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The Art and Science of Teaching/Learning Dance



Joan Walton


Graduate Design Project

June 2, 1999


Roble Dance Studios

Stanford University


Joan Walton

July 25, 1999




This is being written for those of us who learn dance and those of us who teach it.  My hope is to shed some light on the reaction that takes place when arts information, in this instance, dance information, is transferred from one person to another.  In this paper I will discuss the Theory of Multiple Intelligences as applied to dance, the magnetic attraction between Engineering majors at Stanford and Social Dance classes, what sports psychologists have to say about teaching and learning dance, and some less common aspects of teaching dance that I call Intuitive Teaching.  There are also some larger questions that intrigue me that I will address.  Questions about how people really prefer to learn dance and how we as teachers can facilitate the learning situation and prevent discouragement.


This conversation will be restricted to issues about teaching teens and adults in classroom situations in the United States, and to the more formal instruction such as that received in classes at the University level.  I have observed, taught and taken classes in all major forms of western theatrical dance (ballet, modern, musical theatredance, tap and jazz) as well as vintage and social dance, and can speak about them with some degree of accuracy.  This paper deals with these dance styles, and the methods generally used in teaching them. 




My  fascination with teaching and learning dance has been present for years.  In my undergraduate education classes in the 1970's, the talk was about “modalities,” about teaching to more than one modality simultaneously.  The modalities were basically the physical senses, and the advice at the time was to teach to both sight and hearing, or to the kinesthetic as well as the visual.   This did a great service of opening up the teaching/learning situation to incorporate more physical styles, and gave teachers more latitude in methodology.  It was still limited to that which can be perceived by the physical senses, but it was more open than the previous systems prevalent at the time which appealed only to the linguistic and mathematical/logical modes of thought. 


This work with modalities sparked my interest.  I was a beginning dance teacher at the time, working at getting the look and feel of dance moves into untrained bodies.  I had already discovered that teaching the same things the same way every time regardless of the student population didn’t work for them and it bored me.  So having more modes to appeal to was intriguing, and I began adjusting my vocabulary and teaching style to suit students, based on their majors.  The recognizable vocabulary or explanation style, combined with a friendly, nonjudgmental teaching manner, seemed to help people to learn faster, which I attributed to their increased comfort level. 

This comfort zone I describe as experiencing a level of familiarity in a unfamiliar environment which engenders feelings of security.  This comfort zone is important, because learning to dance, especially for beginners, is often a terrifying experience.  Studies have shown that people learn faster and retain more when they are in a relaxed state,(1)  and relaxed states are impossible to achieve without feeling somewhat comfortable or secure. 


In the 1980's, a friend presented me with an article describing Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences, and I was immediately won over.  First, Gardner’s approach increased the number of pathways to understanding I might use to get the point across and raised the success level for each student.  They felt better about themselves and their dancing.  Second, it made me feel better as a learner, since I recognized myself immediately in the Musical, Bodily/Kinesthetic and Linguistic descriptions.  Third, it transformed my teaching methods once again, so that I could teach to at least four or five of the intelligences in my classes now, making myself fluent in several teaching “languages” at once. 


This “multilingual” teaching, or learning to express teaching concepts in more than one style has been a pleasure and a success, and is an idea with which I am still working.  It makes possible an immediate connection between teacher and student, as they are speaking the same “language.”  It keeps me from falling into the temptation of teaching the same way all the time, boring myself and my students.  But for students the benefits are more far-reaching.  They deepen their knowledge of the subject, since being allowed to learn in a language that is dominant for them teaches them to think for themselves, to codify the steps in their own way, and even link this new knowledge to previous information or transfer skills from some other learning into the dance learning situation. 


Also, It seems to help students learn faster and enjoy learning more.  This rapidity of learning is especially important for beginning students, as early success makes the uncomfortable period of looking awkward much shorter, and students who feel confident about their dancing stay with dance for longer periods of time.  There is a  necessary period of looking and feeling awkward that can be a strong negative reinforcer if allowed to continue unabated for months, especially for teen and adult learners, so feelings of success and feeling like they “look good” need to occur soon.  The discouragement that follows continual lack of success in this area of “looking good” can cause people drop out and never come back.  So the Theory of Multiple Intelligences speeds learning and is a boon to self-esteem, a crucial factor in retention in dance class. 




