Perspectives on Contemporary Dance History, Revisiting Impulse, 1950-1970. 2013. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.
Thomas K. Hagood
To label someone’s actions as “visionary” is high praise. It can be an embracing term; recognizing the recipient’s skill in seeing the big picture; “her contributions to changing the entire field were broad, ongoing, and consistently innovative.” Or, and as appropriately in its own context, recognition of an individual’s contributions to a specific outcome; “He saw the practicality of every teacher knowing the efficacy of this revolutionary new approach.” At the heart of the matter is the visionary’s capacity to see and articulate new approaches to old business. Accolades may be heard during one’s life, or the visionary’s real impact on culture and society may be valued well after the fact.
In dance vision is commonly associated with performance and choreography and the new vistas we enjoy as a result of, say, George Balanchine’s or Martha Graham’s amazing productivity in shaping the art form. And, while perhaps not commonly associated with vision in the production of dance works, the efforts of others with foresight have expanded the dimensions of how dance is understood, valued, and manifested. In the academy we can surely look to the work of Margaret H’Doubler and her doppelganger Martha Hill for their visions (oppositional as they were) regarding the form, content, and delivery system for dance in education. Others we might consider are Alwin Nikolais and Jean Rosenthal in the area of lighting, or Rudolf von Laban and Irmgard Bartenieff in movement analysis. In the area of cultivating and expanding cultural notions through writing about dance John Martin, for many years dance critic for the New York Times, comes to mind. A few publications that came to the fore before 1950 also might be mentioned, for example Louis Horst’s Dance Observer (published 1934–1964), which was formatted in the style of the periodicals of the day, with the requisite “who is doing what” column, a regular albeit small column on college programs, editorials on the work of the modern dance artists of the day, and lots of advertisements. In the realm of writing about dance, in its scholarship and critical examination, and for bringing other voices and points of view to our attention, we must consider Marian Van Tuyl.
Marian Van Tuyl
Born in Waucosta, Michigan (an unincorporated township just outside Lansing), Marian Tubbs was the child of Charles Tubbs (a Congregationalist minister) and Mary McLaughlin (a faculty member in psychology at nearby Michigan State University). Charles died in a canoeing accident when Marian was young and when her mother remarried Marian took the name of her step-father, Van Tuyl. At the age of eight Marian was teaching her friends how to dance and regularly choreographed for her school pageants and musicales. In 1928, at the young age of nineteen, Marian graduated with her B.A. in physical education from the University of Michigan and that fall accepted a position teaching dance at the University of Chicago (1928–1938) (). Van Tuyl was also an early and noticeable participant in the Bennington (Vermont) College Summer School of the Dance (1934–1942), where she was chosen to be one of the second group of Bennington Fellows in 1938. Indeed, 1938 was a very busy year for Van Tuyl. She continued to book and tour her successful dance company (Marian Van Tuyl Dancers), completed her fellowship at Bennington, married fellow University of Chicago faculty member physician and psychiatrist Douglas Gordon Campbell, and packed a car and drove to California’s Bay Area, where she was scheduled to begin a teaching appointment at Mills College, in Oakland. College President Aurelia Rheinhart, impressed with Van Tuyl’s work and profile in the field invited Marian to stay on and develop a dance major program at Mills. Van Tuyl accepted Rheinhart's offer and subsequently established a fine arts major program in dance at Mills College in 1941 (Hagood 2000).
Impulse: A West Coast Annual
At the same time Van Tuyl was traveling west, Anna Schuman, a young woman with drive and vision of her own was majoring in dance at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Here, she studied with pioneering dance educator Margaret H'Doubler. At Wisconsin Anna Schuman met her future husband Lawrence Halprin, who was completing his M.A. in horticulture. In 1940 they were married. After visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio, “Taliesin East,” near Baraboo, Wisconsin, Halprin found his calling in architecture and completed a second undergraduate degree at Harvard University. In 1943 Halprin was drafted to serve in the US Navy and was assigned to the USS Morris in the Pacific. The Morris was hit by a Japanese kamikaze pilot and Halprin was shipped back to San Francisco to recuperate from his injuries (). He and Anna settled in the Bay Area and over the next several decades as Lawrence emerged as a world-renowned architect Anna changed the field of American concert dance, training many of those who would become the first generation of post-modern dancers.
