How to teach dance in the expanding workfield

Summary of the ‘Roots and Wings’ workshop

By: Ingeborg M. Bos
Position: Senior lecturer BA-DD, ArtEZ, Arnhem, The Netherlands

Before you lay the results of the discussions during the two workshops on redefining the profession of the dance teacher, during the Next Move Conference at ArtEZ, Arnhem, Netherlands on the 25th and 26th May 2018.

The goal of this meeting was to share thoughts and ideas, best practices and interesting failures on what can be seen as the essential issue of the Next Move Conference: How do we teach dance in an effective and inspiring way, in order to reach all our students and to insure a great future for dance education in the whole of society?

Ingeborg started the workshop with an introduction of the workfield experts she had invited, who were going to lead the discussions with the participants, who were mainly dance teachers and students of BA’s in dance in education from several countries.

  • For the Amateur field: Berry Doddema, owner Modern Dance Center, Dortmund, Germany.
  • For the Community field: Adriaan Luteijn, leader of Introdans Interactie, expert in Inclusive dance projects and Ronja White, alumni of ArtEZ and teaching Inclusive dance classes.
  • For the General Education field: Michi Tränkle, alumni of ArtEZ, teaching at ArtEZ and Olympus College, Secondary School and Anne Bos, expert in dance in Secondary Education.

The complete report can be downloaded here


Introduction of the theme: Roots and Wings

Ingeborg explained the Next Move vision on teaching in the quickly expanding workfield. She highlighted that in order to know how to teach in this workfield, we must be aware of who we are teaching, where, and why:

  • Who = target groups. This audience is getting broader rapidly, with people from all ages, backgrounds and abilities getting into contact with dance.
  • Where = setting or location. Ingeborg divided this into three workfields: the amateur field, primary and secondary education, and the community field.
  • Why = related to the who and where. In the amateur field pupils want to learn to dance, in primary and secondary schools social skills and creative thinking are important and in the community field dance is used as a medium for many other goals, such as empowerment, contact, connection, health.
  • How = Ingeborg highlighted the different roles of the dance student as a dancer, maker and observer. These roles require different approaches from the dance teacher, that can be combined in one classroom: a technical and reproductive approach for those wanting to be a dancer, a creative or  choreographic approach for the makers and a theoretical-receptive approach for the observers.

The inspiration for the discussions that took place came from the following input/questions:

  • “There are two things we should give our children: roots, and wings” – Von Goethe
  • What does this mean for dance education in our expanding workfield? What do ‘roots and wings’ mean in the workfield you are discussing?
  • How (do we teach) in dance education to meet the needs of all the new target groups and individuals who are interested in dance and the changing wishes of the more traditional target groups regarding their classes?
  • Questions regarding the 3 workfields, which were prepared by the workfield experts.   

Discussion around the Amateur Field:

Questions raised by the workfield expert:

  • Dance is a performing art form. We need to make decisions how much time we spend in class for the 1) role as an active dancer and 2) the role as an dance maker. How do we/ you manage that?
  • there is a gap in the age group between 10- 15 years. Youngsters suddenly become interested in other things than dance. Do we need other approaches to keep them in the dance studio?

Answers and suggestions from the participants:

  • “To combat the problem of teenagers quitting dance due to their changing bodies and their insecurities, include the different roles of the learner (performer, maker, observer) and the corresponding approaches in class. Taking on different roles can make them feel more comfortable with and fascinated by dance.”
  • “Change the norm of dance so that it is not about perfection but about expression through your own body, how does dance fit your body? Give them examples: have parents and older people dance and show them that it is a normal and fun thing to do.”
  • “Make dance a form of socializing so that teenagers come to dance class to see their friends and don’t have to give up this ‘social time’ or ‘hangout time’ for dance class.”
  • “Right now it is all about training, which it should not be. Students learn how to make a dance class, but not how to make a piece, a performance. How to make art. You should think outside the classes…”
  • “Having a male dance teacher made a big difference to me. A muscled, rough guy which was overwhelming and inspiring. (Note: this was said by a man) In dance class with just girls I could not come along. My body was different and needed different ways of moving than what they did.”
  • “I think a lot of students are quitting dance because they want to get another approach.”
  • “In the age 10 till 15 many dance students are dropping out. One school loses them all, the other school gets them all. The first school has good teachers, but they have no progression, just classes, students feel like they do not get any further. Classes are just once a week.
  • “The other school offers entrepreneurship, from age 15 you can teach the younger students and perform at events (both with salary) and have long-term goals by making performances for example. Through this students feel respected, they have clear goals and love playing the teacher role.”
  • “We (the BA’s in dance education) have to change: maybe by not being specialised in a style, but in an approach. How to teach people to dance instead of how to teach students to teach jazz for example. Don’t focus on a style but on dance over all.”
  • “How can we find a way to not only invest the time in training teenagers for a show? Maybe by letting them choreograph for performances instead of the teachers who usually do that.”
  • “Teach them different aspects of dance like history and music, organization and how to be a maker.”
  • “Add competition elements. This motivates, especially when they do this in a group of dance friends.”
  • “Teenagers like to spend more time in the dance school. Teachers have to adjust and give classes at the weekends. Plan holiday workshops, summer academies with special topics, special teachers.” “
  • “Give the pupils responsibility to organize their own performances. And international exchanges together with the help of teachers. In all recognize and empower the pupils.”


Discussion around Upper Secondary schools:

Anne Bos: “The goal of dance education in primary and secondary schools is to develop the artistic and creative capacity of the children. This requires above all the expressive, creative approach.”

