Let’s Talk Arts Integration: Defining What You Do


Photo courtesy of hellobo

Arts-integration treats each discipline equally.

The goal of each arts integration is to treat each discipline thoughtfully.

The theme of my academic year has been arts integration.

Although it has always been an area of focus in my teaching, particularly in K-12 but also at the college level, this year has led to some further distinctions for me.

In general, there are some big misunderstandings and roadblocks to authentic, integrated learning:

  • Most people think that arts integration is applying the arts to the process of learning material that seems best suited in a core classroom.
  • Most people think that if they make a dance “about” something explored in a core classroom, it is arts integration.
  • Most people don’t know where or how to begin the conversation with a colleague so that co-teaching is a possibility.

Arts integration needs to meet the needs of both (or all) disciplines being integrated in weight, meaning, and of course grade-level teaching standards.

Perhaps the best way to describe arts integration is to highlight how it tends to exist.

The Kennedy Center offers a perspective similar to this:

Discipline Specific Learning

Generally, when you are making a dance- including one with a “theme” or “meaning”, you are engaging in the creative process and instructing about dance-making, editing, and technical/performance coaching. You may have “borrowed” the theme from a story being read in Language Arts class but that does not make it an integrated experience.

A dance-integrated approach: Create a dance with ideas borrowed from a book being read in the Language Arts class. Explore the structure of the book and craft the dance through a similar structure or process of structuring. Consider the language, the form, the arch of the book. Draw comparisons to how this could be done in dance and guide the students through the process. Research how the author engaged in the writing process and the reflection process by finding articles, interviews, other writings based on the author’s opinion or feeling about the work. If possible, use what the author would have done differently to edit the dance inspired by their work. Interview the students about their work with the dance and allow them to edit reflectively.

Art... integrated. Design by the Ink Society

Art… integrated. Design by the Ink Society

Arts-Enhanced Learning

Have you ever sung a song about the 50 states? Did you learn anything about music?


Did you learn about the states?


The lack of gained musical understanding is why this learning is enhanced with the arts and not integrated.

An example of this might be learning the cultural dances of a specific group of people without analyzing how and why the dance came into existence.

A dance integrated approach: Why is the emphasis of weight pulled up, or grounded with deep stance? How does the movement vocabulary reflect the work of these people or their spirituality? What are the gender roles within the dance and how do they relate to social norms of the time this dance was created? Is this dance still in common use and if so, when and where? What does this say about the shift in culture and social rituals?

Don’t stop at language arts!

Yes, Language Arts and Social Studies tend to be great entry-points for arts integration but think about the processes, ready to be explored and demonstrated through movement, involved in science (Newton’s Laws about forces and motion, cycles of plants/life/water, energy and electricity), and math (angles, accumulation/de-accumulation, sequencing, patterns).

How does one start to talk about co-teaching?

Decide if you will be co-teaching or parallel teaching as you integrate subject areas and connect thinking.

  • Co-teaching means that you will both be present and contributing to the teaching/learning process.
  • Parallel teaching means that you and your partner will tackle these subject areas in separate spaces at separate times.

Both require planning and a clear map of how you will present the material.

For me, co-teaching is always more satisfying and offers students more immediate connections between disciplines and beyond.

Remember to be patient, however. As with any collaborator, communication must be clear and your potential as a team will develop over time and with practice. This relationship, too, is a process to be enjoyed and explored.

Here are some additional resources for your quest to authentically integrate:

ArtsEdge: Arts Integration information by The Kennedy Center

Keyarts: Inclusive arts education

Dance Advantage, September 2012 Dancer Speak: Rethinking How We Talk About Dance

Dance Advantage, July 2012 Simon Sinek Tells Dancers to “Start with Why

Dance Advantage, June 2012 Historical Documentaries on DVD Help to Fill a Void in Academic Dance

How are you integrating?

Heather Vaughan-Southard
Heather Vaughan-Southard is a dance educator and freelance choreographer based in Michigan with rich teaching experiences in higher education, K-12 public schools, and private studios. With an approach of teaching dance as a liberal art, she draws from her experiences dancing professionally in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles to create experiences that move beyond the boundaries of a studio, producing well-rounded, thinking dance citizens. She is author of the blog EducatingDancers, where she chronicles her perspectives on dance and dance education. Heather holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, BFA in dance from Western Michigan University, K-12 Dance Certification from Wayne State University and is the mother of two small children whom never seem to stop moving.
Heather Vaughan-Southard


  1. Interesting – but obscure.

    I want to have answers to questions like ‘why can’t trained dancers hear the music’.

    The biggest problem – and its a historically recurring problem – in dance is the drive towards physical excellence at the expense of INDIVIDUAL musical expression.

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