picture by Anna Earl

We move therefore we learn

Alvin Arthur
9 min readMay 2, 2021

A great amount of schools nowadays are stressing the importance for their learners to develop social and cultural abilities. The general idea is to enable each and every child to connect with and understand other children that present different habits and ways of being due to their cultural background, so later on in life these same children can be empathetic adults regardless of their path, their career or the communities they belong to.

There are many ways to facilitate the growth of such abilities. Though, if we agree on the aim of truly connecting and bonding with people between cultures, it requires a level of vulnerability that intellect can’t solely achieve.
On a global scale, even though we witness daily our presidents, chancellors, kings and queens speak and shake hands, still nations fight, fueled by the misunderstanding of one another. Zooming in, this might be a scaled representation of what happens in our neighborhoods and our schools, especially in this day and age of intensive human migration.

Education plays a central role in this situation, and so does schooling. Dance and movement present assets that can creatively facilitate social and cultural bond. And let’s be clear, I am not here talking about “theresa-maying” any dance heritage. I’m inquiring a situation that leads me to wonder: What are valuable assets of dance and movement regarding the development of socio-cultural understanding in early education?

Keywords: #choreographedreality #schooling #society #culture #embodiedlearning #dance #communityrooms #digitaltransition #phygitalgamification

A brief Caribbean perspective on schooling

Growing up in Guadeloupe, a Caribbean island linked to a European context, I was often exposed to paradoxes and dualities that were not explained at school for the most part. The richness of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds I experienced from a young age slowly made me internalize a felt yet undefined notion of empathy. Though, once stepping into the classroom it seemed as if this richness was merely present.
A year after another, I often wondered why my classmates and I spent such short time on expressive education, why the subjects we learnt were not linked between them, why we were not learning about our land, why we were sitting all day, why I was required to read the specific books that were in the yearly programs, until I reached the philosophy subject in high school.
Philosophy helped me formalize my views on the world I inhabit. Still, one sentence kept making me tick: “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think therefore I am.” I could conceptually understand the idea of it but couldn’t resonate with it. Although very popular, this idea was not encapsulating my lived experience.

It took me years in art & design education to understand I’m a kinesthetic learner and that I am the most myself when I move. I believe it is very much linked to my cultural background. Prior to this realization, it was all intuition. After, it became embodied knowledge, an ever growing self-understanding.
As I meet many people of different age, from various cultures and interests facing similar identification challenges with education, it enables me to define in which ways modern and contemporary schooling are not built for me, for us kinesthetic learners.

Deprogramming a general idea of dance modernity carries

In August 2019, during the Dutch Design Week (DDW) in Eindhoven Netherlands, I took part in the exhibition entitled The Object is Absent at MU Hybrid Art House, welcoming about 24.000 people to experience interactive and performative works (it now sounds just like a pre-covid treat doesn’t it?). Through launching the project We Link In Motion, I have spent 9 days inviting people from all over the world to move/dance in a passing spot of the exhibition. I haven’t specifically counted but I have definitely made a great amount of people move, dance in order to connect — more than I could expect — in a space and context that is not primarily designed for it. Still, when observed in proportion to the total amount of visitors, the number of visitors that actually danced is fairly low.
As entertaining as it has been, I’ve been observing many patterns in how people behave; some observations I shared on my instagram, product of an open-ended inquiry considering the many changing factors and conditions, in this ephemeral socio-cultural context of DDW.

We Link In Motion — Observation 3

After all, I’ve got to say people are funny when they try not to dance, at all costs! It appears, even in a dedicated context of performance where engagement is encouraged and facilitated, the aware audience is paralyzed by the concept of dancing: “I think therefore I hide”. I sense that it comes with an underlying fear of the unknown, yet familiar, body.

As choreographer and researcher Léna Blou puts it: “Because too often we tend to close off dance in its primary form: an artistic object, made just to please our eyes and senses. Dance, when a body dances within society, it is an intelligible language to tell out loud the inaudible voice of a people’s hidden forces.”

Becoming attuned to decoding unspeakable dynamics

As much on a societal scale than on a personal one, countless artists and scientists agree to the benefit of dancing as a frequent habit. Not only it maintains one’s self-awareness, but it does give tools for engaging with the other.
If we aim at bringing empathy to the forefront of education (especially in early education), dance and movement deserve more attention within the curricula and learning processes we design, as much as subjects than methods to learn.

“Through the universal art form of dance, we are given a vehicle through which we can uncover the dynamics and complexity of another culture, instead of making judgements based on what we perceive.” says writer and dancer Logan W. Cross.

Dance can take the form of a powerful toolset to connect with a culture since embodiment (mind and body synchronously experiencing the world) provides with a direct felt experience that mental concepts alone are not meant to reach. Dance blurs the line between kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligences where body, mind and empathy (emotional sensing) are synchronized through movement. That being said, in the socio-cultural context, the intention for which we connect prevails. Dance is the means to do so.

picture by Stéphane Valentin

Dance fuels the expressive layer of intercorporeal memory, the memory that internalizes the communication happening between bodies.

