Wanted: Hundreds of Dancers: Must Love Kids and Teaching. Professional Performance Experience a Plus. Full and Part-Time Schedules Available

By Weeks, Janet | Dance Magazine, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Wanted: Hundreds of Dancers: Must Love Kids and Teaching. Professional Performance Experience a Plus. Full and Part-Time Schedules Available


Weeks, Janet, Dance Magazine


NEVER BEFORE has there been such a swell of support for dance in the city's schools, says Joan Finkelstein, director of dance programs for the New York City Public Schools. A recent state mandate requires all New York primary and many upper grade schools to provide dance to their students. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein have made the arts a lynchpin of their plan to raise New York City's school standards and expectations. Finkelstein was hired in June 2004 to head up the creation of a standards-based, rigorous approach to teaching dance in the public schools that would allow students to delve deeply into the art form and study it sequentially, just as they do with other subjects like math or English. The resulting plan is documented in a 70-page handbook, Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, published last June. "The stars are aligned," says Finkelstein. "We have support, funding, a blueprint. Ewe can't launch this now, we never will."

If all goes well, one big challenge may be finding enough devoted and trained dance teachers to meet the demands of the nation's largest public school system. The city currently has 1,400 public schools and only 350 certified dance teachers. Helping to fill the gap are professional dancers who aren't certified but teach in the schools as artists-in-residence.

The ambitious plan relies on the local dance community in several ways. The team that created the Blueprint included Ballet Hispanico artistic director Tina Ramirez; Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, director of arts-in-education and community outreach for The Ailey School; Mami Thomas, director of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance; as well as public school experts and university dance educators. Some of the city's dance companies have sponsored professional development days for public school dance teachers. But the community's biggest ongoing contribution may be training professional dancers without education degrees to work part-time in the public schools.

New York's certified public school dance teachers have specific standards to meet. They must take 30 hours of college dance credits, 18 education credits, and pass a battery of tests. No specific educational requirements exist for unlicensed artists-in-residence, but that's not because they don't need training. Even the most experienced and professional dancers and studio teachers need guidance before stepping into a public school class.

"You're going into their environment," says Kathleen Isaac, dance teacher at P.S. 165. She performed with tap dancer Henry LaTang and Eleo Pomare, did Broadway shows in Hong Kong, and worked in the public schools as an artisbin-residence before earning her teaching degree. "You have to work in that setting and with those limitations." In public schools, dance teachers must contend with 45- or 50-minute class times with no freedom to run over, a mix of kids with different abilities and levels of interest in dance, facilities that may be less palatial or clutter-free than standard studios, back-to-back classes with very different age groups, and the occasional school administrator that doesn't immediately understand the value of what you're teaching.

Arts organizations employ a variety of models and methods to provide professional dancers with the unique tools they need to teach in public schools--including, since its publication, a copy of the Blueprint. Most say that, since they had a hand in creating the new standards, their methods were already aligned with them. So while the Blueprint may not be altering the ways these groups train teachers, it does provide them with more clout--and business.

"We've gotten more calls for teachers since the Blueprint came out," says Ellen Weinstein, artistic director of the National Dance Institute, one of the groups on New York City's list of approved training programs for teaching artists. "The Blueprint shows the Board of Ed is really committed. …

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