TADA! Educators Change the Future of California Dance

Maria, a high school senior in Fremont, California has a dilemma. She needs to choose between three exemplary undergraduate college dance teacher education programs—New York University, California State University East Bay, and the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Her choice is difficult—NYU will offer her substantial tuition assistance, but she wants to attend a school nearby to be close to her family. Maria danced weekly throughout her PK-5th grade elementary school years. In middle school she danced daily and these dance classes fulfilled the physical education requirement. Her high school offers a complete dance education program, which includes pedagogy, production elements, history, cultural forms, performance aesthetics, and choreography. Now, in her senior year, she will present an evening-length work with live music, in collaboration with the school’s music department. Last semester, as part of her school’s service learning program, she assisted 3rd-5th grade dance classes at the elementary school she attended. Maria received a rigorous dance education as a California public school student, enabling her to successfully audition into a university dance program. She hopes to pursue a career as a dance teacher, returning to her high school to teach the youth in the community she grew up in.

Our protagonist in this story is attending school in the year 2056, 40 years(1) after SB916 Theatre and Dance Act (TADA) was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 26, 2016.

The recent signing of TADA erases 46 years of a legislative error which shifted the ground of dance teacher education in our state. Prior to the Ryan Act of 1970, a college student interested in teaching dance, theater, music or visual arts in the public school system could receive a teaching credential in one of the four arts disciplines. After the Ryan Act, only teaching credentials in music and visual arts were offered by the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing. In 1970, all four arts teaching credentials were up for renewal, but due to the Ryan Act only the music and visual art teaching credentials were renewed. The reason for this was a clerical error due to a missing “s”. The drafted legislation described “music and art,” instead of “music and arts”.

As a result of this error, a dancer interested in pursuing a teaching credential needed to earn a PE credential through coursework and passing the CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers) in physical education, or earning a credential in another subject and then one also needed to receive a dance subject matter authorization or a special waiver from a school district. The PE CSET evaluates knowledge on how to teach dryland aquatics, rugby, basketball, soccer, flag football, and the list goes on, and hardly includes dance. However, if you received a dance teaching credential in one of the other 13 states in our union that offered a credential program you could teach in California and be grandfathered in with a PE credential. If this sounds convoluted, that’s because it truly was that complicated.

Of course, many dancers who wanted to stay in California lost interest in pursuing
a PE credential, because frankly it is much more rewarding for dancers to be moving, choreographing, or teaching, instead of studying for a PE test. Hence, following the Ryan Act, dancers gradually lost the interest to pursue a teaching credential, and students in our state’s public school system had fewer and fewer opportunities to study dance. At one point several state universities offered PE credentials with an emphasis on dance, but these programs eventually diminished.

Over the past five decades, due to the non-renewal of the dance teaching credential and its aftermath, dance has become almost non-existent in our public school system with only 2% of students in California public schools enrolled in a dance course taught by a credentialed dance teacher according to the recently released Arts Education Data Project. Compared to other arts disciplines, dance education is at the bottom of the proverbial art barrel—theater at 4%; arts, media and entertainment at 5%; music at 14%; and visual arts at 15%. It is truly amazing to envision that by 2056 the ecosystem of dance education delivery in our state will have shifted dramatically due to a lineage of dance educators who have dedicated a portion of their life’s work as artists to advancing opportunities for students like Maria.

Legacy of the Dance Teaching Credential in California
As dancers, choreographers and teachers we describe our dance training in terms of legacy and lineage. Taking myself as an example, I learned the modern dance techniques of Cunningham, Graham, and Hawkins, with a little bit of Butoh. I would say that as a choreographer, I was influenced most by Butoh, Hawkins, a bit of Pina Bausch, and June Watanabe, one of my professors at Mills College. As a children’s creative dance and choreography teacher I would trace my lineage to H’Doubler via Mary Joyce. As I try new teaching ideas and learn more about Laban Movement Analysis, Bartenieff Fundamentals, and the Language of Dance, I trace this body of work to Peggy Hackney, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Ann Hutchinson Guest, and their predecessors, Irmgard, and before her, Rudolf Laban.

As I think about TADA, in particular the “Dance Act” part, I see lineage in the advocacy work that has made significant change for California dance. Who are the artists responsible for the 46-year effort of the dance teaching credential? Generations of advocates put much effort into dance and theater credential legislation with four different legislative bills. These bills were waylaid in committee or vetoed due to lack of support from the California Teachers Association and the governor at the time. The last bill was vetoed in 1999. Over decades these advocates practiced intergenerational leadership—the leaders in the beginning, inspiring and working with the generation after them. Naming this lineage from the beginning, they are California Dance Education Association (CDEA) leaders Pat Finot, Joan Schlaich, Angela Hudson, Jacqui Lahr, Jo Ness, Judy Alter, Antoinette Marich, Judy Scalin, Susan Cambigue Tracey, Susie Whipp, Leah Bass-Bayliss, Cecelia Beam, Diana Cummins, Paige Santos, Susan McGreevy Nichols, Shana Habel, Beth McGill. During the last and final push in these past few years, these dance leaders are current CDEA co-presidents, Jessy Kronenberg and Kristin Kusanovich, along with Ginger Fox, LAUSD dance teacher and State Council Representative for California Teachers Association.

In this final effort, CDEA leaders maintained and strengthened the relationship with the California Alliance for Arts Education; built and cultivated new relationships with the California Teachers Association (one of the largest labor unions in California) and the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; and partnered with theater leaders Gai Jones and Carol Hovey of the California Educational Theatre Association. The passage of SB916, sponsored by Senator Ben Allen, was truly a performance with multiple collaborators that will forever change the face of dance education in California.

It is thanks to this lineage of impassioned and dedicated dance education advocates, who were, and are choreographers; performers; and teachers in dance studios, school districts and colleges, that the 2% of students currently receiving dance in California schools will significantly increase. Thanks to their tremendous efforts, a future generation of dancers, like the imagined Maria, can grow up in our state’s public school system experiencing dance as art; and dream of a career as a dance teacher, choreographer, or company dancer that will be grounded in reality.


(1) The forty future years estimate the time it may take for systemic change in public school education, allowing TADA’s full vision and impact to be seen in the lives of our next generation of dance educators.

PUBLISHED December 1, 2016

POSTED IN In Dance

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