Dance is for everyone.
Or, perhaps more accurately, dance should be for everyone. If you spend any amount of time in the American educational system, you will bear witness to the phenomenon that is the decline of arts education. It isn’t prioritized as an integral part of what is essential for our K-12 students. It is a luxurious extra in education in the instances that it is included in school programming. All that to say, it isn’t a given that all students will have consistent exposure to the arts throughout their time in school.
Why does this happen?
As a dance educator working in public schools the major barriers I have seen most with regards to including arts education in student learning include: social inequality, a lack of program funding, no resources or equipment, limited training opportunities for teachers and little or no access to quality arts curriculum. These are only a few of the typical reasons that lead to the decision to omit arts programming in K-12 education. Every educational program will have their own contributing factors for why arts education doesn’t seem viable or that it doesn’t make sense for it to be available to students.
Another problem that runs in tandem with the logistical issues for including arts programming is based on perception about its usefulness. Arts education seems “extra” because it isn’t as easily quantifiable as a standardized test. It is difficult to measure ideas about success in the arts, in general. Student progress looks different in arts education and it isn’t easy to compare when we think of taking stock of creative trait strengths (especially those like empathy and openness to different perspectives and ideas). Despite arts education outcomes being hard to pin down it does not negate their usefulness to informing and enriching culture. Arts education matters and its absence is felt in complex ways.
I would argue that when we fail to include arts education in our programming it is to the detriment of the student. The goals of education should include educating students holistically, and that means including creative expression. It also means providing consistent opportunities for creative practice, such as visual art, theater, photography, music and dance. We expect creative problem solving, synthesis of new ideas and the ability to collaborate to be personal strengths and assets to our high school graduates, so why aren’t we making more of an effort to nurture these traits through K-12 arts education?
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that education is changing. A commitment to the integration of arts education in educational settings needs to be part of the conversation moving forward. Students need an outlet for creative expression now more than ever. The trauma of being in a pandemic has tested everyone and our kids need opportunities to unpack what they have been experiencing through arts education programming. The presence of the arts in education promotes individual experience and provides a sounding board for how students navigate their world. Parents and educators alike can agree that their students succeed more when they feel that their self expression and ideas matter. They become empowered to achieve their educational goals and to make a difference in their communities.
Where do we start, you might ask?
As a dance educator, I know that dance is and should be for everyone. My goal with Bravo Dance Project is to reach as many K-12 students as possible through dance enrichment. Arts education matters and movement-based activities benefit and enhance the educational experience of all students. We already understand the physical benefits of dance that involve exercise and mood boosting effects, but what if we could nurture the creative strengths of every K-12 student by allowing them exposure to creative problem solving through dance? This is the need I hope to meet with our curriculum resources.
While I cannot eliminate certain barriers of arts education, I can take this small step to offer my expertise from working with students in a variety of educational settings. I know that arts education matters and I want to give back to programs that strive to make arts education a priority at their school. We offer the Bravo Dance Project Video Resource Library, which includes free informative tutorials for movement activities that can be presented in any classroom and is accessible to students of all abilities. I am excited to be in the development process for our digital curriculum as well (to be released very soon!). Our high quality affordable curriculum unit bundles are thoughtfully assembled in a format that is engaging for students and involves minimal teacher prep. Our curriculum content teaches students the elements of dance composition and improvisational techniques that are used in dance to create their own movement projects.
So whether you are an educator in a K-12 public school, charter school, a homeschool parent, a co-op teacher or an after school program instructor, I would challenge you to know the value and importance of arts education and speak about it as such. Help change the dialogue about why arts education is essential for student success. I would also encourage you to try out our Bravo Dance Project educational resources and bring dance to your classroom.
And if you are ready to bring dance to your students, I have a pep talk just for you. I made it in a list format because we teachers LOVE our lists:
- Teaching dance as arts enrichment does not have to be complicated. Keep it simple.
- Your students don’t need another teacher to teach them dance as a creative practice. They just need you. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner and learn alongside them. Allow Bravo Dance Project to partner with you with our educational resources. Disclaimer: there is a lot to be said for dance professionals who specialize in teaching dance technique and they do an excellent job helping students refine and develop their skills. However, for introducing dance as enrichment where the focus in not technique-based, we can eliminate a barrier by recruiting the classroom teacher to introduce the topic of movement-based activities.
- Your students don’t need a facility with mirrors and expensive marley floor to be able to have dance at their school. They just need a flat space with enough room for them to move around safely. Outdoor spaces work very well, and can have the added benefit of fresh air and vitamin D.
- Your students don’t need to be the best at dance in order to be successful with it—their personal experience and practice of self expression is what is most important for their introductory experience with dance.
- Your students don’t need to have a dance performance for dance to have an impact on their lives. They simply need to experience the arts firsthand.
- You can do this! You are completely capable of bringing dance to your classroom and Bravo Dance Project is here to support you as you do. Small steps lead to lasting change. Your step forward for arts education will make such a difference for your students. And this matters because;
- Dance is for everyone. Period.
CREATING A DANCING CLASSROOM: UNDERSTANDING IN WHAT WAYS INTEGRATING DANCE INTO THE CLASSROOM CREATES OPPORTUNITIES FOR DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION, IMPACTS CLASSROOM CULTURE, AND ENHANCES STUDENT OUTCOMES, Maria Ross Campsey