Hanging ideas about dance on a framework appeals for organizational reasons, and offers logic for the dance teachers.  This framework is Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences from his 1983 book, Frames of Mind.  This theory has been around since 1983, and is in some ways, old news.  However, applying this theory to dance education was its appeal as part of this paper.  But first a disclaimer: This is not a recommendation for this theory to be used as a universal lesson plan for dance teaching, or suggesting that all dance teachers and learners immediately gravitate to this framework.  It is one of many such frameworks, a “useful fiction” as the author says, a handy and easily understood guide to how the mind processes information, and a clear organizer for delineating multiple methods of teaching dance. 

There has been increasing evidence in the past half century that intelligence was not all of one piece, that there is more than one intelligence, more than just an IQ.  A group at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education was formed in 1967 to contest this belief about IQ, and to study creativity and arts education.  Howard Gardner is now co-director of that group, called “Project Zero.”  (2)


According to Gardner, an intelligence must include a set of skills for solving problems or difficulties and/or to create a product.  It must also have the potential for finding or creating problems, which “lays the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge.”  An intelligence is not equivalent to a sensory system, nor would an intelligence be completely dependent upon a single sensory system.  Although he says that selection is more art than science, he nonetheless posits a list of eight “signs” or characteristics of an intelligence.  Not all eight are necessarily present in each of the intelligences, but most are, especially the first three signs, which are the following: 


1) In order for Gardner to consider a skill or set of skills to be an intelligence, he must find a specific area of the brain responsible for processing this type of information.  This location can be destroyed or spared in isolation from other intelligences, and is found in studies of brain-damaged individuals.  For example, it has long been known that the majority of musical capabilities reside in the right hemisphere, and linguistic abilities are lateralized almost exclusively to the left hemisphere in normal right-handed individuals, and more strongly for males than females. 


2) Also, to be considered an intelligence, there need to exist individuals who exhibit exceptional ability with these clusters of abilities, in other words, people who are using this specific intelligence at an extremely high level.


3) Finally, like the operating systems that run our computers, the brain has specific information-processing operations or mechanisms which he calls Core Operations, which deal with specific kinds of input, and is triggered by certain types of information.  Examples would be the ability to imitate movement as one core operation of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence, and sensitivity to pitch relations as one core of Musical intelligence. 


In addition, if a potential intelligence has a distinctive developmental history - that people pass through different levels of expertise on their way to high levels of competence -  an evolutionary history, is able to be encoded in some form of symbol system, and has support from  psychological and intelligence testing, its chances of being included on Gardner’s list increase. 





Here is a quick explanation of each intelligence.  Gardner describes them as follows:


The LINGUISTIC intelligence is associated with the auditory sense, and is not closely tied to the world of objects or other people.  It is the most widely and democratically shared across humans, and is the most thoroughly studied intelligence.  It is

A sensitivity to the meaning of words, whereby an individual appreciates the subtle shades of difference between spilling the ink “intentionally,” “deliberately,” or “on purpose.”  A sensitivity to the order among words, and a sensitivity to the sounds, rhythms, inflections, and meters of words.  And a sensitivity to the different functions of language - its potential to excite, convince, stimulate, convey information, or simply to please.  (3)


Writers, poets and other wordsmiths have a strong Linguistic Intelligence. 


MUSICAL intelligence, also connected to the auditory sense, is the earliest to emerge (by age 2 or 3).  Like Linguistic, it is not closely tied to the world of objects or people, and shows itself in the ability to reproduce musical pitches and rhythms, or compose new arrangements of pitches. 


Unlike the others that are associated with a physical sense, LOGICAL/MATHEMATICAL deals with ideas and concepts.  Although the foundations of math are found in movement, in the manipulation of objects, its expression is in the realm of concepts and abstract thought.  The ability to translate concrete objects into symbols and manipulate them mentally, the ability to visualize concepts without a concrete model, and the ability to create and relate abstract thoughts are hallmarks of this intelligence. (4)


Gardner defines the core characteristics of BODILY/KINESTHETIC intelligence as the ability to control one’s bodily motions and to manipulate objects skillfully. (5)  He considers one’s own body to be an object, and doesn’t differentiate between the fine motor activities needed for the placement of tiny objects in electronic instruments, and the full-body movements required by the dancer.  This intelligence is the dancer’s ability to “see-and-do”: to be able to transform a dynamic visual image into physical action, and to hear directions and translate them into movement. 


