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Why Dance?

Young children - so ready to dance

By Michael Buss, 2011-06-24


There is far more to dance than jiggling in time to a catchy rhythm. In every culture as far back into history as we can penetrate the great events of life have been marked by dance; uniting families and tribes in the face of death and disaster, or celebrating birth, marriage, harvest time, triumph in battle.

It is so intrinsic to our very being that it takes very little to get small children dancing along in time with the music. Then slowly, in our American culture at least, it fades, along with other art forms. Schools have little time for dance in the face of the demand to produce numerate, literate students.

Very Much Alive

But dance is not dead in North America. It’s on the streets, in the clubs, in the private dance studios. It breaks out for great events as, for instance, the opening of the Olympic Games. Any cultural festival you encounter will have dancing as part of the celebration. Many of the dancers will be school age kids.

John and Kayla - top 8. SYTYCD

Some of the most popular shows on network television happen to be dance shows – and I would cite So You Think You Can Dance as the foremost. Tens of thousands travel from all corners of the USA to attend auditions in hope of getting “a ticket to Vegas”, where the first intensive training and weeding out of the better contestants begins in earnest. Right now (June 2011) the current season of the show is well under way.

Teachers, administrators, and school board members should set the DVR. Watch the show to learn not the media hype but the value of dance. Sure, the shrieks from ballroom expert and judge Mary Murphy can be a bit irritating, but the top twenty dancers are confronted with some of America’s best choreographers who take them outside of their familiar genres to tackle the seeming impossible. Last night a street B-Boy danced one of the most stunning Viennese Waltzes the show has ever seen. Notice the transformation of these dancers as the weeks pass.

Seeing this show you soon realize that dance is a synthesis of magnificent physical ability with story telling, national cultures, and the raw human condition with its sorrows and heartaches, fun and laughter. A finely choreographed dance set to the right music does more than entertain; it touches the soul. It is a language without words, with universal appeal. In less than a minute dance can reduce you to tears with the sheer poignancy of the narrative and the beauty, intelligence and truthfulness of the interpretation.

A Problem in Schools

Team Millenium - America's Best Dance Crews

So why is dance so poorly appreciated in most schools? If there happens to be a teacher with strong dance ability she may well get a group together and find a niche in the school. But how often does a principal target dance as a must-have in the full range of course offerings?

The arts in our schools are often summarized in the acronym VAPA. Visual and Performing Arts. The full range covers Visuals arts (which we often just call art) includes all forms of imagery from pencil sketching to oil painting; from photography to various forms of graphical reproductions. It also include sculpture and computer art.

Struggle for Recognition

The performing arts cover music (both instrumental and choral), theatre and dance. Notice how dance comes last? If theatre often struggles to find a place in schools, dance even more so.

Here are the main reasons for this.

1. School boards and principals frequently fail to perceive the value of a dance program. This may be attributed to a certain lack of artistic intelligence on their part, or a lack of arts education. Unfortunately, this is not the place to address that issue. There is not a good understanding of the academic value of dance, nor of the life skills, organizational and leadership skills it teaches. A dance professional remarked to me that once you’ve learned how to choreograph you tend to see all business organization as choreography. Indeed it is. What an eye opener!

2. There is no single subject credential in dance, or theatre for that matter. In other words, dance comes under Physical Education. And if your school happens to have a PE teacher with strong dance training then yours is a lucky school. When the time comes that the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing recognizes dance and theatre as a subjects worthy of their own credential (just like math, English, art or music) then we will finally get a flow of qualified dance instructors into our schools.

3. School is not all about left brain academics. It is about building whole people. And students cover the spectrum from the studious brainy types, to the hands-on active types, to the intuitive artistic types who only ever express their true inner being when they can paint, play, sing, act and DANCE. And all the evidence is there that when students whose artistic aptitudes have scope to explore them fully at school, all their other subject areas improve.

I recently spoke with the principal of a high school in our school district that has been pioneering its own academy of performing arts. He told me, “The results are in – these kids test scores are off the charts. If ever you needed proof that the arts benefit students, it’s here!” Let me add, that school has a fine dance program!

Anaheim Ballet dancers

Pillaging a quote from the Bible, the carpenter from Nazareth once said “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.” Here in our own country of Anaheim we have one of the finest ballet schools on the United States, whose dancers go on to join some of the most prestigious dance companies in the world. They have classes for school age students to lift them from what they may have achieved at school to a whole new level. And no, it’s not all ballet at Anaheim Ballet. They do Hip-Hop as well! In any event, whatever style of dance one may choose, ballet underscores most of it.

Anaheim Ballet does not quite get the recognition is deserves in this City. Sure its dancers frequently appear at public events. And they do produce breathtaking educational events for school children. But the sense of “Wow! Do you realize how cool it is to have the AB on our doorstep? And how could we make better use of the opportunity?” is something you seldom hear.

The Challenge

My hope would be that we could find more organic ways to grow dance in local school districts and catch some of the flair, the genius, the inspiration that comes from having this great dance school in our midst.

Dance does exist in our schools. Some of it is brilliant and beautiful. But it’s underrated and under-supported. It is to be hoped that somebody, somewhere, picks up the torch for dance and runs with it until dance finds it proper place among the other performing arts.



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