Tech Dance Session 15


Written by Kenneth H. Westgate Jr. 8/2/2019©

I began my Ballroom Dancing lessons in the fall of 1958 just after we had moved to our second home in Allentown. I was starting the sixth grade and was totally shocked when my mother decided to sign me and my next oldest brother up for Ballroom Dancing lessons without telling us. I had just begun to really get into Rock and Roll and Ballroom Dancing seemed like the last thing a pre-teen boy would want to be doing on a Saturday night for two hours. I guess my mother thought it would fit into my trumpet lessons since I had started taking those the year before and was learning mostly classical pieces and marching band music. I really wanted to learn how to play jazz trumpet since my Dad had played cornet in a Big Band after World War II to help pay for his college education at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. I loved listening to his collection of jazz records as well as listening to my mother’s collection of show tunes, but I also liked listening to my fledgling collection of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry. My next oldest brother and I also took trumpet lessons together so I guess my mother thought the dancing lessons together would work fine for us.

Surprisingly after the first year of dance lessons I really enjoyed the Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha Cha and Rumba. What was more surprising was that in my third year of dance lessons our dance teacher decided to introduce some more contemporary steps. We learned the Jitterbug, the Twist, the Mash Potatoes, and the Peppermint Stomp. I think all of us felt a little silly on the dance floor in our formal suits and dresses doing these steps but they were definitely much more fun then the usual ballroom steps. At one point she even taught us the Charleston. A dance my parents probably did in their youth, but one none of us had even heard of. I guess what surprised us most is that we found out there were many forms of dancing and even more that we hadn’t been exposed too. Our dance parties at the end of each year of lessons were also a lot more fun as well.

Looking back I didn’t think the dance lessons did a lot for me, but I discovered over time that they improved my balance, strengthened my legs and feet and helped me improve my game in basketball, baseball, soccer, and even helped prepare me for my track career as a sprinter and hurdler.

My musical tastes began to change in the early 60’s as did my brother’s. Some of that probably changed because we were no longer being exposed to all the classical style music and some it changed because of the changes in music taking place in around the country and around the world. We both added guitar to our musical lessons, while continuing the trumpet. We both ended up playing in the marching band and orchestra at school, but we definitely we expanding our tastes in music. Even though the formal dance lessons stopped, we both went to the weekend dances at the YMCA every Saturday during the school year, and went to dances at Saylor’s Lake or Castle Rock during the summer through high school and college. My taste switched to folk music and the Beach Boys, and my brother’s to the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. During our high school years we played in a folk group and my brother started a rock group. Our youngest brother was learning how to play drums and would later be in both the marching band and several rock groups.

I turned out to be only an average musician but a slightly better than average dancer. Those years of dance lessons helped immeasurably with that. One of the most profound learning experiences from all of this was that when I went to college and graduate school I met individuals from other parts of the country and other parts of the world who introduced me to their music and dance styles. In grad school I roomed with a young African American man and he introduced me to African American dance styles and African American culture. My best friends in grad school were from India, Taiwan, and Italy and I learned new music and culture from them as well. I even learned to appreciate Opera from my Italian friend. I also learned to appreciate Ballet since one of my girl friends in grad school was a professional ballerina. I never learned ballet, but I did learn to appreciate the grace and strength it took for her to do the moves she did on the stage.

Tech Dance Alignment:

What does all of this have to do with Technology Integration in School?

  1. First we need to use the tech tools at our disposal to help our students explore the rich variety of the arts, culture, history and people in the world. Doing so will expand their view of the world exponentially and will encourage their engagement with others who are different from them. Building relationships through live collaborations, either individual student-to-student or class-to-class should be a priority with the tools we posses. Just like learning how to dance with a new dance partner was essential to my ability to succeed at my dance lessons or to learn how to play with a band, orchestra or music group was essential to learning how to participate in an activity that only achieved real success and beauty when we all played our parts well together. Helping our students to learn how to use these tech tools to build positive and constructive relationships is essential to their effective and productive use of these tools.

  2. Second we need to help our students not to be afraid to explore new skills, even those they may have never thought of pursuing such as dance. Dance has been one of the most powerful tools for interpersonal engagement in cultures since the beginning of mankind. While there has often been a great deal of controversy in cultures about what forms of dance are acceptable and what may not be, the fact is that all cultures seem to endorse certain forms of dance which engage individuals in a beautiful and rhythmic expression of emotion that helps connect them together. Today our technology tools can help students learn dance steps, and can help them explore how dance may enhance other skills and abilities such as they did for me with sports. These tools can also help them explore other creative expression that goes well beyond dance.

  3. Variety in what we do is essential for student/teacher engagement so using the tools we have for a variety of activities and not just the same type of activities such as writing or research. While these are important uses, limiting our students to just those tasks represents little more than what we did with pencil and paper or books for years. Just like the variety of dance steps helped keep me engaged in dance lessons and expanded my appreciation for them, ensuring we are using the tech tools we have at our disposal to create variety should do the same for our students. We are teaching new generations of learners who come to us with digital skills and a mindset for using them for a variety of activities, we should capitalize on these learning presets to keep them engaged in classroom learning today.

  4. The tech tools at our disposal offer an array of learning approaches from reading and listening to kinesthetic, and with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, real life simulations.

  5. These tech tools also offer our students the opportunities to think critically about what they are learning, to analyze the data, to extrapolate from it, build new applications and uses for what they have learned. It is like creating a new dance step to go with a new melody or rhythm they are experiencing.

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