Anna Halprin joined with Bay Area dancer, composer, and scenic artist Welland Lathrop to open the Halprin-Lathrop dance studio, which attracted students from all over the country. It was here in 1948 that Impulse had its first manifestation as the studio’s yearbook. Murray Louis, a young drama major at San Francisco State University, and soon to be a pioneering dance artist in his own right, edited the yearbook’s first issue. A second volume appeared in 1949. In 1950 Anna asked Marian Van Tuyl if she would take the name and idea to create what the field needed, a journal on contemporary dance. In 1951, Impulse was reborn as a West Coast Annual under the editorial leadership of Marian Van Tuyl (see: chapter 1). In the inaugural issue, Van Tuyl wrote:
With this issue Impulse moves out onto a broader horizon. The magazine was initiated in 1948 by the workshop group at the Halprin-Lathrop Dance studio in San Francisco as a student publication. In 1949 the second issue of the magazine appeared under the sponsorship of the same group. Since so much interest has been evidenced in the magazine, we have decided to expand from the category of a student publication to the wider scope of a West Coast Annual. (ii)
Under Van Tuyl's leadership Impulse became much more than just a West Coast Annual. In many ways Impulse established the notion of dance scholarship, and became the seminal forum for comment on educational and government policy, original research, dance in local and international contexts, historical analysis, and practical matters in dance artistry, dance education, and production. Impulse midwifed the discourses, conceptual frameworks, and understandings upon which an independent discipline of dance, would be established.
In addition to providing a forum for artistic and intellectual communities in dance, perhaps the most important characteristic of Impulse was the editorial decision to address a specific topic in each issue. Within the dance-art aware confines of Impulse practicing artists and academics had a national forum for focused and rigorous discussion and debate on and about their discipline. They did not have to labor through endless clarifications of the basic tenets and needs of dance to a skeptical readership, a common occurrence in physical education based journals of the day. Certainly Van Tuyl's inaugural preface for Impulse set the tone and stage for less compromised discussion on the matter of separation for dance and physical education (ibid.). Frames of reference for each issue were new and exciting: "Dance in Relation to the Individual and the Community" (1951), "Dance as Communication" (1954),”Dance in the Screen Media” (1960), “Dance: A Projection for the Future” (1968). In Impulse one could find the best contemporary thinking on the featured topic and through her leadership Van Tuyl contributed to the maturation of dance related writing, helping to establish the intellectual bedrock upon which a new generation of dance "scholars" could find its voice.
Revisiting Impulse: A Contemporary Look at Writings on Dance 1950-1970 is part of a larger project envisioned by the editors of this text in 2007 and titled the “Impulse Preservation and Access Project” (IPAP). For readers who may not be familiar with the original journal, the Impulse we discuss in this volume has no connection with that published by Human Kinetics Publishers in the 1990s. That journal, also titled Impulse, was so named to honor its predecessor and carry on its legacy of publishing a variety of writings on and about dance; in science, in medicine, and in education. The Impulse we address here predates its latter cousin by twenty years and was an even broader platform for discourses on dance.
IPAP was envisioned as a means to accomplish three objectives: 1. To present all issues of Impulse in a digital collection available to anyone with an internet connection, 2. To develop a text of contemporary and critical commentary on the journal’s run and content, and 3. To hold a national conference on the future of dance in the American university. The first objective raised issues of copyright and fair use. In addition the preservation of Impulse in digital format would involve many hours of work in scanning and formatting eighteen issues. The second objective involved organizing a cohort of recognized scholars who would be willing to critically review and comment on an individual issue “from today’s point of view.” The third objective involved basic conference planning. Our first goal was where time was spent and new protocols were considered.
