The Power of Dance in Society and Education: Lessons Learned from Tradition and Innovation; Rich Dance Experiences, and the Dynamic Tension between Tradition and Innovation, Provide a Solid Foundation for Dance Education

By Cote, Paulette | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

The Power of Dance in Society and Education: Lessons Learned from Tradition and Innovation; Rich Dance Experiences, and the Dynamic Tension between Tradition and Innovation, Provide a Solid Foundation for Dance Education


Cote, Paulette, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Traditionally, concepts such as art appreciation, student-centered learning, and holistic wellness have often been at odds with educational priorities for selected school subjects and teacher-centered learning. However, education reform around the world has triggered shifts from traditional to innovative practices in education. This article will address the link between society and dance education, and how each may act as an agent of change upon the other. Keeping in mind that there may be positive and negative aspects in both tradition and innovation, key concepts in dance education teacher-training programs will be examined. Finally, recommendations to honor students' artistic achievements and maximize dance appreciation for life will be offered.

Part 1: The Journey of a Dance Educator

Every educator goes through a journey of discovery in life, whether it is at the personal, professional, or academic level. What are the stages that take us from students to teachers, performers, researchers, philosophers, or a combination of these? And at the end, what makes someone become that multifaceted person who is a dance educator? I will present this journey in stages, each representing a specific role that I played during the journey, and discuss the questions that were raised as I passed through that stage.

Discovering Dance

I was introduced to dance--traditional technique classes in ballet, modern, and jazz--in the third year of my undergraduate physical education degree program in Montreal. Finally, here was something different from sport! I had found a passion that would grow for many years to come. The fact that I was studying piano made it even easier to learn dance. I could combine my affinity for music with this new activity. I was later hired to develop dance courses at a university in Quebec. Knowing that I had to learn about dance, I attended the American Dance Festival and took technique classes with prominent dancers at that time. I started to read about dance and to prepare dance courses for my incoming physical education students.

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I was confident that I could teach dance technique to beginners. After all, I had several months of technique training under my belt. At that time I viewed dance as simply the performance of a series of steps taught in technique class. I did not quite understand why it was part of physical education. The question I asked myself was, "What content do I teach these students to prepare them to teach dance?" The only answer that I could find was to take more technique classes and teach my students those steps. In retrospect, I held a naive attitude, yet I had confidence in my skills and knowledge. Because dance education was new in many parts of the province, I saw my role as that of a pioneer bringing this new physical education subject to a community of future teachers.

Performing Dance

In the summer I graduated from l'Universite de Montreal, the first modern dance company in Quebec, Groupe Nouvelle Aire, was founded by the two French dance teachers who introduced dance to us. I performed with the group during its first two years of existence. I also performed in faculty and graduate student concerts during my master's and doctoral degree some years later. Although I enjoyed the experience of dancing on stage, the hours spent learning and practicing the dances were less appealing. I became aware that teaching was more fulfilling for me than performing. However, I take pride in having played a historical role as a member of Nouvelle Aire.

I wanted to know what the teacher's role was in helping students learn dance skills. What is good teaching? I also wanted more feedback on how I was performing. The mirror was not helping, classes were usually large, and instructors tended to pay more attention to students with a higher skill level. Another question regarded the quality of demonstrations. …

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