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Behind the Curtain

The Role of Dance in an Academic Environment
By Nikki Boyd
Posted on 8/12/2021 12:54 PM

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a contribution by Nikki Allred Boyd, Dance Teacher and Musical Theatre Director at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please visit this link


The Role of Dance in an Academic Environment

By Nikki Allred Boyd, Dance Teacher and Musical Theatre Director, Pine Crest School



Boyd leading a professional development workshop on movement integration for other teachers at her school


No one can argue the physical effects that dance has on the human body. With the implementation of dance-like workouts hitting the scene, more and more people are flocking to barre classes and other dance related classes to acquire the dancer’s physique. Coaches and athletic directors have sung the praises of these programs and the positive effects dance has on their athletes. But what about the academic side of things? What can dance do for the mind and how does that translate academically?


STEM has become a term that is familiar to most teachers over the last twenty years. As a science-based acronym, the general population can typically understand the significance that this term holds in an academic setting. But then we have STEAM. This term introduces the art aspects, including language arts, in addition to performing and fine arts. Most schools teach using the STEM method, but more and more are adding the “A” that arts elements can provide. 


As a dance teacher in my late-30s teaching at a private school, I consider my own academic foundation. While I did not have the benefit of receiving dance training in my high school, I still understood how dancing could be applied to specific academic concepts. I will never forget my dance teacher encouraging us to travel in a straight line across the studio floor: “The closest distance between two points is a straight line.”  In my Geometry class, I was elated when I realized the connections that I made from doing across the floor in Monday’s jazz class could be related to connecting points A and B. As trivial as it might have seemed in the moment, these little bits of information that I was gaining from my weekly dance classes were contributing to the greater picture of the role of dance in academia.


When I reflect on these past pearls of wisdom, I find it strange how many people do not always consider the academic side of dance and the arts. In ballet, we were often tested on our knowledge of the terminology and spelling. This guided and benefited my future understanding of basic French language. Additionally, when we look at the significance of other arts, like music for example, there are also relevant ideas. Musicians use math that allows them to quickly calculate beats in their heads. As an educator, how can I implement such information into my current pedagogical process to ensure that my teaching is applicable in an academic setting? 


One way I try to consider academic teaching through dance is by examining the Horton technique. The linear positions of Horton’s exercises are a perfect example of geometric concepts, as well as ideas representative in physics. Momentum, inertia, and balance can all be reflected in one class of Horton. Momentum must be used in a turn, such as a stag turn, in order to make a full rotation. Knowing that the combined force of the arm and leg must use inertia to stop, a dancer must have an understanding of this in order to balance and properly execute the turn. With this knowledge, students gain a newfound comprehension of these ideas that can only benefit them in the classroom. They take these discoveries back to their academic teachers and share in the experience, which provides a deeper understanding and relatability. 


It is worth acknowledging the mind-body connection when considering dance from an academic perspective. We know that when the mind experiences stressful situations, the body soon follows with a physical response. Negative stress can lead to injury, ill health, and exhaustion. Movement and dance can encourage a positive mentality and provide a sort of “brain break” during the long, inert school day that can be detrimental to a student’s well-being. This year in particular has been incredibly challenging for many students. Multiple times, I have had dancers send their thanks for the break in their day to shift their minds to a different approach of learning. This encourages mindfulness and self-care that is being encouraged to create a healthy society. Through this, when students do have an academic epiphany, it stands out and can promote a healthier learning environment.


Cross-curricular classes and activities not only benefit students, they can provide fresh material that keeps class interesting for you and your students. Whether that means Horton with the geometry teacher or Contemporary infused with Shakespeare, students seeing the academic side of dance can only aid them in their process of learning. As dance educators in academic institutions, this not only validates what we do in the studio, it justifies and adds weight to the knowledge we are sharing with our students. 


Nikki Allred Boyd is a choreographer and dancer who resides in Pompano Beach, Florida. Originally from Lovington, New Mexico, she obtained her BFA in Dance from West Texas A&M University. During college, Nikki was a member of the Lone Star Ballet and performed throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. After college, she moved to New York City and worked professionally, performing for several regional theatres throughout the country from Arizona to Tennessee. Currently, Nikki is a high school dance instructor for Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She also is the Director/Choreographer for the annual musical and the Assistant Director of the school dance ensemble, Dance Etc. She most recently received her MFA in Choreography from Jacksonville University. In addition to Nikki’s artistic roles, she enjoys being a wife and a mother to her one-year old son, Matthew. www.nikkiallredboyd.com Headshot by Anthony Joseph Photography. 
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