Impulse is an “orphan publication”; print material that, for any numbers of reasons lacks a current connection with an executor or record of for profit or not for profit incorporation. Ending its publication run in 1969–1970, searches of Van Tuyl’s archives at Mills College, California state records, and discussions with its editorial board members who were still available for consultation resulted in no documentation or record of Impulse’s existence outside the copies of the journal itself. Impulse falls between the cracks in matters of ownership, maintenance of copyright, and documentation of its status as a legal entity. Pursuing the matter of who may have rights and privileges in managing the use or presentation of orphaned publications is an issue waiting for additional clarification from the U.S. Congress and its revision of copyright issues last addressed in 1978. In the meantime the notion of “fair use” for copyrighted material guides the use and reproduction of such materials. Our efforts to insure fair use involved two years of legal counsel, state document research, discussions with Van Tuyl’s daughter Gayle Campbell, founding editorial member Anna Halprin, and other surviving members of the editorial board, Joanna G. Harris and Rebecca Fuller. For these contacts and for securing their approval we thank Joanna G. Harris, IPAP’s senior editorial advisor. We also thank the faculty of Temple University’s law school for their assistance in clarifying appropriate steps to take to insure our efforts were consistent with the spirit and ethics behind the notion of “fair use.”
After we met these obligations, there was the matter of digitizing the journal. Dr. Larry Alford, then Dean of Temple University libraries, graciously offered to have the journal run added to Paley Library’s Digital Collections Archive. Today Impulse is available to anyone with an internet connection.
Our second objective is this text and we thank the diverse and talented cohort of contributing authors for their individual contributions to IAPP. Since Van Tuyl’s editorial management of Impulse was creative and broadly inclusive, we chose to honor that legacy. Having assigned each author a complete issue, we encouraged an individual approach to that issue, its time, and its spirit.
For our liberty in developing this volume in the manner described, we thank the Cambria Press for their commitment to the project from its inception and for bringing such a thorough critique of Impulse to print. Finally, the conference, “Dance 2050: The Future of Dance in Higher Education,” was held at Temple University in May 17–20, 2012. Inspired by the 1968 issue of Impulse, “Dance: A Projection for the Future,” dance scholars and educators met to envision the place for dance in higher education mid-21st century.
And so, that is how we got here. In the process I think both Luke and I became very aware of the complexities, value, and importance of preserving our legacy; the artifacts, the writings, the films, and letters that provide evidence and proof that dance was there. Our art is a medium that, with a nod of recognition to Marcia Siegel, “exists at the vanishing point” — gone the moment it is done. In all our efforts we seek to save the ephemeral moment and leave a record of its dynamic presence and importance.
In closing I want to express my deep gratitude to my co-editor Dr. Luke Kahlich for his commitment to the entirety of the project and to Dr. Joanna G. Harris, direct link to the human process of making Impulse real. I hope our collective efforts insures the continued usefulness of Impulse; a seminal contribution to dance in American scholarship, life, and culture.
Thomas K. Hagood
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Hagood, T. K. 2000. A History of Dance in American Higher Education: Dance and the
American University. Lewiston, NY. Edwin Mellen Press.
Ross, J. 2000. “Van Tuyl. Marian.”
American National Biography online.
Halprin.html. Obituary for Lawrence Halprin. December 10, 2009. The Telegraph. London, UK.
HAGOOD, THOMAS K. “Values and Voice in Dance Education: The Merit of Fostering Tradition, Experiment, Diversity, and Change in Our Pedagogy.” Melanie A. Bonsall [Ed.] Arts Education Policy Review, 108/2 November/December 2006: 33–37.
Values and Voice in Dance Education: The Merit of Fostering Tradition, Experiment, Diversity and Change in our Pedagogy.
By: Thomas K. Hagood, Ph.D.
