Beyond the Studio: Service Learning in Dance

Article excerpt

Abstract

For years university and college dance students have confined their learning to the classroom, studio, and theater. Service-learning, the integration of community service and academic study, offers students opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge in off-campus situations, which accurately reflect the world in which they live. In addition, colleges and universities can contribute significantly to their surrounding communities by providing services to the community.

Introduction

"The ultimate goal of any educational institution is to generate graduates who are 'educated' and `prepared' to productively function in public life."

M.J. McKenna and K. Ward (May 1996) "Service Learning: A Culturally Relevant Pedagogy." Thresholds in Education

In many parts of the country, the university is seen as insulated and disengaged from the community. As Ernest Boyer writes, "Increasingly the campus is being viewed as a place where students get credentialed and faculty get tenured, while the overall work of the academy does not seem particularly relevant to the nation's most pressing ... problems." My own college education took place primarily in the studio and classroom. During my senior year I did an Independent Study project teaching dance in two public school classrooms. My learning curve skyrocketed! Suddenly I wanted to learn approaches and techniques for teaching and needed to thoroughly understand my subject matter.

At the University of Montana in Missoula, graduation requirements involve the usual coursework: Anatomy, Dance History, Laban Movement Analysis, Studio Technique, Composition, Production and Design, and Teaching Preparatory classes. Recent curriculum changes now require senior dance majors to conduct a "community project" in either teaching or choreography and performance. This article will discuss the benefits of the community teaching projects.

Community Teaching Projects

A dance teaching major can offer a new class at an existing dance studio, or propose a new class at an art museum, school, senior citizen center, group home, hospital, prison, or youth center. All senior dance majors are responsible for designing their projects based on their own interests and expertise, finding a person to be the liaison, and doing the leg-work(!) to set it up. This is done in consultation with a faculty advisor who provides assistance and support.

Before embarking on a Community Teaching Project, student instructors need to ask:

What dance classes are presently available in our community?

* How much do students pay for these classes?

* What is needed in our community?

* What do I have to offer?

* What age/population do I want to teach?

* Where will I hold the classes?

* Do I have to rent a teaching space?

Once student instructors decide on a project, they may find themselves asking themselves questions comparable to those asked by studio owners:

* How will I get students to attend?

* What (if anything) will I charge? Should I charge less because I'm a student teacher?

* What will I call the class?

* What times should I offer my class? Is after-school better or worse than Saturday mornings?

* How will I advertise it?

* What kind of accompaniment will I use?

Student instructors designing a dance curriculum should consider the needs, ages, and abilities of their students. Throughout the project, student instructors meet with their faculty advisor to explore the following questions:

* What do I want my students to learn?

* How will I develop my curriculum so students are challenged yet not overtaxed?

* How will I know if my students are learning?

Student Instructors' Growth and Development

As they prepare for graduation student instructors learn first-hand about the network of individuals and agencies supporting a local dance class. …