State Says Dance and Physical Education Are a Good Fit; Education Department Issues New Rules for School Fitness

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Byline: MARK PETTUS

A law passed in May defines physical education in the state of Florida, and tells school districts how much P.E. each student should receive. One of the new definitions in the law recognizes dance as a valid form of physical education. That definition owes its existence to Phil McDaniel, head of the St. Johns Cultural Council.

McDaniel attended the Legislature's official Arts and Culture Day in Tallahassee in March along with council board members Tom Costeira, Ryan Dettra and Ken Bryan.

According to Dettra, McDaniel raised his hand during a presentation by various officials including Secretary of State Kurt Browning. It wasn't a question-and-answer session, and the raised hand caught the presenter off guard. When he recovered his composure and called on him, McDaniel suggested they add dance to the approved state curriculum as an acceptable form of P.E. Not knowing how to deal with the interruption and recommendation, Dettra said the moderator stumbled. At that moment Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Tampa, waved from the back of the room and walked up to the podium.

"He looked straight over to me and said, 'Sir, that's the best idea I've heard all day,' " McDaniel said. " 'There is no reason why dance should not be considered an acceptable for of P.E. You have my word that I will do whatever I can ...' "

McDaniel says later Weatherford told him his mother taught dance in the Destin Beach area, and that she would "give him a lot of flak" if it were not added to the list of approved P.E. courses.

Dettra says he was pleased to learn that dance was included in the final bill when it was approved.

"Dance is very important," he said. "It helps boost students' self-esteem, and gives them a chance to excel in something else other than academics or sports."

McDaniel says adding dance to a school's curriculum will help in other ways as well.

"Students who are immersed in a strong and vibrant arts education consistently score higher on standardized tests," he said. …