Factors That Affect Dance Programs

Article excerpt

This article is based on an ongoing study of public school students in Vancouver, Washington. Four factors which affect the approach to teaching creative dance in two elementary schools are discussed.

Differences in gender, ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and religion influence the way in which dance is taught in the school. The dance educator in the public school system needs to be aware of the population of each school and develop teaching techniques and approaches according to the culturally diverse mix within the school. Following is a description of one school district and the factors that dance educators in that district must consider when planning their programs.

In the Vancouver School District, 30 schools serve approximately 18,000 kindergarten through high school students. The predominantly white American population consists primarily of students from low to middle socioeconomic levels. In the 1993-94 school year, the ethnic minorities (15.8%) included: 4.9 percent Asian American, 3.3 percent African American, 3.2 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native American, and 2.4 percent recent Russian immigrants. Many of the students live in multiple family dwellings, trailer courts, motels, or homeless shelters.

Within the Vancouver school system, many families move frequently because of lack of job opportunities or layoffs, divorce, families living in hiding, avoidance of eviction, or the hope of finding jobs.

In the two elementary schools where I teach approximately 800 students, the classes are grouped homogeneously with approximately an equal number of boys and girls. Most of the students have had little exposure to formal dance. Only 8 percent of the students have dance studio experience; the 40 African American students and about 3 percent of white Americans have experience in "hip hop" or other vernacular dance; while the two Native American students participate in local cultural dances.


In the early stages of the dance program, most students were apprehensive about participating. Initially, students at the elementary school level were afraid that they would have to dance with the opposite sex.

During the first weeks of class, the fears subsided as additional differences between the majority of boys and girls became evident. Although concepts were presented to the entire class and general guidelines were established in which to produce dances, the process of creating, organizing the dance, and working in groups to complete a task was distinctive.

At the conclusion of the first year, general observations were that boys covered a large amount of space, appeared to use much physical energy, moved quickly, worked with high and low ranges of space, took physical risks, involved others to display their creations, and approached the presentation of the work with confidence. Girls, on the other hand, tended to work in limited space, moved in a middle range at a slow to moderate tempo, did not take many physical risks, spent a considerable amount of time standing still, and showed their work with apprehension.

When the boys and girls were separated to create small group projects, the boys were inclined to move alone or with the group, demonstrating as many complex movements as possible. In bringing the project to closure, usually one or two boys assumed leadership of the group while the other members discussed, debated, or contributed ideas. They were inclined to incorporate many of the explored movements, sequence them, and direct the movement with verbal signals such as "go" or "now."

Girls tended to begin a project by talking about what they wanted to do and then organizing the ideas. They usually argued about leadership and the fact that the leader was bossy and did not allow anyone to contribute. Work usually came to a halt until they were helped through the conflict. There was little exploration of movement, yet the work was detailed and sequenced by the number of times each movement was performed. …