An educational theorist and brain researcher who has had a huge impact on teaching practice is Howard Gardner of Harvard University’s Project Zero. Gardner postulates that there are many different kinds of intelligence, and that we all possess them in varying degrees. These “different ways to be smart” represent ways of looking at the world that can become doorways to understanding when teachers consciously include differentiated learning strategies in the classroom. Here in brief are some ways that, in my experience, creative dance engages and stimulates these intelligences.
Bodily / Kinesthetic Intelligence: Body Smart
Clearly, this is the first and most obvious connection with dance activities. When teachers have students get out of their seats and move with attention and purpose, the benefits (as we have seen) are immediate and lasting. One of the ways we remember best is through stored muscle memory, so learning in and through dance has a way of sticking with us for a very long time. I have had teachers stop me in the grocery store to tell me they can still remember their Water Cycle phrases or being a hurricane in a small group, years after the workshop experience took place.
Also, the act of problem-solving in dance is very physical and direct, and it has a way of providing instant feedback. If something works, it clicks in the body, making sense in a manner that is simple and crystal clear. If something doesn’t work, mind and body function together to find an alternate solution. This kind of “body thinking” is inherent in the design of the human physique. It is one of the very first ways we learn about physics. We have a personal experience of gravity, of leverage, force, and motion, and we also have a body that can be finely tuned to its own inner processes.
When we start to become aware of our physical capabilities, then we develop the responsibility to protect and hone them. There is a reason the Greeks highly valued “a sound mind in a sound body.” We are not fully human and alive unless we are in touch with our body’s intelligence.
Verbal / Linguistic Intelligence: Word Smart
Right along with the kinesthetic intelligence, we have to use our verbal intelligence to listen to and comprehend instructions, imagery, and information that we will use to create our dance movements. Dance teachers are adept at using metaphors and prior knowledge to draw out of their students the qualities and patterns they are looking for.
When we guide students’ movement explorations with verbal cues, we are activating this intelligence. When we invite students to comment on what they like about each other’s creations and to explain their own, they must draw on this intelligence to understand and be understood. Linguistic thinking goes hand-in-hand with teaching and developing body thinking.
Logical / Mathematical Intelligence: Pattern Smart
When I ask teachers at workshops if they think they used their logical / mathematical intelligence to create their dances, they are not sure. I think part of this is due to how we think about and teach mathematics in public schools. The Factory Education view of math is all about computational and memorization skills, and so we think of mathematics as being about manipulating numbers and equations.
But when I remind them that this intelligence is about sequence, pattern, order, relationship, and proportion as well as number sense, the lights begin to go on. Yes, there is some basic counting (4-beat units in a phrase made up of nine such units, for instance, for a 36-count phrase), the mathematical thinking creative dancers do is mostly of a much higher order.
To be able to take a set of steps and place them into a logical order is to use this kind of thinking. So is making decisions on the relative lengths and efforts of the movements, making some more “important” than others in the composition. So is showing the relationship between two similar or dissimilar movements, and so is recognizing patterns in both science and in dance and using them to reflect on one another.
It is this kind of mathematical thinking that produced the work of Albert Einstein and Loie Fuller, Marie Curie and George Balanchine, Stephen Hawking and Twyla Tharp, Niehls Bohr and Merce Cunningham. It is imaginative work, and yet true to what we observe. It continually refers back to the beauty of truth as well as asking us to examine what truths we find in beauty.
The next generation of transformative physicist, mathematicians, and creators may well come from those children who have learned to think of aesthetics and logic as complementary rather than contradictory viewpoints.
Musical / Rhythmic Intelligence: Music Smart
In every group of creative dancers I have led, the movements they create begin to take on their own rhythms, sometimes even accompanying the movement with sound that becomes its own music. The shuffle of a group’s feet as they imitate the ebb and flow of tides or waves, the snapping of fingers or tapping of the body for rainfall, even the faint rush of bodies moving through the shared atmosphere as they move like the wind, all can be heard as a musical score for the dance, and all derive from this intelligence.