Although Gardner differentiates between the ability to perform music vs. the ability to create music in his chapter on Musical Intelligence, he ignores this differentiation in Bodily/Kinesthetic.  Just as there are different skills involved for composing music versus performing music others have composed, so there are differences between dancing the moves others have created, and creating choreographies for dancers to perform.


SPATIAL intelligence is most often connected with the visual sense.  Spatial characteristics are the capacity to perceive the visual world accurately, to be able to mentally manipulate those forms that have been perceived, and produce new forms in the mind’s eye.  (6)


INTERPERSONAL intelligence is the ability to make distinctions among individuals, particularly their moods, temperaments, motivations and intentions.  Having good “people skills” needs a strong Interpersonal Intelligence, and this is one of the most underrated intelligences in our culture. 

INTRAPERSONAL intelligence is the ability to think deeply about ideas and concepts, to have access to one’s own inner life, the capacity to discriminate among feelings and to use them to understand and guide one’s behavior. 


Those are the seven intelligences described in Gardner’s 1983 book.  However, in early 1999, Gardner added one and possibly two new intelligences to his list.  They are:


The NATURALIST intelligence is the ability to tell one type of thing from another, to discriminate among things and to be able to classify that information. (7)


EXISTENTIAL intelligence or spiritual intelligence, is the newest and least studied of the nine. It is the part of the mind-brain that asks questions of a spiritual or transcendent nature, the basic unanswerable questions about life. (8)


Each of these 9 intelligences has usefulness in our daily lives, and each of us gravitates to some more than others.  There are behaviors and interests central to each of the seven intelligences that some of us exhibit more than others, and consider to be our strengths.  Those areas where we exhibit the fewest behaviors and interests are improvable if we choose to work on them.  Each of these is a valid pathway for getting information to the brain and the body.  Each is valuable to us as teachers and learners.  Your intelligence is like a building with seven doors, all of which lead to the same place.  There is no right or wrong way to get there, there is only the way that is best for you.  The fact that most dance teachers primarily use only two of them, (Linguistic and Bodily/Kinesthetic) and the others rarely or never, makes learning difficult for some and impossible for others.  The gift of dance is being denied to those whose lives might be most improved by it.






I’d like to take three of these intelligences - Logical/Mathematical, Bodily/Kinesthetic and Spatial - and show how they apply to a particular population when learning to dance.  Although these students possess ability in more than these three intelligences, I will (for now) ignore the other 6, and focus only on these three and their immediate usefulness in learning dance.  All of the interviewees exhibited, mentioned, or tested out very high in these three areas, and demonstrated their application in learning Social Dance. 


This section is part of a longer research paper I wrote in the fall of 1998.  It examines the intersection and overlap of Social Dance and the School of Engineering at Stanford, and explores some of the reasons behind the disproportionate numbers of students from Engineering majors who take Social Dance classes.  Using interviews, online questions, and statistics from the classes and from Stanford University, I found a list of learning styles that were common among most engineering majors. 


This informal study of Engineering majors who become proficient in Social Dance arose from a conversation with Dance Historian and Social Dance teacher Richard Powers a year or two after he arrived at Stanford, in which he happened to mention that 75% of his Vintage Ensemble was from the School of Engineering.  With my then-recently acquired knowledge of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, this information intrigued me, so when I arrived here last fall I decided to make it the subject of a research paper for Susie Cashion and Janice Ross’s “Society, Education and Dance” class.




As the music starts, the dancers begin a Waltz.  Two by two, all heights, weights, nationalities,  different abilities and learning proclivities fill the studio with movement.  They switch steps and variations together as the music shifts and changes, effortlessly leading and following, focused on the task at hand.


Many of the more advanced dances that these students learn are complex and quickly taught.  The footwork is changeable, rapidly executed and often contains patterns not immediately apparent to the eye or body.  The positions of the partner’s bodies change frequently and rapidly, and must be lead and followed with dexterity.  At these higher levels, there is less time allotted to acquire the moves, less repetition, a greater deal of assumed knowledge, and a greater amount of self-correction required in process.  It demands a higher standard of physical ability than the earlier levels. 


At Stanford University, 23% of the total student population is in the School of Engineering.  In the Social Dance II class last fall, 52% of the students had majors in Engineering or the related sciences.  The number of Engineering majors per Social Dance class increases with the level of difficulty of the material and the speed of presentation of the steps.  In the most advanced performing group, the Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble, their numbers rise to 60%.