The July/August, 2000 edition of Arts Education Policy Review, included an article of mine titled “Traditions and Experiments/ Diversity and Change: Issues for Dance in American Education.” Since 2000 much has happened in the world to challenge and redefine the ideas that guided my thinking then. In this paper I revisit these topics, update their focus, and discuss some possible solutions to the issues raised. As a dance educator, I find that there are increasingly strong dialectics with regard to the merit and substance of our traditions, ideas for - or against - experiment, acceptance and rejection of diversity, and desire for - or resistance to – change. The arc of struggle for these notions in the larger culture is reflected in contemporary dance education. Unlike our experience in 2000, today we are at War: Externally with those many label the practitioners of radical fundamentalism, and internally as the myriad issues that frame “The Culture Wars” have split our society into Red and Blue states, reduced the social debate to either “for and against,” provided the central themes for news sound bites, and fueled cultural and political tensions. Notions of tradition and experiment, diversity and change in art and education are caught up in the larger web of a social environment that is ideologically at odds with itself. In a divided culture tradition is often seen as a bulwark of acceptable values, a defense against the threat of the “other,” or as safe harbor in the storm of unedited contingency, experiment and cultural uncertainty. Experiment is viewed as an imperative, a good way to keep busy, or as the assassin of tradition. Diversity and change embrace and exclude one another - in philosophy for dance education, in design for curriculum, and in the daily experience of dance teachers and their students. On a macrocosmic level fear, hope, anxiety, promise, destruction and potential pulsate across the cultural web that strings us together. In studios and classrooms dance teachers and artists, scholars and educators find the issues impacting the larger culture rise, fall, evolve and significantly impact our students, our work and our vision for educating in and through dance.
Values and Dance Education:
The Merit of Fostering Opinion and Reflection in our Pedagogy
In the not too distant past values of tradition, experiment, diversity, and change charged our work as arts educators as these spoke to us as practitioners within disciplines meant to embrace and provide context for the creative and the imagined, and through these doors, envision the artistic and cultural future. Lately though our disciplines, like these values, have themselves become caught up in the sticky and widely cast web of the “Culture Wars.” In the popular media American cultural, educational and political life is portrayed as ideologically split right down the middle. And the split is often framed in terms of opposites using the ideas and labels I am talking about here today: traditional VS “non-traditional,” experiment VS the status quo, diversity VS homogeneity, change VS a “return to traditional values,” and the cycle starts again. Underneath the social divides indicative of the Culture Wars, appears a corroding individual and cultural narcissism: I, we, us are pitted against, you, it, and them. Individual and cultural narcissism is the ideal breeding ground for relativism, and relativism coupled with narcissism is a toxic combination that strangles the individual’s thoughtful appreciation for her past, delimits her capacity to creatively experiment, injects a fearsome uncertainty into her acceptance of diversity (other than her own) and robs change of its capacity to represent thoughtful and strategically responsive evolution. Recently a student asked to meet with me about degree credit for her life’s experience. She wanted to have her choreography sequence waived because she had had “20 years professional experience in choreography.” So, I said I might consider her request if she could demonstrate some important, yet basic conceptual knowledge about the craft of making dances. I asked her to explain the difference between a choreographic device and a choreographic form. She didn’t understand the question because she had no idea what either term meant. She got upset and asked, “Are these terms some kind of academic language?” The notion that we were sitting in a university office, and talking about her progress in a university program in dance did not seem to frame her thinking – nor provide context for her response. And, the idea that she might just have some things to learn about choreography certainly did not provide her pause for consideration. What did matter, once she understood what I was talking about, was that I wasn’t going to accept a non-answer as evidence of her understanding: “Well, why should I use those terms,” she asked? “What about my devices? What about my forms?” Unfortunately, responses such as this are increasingly part of my experience as a dance educator. Not only do many students not understand the intellectual and conceptual underpinnings of their discipline (traditions), they show little interest in self directed inquiry (experiment), and they want me to accept their ignorance as part of a right to define and engage the world on their own terms (relativistic diversity). The role of the teacher as facilitator for values and directions to be explored is threatened in a world where self-absorbed relativism is so rampant and so little value is placed on the rewards one might hope emanate out of curiosity, effort, and application.
TRADITION: is defined as a long established custom or belief.
