As studio owners and dance teachers within the private sector, some may be unaware as to what exactly dance education entails within the K-12 setting. Over recent years, public schools have seen a mandated implementation of arts programs within curriculums; particularly dance programs. The state departments of education have received specific instructional requirements as to what these dance curriculums should include. Specifically in New York, each of these requirements served as the basis for what has become the Blueprint for Dance Education. While each state that includes dance in core K-12 curriculums have dance standards as well, within the Blueprint, lie the state and city requirements broken down and explained as to what dance “benchmarks” students should be learning and achieving in each grade.  These benchmarks include dance making, developing dance literacy, making connections (of dance to students’ cultures, exploring creativity in dance in response to other arts technology, etc.) and working with dance within the community to extend and enliven the dance experience. The Blueprint also serves as a “map” for dance education teachers in which to guide them in building sequential and developmentally appropriate material and lessons for students within their dance classes year to year.

            So what exactly does dance education entail? As dance teachers in studio settings, it is important to understand what our students are learning within the dance classrooms so that we continue to provide meaningful training and our own well balanced curriculums. The most important factor to understand is that dance within K-12 is approached from a creative, critical thinking perspective and often serves as the vehicle for teaching interdisciplinary subject matter. Using dance this way has proven to be a beneficial and recognized method to enhance understanding of math, science, social studies, etc. Unless we are focusing on a performing arts high school, the mission of dance education really places emphasis on self-expression and the creative process of the student vs. learning technique and “making dancers.” While a good dance educator aims to combine all elements to the dance experience, both technical and academic, time and space often within the public school environment is not conducive to these goals. However, as more and more schools are including dance, studios are being built more readily and administrators are standing up and taking notice of what this art inclusion is accomplishing for students across all areas (though not quickly enough!)  

            Another important factor to recognize is that while dance education in K-12 is not setting out to create dancers, it is at times inadvertently doing so by introducing naturally gifted students to an art they might never had the chance to come face to face with. Those “diamonds in the rough” are being recognized by the astute dance teacher and guest teaching artists who point them in the direction for more intensive dance training in the hopes of future  performance careers.

            Dance education is providing the opportunity to expose students to a way of appreciating, thinking, looking and talking about dance in ways they never have before. Suddenly, children are learning to use critical thinking skills to problem solve and engaging in artistic collaboration with others. They are learning to make dances and are recognizing the limitless possibilities of movement, choreography and the creative process. They are able to recognize masterworks and verbalize intelligent, sophisticated criticism when looking at dance; and they are developing their own aesthetic as to what their movement profiles are while building healthy minds and bodies.

As dance teachers in studios, it is essential to be aware of what our students are learning in their schools and provide training which also aims to educate what I like to call, the “whole dancer.” In accordance with the Blueprint, it is essential for students to understand the how’s, why’s and who’s of what they are doing in studio technique classes, so that they become proficient technicians and develop as artists within the dance field. This will promote professionals knowledgeable about their craft by building upon that knowledge throughout both their K-12 and dance studio careers accordingly.

 For more information on the Blueprint for Dance Education, Google your state’s Department of Education.

See you in the studio!