Skip the tutus. Some Minnesota teachers are looking to whirl, twirl and twist dance lessons from the studio into the classroom.
Charlotte Landreau is already doing that in her high school philosophy class, where students analyze the roles of reason and emotion in judging art and then, to illustrate an example, they dance the salsa or merengue.
"The kids are so hungry for dance," the St. Paul social studies teacher said. "They're surrounded by it in entertainment. People love to move."
Landreau and two dozen other educators from across Minnesota are receiving professional development training at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley to learn how to further incorporate dance into their everyday curriculum.
Teachers from elementary, middle and high schools are participating in the two-year program, which started last week. In recent years, teachers have found more students of all ages are able to learn better through movement than through lessons limited to visuals or verbal lecture.
"When you specifically link [movement] ... to content, it helps anchor it," said Diane Aldis, dance and theater education coordinator for the Perpich Center. "There are some people that come on dubious. [But] movement is a way for students to connect to a lot of things."
In the two-year training program, teachers are learning the fundamentals of dance and how they can embed movement into any class.
Need to illustrate mathematical concepts such as the mean and median? Try a square-dancing step. Discussing the culture of the Roaring '20s and the Harlem Renaissance? Try the Charleston. Struggling to teach literacy to young students? Have kids physically form letters of the alphabet.
"Kids make better connections," said Judy Broekemeier, an elementary art teacher in Mora, Minn., who has used movement in her art classes in the past. "Those things stay with them."
While Aldis admits not every subject can be related to dance, movement can play a significant role in helping students grasp many concepts and retain that information.
This year, for instance, the Perpich Center followed up with an Anoka-Hennepin elementary school that used dance to teach students about the Underground Railroad. A year later, students retained specific names and details and could recall emotions from the journey because of the dance, Aldis said.
While it's anecdotal evidence of movement's role in learning, specific research studies also show that dance integration has benefits.
According to the National Dance Education Organization, research shows that learning dance engages both hemispheres of the brain. Children learning to read through movement outperform students learning to read through traditional methods, and students who study dance score higher on verbal and math SAT exams.
But with no formal dance training or resources available in many school districts, Landreau said, "this is the only way we'd have access to this."
At the Perpich Center, a state agency that provides grants to schools to participate in the program, professional dancers teach educators with the hope they'll take back curriculum to help their school districts embed movement into classes.
"I think that instinct to move is important to being human beings," Aldis said. "Movement is the way we learn in the first part of life. And it's going to continue to layer throughout life."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141