All of this naturally requires a strong kinesthetic ability or awareness; admission into the School of Engineering implies strong mathematical skills.  I was initially prompted to look for a link between the Logical/Mathematical and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences in this population.  I later discovered that I needed to add Spatial intelligence to this list.  Here is what was discovered.  



The Logical/Mathematical Connection


Overall, the use of mathematics in learning to dance is not surprising.  The common ground of numbers, of counts, and the geometry of the dances are obvious and the students’ constant use of mathematics and numbers in processing dance information was quite predictable.  Because of the already long-established relationship between music and mathematics, dating back to Pythagoras, for many it was a very small leap to take this mathematical/musical relationship and translate it into a mathematical/dance relationship.  One of the interviewees used basic numerical skills in dance: “I think mathematically for the Lindy.  I use numbers.  I hear a downbeat and know I have seven more beats to do something before the rock-step comes back.”  All used some form of basic numerical, mathematical thinking in order to process dance information. 


However, mathematical thinking sometimes goes beyond basic numerical skills.  In the Course Reader for Dance 046 -  Social Dance, (10) a Mathematics major wrote about “The Math of the Waltz.” She says,


Waltz is by far the most logical dance and the most geometrically designed as well.  It resembles a sine and cosine wave proceeding together - the sine wave half a Pi before the cosine one.  I bring up this analogy because a cosine wave is a sine wave shifted half a Pi in time, and so is Waltz, if we view the man as the sine wave and the woman as a cosine wave.  The beauty of it comes from the fact that unless the partners understand that it must be completely symmetrical, it does not work. 


This is high-level mathematical thinking applied to Social Dance, and falls well within Gardner’s description of “the ability to translate concrete objects into symbols and manipulate them mentally, to visualize without a concrete model.”  (11)


The last form of mathematical thinking in dance involves a link with Spatial intelligence.  It involves making judgements about rotation and velocity, predicting where one’s partner will end up, and putting one’s own body in the correct place at the correct time, or of timing the end of a spin or the takeoff and landing of a leap to be with the music.  One of the Computer Science majors says, “I like adjusting for my partners.  Gauging corrective measures, like if I know she’s not going to make it around all the way, I can correct and be in the right place to meet her.”  This is an excellent example of a combination of the two intelligences. 



                    The Bodily/Kinesthetic Connection


This would appear to be the most obvious intelligence for the learning and execution of dance. Though the links to Engineering may not be immediately apparent, there is a connection between the development of Logical/Mathematical and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences as described by Piaget.  It’s based on the idea of manipulation of objects in space.  He states that the early learning of mathematical concepts is based on “a confrontation with the world of objects,” that young children learn basic math by manipulating objects. (12) 


Picture the First Grade teacher demonstrating the concept of addition and subtraction by using blocks and asking the child how many are left after you “take away” one, or how many there are when you add one.  Eventually these physical operations are translated to symbols on a page and later manipulated in the mind, but the foundation of learning math is in the world of the concrete, the physical. 


This ties in with Gardner’s core characteristic of those who excel in Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence, who learn and create by “the manipulation of objects.”  There is a high incidence of inventors and engineers, particularly engineers who learn and create by manipulating objects, who demonstrate a high degree of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence. (13)   Gardner says, “Biographical accounts indicate that an interest in manipulation, in the taking apart, and the eventual reassembly of objects may play an important formative role in the development of an engineer . . . ” (14)


There may also be a transference of kinesthetic skill from one part of the body to another.  The finesse and kinesthetic deftness with the hands may find a home in the feet as well, after considerable experimentation.  Also, there is the possibility that in Social Dance the leader may in some way also consider the follower’s body to be an object.  To make the correct movements in order that one might lead a partner to a certain place, or to control one’s own body in order to influence the position of another’s, fall under the umbrella of “manipulation of objects,” and are fundamental to early mathematical learning and later success as an inventor, an engineer, or a social dancer. 



The Spatial Intelligence Connection


In order to successfully learn, memorize and execute dance movements, one must be able to picture it being done by others, or preferably, by the self, and then replicate it.  Without this ability to visualize and remember, a dancer would need a demonstrator constantly in front of him, showing the steps until muscle memory or some other memory system took over.  I call them Parasite Dancers: those who feed off the feet of others.


