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NDEO's "Dance Education" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


How to Incorporate Somatic Movement into Dance Classes

Over the summer, many teachers find themselves reflecting on the past year: what worked, what could have gone better, and how to improve the learning experience for your students next time. If you are looking for a way to enrich your classes and deepen your students’ dance learning, consider incorporating somatic movement into your dance classes. Somatic movement is a term for a range of movement practices that “enhance human functioning and body-mind integration through movement awareness,” according to The International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA). Dance and somatic movement practices have been interconnected in many ways since the early 1900s, and dance educators have been using somatic movement as a learning tool for generations. You can learn more about somatic movement in this previous blog post.

a white woman with blonde hair, wearing a black tshirt, she has both arms up in a v shape and is looking at the ceiling

There are many ways that somatic movement can be utilized in dance education to enhance the learning experience for students. Not only are somatic movement practices and experiences beneficial in and of themselves, but somatic-based approaches to dance education can be used to facilitate health, wellness, and injury prevention; foster justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion; enhance creative practices; teach dance techniques; and enhance pedagogies and teaching methods.

Many of these applications will be explored during Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students, an NDEO Special Topic Conference, held in partnership with ISMETA in July 2024 in New York City. Learn more here.

In this blog post, we will highlight some of the ways that dance teachers can use somatic movement in their dance classes, as well as a few of the conference sessions that delve into those areas of dance and somatics.

5 Ways Somatic Movement Can Be Used in Dance Classes

1. Improving Student Wellness

In somatic movement, emphasis is placed on the internal sensation and perception of how movement feels and is experienced, rather than how the movement looks to others.

This emphasis on the mover’s experience can make somatic movement an effective practice for improving physical and mental wellness.

Somatic movement has the potential to positively affect students’ mental health by increasing self-awareness, reducing anxiety, improving body image, and fostering healthy relationships with others. Many sessions at the Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference, explore the mental health applications of somatic movement experiences in dance.

  • In “Are the Kids Okay? Somatic Yoga and Wellness,” Alexis M. del Sol will demonstrate how to use yoga to sharpen self-awareness in movement and in stillness, and how to use that self-awareness to avoid injury (or further injury) to the body and mind.
  • Amy Jacques, meanwhile, illustrates ways to help students reduce anxiety and build positive body image in the session “Dance/Movement Therapy for Dancers.”
  • Specific to the K-12 teachers working in the K-12 sector, Camillia Holman explores Social Emotional Learning with a somatic twist to help students develop their relationship and responsible decision-making skills while simultaneously engaging them in a choreographic creative process in “Somatic Social Emotional Learning (SSEL) for K-12.”

In addition to mental health benefits, integrating somatic movement into your dance teaching practice can also be good for your students’ physical health, including facilitating safer and more efficient movement patterns, and enhancing rehabilitation after injury.

a teacher leads a class of very young dancers, they are all in various shapes and wearing dance clothes
  • In Functional Mobility for Dancers, Sarah Newton explores the differences between flexibility and hyper-mobility to develop an awareness of ways to support hyper-mobility and optimize the ability to move through a full functional range of motion.
  • Jill Grundstrom, meanwhile, reports on the dance-related injury and rehabilitation experiences of pre-professional dancers from their perspective in the session Dance-related injury & rehabilitation experiences.
  • In the presentation Using Imagery for Dancers’ Health and Creativity by Eric Franklin, participants will experience how dynamic neurocognitive imagery can influence awareness and focus to promote better motor and cognitive capabilities in their students.

2. Creative Practice and Choreography

Somatic movement practices can be used to foster greater creativity and enhance choreographic practices. Because somatics is rooted in the individual’s own first-person, internal perception of the body, rather than what is observed or described of it by external sources, it can lead to more authentic creative expression. Dance teachers can use somatic-based creative practices to help awaken their own creativity, refine their choreographic practices, and introduce the creative process to students. If you are experiencing “choreography burnout” after recitals and spring concerts, the Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference offers many sessions that can help rejuvenate your creativity and help you feel inspired to create next season!

