Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

The latest project with Siobhan Davies Dance, based on M/R/T/B, has made me recall the title of a book I read years ago ‘Thinking Body, Dancing Mind’. We are using dance to allow and extend thinking and learning. I have witnessed students displaying this ‘thinking body’ and ‘dancing mind’.

In Reays Primary School we began in week 1 by exploring the brain and body and their complexities. In week 2 we were looking at gravity and tipping points. The class were looking at Forces in Science so we applied Newton’s Laws of Motion into our movement and creative processes. We observed how paper falls differently in three ways, how a ground reaction force works when a ball drops and how we can balance with a partner using equal and opposite forces.


From here, the class teacher and I have used Philosophy for Children approach in allowing students’ interest to guide the process. After week two looking at gravity, they had many questions they wanted to know answers to – what is mass? If gravity pulls us down why doesn’t it do it straight away? What is friction, why is it harder to balance with your eyes closed? Why do we wobble when we balance? The teacher reflected on how she’d visibly seen students become aware of their centres and the control and strength of their core.

The subsequent week, we tried to answer these questions by looking at sensory pathways through the body and how our eyes, ears and proprioception help us to balance.  It also led us onto the theme of friction – why it is useful for our bodies when we dance and how it is used in design to aid everyday activities. Children answers included grips on shoes, car tyres, lubricants in car engines. We had a discussion about clothing for cyclists and swimmers etc. In week 4 we explored materials and how they fall differently within water and with air resistance. Students designed parachutes for eggs to test out their theories and designs. We explored language used to describe the parachute journeys – hover, float, drop, collapse, glide, twist, suspend.

Week 5 was Shakespeare week with the class looking at MacBeth. We took language features such as personification, onomatopoeia, metaphors, alliteration to choose words that depicted movement – rattle, launch, stutter, crack, stalk etc. Were we able to communicate our solos better through observation with the eyes, or through listening to instruction and language? Not only have we been communicating with eyes and ears but also ‘listening’ through touch –  using sensitivity to others, building trust, self-awareness and group co-operation.

What have we learnt so far – students reflected using drawings. They drew around a body in groups and mapped things they had learnt in dance and about their body. Then they added post it notes to show things they have learnt outside of dance.


The class teacher also reflected her observations of their learning back to the class:

I have seen the class learn concepts from GCSE Science and articulate the meaning of these concepts (x3 laws of motion) in an articulate manner. They understand the meanings of these laws and it is because they have explored this physically that they fully understand the concepts.

I have seen them grow in strength and balance

I have seen them become aware of their body and how they react to things

They have learnt what it feels like to be tired and how that manifests physically.

I’ve seen them practice and practice again – showing me resilience

Better teamwork

Become aware of others and not just themselves

In another school, St. Saviours, we looked at observing sounds in our environments with Year 4.


We talked about how we hear sounds, the workings of the inner ear and why some animals have better sense of hearing than humans. Students categorised sounds into natural, human, mechanical, indicator sounds (e.g. alarm, whistle), and societal sounds. They considered pitch, duration, tone and dynamic of the sounds and chose their favourite sounds from spatial zones to draw using a spiral sound score. Immediate sounds recorded at the centre of the spiral and sounds far away at the outside of the spiral.


Students used their scores to translate these sounds into movement, in both literal and abstract ways. Student responses were great and many were able to identify sounds that other groups had chosen by articulating movement choices they had made.

We look forward to another five weeks ahead, allowing the interest and enquiry of the students to grow into a sharing of the work.