Phys. Ed, dance, math/geometry and ELA lesson for students grades K-12

FirstWorks brought Jillian Davis and Complexions Contemporary Ballet to Providence in April 2019 as part of our 15th-anniversary celebration. As part of our Arts Learning program, Jillian visited schools in Providence and Pawtucket to conduct Master Classes for dance programs and Introductory to Movement workshops for non-dance programs. The accompanying workout video is a wonderful introduction to incorporating movement into our daily lives. An outline with suggestions about how students and their families can ease into this practice is included in the accompanying materials.

The below videos were produced in partnership with Steer PVD.

Find out more about Complexions Contemporary Ballet and work out with Jillian in the videos below

Who is dancer Jillian Davis?

Dancer in a grey dance costume en pointe with arm outstretchedJillian Davis, a Kutztown, PA native began her ballet training at the age of three under the mentorship of Jerzy Golek, Janie Ross-Morgan, and Kip Martin. She studied extensively with Risa Kaplowitz and Susan Jaffe at Princeton Dance and Theater Studio in Princeton, NJ and attended San Francisco Ballet, School of American Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet on scholarship, and LINES Ballet on scholarship. Professionally, Jillian choreographed at Missouri Valley College, developing the Jillian Davis Dance Project in 2013. Her piece, Tiel, was featured at Jennifer Muller’s Hatched Series and was selected as a finalist for Rider University’s Emerging Choreographers Showcase. Jillian joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a company member in 2014, where she has been part of the creation process for several Dwight Rhoden world-premieres, including Headspace, Strum, Gutter Glitter, Stardust – a tribute to David Bowie, and Bach 25. She also performed installation works by Desmond Richardson and an excerpt of Approximate Sonata by William Forsythe. Jillian is a faculty member for Complexions Academy Intensives and conducts master classes while the company is on tour. She is in her sixth season with Complexions. IG @Jillange93

Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by artistic directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Born of their lifelong appreciation of the beauty and artistry of the multicultural, the two set out to reinvent dance by mixing dance methods, styles, and cultures. Since the founding of Complexions, Rhoden and Richardson have set over 80 works for the Company and toured across the globe with great acclaim. Audiences everywhere ask, “How do you get dancers to move like that?” Their phi­losophy has always encouraged a strong technical foundation, physicality and ver­satility, coupled with an artist’s uniqueness, individuality and passion.

Lessons for Grades K-12:

Academics: Physical Education, Dance/Movement, Math/Geometry, English Language Arts (ELA), Social Emotional Learning (SEL)


Physical Education:

K-12.S4.1participate in activities promoting health-related fitness

2-5.S4.4participate in several activities related to each component of health-related physical fitness (e.g., cardio-respiratory, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, balance, agility).

4-5.S4.6select and participate regularly in physical activities for the purpose of improving physical skills and health.

6-8.S4.5participate in activities to achieve personal fitness goals.

9-12.S4.6participate in activities to improve physical skills and fitness (include activities related to each component of health-related physical fitness).



DA:Cr1.1.K-3aRespond/Explore/Experiment with a variety of self-identified stimuli (for example, music/sound, text, objects, images, notation, observed dance, experiences) for movement.  

DA:Cr1.1.4aIdentify ideas for choreography generated from a variety of stimuli (for example, music/sound, text, objects, images, notation, observed dance, experiences).

DA:Cr1.1.5aBuild content for choreography using several stimuli (for example, music/sound, text, objects, images, notation, observed dance, experiences, literary forms, natural phenomena, current news, social events).

DA:Cr1.1.6aRelate similar or contrasting ideas to develop choreography using a variety of stimuli (for example, music, observed dance, literary forms, notation, natural phenomena, personal experience/recall, current news or social events).

DA:Cr1.1.7aCompare a variety of stimuli (for example, music, observed dance, literary forms, notation, natural phenomena, personal experience/recall, current news or social events) and make selections to expand movement vocabulary and artistic expression.

DA:Cr1.1.8aImplement movement from a variety of stimuli (for example, music, observed dance, literary forms, notation, natural phenomena, personal experience/recall, current news or social events) to develop dance content for an original dance study or dance.

DA:Cr1.1.IaExplore a variety of stimuli for sourcing movement to develop an improvisational or choreographed dance study. Analyze the process and the relationship between the stimuli and the movement.

DA:Cr1.1.IIaSynthesize content generated from stimulus materials to choreograph dance studies or dances using original or codified movement.



CC.9-12.G.CO.1 Experiment with transformations in the plane. Know precise definitions of angle, circle, perpendicular line, parallel line, and line segment, based on the undefined notions of point, line, distance along a line, and distance around a circular arc.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.G.A.1 Recognize and draw shapes having specified attributes, such as a given number of angles or a given number of equal faces.1 Identify triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, hexagons, and cubes.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.G.A.3 Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry.


