Integrating Dance into History Lessons

Dance and Social and Political Practices and Issues within the Context of History

“Seeing” and “doing” dance is a key resource in teaching history


This article outlines one of five suggested areas of history that can be illuminated and enriched through dance visuals and student dance performance.

Be sure to review the entire series for suggestions in other areas of history.

Using visuals that help define elements of historical time periods is a valuable way to clarify and enrich the presentation of a variety of history topics. “Virtual” history that reconstructs aspects of history in role-playing modes also is a valuable and enriching reinforcement. Including dance within these lesson frames adds yet another meaningful way to engage students in a study of the past.

Whether presented in a Web source or video to be observed, researched, and explicated as a significant statement informing diverse studies of an historical era, or assigned as a student activity to inspire imaginative identification with the era’s people, issues, places or events, dance can be a compelling way to immerse students in a close study of various components of history.

Exploration of the role of dance within the framework of history enlightens the study of dominant social and political practices and issues; for instance: gender roles in various cultures and time periods, assimilation and/or accommodation of diverse ethnic groups, and political/social issues such as cultural outreach and Civil Rights. Research in both print and Web sources, videos of highly acclaimed dancers, dance choreographies and dance companies accompanied with collaborative problem-solving activities and student dance demonstrations are powerful agents in supporting lessons of social and political practices and issues in history. Some suggested topics:

Gender roles:

  • Social position of dancing masters in various cultures
  • Accomplishment of male figures in social dance as a “statement” concerning social position and wealth, and as an enhancement in building political power
  • Social dance as “flirtation walk” for men and women
  • General role of women in ballroom dancing
  • Theatrical dance styles of women in such entertainment arenas as: Folies Bergere, Ziegfeld Follies, Rockettes, Hollywood musicals

Assimilation and accommodation of diverse ethnic cultures:

  • Ethic influence in development of dance in rural America (for instance, the Virginia Reel)
  • Immigrant influence in American Vaudeville
  • Irish and African American mix in formation of tap dancing
  • Infusion of various ethnic influences in development of Classical Ballet and Modern Dance choreographies (Orientalism, for instance)
  • Infusion of a wide variety of ethnic influences in social dance styles

Political issues (international):

  • Defection of Russian ballet dancers to America; for example: Nureyev, Danilova, Baryshnikov
  • Cultural exchanges of theatrical dance performances
  • UK–Union Dance

Civil Rights in America:):

  • Role of dance in minstrel shows
  • Wide influence of Harlem Renaissance on dance—both theatrical and social dance styles—and implication for Civil Rights
  • Goals and nature of Civil Rights “statements” of acclaimed works of African American choreographers; for example: Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamieson
  • Role of Hollywood’s African American dancers to Civil Rights movement—Bill Bojangles Robinson, Nicholas Brothers



Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Email Print Share


- +
Email a link to this page
Share This Page



Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.