Team work and individual accomplishment
In this 4-part series I explain the main benefits of learning Flamenco dance at primary school: training important physical skills, understanding the power of practice and ownership, negotiating team work and individual practice, and dealing constructively with emotions.
This is the third blog of the series, in which I write about how Flamenco dance provides opportunities for individual accomplishment and experiencing the benefits of team work:
- Celebrating individuality and group support
- Both individual achievement and group effort matter
- Taking the lead
- Why being engaged even when you’re not leading matters
- How to teach “being engaged”
Celebrating individuality and group support
Traditionally, Flamenco dance is performed in family households, as a street performance or in a tablao setting in theatres or restaurants. In all of these situations the dancer isn’t alone. The dancer is surrounded by singers, musicians, palmistas, who do the characteristc clapping rhythms, and other dancers. In fact, often a dancer who performs will swap roles and also accompany another dancer with palmas or jaleo, the encouraging shouts to cheer on the performance.
Vitally, the performance is at once celebrating individual accomplishment and the result of a group effort. In other words, the dancer takes the spotlight and shines bright admired by all, but at the same time the dancer couldn’t do their performance without the support of the group.
Both individual achievement and group effort matter
This is a crucial characteristic of Flamenco dance that is very important when teaching children. Too often a line is drawn between team work and individual work. Too often we divide people into extroverts and introverts, group people and solitary people or even social and reclusive people, when in reality most people thrive on a variety of experiences and life is a constant mix of group and alone settings in which we constantly have to negotiate our role, presence and engagement.
This is not to say that children may not have preferences or stronger aptitudes for one or the other, but I do want to emphasise that it’s rare someone would fall completely in one or the other category and therefore we should provide opportunities to experience both throughout a child’s education:
- To give ample opportunities to try oneself at different challenges,
- To learn how to navigate a range of environments and to be able to respond well to the challenges adulthood and work life present, and
- To show that both group support and individual effort matter.
Taking the lead
Learning steps and performing them in front of your peers or even your family is a challenge. Some find it exciting and energising, others dread it and feel anxious, and most are somewhere in between or feel a combination of them all. Flamenco dance is usually quite different from children’s existing experience of dance and offers a new way of thinking about it.
Even though it’s a very complex dance, broken down to its essentials it’s accessible to all and easy to enjoy. That’s because the physical language is different to what’s mostly seen on TV and other media – it’s open to individual interpretation and led by inner emotions rather than by externally looking “right”. Once students have learnt the basic steps, how they perform them is not limited to one way of doing it. Therefore Flamenco dance lends itself well to provide a safe challenge to students. I will go into more detail about this emotioanl aspect in the fourth and last post of the series.
Why being engaged even when you’re not leading matters
When teaching primary school children, who are complete beginners, I divide the group into two or more groups. While one group dances, I emphasise to the other the importance of:
- Watching them attentively and
- Supporting them with claps and shouts of encouragement.
I find that this always takes a bit of getting used to, because we have a tendency to “switch off” when it’s not our turn.
Understanding the importance of this support for your class mates and in turn feeling the difference between being supported or not by your peers is a great learning experience. When the children get it, the energy rises, everyone’s performances improve and we see more smiles and lively faces allround.
This example illustrates what is true for many situations, in the class room, at work and in private life: being “switched on” and engaged when others talk, present or take the lead, is an incredibly important skill. It ensures that both you and the speaker get the most out of any given situation and improves delivery. With so many stimuli around us at all times, it’s a skill we need to:
- Appreciate and value, and
- Teach and nourish.
How to teach “being engaged”
Learning Flamenco dance together gives children a visceral experience of this truth. They feel the difference very strongly. To support this learning, the concept could also be explored verbally and in writing in other subjects.
In my first post of this series I said that gaining knowledge of your physical impact on the people around you supports your people skills and helps you adapt to situations effectively. Being engaged is a type of listening skill and invaluable throughout life. So is valuing both being the centre of attention and generously giving others attention, and being able to assess which is required and most beneficial at any given point. Participating in Flamenco dance helps children assess when to take the lead in a situation, how to compromise and step back and when to work as a team.
Next week, I will write about dealing constructively with emotions. In the meantime, read my blog about introducing Flamenco dance to the 250 children at Caldicotes Primary School in February 2020.
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