As philosopher and psychiatrist Thomas Fuchs highlights it: “As soon as we have contact with another person, our bodies interact and understand each other, even tough we cannot say exactly how this is brought about.”

Yes, this implicit relational knowing shapes our embodied personality, and the good news is, training it can spark creativity, which essentially is the most valuable asset in an automatizing world.

Schooling for phygitally* emerging communities & cultures

*phygitally: both physically and digitally

As both learning and education can be digitized and massively accessible, I believe it is a matter of time before early onsite schooling becomes a parental choice and not a legal requirement for many countries. 10 years, 20 years from now, who knows, but a near future (in schooling’s evolution timeline). Nothing new under the sun: schooling needs to reinvent itself. Now since the digitization of knowledge is such a quick and iterative process, the pace in which it evolves and reinvents itself is a tremendous challenge for school leaders and educator to keep up with in order to redesign their curricula. Schools do not want to approach this process as a race, else it would be lost in advance. Rather, it should be seen as a leverage for reinvention. The decision making, the purpose and means to this reinvention are key.
• Decision making: How are the learners themselves, from a young age, involved in the major decisions regarding their schooling?
• Purpose: Why do we go to school today?
• Means: How does schooling connect to the “real world”?

Among the long term effects of a rotting post-WW2 design, the lack of innovation in contemporary mass schooling regarding embodied learning (at least in the West) comes partly from a virtual open fracture between mind, body and soul, from which the idea of “dancing” — out of its entertaining constrain — seems to activate fears such as self-confrontation, judgement, ridicule, failure.
For an educator, it takes courage to move freely in front of pupils or students and overcome such fears, especially when one did not receive prior kinesthetic training, which is fairly comprehensible. Well, one might argue the digitization of schooling contributes, for now, to a paradigm in which bodily presence is less and less required. Nevertheless, onsite schooling is not close from fully disappearing since physical bond is innate to humans as we are reminded during the COVID struggle. This digitization shifts the role of educators to facilitators of internationalizing, globalizing and project based “communityrooms” (no more classrooms), where knowledge is not theirs to constantly broadcast and where socio-cultural understanding is fundamental to the communities life.

“When you learn the dance form in different cultures, you put yourself on the line physically. You have to be awkward and uncomfortable and have the change happen internally. It’s a more humble and intimate way of learning.” says choreographer and scholar Cynthia Ling Lee.

Learn programming by dancing, Body.scratch

A great way onsite schooling can reinvent itself is by utilizing the exponential leverage of digital learning in combination with bodily intelligence. By improving the quality of the student’s embodied learning experience, school becomes a phygital space for bodily encouraged interactions whether it involves technology or not. A place where socio-cultural understanding can be shared on such creative level than mental bound computing cannot replace.

In fact, the paradigm of screens is not the most relevant regarding bodily health, mental health and development of early childhood social cues. Although this “flat bright surface” is the most used for learning nowadays in a globalizing visual society, the pace in which technology advances will end it to favor XR* based learning experiences, once the technology will be affordable enough to a critical mass of people. Despite all these changes, the body remains, with its capacity to relearn the tools together with the mind. Balancing screen time for children is today a choice that could improve reading human emotions, develop motoric capabilities, reduce daily mental load by cutting-off stimuli overload

*XR : eXpanded Reality, the compound field of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality.

“ The more time children spend in front of the screen, the less time they make eye contact. Without time for eye contact, they can’t anymore read social codes.” says childhood specialist researcher Noel Janis Norton

Realistically enough, screens are the prototypes of XR experiences that will be to knowledge what paper once was. We currently have a snippet of this evolution with the exponential use of various movement-content-platforms such as Fortnite, Youtube and TikTok, more used by the youth than Google and Facebook. They are already central to personal and mass e-learning, as well as entertainment. This makes dance challenges, and embodied e-learning in general, an increasingly popular form for learning. Applied to specific subjects, there is a fair probability it is a more natural and playful way for engaging in any learning process, with others. It eventually multiplies the emergence of phygital learning communities whose cultures are not bound to the physical spaces from which its members grew up in.


As much as the modern world shows strong evidence that it has not been built for kinesthetic learners, the latter’s relevance towards digitization is yet to be unraveled. The compound effect of kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligences proves to create a great approach to socio-cultural understanding, on levels that can shift the way we connect as humans, when addressed by technology. Art and Science seem to agree on such effect and still we fail at engaging in these paths as the way we educate and learn hasn’t included enough of these intelligences. The leverage technology represents in building phygitally learning communities is one of the major challenges for onsite schooling.

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Alvin Arthur

I believe humans need to move in order to engage, play & create.