Academic journal article Childhood Education

Toward a Definition of Dance Education

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Toward a Definition of Dance Education

Article excerpt

The word "dance" may bring to mind images of incredibly talented ballet dancers, like Mikhail Baryshnikov, who are capable of leaps and turns that appear to defy gravity. Or we might think of popular stars of dance, like Michael Jackson. While professional dance in its many forms provides hours of entertainment and inspiration, these images are of the specialized few who have trained for years. This perception of dance and dancers only serves to limit the acceptance of dance into the school curriculum.

In spite of many efforts to place dance as a fundamental aspect of the public school curriculum, it is still considered extracurricular and expendable. The debate concerning the value of dance as a regular component of the curriculum generally begins with an inaccurate definition of dance education. In its current marginalized standing, dance often is categorized as a branch of physical education--an old-fashioned attempt to add grace and bearing to, mostly, female students.

This misunderstanding of dance education derives from a cultural prejudice suffered by all of the fine arts, in which the visual and performing arts are perceived as purely performance and entertainment. Their contributions to all other aspects of learning and education are excluded. On the other hand, language arts is not designed to train each child to become a prize-winning novelist. Instead, children are taught language arts so that they will be able to use and understand these communication skills. Similarly, dance education does not have complex mastery as its goal. Rather, it enables every child, regardless of physical capabilities, to be expressive in a nonverbal manner--to explore and incorporate the physical self as a functioning part of the whole social being.

What Is Dance Education?

Critics often object that not every child needs dance training, and they therefore oppose the inclusion of dance in the curriculum. Their objections appear to derive largely from not discriminating between the terms "dance training" and "dance education." Dance education does not seek to prepare children to become performers. Dance training, however, dictates movements and strategies for learning specific motor skills with the aim of mastery and future performance. Dance education can be described as the sequential development through the exploration of time, space, and energy in order to express oneself (Griss, 1998; Purcell, 1994; Stinson, 1988). In simpler terms, however, dance education seeks the development of self-expression and interpretation through motion, with self-knowledge as its aim.

The foundation of both dance education and dance training is in learning about the body and how it can move. From that point, dance training narrows into learning codified steps and motions, while dance education continues the exploration of body parts and movement in sequence with self, others, and the environment, through variations of time, space, and energy. These elements of dance are best explored and experienced in a creative and student-centered fashion, without imposition of style or codified forms.

Once students have become comfortable with these basic elements, they can combine the elements to express and explore more complex ideas. As this curriculum is developed and experienced, the possibilities of movement for each individual student become broader. Once freedom of movement exploration has been established, dance education may branch off into dance training as the student refines his or her expression.

Learning Through Movement

Movement, as a form of expression, is fundamental. Many people add an artful flowing of hands, arms, and other body movements as they speak. Nonverbal expression adds immeasurably to the enjoyment and clarity of words being expressed and received. Movement is a natural form of communication. Indeed, it is among the earliest forms of communication that children explore and learn, because it allows for the expression of ideas and imagination without words. …

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