English, math and science classes are standard components of school curriculums, but dance deserves a spot in the schedule too. Whether students attend ballet classes at a local studio or shy away from dancing in front of others, teaching dance in schools has significant benefits for children’s personal development. For dance teachers who have only taught at studios, teaching dance in schools provides many rewarding opportunities to positively impact students and the rest of the community.
The New York City Department of Education’s “Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance: Grades PreK-12” includes a quote by Margaret N. H’Doubler, an educator who created the first dance major at the University of Wisconsin. It perfectly sums up the potential of school dance classes to change lives:
“If all children in every school from their entrance until their graduation … were given the opportunity to experience dance as a creative art, and if their dancing kept pace with their developing physical, mental, and spiritual needs, the enrichment of their adult life might reach beyond the results we can now contemplate.”
According to the National Dance Education Organization, there are an estimated 6,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. that include dance in the curriculum. Some 43 percent of children across the country receive some form of dance instruction in school, with 36 percent of them learning dance in physical education classes or in other classes that are taught by volunteers, parents and non-specialist teachers. Besides PE classes, dance is also sometimes included as part of a school’s general arts curriculum.
Why is Teaching Dance in Schools Important?
For many dance instructors, the ability to positively impact the community is one of the biggest reasons to teach dance in schools. Children learn to express their emotions through movement, and the focus that dance demands can help them find greater stability in their lives and form stronger self-identities. On a larger level, students create strong bonds with one another through dance, and parents and faculty are also connected through the dance activities of their children and students.
The community impact of teaching dance in schools was explored in a documentary, “PS DANCE!,” that spotlighted dance teachers and their students at public schools across New York City. Catherine Gallant, a dance teacher at a public school who also oversees two dance companies, was featured in the documentary. She didn’t intend to teach in schools – volunteering for her son’s class on a whim turned into a full-time position – and she’s now been teaching at the school for nearly two decades, according to Dance Teacher magazine.
“I think all children have a large appetite for movement,” said Gallant in an interview with the magazine. She crafts her lesson plans to improve students’ self-confidence, instill the importance of respect and trust and expand their vocabularies through movement.
There are also many personal benefits of teaching dance in schools. Teachers that also work at dance studios get their names out, which helps build their reputations and expand their client bases. In addition, dance teachers at schools can delve into their passion without the stress and costs that come with operating a studio.
Differences Between Studios and Schools
Dance instructors that want to begin working in schools should familiarize themselves with the differences between teaching in a studio setting and a school setting. While the aim of studio dance classes is to improve students’ technique, skill set and abilities as a dancer, school goals are much broader.
The guidebook “Teaching Dance as Art in Education” outlines several of these differences:
- Studios stress technique and performance, while school classes are comprehensive and emphasize learning about a wide variety of dance styles
- Private studios train committed dancers, while school classes introduce all students to dance in order to strengthen their bodies and minds
- Private studios refine specialized skills, while school classes provide generalized instruction
School dance instructors should also think about the differences in class dynamics between the studio and school settings. Not all students in a school class will be interested in learning dance. Teachers have to have the skills necessary to deal with disruptive or unmotivated students. Dance Teacher emphasized that strong planning and organizational skills along with the ability to stay calm under stress are important attributes of successful school dance teachers. It’s also vital to constructively respond to students’ insecurities or concerns. As Lucy Vurusic Riner wrote in a post for 4dancers.org:
“Your advanced ballet student that competes at her studio is a very different person than the beginning dance student who is mortified to put on a leotard and tights. You have to be sensitive to your audience and know who you’re playing to. Otherwise you have the potential of losing some really amazing opportunities with new movers that you can mold into your program as the years progress.”
“It’s also vital to constructively respond to students’ insecurities or concerns.”
Certifications and Experience
According to Arts.org, around 60 percent of middle school students in dance and theater classes are taught by instructors who have either an education in their field or a certification to teach dance or theater. Only 20 percent of students are taught by instructors who have both an education in their field and a teaching certification. More and more states are requiring school dance teachers to have training or certification in education in addition to extensive dance experience and knowledge. Having an education certification will help make you more marketable to employers and prepare you for the challenges of teaching to a wide range of learning styles.
Some arts and humanities organizations maintain online directories of dance teacher vacancies at schools in their states, which are very useful for finding a position. If no dance teacher position exists at your local school, try volunteering to teach dance during a gym or art class – it’s a great way to make connections and get your foot in the door.