Dancing Historical Perspectives

Wendy Menachery

1. Identify different perspectives of American Indian groups and European explorers over time.
2. Use elements of dance to illustrate feelings/perspectives of different individuals or groups of people.
3. Create a dance with at least two acts and one transition to show how individual or group feelings/perspectives change and interact over time.


The Encounter by Jane Yolen
Other texts of European exploration/colonization
Instrumental music options & player
Paper & writing utensil for exit slip
Large space for dance practice and performance (taped space if needed)


1. Skill-building activities for dance/drama. Staying in your personal space, show me a dance move that might show you are excited. Nervous? Angry? Curious? (Continue through additional emotions as needed.) Can you use clues from movement to better understand the mood or feelings of a situation?
2. Throughout history, people have shared events from various perspectives. Some books look at European colonization form the colonizer’s perspective and others from the native. Most texts are written from the “winner” of a historical interaction. Introduce the book The Encounter by Jane Yolen who takes the perspective of the Taino people living on the island Columbus landed on. Provide necessary background information as needed based on prior knowledge (example: maps of location, pictures, names of people/characters within the story, etc.)
3. Read the story to the students and have them think about the character perspectives represented in the story.
4. Split the class into groups based on character (ex. European explorers, Taino people, etc.) and have them create a still scene with their bodies to represent their assigned character/group of characters feelings BEFORE the encounter. (This is act 1 of the dance.)
5. After they have created their first position, they are to create a second position to represent their assigned character/group of characters feelings AFTER the encounter. (This is act 2 of the dance.)
6. Now students will create a transition between the two acts to show how the emotions changed over time. Be sure to check in with each group after each step to discuss process of dance and identify dance movements that may help achieve the desired goals. This is not a long dance and be sure to limit the time students have to create each scene.
7. Kids can choose instrumental music to accompany their dance. They will perform for the class.
8. After the class performances engage in a class discussion about how the dances varied. How did the book’s perspective influence the dance choreography? What if the book was written from a different perspective? If you were to revise your dance to match the textbook perspective how would it change? What elements of dance most effectively portrayed emotions of the characters? (Continue this conversation as needed.)
9. Exit Slip: Students take 5 minutes to write a “1000 word sentence” about the dance experience from the day. When time is up have students highlight a favorite part to share with the class. Everyone shares at least one phrase.

Differentiation Approaches

1. Vocabulary focus with visuals
2. Be intentional about cues for stop, start, focus etc.
3. Review personal space and parameters for acting and dance experiences (taped areas may help)
4. Describe/list objectives of the day at the beginning of class
5. Collaborative learning practices
6. Modify movements as needed
7. Self assess and review throughout the process regarding collaboration with peers, understanding of materials, and body movements (REVISE!)
8. Integrate technology (iMovie, Photo story, create music/soundscape to go with dance, etc.)
9. Encourage leadership roles for students
10. Create groups that will work well together to achieve the goals


1. Performance (with rubric)
2. Discussions throughout lesson
3. Results from “1000 word sentence”

Follow Up and Extension Ideas

1. This lessons is easily adaptable for any point in history or for literary texts
2. Use multiple European explorers and discuss similarities/differences
3. Create a dance scene for different times in American history and add to it throughout the course

Additional Details

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