Later in the creative process, we may add music, if it seems appropriate. That process of making decisions about the need for and the type of musical accompaniment are also guided by the musical / rhythmic intelligence.
Visual / Spatial Intelligence: Design Smart
Dance is, as I have mentioned, a visual art. As such, it is governed every bit as much as the more static forms of visual art by the principles of form, balance, rhythm, line, shape, and texture, among others. It is visual art in four dimensions: three in space, plus the time dimension.
While the bodily intelligence is solving physics problems in an attempt to match the verbal intelligence’s word-pictures, and the logical intelligence is working with the musical one to choose and arrange the most appropriate sequences and rhythms, the visual intelligence is busy assembling the parts of the dance into a visually coherent whole.
Naturalist Intelligence: Environment Smart
This somewhat awkwardly-named intelligence has caused some backlash in certain school districts. In some communities this can be mistakenly heard to be somehow atheistic or otherwise related to religious beliefs (as in “naturalism” vs. “creationism”) or even thought to be about nudism. But this intelligence is about knowing our way around in the world, whether that be “street smart” or “country smart.”
Being this kind of smart is not finding our way, as in mapping, but more like having an accurate and comprehensive sense of the world around us and our place, or niche, in our surroundings. When we call on our remembrance of how we have experienced water in our environment, or when we have seen insect behavior or the cycles of plant or animal life, we are using this intelligence.
So dances about science, which is essentially the study of the universe, naturally invoke this intelligence as we try to make sense of new information by using our prior experiences as a reference point.
Interpersonal Intelligence: People Smart
While the process of creating a solo dance is necessarily a solitary one, eventually there comes a time when the dance is made and it’s time to show it to someone. The fact that dance is a performing art means that this is always in the back of the minds of the student / choreographers in a dance integration setting. They must call on their empathy skills to put themselves in the place of the audience and make educated guesses about the effect of their dance choices on the audience.
They also need to be able to listen to compliments and suggestions from their audience, to explain their choices clearly, and to give appropriate compliments and suggestions to their peers. So there is a fair amount of activation of this intelligence even in solo work.
When it really kicks into high gear, however, is when we have students work together as collaborators on a piece of curriculum-related choreography. Now, two or more creative dance-makers must learn to share ideas, negotiate, solve problems both physical and social, to give and receive honest feedback, and to assemble their dance in a way that includes and honors each member while adhering to a larger purpose.
The number of social skills that these students are developing through their interpersonal intelligence is startling.
Intrapersonal Intelligence: Self Smart
This meta-cognitive intelligence is one of the most underdeveloped by Factory Education. But it is possibly the most-used in arts integration experiences, because the student is continually encountering choices to make. The process of decision-making requires the choreographer to look inside for the answers to important questions:
- Does this feel right?
- Does this make sense to me?
- Do I like the way this looks / feels?
- Is there some kind of aesthetic pleasure here?
- What do I like about this? What do I not like?
- What might I like better?
By becoming aware of our aesthetic preferences, we open up the possibility of building on them, modifying them, or seeing with new eyes. We evaluate our efforts against a set of internal standards, and we develop ways to explain our choices based on those standards or preferences. This intelligence guides almost all our choices in life in some way or another, and it pays huge dividencs to strengthen and develop our ability to think about our own thinking.
How many intelligences are there?
Gardner originally found evidence for seven (all the ones we have discussed, except for the naturalist). He added the naturalist intelligence after finding enough evidence for the theory to pass successfully through the peer review process. He is now looking at the possibility of a ninth intelligence, the existential. That intelligence, if demonstrated, is the part of our thinking that is concerned with the question, “Why am I here?”
Obviously, even more than the naturalist, this one is fraught with social and political consequences. I happen to think it makes a lot of sense, but I suspect it will be a long while before that one enters accepted educational theory. For now, wry cultural reference aside, eight is enough. RB
*Source for graphic above: http://naungancinta.wordpress.com/2008/04/11/multiple-intelligences-which-one-your-learning-style/