English Language Arts (ELA):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7-12.4Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

  1. Dance Vocabulary – see attached “Dance Resources” pdf
  2. The Elements of Dance – see attached “Dance Resources” pdf
  3. What is Ballet – see attached “Dance Resources” pdf
  4. The Principles of Ballet – see attached “Dance Resources” pdf
  5. Compare/Contrast Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet – see attached “Dance Resources” pdf
  6. Lessons:
    • • K-12, Time, Space, & Energy – see lesson tab
    • • Your Artistic Impression – see lesson tab
    • • Explore Emotion – see lesson tab
    • • Geometry in Dance Lesson – see lesson tab
  7. “Work Out with Jillian”
    • Supplies:
      1. Solid, flat floor with some room to move and lie down upon
      2. Yoga mat or towel
      3. Wear sneakers or socks with sticky bottoms so you will not slip.
      4. A water bottle (remember to hydrate before, during, and after moving your body!)
      5. Pay particular attention to the warm-up at the beginning of the workout and the stretching at the end; this will prepare your muscles.
      6. Concentration
      7. Eagerness to move and learn
    • This workout may be a very new experience for some students. Encourage them to try their best, but, feel free to go slow and build up to the complete workout. Outlined below is a sample of how students can build up to the complete workout.
      • Week One:
        1. Do just the warm-up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
        2. Rest on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.
      • Week Two:
        1. Do the warm-up and strengthening exercises on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
        2. Do just the warm-up on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
        3. Rest on Sunday.
      • Week Three:
        1. Do the warm-up, strengthening, and cardio on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
        2. Do the warm-up on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
        3. Rest on Sunday.
      • Week Four:
        1. Do the warm-up, strengthening, cardio, and stretching (the whole video, approx., 15 minutes) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
        2. Do the warm-up on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
        3. Rest on Sunday.
      • Once students are used to the routine, they can incorporate the workout into their daily routine as best they can.
        • Some days they will be inspired to complete the whole workout. Other days, they will do a portion. Encourage students to incorporate some type of movement in their lives on a daily basis.
      • This is a great experience for students to do along with their siblings and/or the whole family.


Create your own artistic impression of the dances in the video. Using shapes, lines, colors, patterns, and other artistic elements from your imagination, draw or paint a picture that expresses how the dancers made you feel. Use art to interpret your impression of the movements and qualities of the dance.

Have students pick an emotion they felt while watching the dances on the video. Allow students to draw or write about the emotion using the following questions to guide their exploration:

 What does ______ look like?

 What does ______ sound like?

 What does ______ feel like?

 What does ______ smell like?

 What does ______ taste like?

Objective: For students to explore the three elements of dance: time, space and energy.

Materials: Open space for movements, Index cards, Pencils


  1. Review the three major elements of dance: time, space, and energy.
    • • Time: includes duration, tempo, and beat.
      • • duration—the length of time a movement lasts.
      • • tempo—the speed with which a movement is performed.
      • • beat—the underlying rhythmic pulse.
    • • Space: The way the dancer moves through and interacts with the physical world; direction, level, size, focus and pathway are the aspects of space.
    • • Energy: propels or initiates movement or causes changes in movement or body position. Most easily visible as the quality of movement.

Discuss examples of each:

  • • TIME (How do you move in time? What are examples of how you could change how you move in time, in terms of duration/length, tempo/speed, or beat/rhythm?)
  • • SPACE (What are some ways you can change the way you take up or move through space, in terms of direction, level, size, focus, or pathway?)
  • • ENERGY (What different kinds of qualities can movement have? Flowing, sharp, constrained, explosive?)
  1. “Come From Walking” game
  • • Ask the students to walk around their space like they are walking down the street – their most comfortable pace and posture. Call this walking “baseline.”
  • • Ask the students to change their walking with respect to time, any way they’d like – changing their speed, their rhythm, etc. After everyone has made their decision, ask students, while they are still moving, to consider if their time change affected their walking with respect to space and energy. Then ask everyone to return to “baseline.”
  • • Repeat the above prompt, this time asking students to change their “baseline” walking with respect to space. Ask them to consider the impact on their time and energy. Then have everyone return to “baseline.”
  • • Repeat the above but asking students to change their “baseline” with respect to energy.
  • • Ask everyone to pause their walking and find their index cards and pencil; spend 2 minutes writing about the ways their choices with respect to one element of their movement influenced the other two elements, and what kind of relationships they see between the three elements, if any. Answers can be shared with the class or submitted to the teacher.
  • • With everyone walking at their “baseline,” call out the image prompts below for students to react to. Ask them, after they’ve made their movement choices, to consider what changes they made to their time, space, and energy to respond to the prompt. Make sure to have students return to their baseline in between each prompt. Feel free to incorporate or substitute your own image prompts.

walk happily

walk angrily

walk while scared

move through mud

move like a snake

move like a cheetah

move like a giraffe

move like an elephant

move like a butterfly

move like a crab

move like a robot

  • • After the exercise, ask students to pause their walking and spend 5 minutes writing about 3 of the prompts, and what decisions they chose to make with respect to time, space, and energy to respond to the images


  1. Score Development:
  • • Ask students to write down one “time” example (i.e. fast), one “space” example (i.e. low) and one “energy” example (i.e. sharp) on an index card. This card is a score card.
  • • Students then pass their score card to another student, or send the information through a chat if the class is online.
  • • Repeat this twice more, with students passing their cards to different peers each time. In the end, everyone should have 3 score cards each written by a different person. Each score card corresponds to one movement (in the first bullet point’s example, the movement would be fast, low in space, and sharp in quality).
  • • Have students take some time on their own to come up with a sequence that corresponds to the three different score cards they received. These sequences can be shared with the class or recorded and submitted to the teacher later.
  • • Students can spend some time writing about how they combined each of the three elements they received per card into one movement/action, and their decision process

In this lesson, students observe symmetry, geometric shapes, and angles in dance videos performed by Complexions Contemporary Ballet, then they choreograph their own dance incorporating symmetry, geometry, and angles.


