New Challenges in 21st-Century Dance Education

Article excerpt

Dance students need diverse experiences to prepare them for a wide variety of career options.

Today, the dance scene is quite different from how it was a century ago. Dance now permeates our life as individuals and as a society, in academic settings, communities, and the media. Both nonprofessional and professional dance provide recreation, entertainment, cultural knowledge, education, and performance. As we assess how to utilize our resources better for sustainability, this first decade of the 21st century is a good time to think about the future of dance education.

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Arts and educational paradigms have already forecasted innovative directions--many of which began in the 20th century--and they deserve our consideration as we begin the second decade of 21st-century dance education. But before directing our attention to the future, let us glance back to the past and gain a sense of the extensive development that dance and dance education have already undergone.

Stepping Back in Time

Aesthetic dance, conceptualized at the end of the 19th century, was developed through the rhythmic and natural movement experimentations of early pioneers in dance education, such as Gertrude Colby (who taught physical education and aesthetic dance) and Bird Larson (who studied the Delsarte method). By 1910, dance was still emerging as an art form in the United States. Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova made her first appearance here in 1910, and several years later Diaghilev's Ballets Russes Company dazzled American audiences. Isadora Duncan danced barefoot in free-flowing costumes to classical music, seeking a new kind of expressive movement. Ted Shawn, inspired by Ruth St. Denis dancing Incense, would join forces with her to perform for audiences around the world and teach future dancers through their company, Denishawn. Together, St. Denis and Shawn made many important early contributions to dance education (Kassing, 2007).

In the early part of the 20th century, the term "modern dance" was yet to be coined, and dance education had few written resources outlining a succinct body of knowledge and teaching methodology. Physical educators, artists, and early dance educators were still inventing the history of dance and dance education as we know it today. However, dance evolved immensely in the areas of performance and education throughout the 20th century. Undeniably, the 20th century was one of giants--dancers, choreographers, and writers--and saw the emergence and development of dance education. This century presented a prodigious legacy upon which to build in new, exciting directions. In light of the amazing developments in and the many contributors to dance, we should assess what have we learned from our history and about ourselves as dance professionals, teachers, and researchers in dance education. What new directions should dance education expand its sphere of influence into, as both art and education within society? How can dance be supported by strong, cohesive research and scholarly foundation?

A Developing Dance Pedagogy

During the late 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st century, dance education has developed extensive pedagogical knowledge. Dance pedagogy is a constantly evolving body of knowledge about learning that has real-world values and connections, requiring skills and abilities that translate into the workplace. A discipline-based pedagogy uses intrinsically related fields or branches of knowledge to logically support and enhance learning in a cohesive manner. Dance has a discipline-based pedagogy, which can be implemented in different dance education settings as well as integrated with other subjects to support dance as a discipline in an educational or an arts medium. Future dance educators equipped with a working knowledge of discipline-based pedagogy can teach, evaluate, and design curricula that support future students. …