As a social construct the notion of tradition seems to have lost much of its stabilizing identity in contemporary American culture. Recognizing and suggesting value for tradition has become dangerous territory in educating when and where traditions are viewed as being put forward as unarguable truths, as symbols of containment, or as intellectual/political weapons for one group to use against another. In today’s educational environment traditions are strongly and even violently championed as the conservative right seeks a return to an idealized Euro-centric, religiously informed and unambiguous sexual America, and the liberal left promotes broad acceptance for ideas and for those deemed disenfranchised or marginalized, with acceptance contingent on the tightening grip of political correctness. Uncertain social morays for what it means to be a young woman or man leads to a corresponding reliance on archetypal behaviors in sexual role-playing between male and female students. Notions of an uber-masculinity or femininity frame the way many of my students practice and do the dance when they work together. They are focused on the manner of being male, which demands a great deal of thinking about body postures and heterosexual role-playing, and the image of being female, which demands a great deal of attention in response to the male gaze. While the practice of dance in many cultural contexts has always engendered archetypal behaviors in reflection of sexual identification, the degree to which my students seem to imitate contemporary archetypes found in popular culture is of concern. Mannerism and a rather over the top self-image have become important translations of tradition in our culture. And, popular culture, so adept at reducing the most complex concept to its most superficial elements, and fully committed to marketing everything for the purposes of acquiring personal notoriety and capital, gnaws away at the traditional notion that artistic expression is the result of curiosity, focused effort, nuanced interpretation and clear appreciation for that which has preceded. Instead, replacing these notions with the idea that your best sale is made if your product is slickly packaged, target marketed and identified solely with being of and about “you.” Tradition is no longer valued for its underlying context and meaning, as a concept or an understanding of legacy, but rather has become a transient interest in a “look,” a pattern of steps, or an attractive sign: a dogma of appearance. The anchoring stability that a knowledgeable tradition may offer the young artist has become lost and the artist is at risk of floating away on or drowning in the currents of manner, appearance and style. Columnist James Wolcott (writing for the August 2004 issue of Vanity Fair) aptly writes: “Coverage of the performing arts is drying up in the pages of leading newspapers: The New York Times is trying so hard to be hip its developed lumbago. In movies and on television ballet and classical music are depicted as sterile boot camps that stifle spontaneity and horny individuality” . I think Wolcott correctly identifies the glamorous triple play of contemporary popular culture: a look, and therefore a life, that is “spontaneous,” “horny,” “individual.” The fading of tradition is coupled with death of context; thoughtful and self-critical awareness is replaced by a reliance on emotions to inform our decision-making; the super-sized nature of news that makes up our day demands nothing less. Events are viewed through an emotional lens with implications for every aspect of life and living. The torrent of emotion and feeling in response to life’s daily chatter has made placing what we experience in life in some context, and using life experience to inform art making, an increasingly difficult task.
EXPERIMENT: is defined as an action or process undertaken to discover something.
As a dance educator I am challenged by the myriad cultural factors that seem to inhibit student experimentation. Many students come into the university with little or no prior experience in creatively experimenting with their medium, and this inhibits their coming to and articulating a personal opinion or point of view. Another inhibiting factor in their creativity is the fear students have for being, or seeming to be, different. Admittedly, a strong desire to be “like” is a common experience in teenage years. However, I am finding the “group think” of the teenage years is more and more frequently extending well into the college years. Since stimulating personal creativity seems no longer to be a considered outcome in their early dance education, and because life’s events have become too complex or emotionally charged to confidentially base art making on, many young choreographers have turned toward use of the body as “spontaneous, horny, and individual” signing object. I see this often in auditions and in beginning composition classes. Consider the images and values students are gleaning from popular culture: The improbable bodies of MTV’s “Jack-Ass” “Reality Bites” or “I Want a Famous Face;” the impossible bodies in Extreme Sports, Extreme Choreography, the often overwhelming sexual subtext in performances on “So You think You Can Dance?” the technological body, the cyber body, the never aging body, the tattooed body, the body as cultural sign; the body as hyper-sexual, hyper-strong, never aging, traveling billboard. The “mega-issues” we are faced with – genocide and ethnic cleansing, AIDS, terrorism and a patient yet unrelenting hate for “our” society, suicide bombings and large-scale murders – SARS meets Columbine meets 9/11 - are too real and too abstract at the same time. Lack of experience in creative problem solving, a narcissistic and relative popular culture and emotionally super-charged events on the local and world stage prompt students and teachers to turn their attention toward avenues of expression they can more comfortably control and objectify. Dancing to the music, imitating a favorite “star,” and constructing dream/fantasy visions of the body are much easier roads to travel than is a struggle to bring huge life events into art, and to make art such that it isn’t simply a refection of what we feel about “that,” but brings “that” into some context in which “it” can be absorbed and understood at some new level. As an educator, I am finding it increasingly difficult to facilitate an environment where students wantonly experiment with movement as a medium, in order that they themselves come to a point of view. In our time, for students to have a considered opinion about what their art is capable of “saying,” is sadly, a rare event.
