News: More Dance in Schools?

Friday 7 April 2006

'More Dance in Schools?' The More Dance in Schools? conference took place on 21 Jan. 02 in Westminster.
Catherine Hale reports…

The future of dance in Britain begins at school. That was the message from Jane Mooney, Chair of Dance UK and echoed by others at a conference hosted by the The Exercise and Dance Initiative (funded by Sport England). As Jane noted, The Guardian recently included dance among its ‘difficult art forms’ series. Attitudes like this are usually formed during childhood experiences. To continue competing nationally and internationally, the world of dance must ensure a future generation of performers, choreographers, managers, patrons, and not least – audiences. This means accessing young people with a positive experience and the right message through schools.

Dance in schools had a bleak prospect a decade ago. But Crichton Casbon of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) spoke reassuringly about the current place of dance in the National Curriculum. Thanks to lobbying bodies such as the National Dance Teacher’s Association (NDTA) dance is now a compulsory part of physical education for 4-11 year olds. A wealth of resources to support the dance teaching in primary schools is available on the Internet and through organizations such as Top Dance. See links below. Also the numbers of pupils taking GCSE and A level dance are increasing, as are the grades being achieved.
Most encouragingly, dance is a key element of QCA’s revitalizing the debate on the value and purpose of arts education. Creativity is high on its agenda. This means that while schools are free to interpret dance as a form of Sport, the ethos for dance as an art form, rather than its old image as PE for wimps, is being strongly promoted. The QCA’s Arts Development Project encourages teachers to move beyond ‘aimless movement’, as Casbon put it, and towards a celebration of dance through performance. Its research shows this both raises the self-esteem of pupils and the status of the school in the community. Pushing these values is Artsmark, a new scheme of awards from the Arts Council of England to schools achieving artistic excellence.

The QCA clearly values dance for its potential in developing confidence, social and communication skills and extending learning across the curriculum (evidence shows dance can significantly improve literacy skills). But recruiting young people to a career in dance is another matter.

There is an acute shortage of qualified dance teachers in secondary schools and a dearth of boys pursuing dance studies. And with dance optional after the age of 11 there is the danger of it being perceived as something you grow out of. Many endorsed the message that the national curriculum is insufficient to the task of ensuring the future of dance. How should schools extend the provision of dance beyond it?

Some suggested promoting more dance in schools following the example of the more established field of Sport. Dr Margaret Whitehead (Physical Education Association UK) and Elaine Burgess (Sport England) advocated the participation of what are called Adults Other Than Teachers, who may be dance professionals without teaching qualifications, and using the Study Support Fund for out of school dance activities.
Dance UK’s Teaching Frameworks, developed with partners such as Birmingham Royal Ballet, goes much further than this. They say that if children are to be encouraged to continue dancing after age 11 they need, above all, to be exposed to great dancing that moves, inspires and connects with them. They need to work directly with first-class artists to encounter the reality of dance as a career. And there needs to be a continuity between dance in the curriculum and the informal and culturally diverse forms of dance that 10 million young people per week experience in their lives. Dance provision must go beyond the division between the private ballet class and the dowdy image of schoolgirls in the gym.

Jane Mooney added that schools should be part of “a larger ecology of dance with sustainable structures and recognizable links”. Ludus Dance Company and Random Dance Company demonstrated leading examples of creative partnerships between schools and dance companies. Random showed how animation software Poser used in the company to generate choreographic material also worked in school settings. It not only stimulated movement imagination but, by trading on the currency of IT, was successful in attracting boys to dance lessons and also in linking with IT across the curriculum.
Random Dance workshop

More systematic networking is necessary to bring freelance dance artists and smaller dance companies into educational settings. They must be conversant not only with the aims and objectives of the National Curriculum, but with the legal framework for child safety and the best health and safety practices for dancers. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) often lack qualified staff to undertake this task. At present there is no body for regulating the competence and qualifications of dance artists in education.

However, Ken Bartlett of the Foundation for Community Dance concluded by reminding delegates that there is cause for celebration. Dance is leading the other arts in terms of engaging with the national curriculum. Dance educators now have a well-developed knowledge about the value of dance. As he put it, dance changes our way of relating to the world. Teachers from backgrounds as diverse as folk dancing and jazz, along with LEA’s, independent dance agencies and policy makers, must now really pool their thinking on how to forge links, transcend the barriers of genres and ensure equality of access for all young people.
Web Links:
The National Dance Teachers Association
Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing children’s dance website

Resources for teachers of dance in schools:
Top Dance, organised by the Youth Sport Trust
Top Dance
English Folk Dance and Song Society
The Language of Dance Centre
More Dance in Schools?
was organised by The Exercise and Dance Initiative. It supplies advocacy and marketing support services to and for organisations providing exercise and dance as recreation and/or sport in England. Through projects and partnerships with national agencies, it assists organisations in developing opportunities for greater participation by the public in all forms of dance and exercise. The Initiative is a Sport England project in partnership with the CCPR.
For further information contact Portland Green or Yasmine Valizadeh at the Exercise and Dance Initiative. Telephone: 020 7854 8518, e-mail:

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