In Dr. Stephanie Lorenze’s classroom, everyone is a dancer. Lorenze, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies, teaches Dance and Movement in PK-12 schools, a class that provides students with what Lorenze calls a ‘danceucation.’
The goal of this ‘danceucation’ is to show future teachers, primarily elementary education majors, how physical movement can be used to teach core concepts like reading and science. And while Lorenze’s lessons are based in educational theory and research, her classes look much different than traditional college lectures.
“We dance every week,” Lorenze said. “The opportunity to do that and see students at the college level engage in dance in a way they’ve never done before, and then take that to their students, is powerful.”
Lorenze began her career as a high school Spanish and mathematics teacher in Bridgeport. There, her role as a dance educator began when the principal asked her to offer a dance course.
“That totally changed my career,” Lorenze said.
Over the years, Lorenze’s single dance class grew into a flourishing dance program, to the point that dance classes were all she taught. One of the classes included an auditioned ensemble that attended national and state dance festivals on a yearly basis.
“My class was a very inclusive space for gender, for students with special needs, for students with varying abilities,” Lorenze said. “And I really started to see, as the years grew, the potential and power that dance education had in improving the overall climate and learning experiences of students.”
Eventually, the success of her dance program inspired Lorenze to pursue her Ed.D. from CEHS in order to more fully research the impact of dance education in schools.
“I saw something unique,” Lorenze said. “I saw something different that I was really passionate about.”
Today, Lorenze continues to be inspired by the power of dance education, noting that it’s a remarkably different field than conventional dance training.
“Dance education is different because it’s asking you to be creative in designing movement, in using it to express ideas, in thinking about why people dance, who in cultures dance and for what reasons,” Lorenze said. “Thinking about the complex aspects of dance is what dance education is about.”
Most of Lorenze’s current research is centered around the integration of movement with academic content areas such as reading/language arts, mathematics and science. For example, she’s worked with second grade students to combine movement with poetry lessons. The children are asked to design movement based upon poetry and also to write poetry based on movement, allowing them to think abstractly about movement.
“It’s a form of literacy,” Lorenze said. “They’re thinking about not only words and languages as literacy, but movement as literacy.”
The CEHS students who work with Lorenze are encouraged to break out of their comfort zones and connect to movement. Classes are held in spaces where the students can dance, with the aim of showing the students how to embrace their unique dancing abilities.
“When we’re talking about dance education, we’re going with the understanding that everyone is a dancer in some way, shape or form,” Lorenze said. “It’s a matter of finding that connection between dance and you. For some people, it’s in a physical movement. For some people, it is a way to communicate an idea or feeling that they can’t put into words. For some people, it’s watching something and interpreting the movement in front of them.”
Beyond the mechanics of dance and the use of movement in teaching, Lorenze also hopes that her students learn how to adapt to uncertain classroom situations and to have the courage to try new techniques.
“I want them to learn that it’s okay to take a risk in the moment and to be flexible with that risk, improvising their way through it,” Lorenze said.
Throughout her years as a dance educator, Lorenze has witnessed the remarkable power of dance in the classroom. In a recent presentation, she cited an example of one of her former high school students, Kevin.
Kevin, who transferred to Lorenze’s school during his sophomore year, frequently missed classes during his first semester there. After enrolling in dance, however, he never missed a day of his second semester.
When Lorenze asked Kevin about this change, he simply replied, “I wouldn’t want to miss a dance class.”
Lorenze’s work with students – from small children to graduate researchers—has demonstrated the potential for dance to engage learners at all levels and abilities. Throughout all of her work, this has been Lorenze’s most significant finding.
“My biggest takeaway is the way that dance experience can bring people together who you never thought would find a common ground,” Lorenze said.To learn more about Dr. Lorenze’s research, visit our YouTube Channel to watch her EdTalk at the CEHS Celebration of Scholars.