DIVERSITY: is defined as a condition of variety or multiformity
It seems to me that at the heart of my students strong desire to be “like,” is a fear of diversity born of a sense of non-being. They don’t know where they stand on issues about personal opinion, and artistic vision, and are rarely asked such questions by their elders. The number of students who respond to my query, “What do you think?” by answering, “I don’t know,” is troubling. Like tradition, diversity has come to be understood as being about a look or a manner, because a look or manner can be copied and is clearly delineated in its practice. The idea behind what the manner or look represents is rarely understood. In a recent cable television interview I happened to watch, an up and coming African-American artist was talking about her travels to Japan and Korea. She said she saw young people coloring their skin black, and pleating their hair in corn rows to go out at night and dance to the latest hip hop music “from the states.” In lieu of an introduction young men and women would approach her on the street and simply say, “Wassup??” They copied the manner but had no interest in understanding the why of urban sensibilities of contemporary African –American culture. This is not too far removed from what I see in my classes where an other-directed desire to be “cool” shapes both what students are willing to “do” – and perhaps most importantly, not do. The notion of diversity itself is at the center of the cultural wars. From the rampant appropriation of Black Cool, Gay Style, Metro-Sexual Posturing, to the beheading of infidels in Iraq – diversity is both the siren call and the feared symbol of global tensions. The “War On,” and the “War Of,” Terror are both grounded in fear and hatred for diversity.
CHANGE: To cause or to become different.
Today, in life and living, we seem to be at a curious crossroads between shattering change - and no apparent change. The world runs back and forth along continua that connect the biting snarl with the exhausted whisper; plenty with famine, material opportunity with spiritual debt. I too often feel caught between action and defeat. The waking world has become too emotional, too fluid and far too uncertain to ground opinions in, to act.But, the world also moves on, and often in ways we can not fully predict or anticipate. I can remember a time when we all thought the Communist VS Capitalist struggle would define history. When the Berlin Wall came down people actually talked about an end to history. Today I watch a young woman in China, so recently in a Mao cap and suit but now in Donna Karan, emerge from a Beijing subway on her way to her management position at “Met Life.” 1.5 billion Chinese now want a single family dwelling, with fence and yard, and 2 cars in every garage. Is their Change more dangerous to the Tradition of my middle class consumer comfort than any, “Let’s all go back to the lovely, secure and homespun values of the Middle Ages!” threat from Al Qaeda? Change comes in many forms, and as a harbinger of future benefit, challenge or struggle, it is often only apparent as such after the fact. But, accompanying much change today in culture, in politics, in religion, and even in education, is a strong subtext; “If you’re not with me - you’re my enemy - and I must destroy you.” Therefore change cannot be attended to lightly.
