The Knowledge Base for Competent Dance Teaching

Article excerpt

In a JOPERD article on dance education, Nancy Brooks-Schmitz (1990) stated: "If we are serious about dance education within the school setting and the preparation of professional dance educators, current dance educators must engage in the difficult identification of the knowledge base required for competent teaching, and develop the materials and strategies to transfer this to students" (p. 61). That recommendation matches the concerns of educators who are currently trying to delineate the knowledge base for competent teaching. In this emerging educational paradigm, teacher competency is tied not so much to what the teacher knows, but to how the teacher uses this knowledge in actual classes. Along these lines, Shulman (1986) proposed an influential theoretical framework introducing the concept of pedagogical content knowledge. This concept involves the transformation of the practitioners' content knowledge into knowledge for teaching in specific educational settings.

In this article I address how dance teachers make these transformations from their own practice as dancers or choreographers. The concept of pedagogical content knowledge, with its two poles rooted in pedagogical knowledge and subject matter knowledge, is distinguished. Then, gaps which may occur between the knowledge of dancers and dance teachers are discussed. Finally, several ways to develop pedagogical content knowledge in teacher education are suggested.

Pedagogical Knowledge

Pedagogical knowledge includes a body of general knowledge which refers to such features as academic learning time, classroom management, classroom climate, and general principles of planning, instruction, and evaluation that may be applied to any content field. Pedagogical knowledge has been the focus of most research on teaching in general education. Systems of teacher evaluation competency that claim to be research-based typically rely on this body of research. In dance, research providing pedagogical knowledge which informs educators about methods of dance teaching and student-teacher interaction includes the work of Madeleine Lord (1992), Judith Gray (1984), and Sandra Minton (1981). Despite an emerging body of knowledge, Frances-Fisher (1989) argues that dance educators have minimized training in interaction skills and the management of time and students. Yet a recent analysis of education programs in dance reveals a change in this state of affairs. Results of interviews with dance department chairs suggests that increasing the number of methodology courses might strengthen dance programs (Durr, 1992).

Content Knowledge

For the purpose of this article, I suggest three components of content knowledge from which dance teachers must draw when teaching: knowledge of the body and movement vocabulary, knowledge of the creative process, and knowledge of the art and dance milieu. These three components are related to the respective areas of performance, choreography, and theoretical studies. No matter which area is emphasized, all teachers must possess knowledge of the three areas to offer their students a full and integrated vision of the discipline. In reviewing these three components of content knowledge, one realizes that when studying dance in a private studio or a teacher education program, prospective teachers are often exposed to the technical content knowledge of the performer. Dance teacher education programs usually stress the physical pursuits by an audition at the entry level and the requirement of a long sequence of technical courses throughout the program. The present view of dance teaching competency as currently reflected in teacher education programs tends to favor a high level of technical content knowledge and only a basic level of pedagogical knowledge. The addition of pedagogical knowledge into teacher preparation programs, however, does not translate directly into better teaching, just as content knowledge alone does not do so. …