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Different Approaches to Teaching Dance in Studios and Schools

By Tania Kopytko

Dance has been in the school curriculum five years now and is developing rapidly, as schools realise its potential to motivate students, including those with learning difficulties, and to teach vital skills such as planning, thinking, problem solving, negotiating, self management, decision making and team work. Since dance emerged as a school subject there has been much interest from the private sector, many anticipating that schools dance work could bring additional income. However as curriculum dance developed it became clear that the method and purposes of teaching dance in schools are different. For this reason it cannot be assumed that a dance teacher trained in the private sector with appropriate private sector qualifications would have the appropriate teaching skills and knowledge for dance in the school environment.

Over the past few years private sector teachers have been frustrated as they work their way through a minefield of regulations to obtain LAT’s - Limited Authority Teaching certification to teach in schools. This system has recently been reviewed and will be more open to appropriately qualified itinerant arts based teachers (see below for further information). There have been on-going complaints of poor remuneration rates and private sector qualifications not being recognized by the education system. There is a perceived reluctance from Education to engage with the private sector. Why could that be?

While some dance educationists welcome private teacher practice in the school system, there are others who believe that the two teaching systems are opposite and that a dance teacher should not work in a school unless they are trained in school teaching pedagogy. The Ministry of Education stance is that a teacher of dance in schools should have, or be working toward, an appropriate education degree/qualification, to ensure they understand the pedagogy of school teaching and learning. Dance teachers, whether studio, recreation or from the community sector e.g. ethnic based dance, are welcome to engage with the school curriculum as artists or guests. Community engagement is encouraged in the Arts Curriculum. In this situation the school teacher is responsible for ensuring the learning goals of the lesson are met and the community based dance teacher is the resource. Even in this scenario the lesson will be more effective if the community teacher has an understanding of the school teaching environment and aims of the lesson.

This approach will be reinforced through the CAFE (Community Artists For Education) website that will soon become part of the new Arts OnLine school arts resource site. There will be a CAFE template where artists can register their details and availability for school dance/arts/music/drama interface work. DANZ is currently developing two resources for freelance dance people working in schools to help this work. They are, a resource for best teaching practice and basic curriculum knowledge, and a recommended rates of pay for freelance workers in schools. The aim is to give schools and dance practitioners some guidance in what is currently a varied and muddled interface. The Ministry of Education supports this guideline development. The system will not be easy for the community based or guest dance tutor as they will have to have the resources and time to arrange their workshops or performances directly with schools. They will also need to prove their quality control measures, e.g. police checks. All this information is currently being developed as Ministry of Education guidelines on Arts OnLine.

Despite the difficulties, there are a number of community based or private dance teachers working very successfully in schools. Many teach a specific genre to students in dance classes or choreograph for student performance for a variety of assessments. Some successfully link with the PE (physical education) curriculum where dance is still a health and wellbeing option, very effective and popular with youth of all backgrounds. Others contribute to the teaching of dance unit standards. Here the education approach is important to realise.

Dance in the Arts curriculum has four strands commonly called PK, DI, CI, and UC around which a programme of dance skills, knowledge and understanding is developed. (see the NZ Arts Curriculum). Teaching dance therefore should not just be based solely on the teaching of technique (where students copy or reproduce movements according to teachers’ instructions) but also needs to incorporate three other equally important strands that enable students to become more literate in dance through:

  1. Creating and choreographing, where students create dance work based on the dance elements or are learning to choreograph for themselves or others, using the skills of negotiation, teamwork, decision making etc (PK)
  2. Developing dance through the creative process of choreography (DI)
  3. Critiquing dance - the students learn how to describe, analyse and comment on dance in informed and articulate ways. (CI)
  4. Learning about the context or background of dance (UC

The dance elements are particularly important because they can be used to describe movement in any genre and also to give choreographic tasks. The idea of personal expression is an important aspect of dance in schools. These are practices that do not usually happen as part of syllabus teaching of dance, although for example, it would be good to see choreographic skills developed in studio students from a young age.

Of the four strands, the UC strand or Understanding Dance in Context, is particularly important and this knowledge is often required of, or desired in, dance teachers who are brought in to schools. UC requires information such as why the dance is performed, who performs it, where it comes from and perhaps why or how it has developed. This also means that schools are interested in a variety of dance genre, perhaps Israeli folk dance or South African Gumboot dance, Pacific Island genres, or jazz dance, depending on what the learning is focusing on. Seeing live or videoed performances of a variety of dance is also important.

It is very exciting that our young people are learning so much about the nature of dance as surely this will produce knowledgeable, creative people in the future – our future dance enthusiasts and audience. This bodes well for the dance industry in the future. By comparing the 4 strand approach to learning in schools and the more technique orientated studio teaching approach, one can clearly see the differences in the two systems and why there may be misunderstandings.

As Suzanne Renner, Senior Lecturer in Dance at Otago University College of education, states in a dance teaching resource paper:

"Dance teaching (in schools) requires an environment that has both structure and freedom. The teacher needs to provide a framework within which to work and to set limits for learners while allowing them some freedom within which to work with some choice and at their own ability level."

Skilful and effective teachers of dance need not be skilled movers themselves. An expressive and articulate voice and attitude that indicates an enthusiasm and inner feeling for movement can be as satisfying and meaningful for students as skilled movement demonstrations.

This approach to teaching requires the ability to use processes and techniques that will enable the students to develop the outcome required e.g. a small group-created dance developed out of a theme such as “respect”, or as part of learning mathematics.

Patrice O’Brien Dance Facilitator at the Faculty of Education, University of Auckland, describes the process:

"Scaffolding learning activities so that there are small steps leading from what students already know or are able to do, to new learning and skills, thus enabling all students to be successful, is an important strategy of teaching and learning."

Here we can see that in schools, dance is not just used as a subject itself but teaches other important skills, or can be used as an effective tool for learning for entirely different subjects such as science and mathematics.

Dance is now offered at NCEA levels 1 to 3 and Scholarship. From 2008 it will be a recognised University Entrance (UE) subject. Understandably, to ensure comparability amongst the different subject areas offered in secondary schools, Principals will endeavour to ensure that suitably qualified teachers are designing, implementing and assessing the curriculum.

Associate Professor Ralph Buck, University of Auckland, explains:

“Given the major ground gained by dance in the last few years, the need to maintain standards and integrity in the eyes of the dance industry, the Ministry of Education and parents, is vital. Maintaining the quality of teachers and the standards of the students work is currently managed via ensuring that the teacher is fully qualified and registered. Such a system is used for all teachers in all subject areas. Importantly dance teachers and private dance teachers need to communicate about expertise and focus, so that they can use each others skills and resources to the benefit of both, and the students. The CAFE initiative will help here immensely; constant liaison within local communities and with DANZ will also help ease the wheels of change and growth.”

Dance in schools is still going through growth and development. It has much potential. Currently its delivery varies across the country. Educationists predict that it may take another five years for the system, methods and support resource materials to be in place, all within an increasingly constricted financial environment. But the road ahead is exciting and we have dance people from the education, private and community sectors who are passionate about seeing it succeed.

DANZ wishes to thank the following advisors for their contribution:
Suzanne Renner, Senior Lecturer, University of Otago College of Education
Patrice O’Brien, Dance Facilitator, University of Auckland
Associate Professor Ralph Buck, Head of Dance Studies Programme, National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland

Further Information

Limited Authority to Teach (LAT) 
Dance elements and the NZ Arts Curriculum
Reports on the new curriculum

Different approaches to Teaching Dance Studios and Schools

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