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Art is a Moving Experience

Using “movement” in a museum setting enhances the experience of young children of mixed socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Movement as communication probes beyond these boundaries and also allows children who may not be auditory or visual learners to be enfranchised in the learning process.

Integrating children from different backgrounds in a shared art experience was the goal of the Norfolk Public Schools. Funding was provided from the general budget of Norfolk Public Schools to bring approximately 6,000 fourth and fifth grade students to the Chrysler Museum of Art over a two month period.

Movement Paradigm

The use of movement is an effective facilitator for connecting children with art. The following movement paradigm was developed on the basic premises of Dance/Movement Therapy Techniques.

  1. Circle formation to allow for eye contact and to establish feeling of group unity.
  2. Art imagery to provide shared visual stimuli.
  3. Music accompaniment to stimulate movement relating to art.
  4. Movement specialist to guide and develop group interaction as it evolves.

The intention is not to teach dance steps, but rather to provide an atmosphere that encourages self-expression through movement in response to the art.

Guidelines for Implementing

Protection of the artwork was of primary concern. To establish the appropriate boundary, a red string was placed in the “movement ” gallery around the perimeter of the room. Care was given to provide a “comfort zone” between the art and the students. Docents acted as “spotters,” and were placed in the corners of the gallery to prevent unintentional contact. Limiting the number of students appropriate to the space was critical. Generally, groups varied from 30 to 35 participants.

Upon entering the space, students were instructed to sit with their backs to the string, forming a circle. The movement specialist was dressed in a way that the children could relate to that also allowed for freedom of movement, i.e. jeans and turtleneck. Artwork selected was chosen to represent two themes: 1) different use of lines in two abstract paintings, and 2) different types of people in two realistic paintings. The entire session lasted eight minutes. The movement specialist explained that the goal of the session was to make the artwork come alive. Students would assume the stance of the subject in the paintings, slowly give life, express the energy, and then “zap” the energy out of the subject so that it could climb back into the frame and resume its pose. Prior to the movement session, each of the four pieces of art was introduced and discussed. Dialogue was exchanged on the similarity and differences of the four pieces. Ideas were shared verbally as to how the subjects of the paintings might move. Movement ideas acted as a stimulus for the physical movements that followed.

The Experience

The first artwork explored was Alfred Leslie’s Marcelle and Pierre Monnin (a life-sized portrait of a white man and woman in typical 1 960’s hippie clothing). Students were to stand and assume either the male or female pose. The slow steady beat of a current hit by Smashmouth heightened their eagerness to participate. The movement specialist prompted the moving of body parts that had been frozen in the artwork. Children shared ways they thought the subjects would move.

The second work of art, Number 23. 1951 (Frogman) Jackson Pollock, prompted the children to move beyond the concrete images of the first painting. This abstract composition was created by flowing black lines on a white canvas. The children used the artwork as a map for their movements, which were indirect, free flowing, and wavy. Their actions excitingly mirrored Pollock’s use of line.

The third piece. Fireman by Red Grooms, presented a completely different visual line from Pollock’s work. The semi-abstract portrayal of a fireman uses very sharp, defined lines. As the group assumed the stiff kneeless body-posturing of the “fireman,” their movements became sharp, short, and direct. The contrasting kinesthetic sensations achieved by interpreting these two pieces were powerful.

As the music subsided, the group froze waiting for the musical cue to make the final selection come alive. Selection of both the music and art was vital to achieving the climax session. This pinnacle of energy was achieved by using the musical selection of Men in Black, a very popular song with this age group, to complement Barclay Hendrick’s Slick, a large realistic portrait of a Black man dressed very stylishly in a white suit. Movement, energy, and ideas gushed. The children’s movements expressed pure joy and total immersion in the creative process.

After freezing movement and “de-energizing” to slow lyrical music, the group melted to a sitting position and established slow deep breath flow patterns. Relaxation techniques were employed to bring the group’s energy down to a level appropriate for the remainder of the tour. Once accomplished, students were asked to visually step back into their favorite piece of art used during the session. Then, they assumed the pose the artist created and remained there for other museum visitors to enjoy. The session ended with a burst of self-congratulatory applause.


The use of movement served as a powerful tool encouraging children to relate to the artwork. By combining art, movement, and music, children were provided with a stimulating sensory experience. We believe that synergy is created when the arts are used in combination — each medium enhances and contributes new meaning to the total experience. Acceptance of each child’s creative expression increased self-esteem.

What the children learned about the art, how they connected with the art, and how they felt about themselves made the museum experience both unique and positive. Movement prompted the children to be both emotionally and physically involved. Indeed, art is a moving experience!

Shelly Kruger Weisberg is a member of the decent council of The Chrysler Museum of Art. She is has a B.A. in Dance Movement Therapy and has worked as a professional movement therapist.

Ann Dearsley-Vernon is the director of education at The Chrysler Museum of Art, in Norfolk. Virginia. Ms. Dearsley-Vernon has a number of publications and videos to her credit, and was the 1997-98 recipient of the Virginia Art Education Association’s Museum Art Educator of the Year a ward.

Kruger Weisberg, Shelly & Ann Dearsley-Vernon. “Art is a Moving Experience,” The Docent Educator 8.2 (Winter 1998-99): 18-19.


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