Summer Dance Connections: A Community-Based Education Program

By Green, Jill | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Summer Dance Connections: A Community-Based Education Program


Green, Jill, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


There has been a growing trend within higher education to reach out from the halls of academe into the communities in which people live. From service-learning programs to community action initiatives, many universities are seeking new ways to provide educational programs to under-privileged citizens. In the process, university students are gaining a more global understanding and appreciation of the cultural and socio-economic differences between various groups of people.

This bodes well for dance educators seeking to move dance beyond studios and schools and into communities. With the rising cost of dance classes (the average fee is $7-10 per class) and the inaccessibility of many traditional dance styles and training techniques, many people find themselves isolated from artistic and creative forms of dance and movement education. Community-oriented programs can be an effective way to bring dance to such people.

Community Dance

Though the concept of dance in the community is hardly new, the phrase "community dance" gained particular meaning from programs that arose in the United Kingdom and Australia during the l970s. Much of this activity has become known as the "community dance movement." Many of these initial community dance efforts were associated with government-funded youth projects and other community advocacy services (Butterworth, 1989; Thomson, 1989; Tolley, 1989).

This movement actually involves many different styles of dance and pedagogy. However, certain general characteristics can be ascribed to these various approaches to community dance education. For example, inclusiveness, rather than selective professional training, is one general theme. Rather than professing high-arts standards, many community dance advocates believe in "offering dance to everyone in a given community, on the premise that dance is the birthright and the potential of all human beings" (Thomson, 1989, p. 89). Accessibility, participation, and relevance to people in the community are highly valued. According to Tolley (1989), "the animateur [i.e., community dance facilitator] movement puts dance workers into the community at a grass roots level, where they are able to respond to the real needs of the communities in which they work" (p. 107).

This idea that dance can serve community needs is paramount within the movement. For this reason, community dance projects are often aimed at particularly needy groups, such as the elderly, inner-city and "at-risk" children, and individuals with mental or physical disabilities. Consequently, fostering a sense of participation, belonging, and ownership of the artistic process is a major goal of any such project. Some projects also help participants express their personal feelings about various social issues (Butterworth, 1989; Donald, 1997; Fensham, 1997; Thomson, 1989). As Brinson suggests,

[The] innovative nature [of community dance education] extends not only to choreographic themes and Creative work but also to organisation and socio-cultural impact; to its representative and democratic organisation, especially in developing a youth 'voice'; to its educational function; to its challenge to many accepted practices in choreography and in the use of bodies; in its ability to offer refreshment and new motivation to 'professionals'; and in its missionary influence in the cause of dance and mime. (cited in Butterworth, 1989, pp. 22-23)

This is not to say that community dance programs eschew aesthetic considerations. Though community performance has more to do "with the needs of each individual group and the quality of the dance experience, and less to do with the intention of a choreographer and the perception of an audience[ldots]when the two become fully integrated the effect[ldots][can be] remarkable" (Butterworth, 1989, p. 27). This is why many community dance programs have embraced the notion of involvement and decision-making by the community members themselves (Cameron, 1997; Lanzi, 1997). …

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