu-
alize and bring the world of creative fantasy to artistic self-
expression. They explore the reality of the fragile universe of
pretend and show how a child skillfully weaves this into artis-
tic mastery. It is both a gift and a secret world to be shared
with other kindred spirits.
Buffalo Dance: A Blackfoot Legend, retold by Nancy Van
Laan, is an important book in that it shows the metaphysical
nature of the ritual dance of the native American Blackfoot
tribe. The dancers dance to thank the buffalo for sacrificing
some of their own so that the Blackfoot tribe can survive.
“Slowly, they began the buffalo dance. Their hooves pound-
ing the earth in a steady rhythmic beat, echoed across the
prairie like a thousand drums. They bellowed the words to an
ancient song, taught to them by the wind” (26). The book
shows the deeply spiritual nature of dance and its ability to
transform the daily lives of these people.
JUST FOR FUN & DANCE ALONG
Musical Chairs and Dancing Bears, by Jeanne Rocklin, pre-
sents colorful dancing bears in a variation of the game musi-
cal chairs perfect for young counters practicing the concepts
of subtraction. Each number of chairs is dedicated to a dif-
ferent style of dance; the waltz, rock, square dance, bunny
hop, polka, tap, tango, kazachok, and ballet. Each double-
page spread shows the genuinely enthusiastic bears passion-
ately performing a new style of dance in an exuberant way.
This is an excellent dance-along book for young children.
Ballet in Motion: A Three-Dimensional Guide to Ballet for
Young People, by Craig Dodd and Shirley Soar, is an abbrevi-
ated history of ballet and technique illustrated by fanciful
three-dimensional designs that pop up on every open leaf.
The cutouts range from positions at the barre to the prince in
Sleeping Beauty who soars in a majestic leap above the sleep-
ing Aurora’s bed chamber. The grand finale is a scene from
The Nutcracker where the Nutcracker and the toy soldiers
battle the mice led by the Mouse King. This folio wastes no
time in getting down to meaningful material lavishly illus-
trated in memorable foldouts.
Break Dancing, by Jim Haskins, is a history of how
break dancing began, along with brief biographies of some
champion break dancers and examples of break-dance steps.
Haskins traces its roots all the way back to Africa where peo-
ple traditionally “speak” through dance. Those who wish to
follow along the movements in this book will have to be fan-
tastically physically adroit.
Written in rhyme and droll tongue-in-cheek near-rhyme,
Aunt Elaine Does the Dance From Spain celebrates Aunt
Elaine’s transformation into a Spanish dancer, even though
she comes from Maine. The bold, stylized illustrations add
energy and verve to the rhythm of the story.
The Dancing Granny, retold and illustrated by Ashley
Bryan, is a lyrical adaptation of a West Indian folktale. What
Granny Anika loves to do best is to dance, and she dances
morning, noon, and night. She even dreams dance dreams
until dawn. Her adventures with Spider Ananse have a merry
BRINGING DANCE ACTIVITIES TO THE CLASSROOM
There are several outstanding books that aid a teacher bring-
ing dance to the classroom or curriculum. They focus on
techniques, styles, and lesson plans. These books are guides
and are excellent ways of developing a leader’s use of intu-
ition in the classroom.
Teresa Benzwie’s A Moving Experience: Dance for Lovers
of Children and the Child Within shares with us the natural
spontaneity of children and enhances that to build lessons
around improvisation and the joy of movement. Each page is
filled with clearly written suggestions, energetically illus-
trated to show children at their best—playing and having fun.
From her uncanny observations of children, she builds her
ideas on themes such as games, fantasy, rhythm, and props.
The book is more like a gentle guide than a strict protocol.
First Steps in Teaching Creative Dance To Children by
Mary Joyce maps out specific priorities, exercises, and goals
related to teaching children to dance. Thorough explanations
demonstrate how to give form to content. Children learn ele-
ments like space, force, and time and become intellectually
engaged in the process of creative movement. The author
includes chapters about imagery, teaching academic subjects
through dance, and relating dance to other areas of life.
VIDEOS ON DANCE
Most videos on dance have been produced for the adult mar-
ket. These tapes, rented or bought, may be excerpted for use
with children, or used for staff development.
In Alvin Ailey Dances, four different performances of
the Ailey troupe taped in New York City in 1982, are shown.
They include “Night Creatures,” “Revelations,” “The Lark
Ascending,” and “Cry.” The Alvin Ailey company brings great
sensitivity and dynamic energy to the African-American expe-
rience and touches many universal themes children will
In Athleticism in Dance these selections from “Eye on
Dance” concern modern dance’s relation to sports. Individual
titles: Arnie Zane and Elisa Monk; Catherine Turocy; Nancy
Stark Smith and Christopher Gillis; Robin Casius and Toby
Towson. Dance can be as physically challenging as any
Olympic sport. These performances push the athletic dancer
toward challenging realms that will enthrall young dancers.
Dancing is an eight-volume series, televised on PBS, that
looks at dance traditions around the world and was filmed on
five continents. The volumes are available separately or in a
boxed set that includes: “The Power of Dance,” “The Individ-
ual and Tradition,” and “Dancing in One World.” This ambi-
tious work should be exempted for use with children because
of its length and complexity. However, this documentary pro-
vides great pathways for discussion and comprehension of
dance worldwide. In Acrobatics of Dance the Sierra Leone
National Dance Troupe performs native dances from their
country. Children learn geography through dance and learn
to appreciate the specific ethnicity of a culture through its
dance and customs. In Afro-Caribbean Festival, dance
troupes from Africa, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican
Republic perform in this dance celebration demonstrating
that all countries have dances of celebration. These dances
came from cultures easily accessible to the many cultural
groups represented in our schools.
