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Dancing in the dark

Barry Smith is a PE teacher in the Lower School at the Whitby School, USA

Barry Smith is a PE teacher in the Lower School at the Whitby School, USA

This video shows a physical education/art integration for grade 3/4 students. It is a movement unit that involved light painting and fire dancing.

Students developed conceptual understanding around the central idea that the visual and performing arts support our understanding of body movements. This tied in with the unit of inquiry in the classroom that looked at traditions and how cultures use dance and light to express ideas and stories.

The lines of inquiry explored the key concepts of form, perspective and reflection and related concepts of balance, spatial awareness and performance:

  • How movement creates patterns
  • How arts support viewing of patterns
  • How reflection can enhance performance

After gaining an understanding of how light can be used to create form and perspective when telling a story through movement, students used their knowledge to design their own modern day hip hop dance routine. They used LED sticks attached to their clothing to make their movements visible and altered their routines to create the desired patterns. Students used the iPad app Light Bomber to capture the patterns of the LED lights while they danced in the dark.

Teacher reflections:

The collaboration of multiple units reinforced the students’ conceptual understanding of the inquiry, central idea and lines of inquiry.

The process of inquiry engaged all students by offering multiple pathways to understanding. For example, students who were hesitant in engaging in dance, engaged with the process of designing and learning about their own LED light routine.

Students were able to focus on transdisciplinary skill development through a different lens, that is communication skills through the form of dance and light; social skills in interaction to design their routines; self-managements skills; and controlling their body in the dark. Students were extremely excited about showcasing their designed dance routines.


Finding an available ‘dark’ space where the students could inquire into the forms created by LED lights through their movement was a challenge. This made it difficult for students to use their captured movements and reflect on how to refine their form.

Due to time constraints it was challenging to showcase all of the students’ routines. I wish I could have included more of the transdisciplinary theme: ‘Traditions’ into the content of the unit. This was the springboard at the outset of the unit as the classrooms looked at traditional dances and connected it to our own school tradition of the Maypole dance, but I could have connected more to this idea throughout the unit.

Special thanks to Lorraine Artale (Lower School Art teacher) and Phil Lohmeyer (Videographer) for the collaboration and support.

Barry Smith is a PYP physical education teacher in the Lower School at the Whitby School. Originally from England, he teaches children from 3 – 8 years. Barry has been teaching internationally for 5 years. He enjoys exploring innovative strategies to support students’ conceptual understanding in his discipline and beyond.

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2 Responses to Dancing in the dark

  1. Neeti 24 November 2015 at 10:39 am #

    I like the way you have brought in Arts, movement and digital technology (ICT)). We would like to collaborate with you and your school over some unit in the future to bring in collaboration and ICT as well.

  2. jhaz 17 February 2021 at 2:33 am #

    I love this idea of collaborating arts and movement together. I would like to learn more about this as I was new to this.

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