The elements of dance are the tools of the craft. These are things you already do in everyday life but haven’t thought about much.
The elements of dance are the foundational concepts and vocabulary that help students develop movement skills and understand dance as an artistic practice.
In this article, I am going to be relating to the elements of dance as used in creative dance, but you can use them in all types of dance. Creative dance is a great basis for all forms of dance and is a great way of getting the children to move freely, without the constraints of ballet.
Take the elements of dance and study and memorize them. Make them a part of your daily life and think about them each time you move.
For example, you stretch to reach for a jar on a high shelf, you run for the bus, you lower your level as you get into the bath and you twist your upper body to talk to the person behind you. So make these movements a part of you.
Four Elements Of Dance
These include the inner parts, like bones, joints, muscles, heart, and lungs (breath).
The outer parts include the head, shoulders, arms, hands, back, rib cage, hips, legs, and feet.
The body moves in various ways:
Bending, stretching, rising, circling, twising, swinging, shaking, swaying and collapsing.
These include walking, running, leaping, sliding, skipping, hopping, jumping and galloping.
Space is the second element of dance and has various factors worked into it too:
- Shape – the design that the body makes in space
- Direction – this can be forwards, backward, sideways or turning
- Level – this includes high, middle and low
- Size – big or little movements
- Focus – the direction of the gaze
- Place – staying on the spot or moving through space
- Pathway – curved or straight
Force has its own elements too:
- Flow – is it free-flowing, balanced or bound?
- Attack – is the dance sharp or smooth?
- Weight – is it light or heavy?
- Strength – is it tight or loose?
Time is broken up as follows:
- Tempo – fast or slow
- Beat – the underlying pulse
- Accent – the force
- Duration – long or short
- Pattern – a combination of steps
For some more reading and exercises to do with your class for a deeper understanding you can see more on the Elements of Dance here.
How To Use The Elements Of Dance In A Class Setting
The structure of you creative movement class should have three steps:
- Present the element you wish to teach your pupils.
- Have your pupils explore the posibilities.
- Give it form.
The method used above should be one of questions and challenges.
The children need to learn from the inside out.
They need to discover for themselves what their bodies can do. So ask them what to do rather than show them.
How To Present Your Class Using The Elements Of Dance
It helps to use visual aids, words, materials or gimmiks that make it clear what it is you want the children to learn.
For example, if you want to teach swinging, you can try showing them a pendulum made of a string and weight or even a yo-yo. Other things you could possibly use would be plastic packets feathers, rubber bands ect.
These sorts of things can help clarify the movements like stretch and bend, lightness and heaviness, change in size, change in tempo.
Use things like windows, clocks, flags, and bars to make shapes and create pathways for their designs.
Ask questions like how, what and where.
Examples For Working With Swinging
For a swinging lesson you could ask:
- What parts of the body can swing?
- What makes a swinging movement?
- Where does a swing go in space?
- How does the body swing?
Suggest and define until they understand what the element is. Let them experiment first on the spot and then through space. Try the movements with different parts of the body. Then have them try all the steps with the element and then at all levels and in all directions.
Experiment with opposites. Have them do the movements with different speeds and force and challenge them to do the movement in every possible way.
The elements of dance are explored through the changed movement that is produced by combining or crossing it with other elements. It is impossible for any part of one element to be used without also using the other three elements, but to simplify matters when you are teaching, first consider the element as a separte entity before varying it and combining it with others.
Let’s take the element as swinging. Now go right down the list of elements:
- What is swinging – muscles? bones? joints?
- What body parts can actually swing?
- Can you swing while you gallop or skip?
- Can you swing and bend or swing and stretch?
- Can you use a swing to propel yourself through space?
- Can you use a swing to make a curved path in space?
- Can you swing at a high and a low level?
- Can you swing in an upside down shape?
- Can a swing be tense?
- Can a swing be sharp?
- Can a swing be heavy?
- Show a free flowing swing and then a sudden stillness.
- Can you swing and then find a balance?
- Show an accent at the lowest part of the swing.
- Show a swing with an even beat.
- Can you make swings in an uneven pattern?
- Can you make one long swing and three short ones?
- How slowly can you swing?
These are examples of questions a teacher could use, but each teacher is different and may want to find her own questions, as each element of dance has its own challenges.
A teacher must work out how she will use the crossovers between the dance elements to stimulate the children to explore the same basic elements.
Using Breathing In Dance
Another example is when you are teaching breath in movement. You could try the following:
Tell the children to breathe deeply to feel how their bodies move as they breathe. Now have them extend the movement by rising as they breathe in and lowering as they breathe out.
Now try using gasps and add jumps. Have them move around the room through space carrying themselves forward as they inhale and relaxing the body forward as they exhale.
Challenge them to try gallops, leaps, and skips with a breath impulse. Finally, forget the actual breathing and concentrate on the types of movements breath produces.
Exploring The Element Of Fast Movement
Here you can encourage the children to explore which body parts can move fast.
Which movement and which steps can be done fast?
Try asking them to move fast and low or fast and high or even fast and small.
See if they can create a fast, high, light, small sideward movement and see what they come up with.
The trick is to see what you can come up with to bring the dance experience to your children in a way that they can understand and at the same time have fun learning.
Use the list of the elements of dance above and form questions to go with each element.
You will be surprised at how your ability will grow as your memory and imagination is stimulated.
Even if you are not a creative movement teacher, I would encourage all dance teachers to try and use the methods above from time to time to stimulate your students and get them to move in different ways.