I have heard many dancers and choreographers speak about the “movie in my mind,” the ability to take an image and place it within, sometimes rotating the mental image or viewing it from a different angle in the process.  This is different from viewing oneself in a mirror, or simultaneously aping the moves of a teacher.  A Product Design major says that for her Engineering work she must use “abstract thinking - visualizing in space.  I have to visualize three-dimensionally what it’s going to look like.  It’s the same in dance.  You see something and turn it in your head.”


This inner visualization includes the core characteristics of Spatial intelligence: to transform or modify that which is seen, and imagine that which has never been seen. The ability to take that which is seen on another’s body, and place it within oneself and then on oneself speeds the learning process and gives confidence to the dancer when executing the moves.  This is Spatial intelligence being put to use in the service of learning dancing. 



The Engineering Connection


There appears to be a happy marriage between the way Social Dance is taught to these Engineering majors and the way they best learn, using their major intelligences.  Richard Powers’ own Engineering background finds a receptive audience in this population.  This does not mean that others who are not Engineers would not benefit from this teaching style, nor that this particular population couldn’t learn from someone who teaches differently.  But there is a particular comfort zone for these people, an appropriate level of mental and physical challenge, and the joy of recognition of a familiar language that makes it easier for them to excel, and to take that difficult social step of trying something as public and extroverted as social dancing. 


The most insightful link between being an Engineering major and being taught by a former Engineer came from a Computer Systems major.  He said that:


As an engineer, you want to break down real world situations into its most basic ideas . . . to make it really simple so you can work with it and figure it out.  And that’s what (Richard) does a lot.  He says ‘step one: cross over.’ He breaks it down and makes it so you can understand it.  


He distills everything down to its lowest common denominator.  It is, at least initially, very concrete, mathematical, and to this population, especially meaningful. 



The ability of this teacher to break things down into their most basic components is coupled with an equal ability to paint vivid 3-dimensional pictures to illustrate the moves (Spatial intelligence) and communicate them to his students.  There is a common language in the use of Spatial intelligence that comes into play here.  




Educationally, this population demonstrates the presence of a constellation of these three intelligences in varying degrees.  They all speak of or demonstrate high visual learning skills, and call upon their Bodily/Kinesthetic, Spatial, and Logical/Mathematical intelligences when learning Social Dance.  In addition, the overlap of these three skills between teacher and students are demonstrated daily in the lessons. 


This overlap of skills is not necessarily apparent in all Engineering majors who dance, nor are these indications and results likely to be applicable anywhere else.  This is a unique population here at Stanford, and investigating that uniqueness was part of the joy of doing the project.  I do hope it inspires other teachers to look for intersections of skills and intelligences in different  populations, in order that learning might happen more easily and teaching become better.  


The are other quality-of-life reasons for the attraction between Social Dance and Engineering, balancing a sedentary lifestyle with an active one, and using an expressive, abstract language (dance) to counter a very linear thinking style.  There are also myriad social reasons for this attraction, the opportunity for a typically introverted population to interact with the opposite sex in a comfortable, rule-based environment, and the presence of gender balance - something rarely found in their daytime classes.  The entire paper can be found at http://www.stanford.edu/group/dance/vintage/ under “Resources”.  But since the topic at hand is education and multiple intelligences, let’s continue on with ideas for teaching and learning dance. 




When I first started rewriting my lesson plans with the Multiple Intelligences in mind, it was for the Tap dance classes I was teaching at the time.  I began with an example of BODILY/KINESTHETIC teaching, demonstrating the step with no verbal descriptive accompaniment.  Most dance teachers have a strong Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence, or they probably wouldn’t be dance teachers.  The Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to “see and do,” and for those students who have this strong ability, this was often sufficient for acquisition of the moves. 


However, we must remember that many of our students do not gravitate to this form of learning and compensate for that in other ways.  Some of those ways might include using descriptive “how it feels” language, hands-on teaching to “move” their bodies in the right direction, leading or back-leading someone through a partnered dance, relating new information to other more pedestrian/normal movements, and linking new material to other well-ingrained dance moves.


Next, in my lesson rewrites, I moved to the LINGUISTIC mode, and added verbal descriptions of what was happening on each beat.  This might entail words like “step shuffle ball change flat,” or some other vocabulary that was recognizable to Tap students.  All dance relies heavily on verbal descriptions of kinesthetic feeling, verbal description of moves, names for steps, verbal corrections, description of emotional or aesthetic qualities.  Appealing to the Linguistic intelligence includes the tone of voice one uses to say the words. 