  • Choreographic Development through Somatic Methods by Merry Morris describes a collaborative choreographic process in which dance students were invited to discover and generate movement from their authentic sensing selves, drawing upon their personal experiences, with emphasis on deepening the connection of inner impulses to outward movement manifestations through breath work, weight-sensing, core-distal connectivity, touch, sound/vibration, and light.
  • Maria Diaz de Leon Z. takes a different approach in The Heart of the Dance and the Courage to Create, helping participants explore the metaphor of listening and following their heart’s calling into the uncharted territories of the creative process; learn to tap into their heart’s courage, especially when there are blockages or lack of inspiration; and gain resources to connect with their heart to create meaningful dances in studio and daily lives.
  • In LMA as a Choreographic Tool, Meg Buckner Furtick leads participants through exercises that hope to strengthen the Mind/Body Connection so that creativity may flow more freely while giving them the tools to combat choreography block.

3. Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Somatic movement practices can be a powerful tool to help foster justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in dance, because they prioritize the individual’s own experiences and perception, rather than adherence to an externally imposed structure, form, or aesthetic. Incorporating somatics into dance classes can make dance more accessible for students with disabilities or different needs, creating a more inclusive and welcoming dance space for all.

  • Suzi Tortora and Sandi Stratton-Gonzalez delve into this topic in their conference presentation Aligning Somatic Therapies and Dance Education. Their session asks the question, “How do we create a thriving inclusive community of dancers who have diverse access needs and different abilities, in a large classroom environment?,” and shares strategies to create a curriculum and classroom environment supporting different and divergent multisensory, attentional and regulatory needs.

Somatic movement in dance can also support trauma-informed teaching practices, and help students heal through embodiment and expression.

  • In Embodied Resilience: Navigating Trauma Through Dance, Zahra Carpenter explores the profound connection between dance, trauma, and healing, creating a safe space in which participants can discover movement as a powerful tool for internal exploration and growth.
four dance educators lay on their sides with their leg and arm lifted at the 2023 national conference

Many somatic practitioners and dance educators are actively engaged in the work of making their fields more just, diverse, and equitable. Several sessions at the Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference will highlight this work and offer strategies for fostering justice, diversity, and equity in participant’s own teaching and creative practices. These sessions include:

  • A Decolonized Lens on Health & Creativity, in which presenter Martha Eddy offers a lively discussion of how Western Somatics meets African and Latino Indigenous Health and Creative practices.
  • Neuroqueer Emergence: Somatic Survival Strategies in which presenter Chrissy Martin presents ingredients for building a warm-up or a longer workshop that fosters accessibility, engages all of the senses, builds trust in the group, and encourages students’ bodily autonomy, moving from awareness to self, to relationships with others, and finally interacting with the environment.
  • Somatic Social Justice in Liberatory Curriculum in which presenter Alexia Buono explores the question, how can dance educators collaborate with methods of somatic social justice to innovate liberatory curricula that will enhance the health (personal, social, and cultural) and creative capacity of teachers and students, particularly those who are most impacted by systems of oppression and marginalization?

4. Dance Techniques

Given that somatic movement is about the personal experience of movement as opposed to meeting the demands of a particular form or aesthetic, it might seem like it is incompatible with the teaching of specific dance techniques. But many dance educators are using somatic movement experiences to reimagine how dance techniques can be taught and learned. The integration of somatics into dance technique classes can help students take ownership of the learning in and performance of dance techniques by prioritizing their individual experience of the technique over adherence to an externally imposed form.

Somatic-informed approaches to dance techniques will be explored by many presenters at the Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference. Presenters share how somatics can enhance the teaching of a range of dance techniques, from ballet to Bharata-Natyam.

