In the wake of the economic recession, dance education is at a critical turning point in California. Despite popular dance entertainment, such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, funding for dance education is practically non-existent. From an outsider looking in, this is baffling. Why is dance education still fighting to prove its worth?
This article is the first in a series of three focusing on dance education from an international perspective. Written as a reflection on international dance education through my experiences as a dance teaching artist, each article will give an insight into what dance education looks like elsewhere (Australia, United Kingdom/Europe & USA) and how we can better support both the teaching of dance and building of a culture for dance through a holistic structure. In this installment of the series, I will focus on my background and training as a dance artist/teacher in Australia, the impact this has had on my career and the impact of dance education on the profession throughout the country.
My Dance Education Background
I am a product of a diverse dance education that extended beyond the normal realms of the dance studio experience. I started dancing at a young age and began with ballet, tap and jazz classes at a well-respected private dance studio. Through elementary education, I enjoyed regular dance classes as part of physical education where I learned social and folk dances through seventh grade. In high school (eighth through twelfth grades in Australia) dance was an elective starting in ninth grade. Having such a love of dance, I was keen on continuing with dance courses, but was dubious as to what I would be taught that was any different from my studio classes.
My public school dance courses introduced me to a world of dance with genres and experiences that I might have otherwise missed. These dance courses challenged me as a performer but turned me into a thinking dancer, analyzing, questioning and experimenting with dance forms. Through the process, I learned more about myself as well as others. Absent a public school dance education, I doubt I would have been prepared to audition and secure a place at the university level.
Like many, I struggled during the audition process to choose between performance or education focus. I worried about the unpredictability of professional dancing, but did not think that a teaching career was for me. I decided to combine these paths to earn a living and pursue a career as a performer/choreographer at the same time. At the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) I was one of eight students who graduated with a double bachelor degree in dance and education. This four-year degree combined dance technique, history and dance specific pedagogy along with a broader education theory component. Following graduation, I was one of two dance specialists who taught at an inner-city high school in Brisbane, Queensland, where I continued to perform and teach before feeling the pull for something new in the UK.
The Value of Public School Dance Education
Looking back, I recognize a common thread of my dance education experiences. As a starting point, dance was valued as part of the school curriculum. It was a stand-alone subject, separate from physical education, taught by dance specialists. It had been taught through PE in the past, but there was recognition for wanting to ensure the quality of what we were being taught was kept to a high standard – with its own standards and specialist teachers. You could receive a junior and senior high school certificate with single subject grading for Dance, recognized by places of higher education and the workforce alike.
A comprehensive dance curriculum was implemented within the high schools, which prepared students to continue their study in college. In turn, colleges were motivated to further develop their own dance education programs to meet the interest of incoming students. As a result of these well-developed programs, there was a demand and need for dance specialists. I remember having a clear sense of job security when I graduated knowing that in 2000, there were not enough graduates to meet the demand of schools who wanted a dance program. Even asking for a two-month sabbatical in my second year of teaching to study dance in Europe was possible, knowing I had a job to come back to. Dance teaching offered a sense of job security that has not yet been captured in the United States.
Australia Frameworks for Dance Education
The drive for creating a national framework for dance still continues and has reached two clear milestones since my time in Australia: the development of the Years 1-10 Arts Syllabus in Queensland schools and the development and implementation of The Dance Plan 2012.
Demand for dance at high school brought about a need for there to be a progression of skill level that now needed focus at the elementary level. This Years 1-10 Arts Syllabus makes clear that the arts (dance, theatre, music, visual art and media studies) should be an integral part of student learning. Now integrated into all schools across Queensland, there has been a significant amount of money and professional development invested in supporting elementary classroom teachers to deliver this syllabus.
Australia’s model of curricular progression is best described in The Dance Plan 2012. Released in 2008, this document articulates a vision for dance that includes politicians, funding bodies, schools, tertiary institutions, dance companies and independent artists as part of the strategy for moving forward.
The Dance Plan 2012 promotes:
• More excellent and innovative Australian dance
• More opportunities to see and participate in Australian dance
• Dance as an integral part of every young person’s education
• A range of sustainable careers for dance artists
One outcome of the Plan is the core competencies for independent artists and dancers from genres where there are no specific syllabi for teachers (i.e., belly dancing, breakdancing). Through The Dance Plan 2012, dance will be taught throughout the country from kindergarten through high school to all students. It provides for an inclusive curriculum and pushes for higher professional standards. The clear underlying framework builds a culture for dance that includes clear lines of progression and accountability from all dance institutions.
Is Australia any different than the United States in terms of what we want for dance education? Not really, considering the National Dance Standards in both countries are relatively similar and both countries have national dance organizations that advocate for dance. Does Australia have the answers? Perhaps not, but there is a clear underlying framework that expects progression and accountability in building a culture for dance. It articulates a vision for dance in Australia that all areas of the industry are working together to realize, underpinning how the industry is able to value professional, educational, cultural and creative equality.
The next of this series will delve into the diversity of dance education in the UK and opportunities available to students and teachers alike. For more information on The Dance Plan 2012, visit www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/dance/reports_and_publications/dance_plan_2012
This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of In Dance.