Dance Like you Used To!

Rainbow District School Board Arts Education Consultant and Dance Educator, Emily Caruso Parnell on demystifying dance, reminding us that movement is universal. 

Dance gives itself a bad name sometimes.  The flip-side of all that virtuosity, all those flips and tricks, all those spins and leaps, the dancer’s legs stretching endlessly beyond what seems possible for mere mortals, is that many of us assume it’s something un-doable and we’d rather not try.  No one likes looking foolish, and the barre (sic) is set so high by popular culture’s representations of dance that teachers, faced with that glaringly empty dance box on their report cards, often find themselves backing away slowly.  Dance, in many classrooms, becomes following along with some YouTube videos.  The kids have fun bouncing around; no harm done, right?

But here’s the thing: dance is so much more than crazy physical tricks.  The window that television and even live professional performance is giving you on the world of dance is a very narrow one.  It’s a bit like seeing the world with blinders on.  

I’m going to level with you…  you used to know more about dance than you do right now.  Have you ever watched a baby respond to music?  The rhythmic boping they do, either with their heads, their hands, or, later, with their knees when they’re beginning to stand… that’s dance.  Later, preschoolers and kindergarteners will dance at the drop of a hat.  They run and leap, they roll on the ground, they gesture with their arms, they use their whole bodies to express their joy, long before they become aware of a right or wrong.  It’s only later, when children start to understand that “dance” implies a specific aesthetic, a complicated set of skills only accessible to those privileged enough to study at private studios, do they begin to lock dance out of their lives.

Know this teachers: you already know what you need to know to teach dance.  You know how to walk, you know how to run, you can probably jump and balance on one foot too and if you haven’t rolled in a while, get down on that floor and give it a try; you might be surprised at how much fun it is.  The basic movements that we use in educational dance are ones you already know how to do.  All you need now is to open up the possibility for children to use those movements creatively.  How do I do that, you ask?  Well, check out any of our great resources on or, even better, come and see us at the CODE conference… we’ll show you how; no pink tights required, I promise.

Emily Caruso Parnell is the Rainbow District School Board’s Arts Education Consultant.   She is a graduate of the MA in Dance Theories and Practices program (focus on Dance Education) at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.  Emily is also a registered teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance, sits on the Program Advisory Committee for Dance Education of PHE Canada and is a member of the National Ballet School’s Sharing Dance Working Group. 

Join Emily and award winning actor, movement specialist, and director Alexis Milligan (who most recently worked as puppet and movement director for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at The Stratford Festival) for their dance workshop "Speaking in Silence" at the CODE Conference Oct 21-23.