The sophistication of literature and media on dance for chil-
dren is becoming more accessible as educators learn of the
value of three-dimensional learning and other forms of kines-
thetic information gathering.
Dance is not merely a physical experience; it is a way of
reaching a child’s inner thought process, sense of self, and
essence of creativity. Dance provides a rich landscape for
intellectual life in terms of exercising the imagination, the
memory, and cognitive problem-solving skills.
There are many ways these books and videos cited can
interface within the classroom or school library center set-
ting. These resources can provide a framework for discussion,
technical information, and ideas on teaching dance. Or, they
can kindle a child’s sense of wonder and the ability to sus-
Dance is a fluid and plastic medium that provides a
vitally tangible experience for children beyond the realm of
language. The moment of creative play unites the dancer
with the dance and the metaphor with the metamorphosis.
The dancer’s imagination creates a transformation that ren-
ders the unspoken real and the invisible powerful. Dance and
three-dimensional learning envokes the creative pathway to
the heart of a child’s imagination.
1. Peter Allt and Russel Alspach, eds. The Variorum Edition of the
Poems of William Butler Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1957, 446.
2. Rudolph Labon. The Mastery of Movement. 3rd ed. Boston: Plays,
Acrobatics of Dance, 30 min. CBS T.V. Camera 3, 1974.
Afro-Caribbean Festival, prod. Loun Alonso, 90 min. Dist. Fin-Art,
Alvin Ailey Dances, prod. Princeton Dance Horizons, 85 min., Music
Video Distributions, Princeton Book Company Publishers,
Kultur Video, 1987.
Athleticism in Dance, prod. ARC Videodance, 120 min. 4 programs.
Dist. ARC Videodance, 1987.
Anocona, George. Dancing Is. New York: Norton, 1981.
Barboza, Steven. I Feel Like Dancing: A Year with Jacques d’Amboise
and the National Dance Institute. Photos by Carolyn George
d’Amboise. New York: Crown, 1992.
Benzwie, Teresa. A Moving Experience: Dance for Lovers of Children
and the Child Within. Illus. Robert Bender. Tucson: Zephyr,
Bryan, Ashley. The Dancing Granny. New York: Aladdin, 1987.
Bussell, Darcey. The Young Dancer. London: Dorling Kindersley,
Cristaldi, Kathryn. Baseball Ballerina. Illus. Abby Carter. New York:
Random House, 1992.
Dance on Disc: The Complete Catalog of the Dance Collection of the
New York Public Library on CD-ROM. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.
Dancing, Baker and Taylor Video, 68 min. 8 programs. Distr. Have
Vision Cinema, 1993.
Dodd, Craig, and Shirley Soar. Ballet in Motion: A Three-Dimen-
sional Guide to Ballet for Young People. New York: Lippincott,
Eversole, Robyn. Magic House. Illus. Peter Palagonia. New York:
Fern, Eugene. Pepito’s Story. New York: Bantam, 1993.
Gauch, Patricia. Bravo Tanya. Illus. Satomi Ichikawa. New York:
_____. Dance, Tanya. Illus. Satomi Ichikawa. New York: Philomel,
Haskins, Jim. Break Dancing. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1985.
Hlibok, Bruce. Silent Dancer. New York: Julian Messner, 1981.
Hoffman, Mary. Amazing Grace. Illus. Caroline Binch. New York:
Isadora, Rachel. Max. New York: Aladdin, 1976.
_____. Lili at Ballet. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993.
Jabar, Cynthia. Shimmy Shake Earthquake: Don’t Forget to Dance
Poems. Boston: Joy Street, 1992.
Joyce, Mary. First Steps in Teaching Creative Dance to Children. Illus.
Patty Haley. 3rd ed. Mountain View: Mayfield, 1994.
Komaiko, Leah. Aunt Elaine Does the Dance from Spain. Illus. Petra
Mathers. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Marris, Ann. On Their Toes: A Russian Ballet School. Photos by Ken
Heyman. New York: Atheneum, 1991.
Medearis, Angela Sholf. Dancing With the Indians. Illus. Samuel
Byrd. New York: Holiday, 1991.
Moers, Hermann. Annie’s Dancing Day. Illus. Christa Unzner-Fisher.
New York: North-South, 1992.
Pickney, Andrea Davis. Alvin Ailey. Illus. Brian Pinkney. New York:
Price, Christine. Dance on the Dusty Earth. New York: Scribner’s,
Rocklin, Joanne. Musical Chairs and Dancing Bears. Illus. Laure de
Metharel. New York: Holt, 1993.
Schick, Eleanor. I Have Another Language: The Language Is Dance.
New York: Macmillan, 1992.
Spinelli, Eileen. Boy, Can He Dance. Illus. Paul Yalowitz. New York:
Four Winds, 1993.
Van Laan, Nancy. Buffalo Dance: A Blackfoot Legend. Illus. Beatriz
Vidal. Boston: Little, 1993.
Walsh, Ellen Stoll. Hop Jump. San Diego: Harcourt, 1993.
Zeck, Gerry. I Love To Dance. Minneapolis. Carolrhoda, 1982.