After that, I counted out the steps using numbers, much as musicians count out the beats in a measure of music, entering the realm of the LOGICAL/MATHEMATICAL.  For those who had a strong affinity for numbers, this would be a familiar language.  It includes topics such as musical counts vs. “dancer” counts, timing, number of times the move occurs, patterns, logical sequencing of steps,  and using mathematical and geometrically descriptive language


Some people have a strong relationship to directionality.  They like knowing which side of the body was involved in making these steps work, so I would then switch to SPATIAL mode.  This meant talking through all of the lefts and rights in the footwork, and any directional shifts needed.  Many dance teachers excel at the form of descriptive talk which appeals to the Spatial intelligence, and we can learn from them.  They use very visually descriptive language, relate to orientation in the room, talk about visual structure, the architecture of a choreography or a move, 3-Dimensional space, symmetry and form, and “landmarks” in a choreography. 


Finally, I would just verbalize the Tap rhythms using nonsense syllables, to appeal to any MUSICAL intelligences missed up to this point.  Rhythm is one of the three basic components of music (Melody, Harmony, Rhythm) and this very rhythmic form of teaching appeals to some.  The Musical intelligence is a natural companion for dancers.  Those who dance without a sense of musicality lose our interest in short order.  This includes the ability to crescendo and decrescendo the steps visually, indicate the beginnings and endings of phrases physically, and demonstrate rhythmic accuracy.  We can play with the tempo, the rhythm of moves, use musical language like “staccato, lyrical, percussive,” do listening exercises and relate to their existing knowledge of music if they play a musical instrument.  If done well, I should be able to press the “mute” button on my videotape player and still see how musical their dancing is.


Working with a partner or a small group is part of learning dance using INTERPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE.  Teaching something to another person, taking private lessons, and discussing dance one-to-one are part of the Interpersonal Intelligence.  Partner stretching, trust exercises, contact improvisation, and partnered dancing all require interpersonal skills. 


The art of reflection, the ability to think about something and understand it better, is part of the INTRAPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE.  This one may seem to be the most remote of the seven, as far as relating it to teaching/learning dance, but there is much to be done.  As teachers, we can assign reflective essays for dance classes, have them work on the dance alone and unwatched, stretch on their own, and so on.  The ability to work things out on one’s own is important here, to not be constantly dependant on another person for dance input or visual stimuli. 


Appealing to the NATURALIST intelligence is a great way of assessing whether or not learning has taken place.  Often we can tell just by watching whether or not someone understands and has learned the moves.  This is another way.   Remember that this is the ability to differentiate one thing from another, so we can ask them A vs. B questions, or same vs. different questions, and teach auditory and visual discrimination skills.  In Tap, listening only (with closed eyes) helps people learn auditory discrimination skills, because in most people, eyes trump ears.  To really help improve the Tap sounds, close your eyes. 


The arts often bring spiritual questions or “Why do we live? Why do we die?” thoughts to the fore.  We can take advantage of this association by appealing to the EXISTENTIAL INTELLIGENCE, and have students choreograph something from an inspiring thought, or piece of music, etc.  Ask “Why?  Why create this work?  What will its effect be on the audience?   What responsibilities does a person have toward the audience or the dancers?” 


For teachers, we can ask ourselves, “What are we trying to accomplish here?  Why do we teach?”  I teach Tap dance for many reasons, but one of the less obvious reasons is that I love what this loud, assertive dance form does for women.  It is impossible to be tentative and tiptoe around with Tap, so transferring some of that assertion with the floor into their daily lives is an energy dose that many young women need.  For the men, Tap is a rather masculine dance form that is often a first dance class that leads men to other dance classes.  A marvelous “gateway drug” that gets men into other styles of dance. 


Other possibilities abound for use of these (or other) intelligences for teaching dance.  I have only scratched the surface with these few examples, but hope they might lead the way for others to invent their own examples of these nine teaching ideas. 






There are many other ways to look at teaching and learning besides the framework of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Here is what two Sports Psychologists have to say about dancers and dance teachers. 


Our American school system has been accused of relying primarily on two intelligences, typically teaching in such a way that they involve only the Linguistic and the Logical/Mathematical intelligences.  So too does much dance teaching in the Western world rely primarily on two intelligences: Bodily/Kinesthetic and Linguistic.  Most teachers teach the way they were taught, and the ability to “see and do” in dance class, and then to take verbal “corrections” from the teacher has been a prized method of dance teaching for centuries.  These are valuable teaching methods, and will continue to be primary modes of transmission.  But how can we expand our repertoire of teaching styles to include more opportunities for learning to take place?  Let’s look at one attempt to analyze and classify methods of teaching dance. 


