By John Byrne, Artistic Director, Fort Wayne Dance Collective
This week I had the opportunity to lead workshops at the Jobs For America’s Graduates (JAG) “The Rhythm of Leadership” conference organized by BrightPoint of Fort Wayne. The goal of the conference was to offer future high school graduates an insight into leadership in the field of the arts. Hopefully the tools they learned in this conference could apply across the broad range of careers they were to embark on.
The workshop I chose to offer, “Using movement as a tool for teaching and learning” focused on the power of experiential learning. One of the many areas in which FWDC’s outreach educators specialize in is in experiential learning. Through this kinesthetic approach, we educate the community on self-awareness, health, literacy and more through creative movement programming.
In the JAG workshop, we conducted a very straightforward experiment.
First, I had a student read a very simple and banal scenario. “Danielle went to the supermarket. She picked up clementines on aisle nine. She ran into Mr. George, the basketball coach. He invited Danielle to bring her two kids to watch a baseball game next week with his five kids.”
Then I offered a second scenario, a little longer and more complex. “Sarah drove to the dentist on a Friday. When she arrived she realized she had no money. She called her husband and asked him to bring her purse. Her friend Sally walked by and offered her a credit card. Sarah was able to see her dentist on a Friday.”
The same student reader read the second scenario, but there was a twist! As the scenario was being read, six students were assigned to dance out nouns from the story. There was a Sarah, a dentist, a husband, a “Friday”, and a Sally. There was also “money” who was given drums to shake anytime the word money was spoken. The students were dressed in costumes and they improvised dancing their respective roles as the story was read.
Both scenarios were read only one time to the class, and at the same pace. As I described, the second scenario was experienced through creative movement.
In closing this experiment, a student from the class was asked to recall both scenarios. As you can imagine, the student was able to remember some details from the first story. There were many holes though, and his delivery was dry and disconnected – without emotion.
When the same student was asked to recall the second story, he did so full of animation. In a colorful way he described every detail and with a sense of urgency.
As we sit at a desk, our brains are taking in less oxygen and as we get comfortable in the passive position. We disassociate with the information we absorb as we hear it or read it. When in motion, our brains are more awake and we are able to digest and retain information more easily.
Imagine learning about Christopher Columbus sailing across the Atlantic, swimming on to a beach, and looking around at a new world. If you were to physicalize this scene in your living room and place yourself in the shoes of Mr. Columbus, you would be much more likely to remember the story.
For years art educators have tried to defend to policy makers, school principals, parents and students the value of including arts within the academics. The research proving a connection of arts to the academics has been limited and weak, at best. What we do know is that kinesthetic learning creates a stronger connection to material and helps us retain information.
Regardless of the connection of arts with academics, it goes without saying that art is solely important for the sake of art itself. Art is the way we remember civilizations, culture and history.
Civilizations are known for their art. Without art there is no civilization.
If you think about Rome, Japan, the American Frontier or any place, thing or time, you most likely evoke a picture in your head or a story you read in classic literature. We remember history, story and science through painting, photography, writing, movement and music.
I hope that the JAG future leaders I worked with this week walked away with a greater appreciation and understanding of how powerful movement and art is when applied to leadership and learning.
I have so much gratitude that FWDC has so many partners and schools in the community that see the value of arts in leadership, allowing us to bring creative movement workshops, Touring Company shows and other creative programming into their schools and institutions.