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Defining Dance Education

This is an excerpt from Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access by Gayle Kassing & Danielle Jay-Kirschenbaum.

Defining Dance and Dance Education

Dance as a profession and as a discipline are internally joined. Dance becomes the nucleus that supports dance education as an artistic and educational medium. Dance education is defined as educating the learner through the media of dancing, dance making, and dance appreciation. On the surface, this definition seems simple, but in its simplicity lies also its complexity. Dance education is not as simple as putting dance and education together.

Dance means different things to different peoples and cultures. Often it is difficult to separate the dancer from the dance. Defining dance provides a basis on which to build an understanding of dance education.

Elementary school physical educator stands in a circle with students ready to begin a dance.

Defining Dance

Simply defined, dance is the human body rhythmically moving through space and time with energy or effort. Dance engages the dancer’s physical, mental, and spiritual attributes when performing dance as a work of art, a cultural ritual, a social recreation, a health and wellness activity, or an expression of the person. A dance form initiates from physical movement, rhythm, content, style, aesthetics, traditions, and mental and spiritual meanings that may be artistic, creative, social, cultural, or religious. Dance forms can be designated into categories or genres: creative movement and creative dance; recreational dance, which includes folk, cultural, and social dance forms; concert dance forms; and dance fitness. A dance genre is a class or category of art or dance based on a set of stylistic criteria. Genre examples include ballet, modern dance, jazz, tap dance, and hip-hop. A dance form is a subcategory of a genre of dance. Examples of some dance forms in the recreational dance genre include line, round, and square dancing.

Dance as an art is a conduit of expression and communication—the message and the medium. It provides a structure that may be intricate, precise, casual, or personal through which the dancer expresses movement, style, and aesthetics. Dance is what entices you as a dancer in a continuous quest for knowledge about yourself in your changing relationship to the dance.

Dance can transport you from the studio, the gym, or the dance space to the theater or other performance spaces and on to the larger arenas of life. It is a part of society and academia and an important component of arts education. In one form or another, dance can be your lifelong partner that will enrich and fulfill you as a human being. Dance affords countless rewards to the audiences who watch performances, to the students you teach, and to the profession through the research you pursue. Whatever role you assume, the dance is nothing without the dancer, and neither can exist without dance education.

Defining Dance Education

Defining dance education requires exploring dance in its many roles. Without the passing of knowledge of dance from one person to another and from one generation to the next, dance could not have survived as a discipline or as an art form. Dance heritage is vast; the forms range from authentic or genuine to classical to contemporary. Throughout the 20th century, dance education took many forms in educational settings; it has been used for many purposes. In the 21st century, dance is gaining recognition as a healthy, lifelong activity that contributes to developing and sustaining the whole individual.

Dance has many roles within the parameters of dance education. Dance can range from simple, exploratory experiences in an elementary school to professional-level performance in an arts magnet high school. Dance can be learning folk dances as part of a social studies unit about Greece, or it can be a way to integrate the study of the four phases of a butterfly in science. Dance continues to educate within community settings where dancers of all ages participate and perform in artistic or entertainment venues, cultural celebrations, recreational and social occasions, or health and fitness classes as lifelong enrichment. Dance provides a wealth of resources, evolving pedagogy, and scholarship that supports learning in many aspects. Exploring dance and its functions in education provides a better perception of the expanse of dance education.

Dance in Educational Settings

As an educational modality, dance enriches the child, the adolescent, the adult, and the senior citizen in a variety of ways. The discipline of dance concentrates on its processes with performance as the product. The dance processes and the performance experiences educate participants physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. Dance teachers are aware of the benefits that students derive from participating in and studying dance.

Dance as education offers many benefits. Nevertheless, it has only recently gained recognition for its value in developing and enhancing the whole person, as a performing art, and as a recreational, creative, or personal pursuit for lifelong learning and enrichment. It remains the least understood and developed of the arts in education.

Ideally, dance education should begin in early childhood or with the preschool student. A variety of educators deliver dance programs in kindergarten through high school. They include dance educators, physical educators, classroom teachers, and other arts educators such as music or drama teachers. Communities offer many types of dance education opportunities for various age groups from early childhood through teenagers, to young and mature adults, to senior citizens through dance studios, arts, cultural, entertainment, recreation, and fitness organizations.

In elementary, middle, and high school, physical educators teach dance units. In elementary, middle, and high school or magnet school programs, dance specialists teach dance units or courses in one- to four-year or longer programs. The dance specialist may be a certified dance or other educator, a resource teacher, a teaching artist, or an adjunct teacher with dance experience. The adjunct teacher may come from a dance studio or cultural arts background.

