The Lion Dance

Using Movement in Culture




Introduction:  This proposed unit is part of a larger unit on cultural awareness. It is written for a 6th grade class, a class whose makeup is representative of the larger community. 80% of the students come from homes where English is not spoken, and 90% are on free or reduced lunch.  Being largely an immigrant community, students come to school with a variety of experiences to share. The larger unit on cultural awareness is an attempt to share with others these experiences and the pride of diversity.  The Lion Dance in particular find its roots in Asia .

Learning Objectives for The Lion Dance:

Cognitive:  Analyzing parts of ideas or objects: The Lion Dance has a specific story line and sequence.  Students will research and refine this story to be turned into a dance sequence.

Finding and testing patterns: Students will create movement sequences, based on the elements of dance, to tell the story of the Lion Dance.

Finding the salient feature of an object or an idea:  Movements will replicate the mood and image of the Lion.

Affective:  Finding value in tradition:  Students will interpret the tradition of the Lion Dance in culture.

Making connection with a cultural past:  Students will perform the  dance for the community.

Social:  Students will cooperate with each other in creating and performing the dance.

Artistic Competen cies :

Identifying and using elements of dance:  Students will use the elements of dance (See assessment rubric).

Sequence: Working with the PE and Music specialists is critical.  Early in the year we will get together to identify and focus on the elements of dance and movement.  I particularly like the continuum in Jennifer Zakkai’s book, Dance as a Way of Knowing (24).  The phases described:

Natural Movement Phase:  

Spatial awareness/responsibility as a mover

Gestures while singing – Music teacher

Moving from area to another – Music teacher, PE teacher, me

Movements associated with work – PE teacher, me

Language into action (verbs, nouns, etc.) - me


Creative Movement Phase:  Students explore and solve problems

Elements of dance – Music teacher, PE teacher, me

Connections to the curriculum – Music teacher, PE teacher, me

Short movement sequences – Me


Artistic Movement Phase: Students make dances – the Lion Dance

This suggests a linear progression but I see it being more fluid.  I will have a big chart in my room, similar to the one on page 28 of Joyce’s book (I like the inclusion of the Body as an element).  I believe in having language all around the classroom so if I am going to be referring to an element in a practical way, it needs to be posted.  A teacher could go wild just with the vocabulary.  Once we have become comfortable with movement and explored its more refined elements, then we can go about creating our dance.


          All formal activities will take place in conjunction with the other specialists.  An example of an activity from the Natural Movement Phase (that also loops into the Creative Movement Phase) would be an adaptation of a lesson I did with poetry.  Instead of having students brainstorm words to go with a piece of music, they would brainstorm movements or patterns of gestures.  Then we would tie this in with vocabulary and after putting together a few of the gestures, we could identify some of those words and write about how their gestures fit in with the elements of dance.

          Another example would be in one of the activities we do in the Challenge Course in PE.  Students are asked to move from one location to another while tethered in an unusual way.  This is intended to be an exercise in team building but can double as a lesson in movement as the various solutions are identified by element.  Then it can be suggested to groups to try the activity again using just certain parts of the Body (such as a certain step), while assuming a Shape (such a direction), in Time (such as tempo). 


          Assessment can be on going, performance based as much as possible, with the support of journaling.  It has been my habit after we take PE together, to have students journal about aspects of the experience.  I often refer to a graphic students made that illustrate many of the elements of their current activity.  For instance, the above activity in movement would be assessed for performance in what elements the group is able to include.  While journaling about the activity, students would write about the elements they included.  When in comes to the actual Lion Dance, students will be assessed for the elements they are able to include while remaining true to the image of the Lion and the Lion’s story.

Teacher Evaluation:

          I am much farther than I thought. I have no fear of introducing and maintaining movement and dance with my class.  It just occurred to me that I will have a great leap forward when school starts since my 6th grade class will be going to Outdoor School in early October (we usually don’t go until the end of the school year).  This has traditionally been the time they learn the camp dances, the camp songs, etc.  This will be a great time to introduce at least the vocabulary and see how it applies to what they have learned (rather than created).  It will also go a long way to establishing an atmosphere of movement and risk taking.  I see two huge challenges ahead: 1) keeping focus and intentionally including movement all year, and 2) finding out more about the Lion Dance.  There used to be a group at the local middle school but that was disbanded a few years ago.  I now need to seek someone from the community to help me with the tradition. 
























































Making an effort to increase student learning by integrating  movement will help children gain meaningful context to their lives.