Finding our Voice in Dance Education: Articulating Policy and Practice in the Classroom
The first defense for the issues discussed above may be found in the home and the degree to which the values that underpin tradition, experiment, diversity and change, among these creativity, empathy, curiosity, intellectual engagement and critical thinking, are stressed at home, in early life and schooling. It is in the early years of education that we must instill positive sensibilities toward the young learner’s understanding of the values discussed here, and in evolving her or his own intellectual, kinesthetic and artistic voice as an investment toward success in life and living. Because dance education involves significant physical exploration and development, creative engagement and artistic experience, it may be uniquely situated in education as a discipline that provides multi-faceted opportunities for helping students mature and move beyond reliance or dependence on referencing the simplistic tenants of popular culture in their development. But the fact is that dance educators are not fully engaging the potential our discipline has in its instructional content or pedagogy. At the center of this issue is an aspect of our discipline that has lost a central place in our teaching, encouraging critical thinking about dance. I think our field has lost its way in promoting study in dance as about the moving and thinking body. Certainly I hear this as important subtext in the laments of local K-12 dance educators: They have no time to do more than try to provide a physical experience; theory based courses in dance are not considered for scheduling in the curriculum; student tastes in dance are sometimes vulgar, often simplistic or fully centered around what’s “cool.” Administrators seem interested only in supporting the development and presentation of group routines. Pressures from parents for their children to be “winners” have the teacher upping the ante in technique at the expense of time for discussion, problem solving, or creative/cultural exploration. Rather than react to these pressures, we must advocate, demonstrate and explain what is we believe is educationally sound, infusing our curricula with movement experiences and opportunities for students and faculty to develop and share opinions, to explore the meaning of dance in their lives, to creatively work with the medium in innovative art expression, and to study and analyze the interactions between dance and the body. While standards for k-12 dance education have been articulated, there is evidence to show that standards are not often realized in the k-12 environment .
K-12 dance educators are not fully engaging the potential of learning in and through dance in their teaching. Nor are most attending to the discipline’s scope as outlined in our national standards. A pedagogy grounded in a shared, professional vision for the scope and content of a dance education is a sorely needed dimension in the field. Across the nation the degree to which sequential learning guidelines and content areas in dance education are engaged in curriculum is spotty and poorly realized at best. Teachers are teaching technique, and sometimes infusing these classes with content in choreography or history, but separate and sequential study in choreography and history, or dance science and cultural studies is not commonly practiced.Let me provide an example. And, while I am going to describe my own, local observations and experiences, let’s say the dance educators I am going to talk about are from “any school USA.” The dance major program I supervise certifies students to teach dance in our state. In our county there is a strong presence for dance in 8-12 education; at least in terms of technique classes. Each spring I send my senior dance education majors out to intern in teaching, and to complete their senior projects (most of which are based on action research models). From their research and experiences in student teaching, it is clear that few if any of the dance educators in our area are working from standard approaches to curricula, as most do not teach beyond the practice of ballet, modern or “lyrical” dance technique. They may offer a unit in history, or a unit on a cultural form, but producing “routines and shows,” supervising competitive “teams” and organizing recitals fully dominates their annual productivity. Unlike their peers in other disciplines, dance educators are not shaping and teaching to curricula that their field has determined to be essential to the educational endeavor. And so, dance educators are not effectively using their discipline’s scope and substance to counteract the corroding forces of a relativistic and narcissistic popular culture. Instead, their work is often reactive, shifts with the tides of local pressures for “product,” and is shaped by the limited, parochial and dimensionless understandings many in education and culture have about the merit and worth of educating in and through dance. Internally the successful adaptation of field shaped pedagogy in K-12 education is contingent on the teacher’s opportunities for on-going professional development, training and professional acumen, the environment for learning in the school itself, and the students involved. Externally, and it is here that I think our field could be doing a much better job of empowering itself, the successful adaptation of a field shaped pedagogy may be about shared strength and commitment. The isolation of so many dance educators, and the lack of any field voice or advocacy for standards, will keep dance, at best, an activity and only exacerbates the troubling influence of popular culture on what dance is, or can be in its educational potential.
Recommendatiosn for Change: Advocacy for Field Content
As educators committed to quality in dance education, those of us in higher education (where standards and broad content for dance may be much more in evidence) and those of us who work in national, policy venues need to better serve dance educators at the local and district levels and work with them in partnerships to begin the processes of organizing a field sensibility and commitment to engaging standards in K-12 dance education. Like our colleagues in the sciences and humanities, we must work to develop the notion that studies in our discipline must encompass the parameters of content in that discipline. Certainly the science program would not only teach biology, nor would the math program only teach geometry. The traditional understanding is that subject disciplines (language, science, mathematics) have discreet content areas; dance should be no less broad in the promotion of its content. Attention to the content of dance coupled with a valuing of critical thinking in the study and practice of dance could go a long way toward nullifying the corrosive, self-focused and self-interested attributes of popular culture. Our opportunity to work more effectively against the corroding influences that popular culture has on our students will be enhanced if the study of dance incorporates a substantive attention to dance as medium for new understandings in art expression, as a medium that provides new contexts for understandings in historical, social and cultural studies, and as a medium that stimulates new and practical understandings regarding our shared and individualized experience in human movement and somatic studies. Not attending to these important aspects of our discipline only exacerbates the popular notion that dance is at best a recreational activity, or is little more than the practice of a series of rhythmically sequenced steps.