The purposes of dance in the elementary school encompass those for general education, dance as arts education, or motor skills and movement patterns in physical education. In the ideal situation, the elementary dance program effectively funnels into a middle school program that in turn sends the student into a high school program. In high school, a student may take one course or study dance for all four years. As a graduate of a high school program, the student may enter the dance profession or a college program. Through these programs, dance functions as a separate discipline and a component of arts education, or as a physical activity or physical education program.

Historical Role of Dance in Education

Today, dance functions as an essential component of education and as a partner with other academic subjects and arts education. During 20th century education, dance gained acceptance as a separate discipline. At the beginning of the 20th century, dance was taught in physical education as either folk dance for boys and girls or as aesthetic dance, which was exclusively for girls. Throughout much of the 20th century, dance was a viable part of the physical education curriculum. The continued efforts of dance artists and educators led to the definition of dance as a separate discipline. Dance separated from its physical education roots and often joined other arts disciplines in the fine arts or became recognized as a singular discipline that developed as a dance program or department. Regardless of the positioning of dance within the school and college or university setting that prepares dance educators for teaching in K-12 education, the focus remains on the study of dance.

Dance as a Discipline of Study

For any subject to be considered a discipline of study, it must contain content knowledge of facts, concepts, processes, techniques, principles, and theories. Dance is a discipline of study like other subjects such as science, music, language arts, and physical education. A discipline includes content knowledge of the subject matter it contains, which distinguishes it from other subjects. Dance content knowledge centers on different aspects of dance gained through the learning experiences of dancing, dance making, and dance appreciation. As with any discipline of study, dance does not exist in an isolated state. Drawing knowledge from other fields of study, dance as a discipline incorporates intrinsic related fields, or branches of knowledge. This integrated content knowledge logically supports and enhances dance learning in a cohesive manner to become a holistic educational modality, which expands, enriches, and supports the content knowledge of the discipline. Content knowledge in dance provides background, scientific evidence, educational foundations, psychological support for the artistic and holistic development of students, and teaching methods. Dance pedagogy is the art and science of teaching dance to students from early childhood through adulthood. In today’s world, dance pedagogy “must be ecologically sensitive and be able to support diverse groups” (Kassing 2010, p. 25). Dance has earned credibility as a discipline and value as a subject for study in educational settings and as a component of arts education.

Dance as Arts Education

During the second half of the 20th century, dance joined arts education as a key player in educational reform. Professional organizations representing the visual arts, music, dance, and drama asserted the importance of arts in education. As a unified voice supported by educational research and state mandates, the arts gained national recognition as a viable tool for learning and therefore gained a place in the educational reform movement. Arts education builds the case that each of the arts contributes to a person’s development as a productive member of society.

Educational theories developed by Howard Gardner about multiple intelligences (Gardner 1983) gave pivotal support to the importance of arts education. One of Gardner’s theories suggests that the arts use other forms of intelligence to reach students beyond the traditional learning paradigms of linguistics and mathematics. Students who participate in the arts use different intelligences to learn, understand, and perform tasks. Continued support from late 20th century and current 21st century scholars followed to substantiate the importance of dance as arts education and education. Other theorists, scientists, educators, and scholars you will meet throughout this book have offered a wide range of new ideas, theories, and models that relate to and support dance as arts education. Research has provided data regarding the effect of arts education programs on students. These studies show that arts education

  • provides opportunities to participate in and achieve in the arts, thereby gaining skills, such as independent and critical thinking, reasoning, and group interaction, that transfer to other disciplines of study;
  • offers opportunities to learn through the arts about related disciplines of science, mathematics, history, culture, and others to acquire a global viewpoint;
  • develops self-discipline, persistence, and tenacity to complete tasks, use creativity, and employ critical-thinking skills;
  • prepares students for the 21st century workplace;
  • provides access to learning for students who do not respond to traditional methods; and
  • has a positive effect on students’ personal sense of self-esteem, motivation, and academic performance.

Research indicates that participating in dance and arts education results in higher grade point averages and better school attendance, which translates into greater graduation potential (Catterall 2012). The benefits and values for students who participate in dance as arts education in turn enhance and expand the schools and communities where they live or work.

The richness and diversity of dance education and its appropriateness to so many situations give it a magnitude of options that are suited to many students and situations. The dancer and dance educator occupy distinct roles in the teaching and learning process.

More Excerpts From Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access