While teaching at San Jose State University in 1994, I was evaluated by the Pro Mind Institute of Los Gatos, Sports Psychologists who study physical teaching and learning styles.  Don Greene, who now coaches performing artists at the Julliard School, and Bruce Ogilvie, who is now retired, are Sports Psychologists who coach Olympic athletes and professional performing artists and who have devised objective means for analyzing and improving how the mind/body works in performance situations.  They gave me insight and advice on how to improve my teaching styles, and increased (yet again) my desire to know more about how people learn to dance.   


They created a Teaching Styles Profile, (15) (see Appendix) a chart of 24 teaching categories based on a quiz that asked 96 questions about 5 different scenarios in the teaching situation.  This chart is amazing in the categories that it analyzes, and the range within each category.  Just the blank chart itself is helpful in taking note of areas of instruction not often considered.


Some of the areas studied and rated are quite predictable: how much Visual teaching takes place, how much patience is exhibited by the teacher and whether a Summary or Review is given.  There are also more unusual categories, such as Assessing Expectations (“Unaware of Students’ Learning Agendas” up through “Accurate Assessment”), Outcome/Process (“Emphasizes Basics/Fundamentals” through “Concerned with Ultimate Results”) and Balance of Interests (“Significant Other Life Interests” through “Teaching is Primary Life Focus”).  Reflecting on what agendas students bring with them to class, and how much of one’s life is devoted to teaching can lead to insights and changes in one’s teaching style.  So the pathways to good teaching were increased for me once again, with my introduction to these two men and their charts of teaching categories. 





The Pro Mind Institute also evaluated how athletes and performing artists generally prefer to learn.  Again, using an Artist’s Learning Inventory based on 96 questions in 4 different scenarios, these sports psychologists came up with an Artist’s Learning Profile consisting of 24 categories worthy of study. (16) (See Appendix)

It is understood that within the four learning styles (Visual, Kinesthetic, Cognitive and Trial & Experience), more than one is operational at any given time.  Dancers pretty much hover in the Visual and Kinesthetic arenas.  Trial and Experience, which Gardner would consider to be a subset of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence, is also a primary mode for dancers.  Some of the more common areas of learning are Pos/Neg Feedback (“Wants only Corrections” to “Wants/Needs Praise”), and Efforting Level (“Doesn’t try Enough” to “Tries Too Hard”).  Others that might not immediately come to mind are Humor/Seriousness (“Takes Everything Very Seriously” to “Able to Laugh at Self/Circumstances”) and Commitment to Change (“Reverts to Old Way Quickly” through “Sticks with Changes Until Effective”). 


These 48 topics, 24 concerned with teaching, and 24 concerned with learning, ought to have considerable overlap in the dance studio.  My observations imply that there is not.  Our job as teachers can be to make the ways dancers usually prefer to learn and the way we teach them more in line with one another.  Learners of dance can experiment with different ways of accessing material.  These ideas have kept me occupied for that past 5 years, and will continue to influence my thinking and improve my teaching for years to come.  But after spending several years working on these thought-provoking areas of interest, my mind has turned lately to the more invisible factors that influence teaching.  Let’s look at a concept I call “Intuitive Teaching”. 



I once thought teaching and learning was like a dance with a leader and a follower, where one person had all the information and transferred it to the other empty vessel.  I now know that it is more like a dual feedback loop, in which both people or groups of people are constantly giving and receiving information, creating a unique learning situation that changes moment by moment.  On one level, for the teacher the incoming information is observable, concrete data that triggers a predictable, concrete, outgoing response: “Wrong foot.”  But there is another layer of incoming and outgoing information that is difficult to pin down, observe and discuss, but which nonetheless exists.  It is this layer of information exchange that I would like to talk about, and I call it Intuitive Teaching. 


There are pedagogical decisions made on a moment-by-moment basis that are based on information, on sights, sounds, and impressions, some of which don’t even register on a conscious level.  Many good teachers are not even aware that they are in a state of constant decision-making.  Some of these pedagogical decisions include:

- Whether to repeat the phrase or go on

- If repeating, whether to shift to a different modality/intelligence/tactic or stay with the same one

- Is it time to focus on steps, counts, footwork and “concrete” items, or delve into style, mood, character, “feel” of the dance, or to work on sequencing, memory, or something else?

