How Do I Make My Dance Program Successful?
The benefits of dance education go far beyond the recreational. Dance has well-established psychomotor, affective, and cognitive learning benefits, and students come out of a dance unit or program having acquired lifelong skill sets, such as respect for other students’ bodiesóand their ownóthat will serve them well as they learn and grow. Below, you’ll find a detailed list of the elements of a quality dance program.
A Quality Dance Program Requires
- A qualified dance instructor. Dance instructors must have extensive dance experience and should have training in dance education. Ideally the instructor has expertise in the technique and artistry of dance as well as its history and traditions. Whether the dance teacher is a visiting teaching artist or a part- or full-time CPS teacher, he or she must be supported by the principal and other school staff as an authority figure. It is also helpful to find a teacher whose teaching style and personality fit well with the school and students.
- Clear, high, and age-appropriate expectations. Teachers should develop a clear, comprehensive syllabus and provide consistent feedback and follow-through. Dance should be the focal point from which all activities stem, as students will benefit if dance is taught as an art form and discipline worthy of study in its own right. Dance education should teach both appropriate technique and the relationship of technique to dance making. On a practical level, it is important to get students up and moving in every class. When students are encouraged to both think and do - to express themselves through dance and develop their own identities as dancers and choreographersóthey are empowered, and empowered students are much more likely not only to stay in school but also to work harder.
- A large, open space with uncarpeted floors. A dedicated dance studio with a sprung wooden floor is ideal, but gyms, cafeterias, auditorium stages, and multipurpose rooms all have potential, depending on the size of the program and the type of dance being taught. If necessary, other spaces can be modified to accommodate some styles of dance. For example, desks and chairs can be moved to the perimeter of a regular classroom for a unit on historical dance. In situations like this it may be helpful to delineate the dance area with masking tape. Note that tiled or linoleum floors can be slippery, and concrete can be hard on the feet and joints.
- A quality sound system and other supplemental materials. The ideal sound system is equipped to play CDs, MP3s, and cassettes, and is loud enough to fill the space with music. It can also be useful to have a video camera, VCR, and monitor on hand. The CPS Office of Arts Education has a small lending library of dance books, DVDs, and videotapes, all available for school use. Other materials and equipment include ballet barres, yoga mats, props (scarves, hula hoops, balls, etc.), costumes, dance shoes, human-anatomy posters, and a bulletin board dedicated to dance activities. For younger students a box of props for music-making (maracas, drums, shakers, etc.) is ideal. Higher-level technique classes benefit from live music; consider collaborating with the music teacher to bring music students in as accompanists.
- Dedicated, consistent class periods. For maximum benefit, a dance program should take place over a significant length of time. Ideally students would meet more than once a week for eight to ten weeks minimum. At least 50 to 80 minutes should be dedicated to each dance class, though for very young students 35 to 45 minutes can suffice. Whatever your schedule, consistency will be key to obtaining proficiency and progress.
- Ongoing evaluation and accountability. Program outcomes should be clearly established prior to the start of the program. While they may change as the program progresses, it’s important that teachers, students, and principals understand what needs to be achieved. Learning should be assessed at each stage of the process. Effective tools may include performances, self-assessments, written responses, interviews, observations, journals, and tests.
- Funding and support from the school and the community. A good dance program relies on teamwork and the support of the principal, other school staff, parents, and community members to thrive over time. Adequate, consistent financial support can allow the dance teacher to enrich his or her curriculum with field trips to dance performances and in-school workshops with local teaching artists and arts partner organizations. Engaging outside partners allows students to connect with role models and mentors, and gives them a sense of the world of dance outside their school. Older students can then educate the community through performances and workshops of their own, fostering enthusiasm for and investment in the continued health of the school’s dance program.