Teaching your students to dance


Teaching your students to dance

Many theological teachers would admit to having two left feet when it comes to dancing but bear with me a little. It is not easy to find an analogy for the practice of teaching that combines a delivery of the understanding necessary in a subject with the relational and creative elements we want for our students. What about dancing?

Creativity within structure

Every dance whether it be a waltz, a jive or something more often seen in clubs, has a basic structure which has to be taught. This is provided by the particular music which underlies that particular dance, the standard moves, the understanding of the nature and the history of the dance (especially important in dances like the tango). This is similar to theological subjects such as Old Testament, Missiology, Doctrine, Pastoral Studies and so on. There is a basic agreed structure and history that the student has to know and within which (usually) discussion takes place. There is the “music” of the discipline and we have to teach it.

Yet, as with dancing, it does not stop there. A good dancer, working with the music and the structure becomes creative and exciting in his or her interpretation. A good dance tutor, or a good theology teacher, needs to encourage that creativity within structure, a fresh critical negotiation with the history and the interpretation.

Individuality within relationship

Not all, but most dances take place between two people, especially classical dances, but in certain ways in freer dances also. There is therefore in most dance situations, a relational element as there is in teaching. In some dances this is a leading and a following and in others, the relationship is more equal. But one person must not stifle the individuality of the other. There are times in hold and times out of hold when each dances free from the other.

This blog has often talked about the type of relationship which needs to be present in a classroom for good theological education to take place. Like dance, it has to have elements of leading and following, but not to stifle individuality or impose yourself or your views rigidly on students. They must be encouraged to dance free, to study and think individually, enjoy the subject as a separate scholar.

So, whether you can dance or not, maybe you should see your classroom a bit like a dance studio. Teach the structure, create the music, provide the relationship but encourage your students to go “out of hold” and be creative in the dance of theology.

And if you are still not sure about all this, go out and do some dancing yourself, like theology, it is fun.

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3 Comments on “Teaching your students to dance”

  1. perryshaw Says:

    Thanks Graham. My son will love this – as he is an avid dancer. From my own perspective I have always felt that teaching of any sort – and particularly teaching theology – is an art form: as with any art form we do well to understand the basic disciplines and the heritage of our art, but we only reach maturity when our own style and flair come through.

  2. PAUL COOKEY Says:

    Thanks Graham for this creative analogy on dancing. As pragmatic as this is, we often tend to forget that some music go with people of different ages and classes and even interests. I wonder how many in the post-modern age still love to dance the sweet classics of Biblical Theology! This generation seems to be dancing without really caring whether there are rules, and often their so called creativity is actually confusion which end up in chaos.

  3. Paul SANDERS Says:

    Looking forward to our Beirut dance in April !!


    Paul Sanders 4, allée de l’Aire 44240 La Chapelle sur Erdre FRANCE pamalsanders@gmail.com


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