As a dance educator I have always been curious about where in which the contemporary perception of dance derived. When talking to non dancers, many perceive dance to be a recreational activity, a fun past time, or something cute that their daughters do after school. Lately, with reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance or Dance Moms, the perception has gotten even worse. We have dancers pushing themselves, on the brink of injury, vying for a title, and perpetuating the inaccurate notion that monetary input equals quality output.
When did dance become so elitist?
Historically, dance began in the paleolithic period as evidenced with movement inspired rock paintings and cave drawings. Primitive cultures used dance as a means of expression and communication. It became a way of life and the basis of many significant rituals. Slowly, dance became aesthetically pleasing and was introduced to the Greek Theaters. However, dance was quickly banned in the medevil era due to its association with pegan activity and witchcraft. Dance was eventually revived in the Renaissance period through folk and court dancing.
Aristocratic steps were performed among nobility and royalty and this birthed the foundation of ballet. Dance moved to western civilization and morphed into multiple genres including modern, jazz, tap, lyrical, hip hop, and the ever popular contemporary. Dance with flashy costumes, numerous tricks, and economically driven training, as seen on TV, has only existed in the past century, so at what point did society’s perception make it so elite? We want to believe that we make dance for everyone, yet that is not the way we teach.
Dance is for everyone!
We need to ensure that dance is a reality for all students, no matter where they came from, where their going, or what disabilities they have. We need to begin teaching this way and discontinue the promulgation of dance as a competitive sport only for the elite.
There are many organizations that advocate for the Dance is For Everyone philosophy.
AXIS dance Co is a perfect example. Their mission is to create, perform, educate, and support “physically integrated dance” a contemporary dance form that evolves from the collaboration between dancers with and with out disabilities www.axisdance.org
Dancing Wheels Co. also promotes movement for all. Their mission is to educate, advocate and entertain through compelling, innovative dance www.dancingwheels.org
Or programs like Mark Degarmo & Dancers who is committed to enlivening bodies, shifting perspectives & changing lives and works in yearlong, multiyear partnership programs with NYC schools, including public school students and communities under-served in the arts, dance & aesthetic education. www.markdegarmoarts.org
And Movement Exchange whose mission is to foster civic engagement, cross-cultural understanding, and creative expression through dance and service by using dance as a vehicle for social change and diplomacy. www.movementexchanges.org
What upsets me most is that these programs are not glorified on a more public forum. Society has So You Think You Can Dance and Dance Moms to base perceptions, which unfortunately sends the wrong message. You don’t have to turn multiple times or leap to the greatest heights to be a dancer. This perception can begin to change if we all find ways to integrate dance into our classrooms, either through creative movement or incorporating the history of dance into traditional history lessons. The more we educate our students about dance the faster the perception will change.
A fun way to remind students that dance originated way before reality tv is to integrate dance into traditional history classes.
Two dance standards that marry with traditional history standards are:
Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.
Here are a few Dance History Resources to get you started:
Dance is for everyone, and we need to teach it as so. We need to highlight the amazing companies out there using dance as a means for change, and we need to provide dance to all of our students!
Piquès & Pirouettès
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Typhani Harris is a dance educator and mentor teacher who has been on the boards of both the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (CAHPERD) and California Dance Education Association (CDEA). Recently, she has made a cross-country move and is now an instructional coach in Brooklyn, New York. Having begun as a high school English teacher, it has been her mission to bring theory and research into the traditional dance class, and in 2009 she won the Music Center’s Bravo award for excellence in Arts Education. Typhani is currently on a mission to help teachers Stop Teaching and Start Reaching their students, check out the unTeacher Lab at stopteaching.org