Questions raised by the workfield expert:

  1. How do we teach dance; Roots or Wings? Which approaches?
  2. How can we make sure that boys in their early adolescence (13, 14 year) stay connected to dance education in the secondary school?

Answers/suggestions from the participants on question 1:

  • “For primary and secondary school: include all roles of the learner (performer, maker, observer).”
  • “Dance can contribute to social skills. And dance is great way to appreciate and discover your own body. Can boost many important qualities such as confidence, perseverance etc.”
  • “Schools want pedagogic goals, see the current trend of incorporating the 21 first century skills.”
  • “Still want to protect the dance, l’art pour l’art. Artistry and creativity should also have emphasis within schools. Not just artistry as means to an end. Dance is bigger than this.”
  • “Have the school boards experience the effects of dance themselves so that they understand the value of dance for the kids. Start with the boards.”
  • “Start young! This way, dance becomes more normal for children in their development.”
  • “When using the creative-expressive approach it doesn’t mean you’re just doing whatever. Teacher gives coaching, gives students limits & structure. Don’t want students to copy directly, but give them direction and material as a teacher. They need to find their own solutions for the ‘dance problem’.”
  • “Connect theme’s to artistry and don’t immediately work too abstract.”
  • “We need all 5 approaches to enrich our education; its incomplete if the approaches are isolated. In schools you will use creative approach more, but not only. Also depending on your goal.”
  • “What is artistry to them? They don’t know it yet, have no reference to art(s). So teach them! Historical awareness is important; give them some context in development and history of dance gives them reference. Use the theoretical/receptive approach.”
  • “How can we explain the value of dance? It’s only seen as a sport to stay fit. Not as artistic/creative value. But a successful dance project in school can change the opinion of both teachers and students.”
  • “Have vision, experience, use different approaches, be flexible, take in students input, listen, give the students responsibility, be with them not superior>good communication and feeling of togetherness.”
  • “As a dance teacher you need to listen, connect, follow the flow of the students. Guide them to where they want to be, as to make them owners of their own development.”

Answers/suggestions from the participants on question 2:

  • “Gym class with 2 dance lessons is not dance. First motivate schools to offer dance in their program.”
  • “Boys are just not interested at that age. Why force them? Do start with dance in primary school, then later on they will get back into it.”
  • “Ask them what they want, because compared to other arts dance is very vulnerable/confronting. Theatre for example is ‘safer’. Need guts to join the dance classes; especially as one of two boys.”
  • “Dance for boys works OK in England because there they separate dance classes for boys &girls. They need a different approach. Starting point for boys is physical challenge before creative approach.”
  • “Boys are competitive, use that to motivate them. Formulate ‘choreographic assignments’ differently from girls. Use forms such as a dance battle.”
  • “Slowly more men are joining dance (professionally). Have some patience. There have to be male teachers as examples to inspire and motivate the boys (in the professional workfield).”

Discussion around the Community field:

Questions raised by the workfield expert:

  1. During community dance projects. OMG ! What are we doing? Social work? Entertaining participants with artistic processes and skills? So, what is the right balance between social and artistic goals ?
  2. BTW ! How sustainable are these dance projects? Is it a straw fire or a live long / life changing experience? How can we make community projects sustainable, make the changes in lives last longer, or is it in its nature a volatile activity?

Answers/suggestions from the participants:

  • “It’s not important if it’s social work or art.”
  • “The artists must make art, not become social workers. Approach the target group as human beings with artistic potential, rather than as a group they need to care for. Think in possibilities rather than limits, have high expectations, let people solve the problem with their own bodies.”
  • “I just make art with whoever I have in front of me. Seeing them as artists themselves as well, they react different if you approach them out of that perspective.”
  • “What do we do with dance in society? Meeting people, experiencing dance, a way of communicating, of getting to know other people and connect. Through dance we can change the world.”
  • “Are all humans artists? If so, is working in communities always art?”
  • “Giving communities free space to reflect and gain body awareness, teaching things that are important for life, movement & mental movement. Learning about yourself. Being good for society.”
  • “The ultimate effect that we want to achieve: inspiration, sustainability, standing up for your lives,-changing people’s lives, connecting. And burning a lot of straws!”
  • “Time and reflection is needed to cooperate with, understand and educate social workers about the goals of dance. We need to understand what caretakers want and need and the other way around. We must teach these caretakers dance so that they can experience its effects.”
  • “When you have a disability in your movement, you start to find new creative ways. How can you as a teacher help your students to find creative ways for things in normal life?”
  • “Elderly people were holding back by the social workers in what they could and what they could not. If you let that go, they open up and they can do more than everybody expected. Start with a blank paper. Not fill in what they can or cannot, let them try it. We are over-protective.”
  • “How to reach people with dementia? A lot happens with music that makes you want to move, or that touches you. Eye contact and hand signs make sure that there is a connection. You see the body that moves, and by looking, touching, you really connect.”

On both conference days, the Roots and Wings workshops ended after the very lively discussions in the three groups, with a presentation of the results of those groups for the other participants. One of the most heard remarks was that people would have wanted more time to talk because it had been so interesting and fundamental questions had been raised.

Ingeborg closed both sessions with offering her thanks to all participants and handing out copies of her own ‘Redefinition of the profession dance teacher

With thanks to: Ilja Geelen, Jenneke de Beer, Elien Watson, Elena Foster and Djenné Schwachöfer for taking notes during the discussions.

The complete report can be downloaded here