The basic elements of dance are space, time, and force. This lesson focuses on the use of space. As in math, the element of space in dance deals with area and volume. The flat space (such as the floor) a dancer or group of dancers use can be described in terms of total area (perimeter, circumference, area, circle, square, etc.) or in terms of pathway (the characteristics of the lines the dancers make as they move across their floor). Dance space is also described by levels, such as high, medium, and low, creating a three-dimensional aspect to space used in a dance.

Students should know that a square is a plane shape with equal sides. Students should be introduced to different types of triangles, including right triangles. Students should be able to fold a piece of paper accurately in half vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, either alone or with some coaching.


Individual pieces of notebook paper

Square pieces of paper

Pencil or crayon

Protractors (optional)


Lesson: Frame, Focus, and Reflection

Part I – Origami and Geometric Shapes

Discuss origami with the students; the Japanese art of paper folding. Some very realistic animals, plants, and objects can be created simply by folding paper into various shapes.

Ask students what things from everyday life are also folded? Some examples: bed sheets, napkins, clothes, towels, a letter, etc.

Explain that when things are evenly folded, they are using a line of symmetry. Demonstrate with a piece of paper folded lengthwise (“hot dog fold”) and width-wise (“hamburger fold”). Have students do this along with you to reinforce the idea.

Ask students about what other way can they fold the paper in half? Diagonally? Demonstrate that a diagonal fold won’t work well to divide a rectangular piece of paper in half.

Ask students what shape should this paper have in order for a diagonal fold to divide it in half? A square?

Using a square piece of paper, fold it in half diagonally, both ways, and show the lines of symmetry you created. Have students fold their square pieces of paper with you; folding along the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines of symmetry, just like your previous demonstration.

Have students open their folded papers so they are flat and use a pencil or crayon to trace the lines they created when they folded the paper.

Ask students what shapes are drawn on their paper now? Ask them to describe the shapes. Triangles? What kind? How many?

Ask students what angles are formed by the intersecting folds? What angles are formed by the folds that intersect with the edge of the paper? If students have protractors, ask them to measure the angles.

Part II – Physical Movement with Shapes

Refer to the square papers the class folded. Ask students to imagine they were the size of an ant and could only walk on the fold lines. Would they always be walking in a straight line? (Yes) Would they ever be able to walk in a curved line? (No, not if the paper is folded correctly and all the lines intersect at the center of the square.)

Ask students about how the dancers in the video move in shapes and pathways. Do they notice any squares, lines, and triangle patterns in the dance? Point out that, in dance, shapes can be made by individual dancers walking in a certain pathway, by a group of people standing in a certain formation, or by a group of people moving from one formation to another in a specific way. Notice the symmetry in the dance, similar in many ways to the symmetry of the shapes and lines on the students’ square papers.

Ask students to work out a way to create the pattern of lines on their square papers using their bodies. They may use ideas from the video as inspiration. They may choose to stand in place and use outstretched arms to create the shapes on the paper. They may choose to move in pathways that follow the lines (folds) on the paper. They may choose a combination of techniques. Any idea is correct, as long as it contains an identifiable connection to the lines and shapes created by the paper folds.

Ask students to share their ideas and demonstrate their techniques.

Discuss each of the performances using the following prompts:
1. How did this student show the lines and/or shapes on the paper?
2. How did this student show the angles on the paper?
3. What was interesting about this interpretation?
4. What could make this presentation even more interesting?

Ask the students about their experience, using the following questions:
1. What was challenging about doing this activity?
2. How did you end up making the decision to use space in the way you did?

Part III – Choreography

Ask students how they might create a dance for the whole class using each students’ ideas. Would they present the movements in order? Should they happen all at the same time? Should the whole class combine to be one large group, or should the students perform solos?

Assign a student as the recorder who will write down ideas so that the class has a final choreography plan. Discuss the type of music that could be used for the dance, and make a list of some tunes/songs that would work. Choose a single piece of music by voting.

Try a virtual version of the “dance.” Or, listen to the music and narrate the choreography. Discuss what worked and what did not. Keep trying variations until a satisfactory piece is achieved.

If you can, film the virtual dance or each student and then edit together.

Discuss the experience using the following questions:
1. How challenging was this experience?
2. If you were a choreographer, how would you costume your dancers for this dance?
3. How would you make this dance longer, so it could stand alone as a performance?


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