  • In Shimmy for Self-Care: Somatics & Bellydance, Ashley Cartledge applies Body-Mind Dancing© somatic practices to learn Belly Dance technique including using knowledge of the fluid systems to develop various shakes and shimmies, apply concepts of spinal undulations from the spinal roll down series to body rolls, and use the developmental opening and closing sequence to understand how to isolate the upper and lower body.
  • Presenter Michelle Ikle takes a somatic approach to jazz dance in the presentation Somatojazzology, in which somatic methods are aligned with rooted jazz elements to themes including historical and cultural contexts, inclusion, skill development, curricular advocacy, class design, creativity/innovation, and personal agency as we share practical tools to enhance the teaching and learning of jazz dance through somatic practices.
  • In Inherent Somatic Approaches in Bharata-Natyam, Sumana Mandala, Mary Fitzgerald, and Niveditha Muthukrishnan offer a space to embody techniques demonstrating the physical and emotional training in Bharata-Natyam pedagogy, and share how the pedagogical traditions of Bharata-Natyam can be applied in participant’s own practices and other movement forms.
  • Modern dance techniques are explored in sessions like Hold, Release, Flow: Hawkins & Improvisation by Renata Celichowska and Enhancing Somatic Awareness through Duncan Dance by Alice Bloch.
  • Finally, Ballet-in-the-Round, presented by Kristin Marrs, is a reimagined ballet class in which wellness, anatomical difference, and community are supported through innovative use of space, visualizations, and partner/small group activities.

5. Pedagogy and Teaching Methods

dance educators connect to each other with their arms at the 2023 national conference

A somatic perspective can help transform pedagogy and teaching methods for dance teachers, leading to teaching and learning experiences that are richer and more fulfilling for the educator and learners alike. Somatics can inform dance pedagogy and teaching methods in every sector and in classes of all ages, skill levels, and dance genres. Participants can delve into the applications of somatics in dance pedagogy and teaching methods in a variety of sessions during the Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference.

  • Jill Green explores ways to apply principles of “social somatic theory” to dance and somatics pedagogy in Exploring a Pedagogy Based on Social Somatic Theory.
  • In Healthier Practices through Somatic Repatterning, Alison Seidenstricker shares ways to empower students with positive tools for classroom engagement, educators can foster healthier relationships to develop in their students and the dancing community.
  • During the workshop, Pedagogical Wellness in Dance Education, Renay Aumiller will guide participants through various aspects of the Pedagogical Wellness approach including syllabus design, assessment and grading methods, learning activities, class environment, and communication strategies.
  • Ashley Goos also focuses on assessment in the presentation Sensing Technique: Somatics in Assessment, which offers an overview of different assessment tactics for collegiate technique classes that emphasize an authentic, safe assessment process that honors students’ lived experiences, decentralizes hierarchy, and increases technical acumen.
  • Specific to the K-12 sector, Denise Purvis explores the possibilities for mindful, creative, and inclusive dance education in the K-12 setting in the presentation Leading K-12 Dance Education with Somatic Intent.

Learn more about somatic movement in dance

Dance educators of every age group, skill level, dance genre, and sector can benefit from an understanding of somatic movement and how it can enhance teaching and learning in dance. Exploring the relationship between somatics and dance is a great way to refresh and rejuvenate your teaching and creative practices this summer. The Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference offers a little something for every dance educator, from those who are well-versed in somatics to those who are completely new to the concept. Conference attendees will leave feeling inspired to start classes in the fall!

The Somatic Movement in Dance Education: Enhancing Health and Creativity for Teachers & Students conference will be held July 19-21, 2024 at the Gibney: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center in New York, NY. You can learn more about the conference by clicking here, and view the complete list of session descriptions and presenter biographies by clicking here.

Photo credits (in order or appearance): Featured photo by Tanya Kulesh, photo by Daniel Clifton, photo by T.J. Shuflin Photography, photos by Noah Gelfman

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