Seitz, Jay A. "Mind, Dance, and Pedagogy." Journal of Aesthetic Education 36. 4 (2002): 37-42.
Aesthetic movement - or "dance" - has traditionally been used mostly in early education but recently, educators have begun to examine the role of kinesthetic learning in all levels of childhood learning. A basic definition of aesthetic movement is that it consists of reflective gesture - the imitation of reality. We see this occurring naturally in young children who use parts of their body to mimic objects in the world, such as arm flapping to describe a bird or plane. Dance is also used to express emotion, which we see in the way modern dancers use their bodies to convey pathos. Jay Seitz refers to the work of Rudolf Laban, who claims that the use of movement specifically in arts education increases artistic expression in children, even more so when children are encouraged to engage in movement from a young age.
At some point between kindergarten and grade 1, children are expected to sit quietly for extended periods of time. While this is probably to keep classroom chaos to a minimum, it does not make as much sense in the private piano lesson setting. I began formal piano lessons at age four and I recall being reminded before each lesson that I should "sit still and listen carefully." Sitting still for thirty minutes! Although I was a quiet child, I likely had trouble holding my perfect piano posture for what would have seemed like hours. Thankfully, today's piano lessons are less rigid and I have the freedom to engage my students in movement activities right from the beginning. I have found they are able to relate motions to music better than if I simply explained. Marching is an excellent way of feeling the pulse while making flowing arm gestures illustrates legato and phrasing. I've also noticed that beginning the lesson with dancing uses up energy, meaning the student will be able to "sit still and listen carefully" later on.
Most significantly, dance helps my students feel the spaces between the notes. Piano students often fall into the habit of simply pressing the keys without thinking of the relationships between them. Engaging students in "continuous flow" activities develops their auditory imagery to hear the links between notes, which in turn leads to a more musical and intentional sense of phrasing.
This article helped me to place my students' physical abilities on a general timeline. Between the ages of three and four, children are able to mimic jumping and marching but they may have trouble balancing and performing more precise actions. By ages five and six, they have mastered skipping, and they are able to mimic geometric shapes and animals. Understanding these stages will help me to tailor movement activities to the specific abilities of each student and I am already enjoying the process of creating fun and increasingly complex exercises as my little students grow in physical and musical awareness.