No Dancer Left Behind: Chasing the Dance Credential

By Nancy Ng


Did you know that before the Ryan Act of 1970 there was a Dance Credential in the State of California? With a Dance Credential, a dance educator could receive a salaried teaching position in a school district complete with healthcare and benefits. School Districts could hire a credentialed teacher in the subject matter of dance to teach dance on a daily basis. Although it is still possible to teach dance in the public schools with other kinds of teaching credentials, to do so, is not always the most straightforward and direct path. I know many dance artists who have taken and passed the physical education examination for a PE credential, but for those dancers, like myself, who are not sports inclined, answering a question like this:

A. Pick and roll
B. Give and go
C. Zone defense
D. Free-lancing

is much more challenging than answering a question about choreographic devices, or the elements of dance.

Why should there be a dance credential?
A dance credential is vital to the continuation of dance as an art form. The after effects of the Ryan Act and Proposition 13 (1978) devastated dance education in public schools. Performing arts audiences have declined in the past two decades as a result of decreased arts exposure in schools. Cultivation of an audience who appreciates and understands dance needs to happen early in education, not later. In addition, the dance makers of our future need to have an opportunity now, when they are going to school, to begin developing their craft. Other more practical reasons to have a dance credential are the simple facts that No Child Left Behind mandates dance as core curriculum nationally and the state of California also mandates a dance education—there are visual and performing arts standards which students are supposed to complete as part of their education. Most importantly, I believe all children have the right to have access to a whole education, and this includes the opportunity to communicate through dance—expressing their ideas, feelings and emotions.

While true that there are many dance education programs in schools today, and that teaching artists are filling in a few of the gaps in dance education, their teaching situations demonstrate how much dance is undervalued and dismissed as an educational subject. I have heard stories of dance classes being taught in school basements, under stairwells and in bathrooms— most challenging for a subject matter with SPACE as a key learning concept. I hardly imagine the subject matter of language arts or math would be relegated to such sub-standard teaching environments. A teaching credential in dance would lend stature to the subject matter of dance, putting it on par with other core curricula. It is interesting to note that the state of California, which is known for its arts and entertainment industry, lags far behind other states. Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin all have dance credentials.

What you can do to Advocate the Credential:
For the moment, there is something very important you can do to make the dance credential, once again, a reality in our state. Become involved in advocacy efforts in California to obtain a dance credential. For the past 38 years, leaders in the California Dance Education Association (CDEA) and California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and the California Educational Theatre Association (CETA) have worked tirelessly to re-obtain a dance credential. Since 1970, four bills have been drafted to establish dance and theatre credentials: SB762, SCR 31, AB 1024, AB752. These bills were waylaid in committee or vetoed due to lack of Governor support. The last bill was vetoed in 1999.

In 2003 CDEA formed a steering committee to develop a Pedagogical Competency Certification Process. This committee proactively examined how theoretical dance education knowledge and practical dance teaching experience would align once the credential became a reality. In 2007, a committee was co-formed with CDEA and CETA. to outline advocacy strategies for obtaining dance and theater credentials. (Currently, only visual arts and music have credentials.) They are working with the Visual and Performing Arts Consultant in the State Department of Education to implement the strategies. Some of these strategies include establishing a credential committee which includes PTA representatives and teacher union representatives, increasing CDEA membership to demonstrate there is large membership support, and writing position papers to submit to state legislators.

It is our hope that with the support of CDEA members, and others interested in helping with this campaign, that the fields of Dance and Theatre will have Single Subject Credentials by 2012. Change can happen, it just take time, patience and an effort by a group of individuals with a single purpose.

Please commit to joining advocacy efforts toward a dance credential. As dancers, we deserve a dance credential. How else can we guarantee quality dance education in our schools and the continuation of dance as an art form? The most important thing you can do to support a dance credential is to become a member of the CDEA. Your membership fee supports an arts education lobbyist in Sacramento, and when the credential is once again in front of the legislators the number of CDEA members will make a difference. Since CDEA is a state affiliate of the National Dance Education Organization, you get two memberships for the price of one. Visit or to join. For more information about advocacy efforts please check the CDEA website or contact

Nancy Ng is Executive Director of Creativity and Policy and Dir. of Early Education at Luna Dance Institute. She continues to learn from young children. Luna faculty members have written other articles for this journal which delve into early education and dance. You can read Exploring Power and Agency in Early Childhood (Nakagawa, A. Dec. 2018), and The First Steps: Luna Dance Institute (Reedy, P. May 2012)