Interpreting Mythology Through Dance

How did the ancient Egyptians attempt to understand the unknown? How can one convey an idea or theme through abstract movement?


Key Staff

Social Studies teacher in conjunction with dance teacher

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques, Producing, Executing and Performing
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration


In this lesson, students learn about Ancient Egyptian rituals and attitudes about death and the afterlife. Students will learn about the mythological 12-hour journey of the sun god Re and will explore an online Smithsonian Museum exhibit on the subject. The students will physically review locomotor and non-locomotor movements and the different qualities of movement. Working individually and in groups, the students will choreograph a movement that represents one of the hours in Re's journey.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Select a phrase, a sequence of events, or a perceived theme about one of the 12 hours of the Ancient Egyptian journey through the afterlife and share it with their small group
  • Create a dance with a small group, depicting one of the selected phrases, sequence of events, or perceived themes from their assigned hour
  • Present the dance representing the assigned hour to the class
  • Describe locomotor and non-locomotor movements and the qualities of movement used in the dance
  • Identify the locomotor and non-locomotor movements and qualities of movement used in each of the other dance presentations for the other 11 hours

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Research
  • Direct Instruction

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • Internet Access
  • Projector
  • Speakers
  • DVD Player
  • VCR
  • Video Camera
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should be familiar with the history and culture of ancient Egypt, especially its mythology and religion

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with ancient Egyptian civilization and with the god Re.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Rehearsal Space
  • Computer Lab
  • Media Center or Library


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Test internet connection
  • Make necessary photocopies

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Tell students that many civilizations and cultures have shared ideas about what happens in the afterlife. For ancient Egyptians, death was perceived as the beginning of a journey to immortality.

2. Tell the students that the sun god, Re, was thought to perish each night as the sun set. Sunrise was not a guaranteed occurrence. The sun god had to go through a perilous 12-hour journey in order to be reborn at dawn. Similarly, Egyptian kings were thought to be united with the sun god upon their deaths, and they went through this circle of death and rebirth with Re.

3. If possible, show the students the video, The Quest for Immortality in Ancient Egypt. If you do not have access to this video, you may view an excerpt of it online at the National Gallery of Art site (Click on the "View the exhibition film" link.)

4. Have the students read about each hour of the 12-hour journey of the sun god Re at the Smithsonian Institution's Online Exhibition.

Build Knowledge

1. Explain to the class that they will be creating a dance to reflect the 12-hour journey of Re.

2. Distribute the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel and review the terms with the students. Students should demonstrate the different non-locomotor and locomotor movements and the qualities of movement.

3. Divide the class into 12 groups and assign each one of the groups an hour of the 12-hour journey of Re. Give each group the Journey of Re worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Have the students review the description of what takes place during that hour of the Tomb. Tell the students to select a phrase, a sequence of events, or a perceived theme that occurs during their assigned hour. Explain that they are to represent that selection through movement. To ensure that each group member contributes, you may wish to have each individual in the group first review the source materials alone and come up with ideas independently. Students should then share their ideas and select which phrase, sequence, or theme that they wish to represent through dance.

4. Before the students begin to choreograph their piece, remind them that they should focus on creating a dance rather than gestures or pantomime.

5. Tell the students that they should select at least one locomotor, one non-locomotor, and one quality of movement in choreographing their representation of the phrase, events or theme.

6. Give the students time to choreograph and practice their movement pieces. While they are working, play the music selection that will accompany their dance.


1. Have each group perform their dance for the class. The performances should take place in sequence, starting with Hour One and ending with Hour Twelve.

2. Prior to each performance, pass out the Peer Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel. After each group presents their piece, the class should identify the locomotor movement, non-locomotor movement, and movement quality used in the dance. The group members should discuss their reasons for choosing to incorporate those.


1. Distribute the Reflective Essay Prompt and have students write an essay in which they address the following:

  • Do you feel that dance is an effective means by which to relate beliefs or historic events?
  • Are there any instances in which dance is not sufficient?
  • Are there examples you can think of when dance is the most effective means of communication and expression?
  • Explain your answer by citing specifics.


Use the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel to evaluate students. Distribute the 'Peer Assessment Rubric' also located within the Resource Carousel and allow students to complete them. Collect the completed Peer Rubrics, and use them to help evaluate the students' level of comprehension.

Extending the Learning
  • Have each group choreograph an eight-count transitional movement that connects their hour to the next hour.
  • Videotape the 12 hours and present them as a complete dance.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Lillian Hasko
Original Writer


  • Oxygene. Jarre, Jean Michel. Oxygene. Dreyfus Records, 1993. ASIN: B000001ZS3.
  • The Quest for Immortality in Ancient Egypt. National Gallery of Art, United Exhibits Group, Home Vision Entertainment: 2002. ASIN: B000066780.

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