Changing Traditions in Dance Education
Across national or state/local borders, the field of dance educators must also work to change traditional attitudes toward dance pedagogy that still shape the way we teach. One example of this is degree to which a demonstration-imitation based approach to teaching dominates our pedagogy. There is a strong and sometimes educationally counter-productive tradition of compliance and direction in dance; to do what is shown you without question or debate, to imitate as best as one can. Those who catch on the fastest and best, with as little discussion as possible, receive the most attention, reward and praise. While a “doing of dance” realistically lies at the center of value systems for companies and professional performers, those same values are not be the best of traditions to bring into educating our youth in and through dance. Discussion based – opinion outcome learning in dance should be as vital a part of the learning process as is the “doing” of dance. Within the curriculum, within the rehearsal, or within the technique class in education it is important to devise and develop opportunities and ground for the development of student opinions and points of view about the overarching, characteristic values of traditions, experiments, diversity and subsequent change. Including consideration of such questions as: What are our traditions and why do they exist? What is the nature of experiment in dance and why is it important for students to become comfortable with problem solving and creativity? What are the essential characteristics and issues that shape cultural/social multiplicity in dance and why is attending to diversity important to us as artists, and to our students as future leaders in society? Why is knowledge and understanding about the moving body important to our development? How does the nature of change evolve as we take time to consider the previous values?
A Need for Leadership and Organization
For many dance educators a vacuum of leadership has been the result of dance moving out from under the aegis of Physical Education. State HPERD organizations, for many years the locus of change for dance in education, are no longer the appropriate organizational body for dance educators seeking their professional development in art-based contexts. The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) was formed in 1998 to shepherd dance into full partnership with other arts disciplines in education. And, NDEO is making significant headway at the national level in shaping policy and strategic vision for dance arts education. The matters of change on a localized level may best be addressed by the state affiliate organizations currently being developed by NDEO. In Florida, the Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO) is working to represent dance at the legislative level and beginning the important work of colleting data regarding the work loads and work conditions of the state’s dance educators (curriculum models, work assignments, annual evaluations, facilities, allocation of resources), and from these data developing policy statements and position papers to argue for state wide acceptance of standards based curricula, and appropriate working conditions for our teachers. Finding our Voice Yet even with an evolution of discipline content, developing new approaches to pedagogy, and establishing more effective organizations, the real matter of empowering dance to be the educational medium it might be, in an age where every opportunity to get our students to focus on more than just their daily experience, to see beyond their parochial likes and dislikes, to grow as a result of interacting with more than just their carefully vetted and culturally safe peer group, to let go of their obsession with being like and not unlike, is at the hands of the educators who interact with students every day. Dance educators must find and use their voice in clarifying and using the elements of dance education that educate best. Framing our work in consideration of the values inherent in legacy (tradition), test and trial (experiment), multiple forms and views (diversity) and subsequent evolution (change), is no panacea for uncertainty and the corroding effects of narcissistic political and popular cultures, but attention to these notions in concert with ongoing and open discussion among faculty and students, faculty and parents, among dance teachers at local, state and regional levels, in k-12, university and studio environments may better foster our field sensibilities, and thereby support communities of educators and learners that enjoy their capacity to share and disagree, challenge and join, plan and produce in an environment of learning in and through dance.
Wolcott, James. “Bland Ambition.” Vanity Fair. 528/August 2004: 134.
Dodd, Kellye. “Dance in California: Public High Schools and the National Standards for Dance Education.” Unpublished M.A Thesis, F.W. Olin Library, Mills College, Oakland, CA. 2001.
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