- Whether to leave the realm of words and rely on demonstration, or vice versa

- What can they handle/how much can I push?  Is it a touchy day, or can we really push it?  (Touchy days are useful for developing other things: unity, support, community, sense of humor, etc.)


If the teacher is open and receptive to it, this information is constantly flowing in and available for use.  If we had to stop and consider all of the options before making a decision on each of these issues, it would be a very slow class indeed.  Learning to pay attention to this type of information requires a good deal of teaching experience, great familiarity with the material and a certain amount of automaticity.  Once that level of expertise has been achieved, training oneself to go to that next level of receptiveness is needed in order to progress. 


There are so many layers of information exchanged between teachers and students that shape the lesson and the learning; information that is both seen and unseen, felt, perceived and transmitted in concrete and invisible ways.  To ignore this valuable source of data puts our teaching in peril, and results in boredom or frustration for ourselves and our students. 



By taking a look at Multiple Intelligences in the Engineering and Social Dance populations, and discussing their usefulness in teaching/learning other dance styles, I’ve tried to open the mental doors to new ways of looking at teaching and learning.  Ways that might not seem applicable at first glance, but which may just be the key to getting someone to enjoy dance more and feel better about their dancing, to improve the quality of someone’s life or of someone’s teaching.  The nine intelligences are each able to be used to varying degrees in the dance learning/teaching environment. 


In addition, the views of sports psychologists are helpful to teachers and learners of dance. Their objective means of looking at this complex act can isolate and make clear components of the teaching and learning situation that are less clear when viewed in context.  Finally the concepts of teaching and learning are so interwoven as to be nearly indistinguishable to me now.  Intuitive teaching is an example of being in that constant state of multi-level receptivity and expressivity, creating an environment in which learning can’t help but happen.


Finally, the most important immediate outcome of this paper might be to encourage experimentation; for learners of dance to play around with new ways of accessing and processing information, and for teachers, to encourage pedagogical experimentation in complicity with your students.  To help dancers learn in as many ways possible, and to make teachers fluent in as many teaching languages as possible, including those visible and invisible ways of communicating things like care, concern, humor, warmth and love for the art, not only for the art of dance but the art of teaching, and the desire to pass these things on to other people by teaching them to dance, and at least for an hour, giving them wings to fly.



1. Tracy, Brian.  1996.  Accelerated Learning Techniques.  Audio Book.


2.  Project Zero website


3.  Gardner, Howard.  1983.  Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences, p. 77


4.  Ibid.: p. 134


5.  Ibid.: p. 207


6.  Ibid.: p. 173


7.  Kimmelman, M., “Keeping the Arts in Mind and the Mind on the Arts,” New York Times Arts and Leisure Section, February 14, 1999


8.  Ibid. 


9.  Walton, Joan.  1998.  Engineering + Social Dance: The balance and intersection of intelligences between Engineering and Social Dance.  Unpublished. 


10.  Powers, Richard.  1998.  Social Dance Forms of North America Course Reader.  “The Math of the Waltz”


11. Gardner, Howard.  1983.  Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. p. 134


12. Piaget, Jean.  1971.  Genetic Epistomology. 


13. Gardner, Howard.  1983.  Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. p. 231-233


14. Ibid. p. 233


15. Ogilvie, Bruce and Greene, Don.  1993.  Pro Mind Institute Teaching Style Inventory. 


16. Ogilvie, Bruce and Greene, Don.  1993.  Pro Mind Institute Learning Style Inventory. 





1.  Jim Thompson, Positive Coaching Alliance, March 10, 1999


2.  Bruce Ogilvie, formerly of Pro Mind Institute, now retired, by telephone; April 2, 1999


3.  Don Green, formerly of Pro Mind Institute, now of The Julliard School; by telephone; April 12, 1999





1. Ryan Knotts; November 5, 1998 at Hobee’s Restaurant


2. Monica Shen Knotts; November 5, 1998 at Hobee’s Restaurant


3. Graham Waldon; November 14, 1998 at Roble Office


4. Jim Czaja; November 14, 1998 at Roble Office


5. Alex Protopopescu; November 16, 1998 at Roble Office


6. Ivan Parra; November 18, 1998 at Roble Office


7. Delphine Lai; November 18, 1998 at Roble Office


8. Edoardo Maragliano; November 20, 1998 at Lyman Residences