Dance Education: Dual or Dueling Identities

By Cone, Theresa Purcell; Cone, Stephen L. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Dance Education: Dual or Dueling Identities


Cone, Theresa Purcell, Cone, Stephen L., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


In the classic Lewis Carroll (1968) story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice meets the Cheshire cat and asks, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" The cat responds, "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." Like Alice, dance education faces a dilemma about where it can best thrive in the K-12 curriculum. In this article, we raise the question, should dance education be solely allied with the arts education curriculum or does it also belong in the physical education curriculum? Can dance education exist in both arts and physical education? From our perspective, dance belongs in all areas of the curriculum. As a lens for learning about ourselves and our world, dance has much to contribute to a student's education. It is a way of knowing, a way of expressing and communicating, a way of relating to others, and a way of discovering, exploring, and creating our human potential.

Dance Education in the School Curriculum

The question of identity for dance education evolves from the current discourse among educators about who should be teaching dance, what should be taught, who should have access to dance education, and what curricular framework can best deliver a quality dance program. The duel emerges when arts education and physical education are forced to compete for scarce resources such as space, staffing, viable budgets, and public support. Dance, as the art form that is rarely present in the arts curriculum and as the activity that is frequently excluded from physical education programs, remains an underdog in either curriculum. Dance educators take the stand that dance is best taught as an aesthetic art form grounded in learning technique, creating choreography, and developing performances--and that it must be taught by qualified dance educators. In contrast, physical educators see dance as a way of moving that offers creative, social, and cultural experiences for all students and is included as one of many content areas. Dance in the performing arts and dance in physical education share some similar concepts and skills; however, the outcomes are very different. These dual or dueling perspectives define what students gain as a result of a dance education experience; yet, the fundamental question remains, "Where should dance reside: in arts education, physical education, or both?"

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We support dance and advocate for its inclusion as an essential part of the school curriculum. Dance can exist in the school as a component of the arts curriculum, or as a component of the physical education curriculum, or as an "Artist in Residence" program, or perhaps when a classroom teacher integrates dance with social studies, literature, science, or mathematics. In the ideal world, students would participate in dance in all these curricular offerings. The placement of dance in the school curriculum depends on community support, school efforts toward meeting standards, and the presence of a "dance" advocate on the staff. Maintaining or initiating strong dance instruction in education is and has always been a struggle for educators. We live in a society in which dance is viewed as entertainment, which places it in the "frill" category of subjects that are not supported as essential to a comprehensive education. Others view dance as an art form primarily for females, an art form that is for the talented movers and not for everyone, and a form of movement that has little purpose in a competitive world.

Where Does Dance Belong?

In our conversations with both dance and physical education teachers about the question of where dance belongs in the education world, we heard perspectives that revealed clear differences in program purpose and content. As an essential component of a comprehensive arts education curriculum, dance needs to be taught by qualified dance educators with strong backgrounds in several dance techniques, dance history, anatomy, composition, performance, and teaching methodology. …

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