Redefining the profession of the dance teacher

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

The main goal of the Erasmus+ project Next Move is: Redefining the profession of the dance and music teacher. The project’s mission that lies at the base of this goal is the wish to make dance and music education available for the whole of society: inclusion. Therefore it makes sense to me as a dance teacher to write about ideas, developments and visions that, in my opinion, could lead a more inclusive world of Dance in Education.
I like talking about dance education in relation to the zeitgeist, society, the professional field and the individual within this sector. I am fascinated by competencies and by innovations in both the content and form of Dance in Education programmes. I have my own opinions on this, which luckily I often find I share with people whom I discuss these issues with. If they don’t agree with me, then the discussions lead to reflection, on both sides. This alone makes a project like Next Move so inspiring. Innovation is never something you do alone.

Developing a vision requires a critical perspective directed both inwards (programme) and outwards (professional field), and preferably towards the future as well. Designing and implementing curricula is something that takes years, and this future is always racing to catch you up. It’s about processes that need to be applied again and again, always with new results, new definitions. And that is precisely what I find so exciting, this constant redefinition, this ‘keeping up with the times’!

The report can be downloaded here (English & Dutch)


Questions that played a role in writing the following vision are:

1. What is the right balance between moving with trends and cherishing traditions? What is the guiding factor: the expectations of society or the innovations that we ourselves envisage?

2. How do we maintain satisfaction in the traditional professional field of the dance teacher? Moreover, how do we prepare our students for new target groups in new situations? What sort of dance do we offer these new target groups? And how do we offer this dance, with what goals, teaching methods, themes?   

3. How much attention should be devoted in the curriculum to training the student in the role of performing or creating artist? What choices do we make in terms of input? And how does this relate to the development of teaching skills?

Ideals and vision

A good dance teacher sees it as his personal challenge and mission to – alone or with others – communicate dance effectively to the client. Whoever he or she may be. Such a dance teacher is a dance artist who uses dance to develop individual people’s physical and artistic talents, their creative abilities and their expressive powers. The teacher gets people moving (in healthy ways), teaches them to work on and through dance, lets them communicate and reflect at the levels of (dance) art and interpersonal issues.

This definition of what in my eyes is a ‘good dance teacher’ leads to more in-depth questions about the profession of dance teacher. These are: to whom, where, why and how do these dance teachers provide lessons? The first three questions are about the pupil to whom the teacher provides lessons. The last question is about how the teacher acts in response to this pupil.

Mission

“Everyone can dance and dance is for everyone!” That’s how it should be, this is my ideal picture of the world of dance education. Every person, irrespective of their age, health, socio-cultural background, gender, physical or mental possibilities, should have access to dance education.

If this goal is to be achieved, we need dance teachers who support this mission and are trained so that they can help to put it into practice. Broadly trained teachers who have the knowledge and skills to provide effective and inspiring lessons to all target groups, in every situation and with any kind of dance goals. I embrace this mission because I am convinced of the usefulness and importance of dance education for society! There are many reasons why dancing, making dance and observing dance are good for people. Practicing the art of dance is, for instance, good for developing body awareness, for presentation and communication skills, for better physical fitness and coordination, for creative and problem-solving abilities, for spatial understanding and musicality, for critical observation and self-regulation. And of course it also results in fine dance works and dance enjoyment (in collaboration) with others!

Fields of work

Dance has become a highly visible form of art in modern society. You no longer automatically have to visit a theatre to see it. Every day we see expressions of dance art, almost casually. On the Internet, on TV, on the street, at school, in films, in advertising – a real dance charm offensive is underway. This might cause increasing numbers of people to see dance as an option for themselves.

Dance is hugely popular – in Amsterdam it’s actually the most widely practiced art form among amateurs. Dance schools can be found all over the country, where people participate in an increasingly diverse range of various dance forms. Something for everyone is the new motto. The emphasis in this work field is on learning to dance, but there is also increasing interesting in making and presenting dance.

Dance is also establishing itself more in regular education. Dance teachers work at secondary schools or are involved in dance projects and educational performances in primary schools. Thanks to this range of dance for all school pupils, dance is also finally freeing itself from the ‘white rich girls’ stigma. A growing number of boys are participating in extracurricular dance activities. And this is the first step to more male dance teachers and dancers. The emphasis in regular school education is on making and presenting dance oneself, collaborating in dance, and on observing and talking about dance.

The expansion of dance in the amateur sector and in regular education has resulted in dance increasingly moving beyond the walls of these institutions. Moreover, dance teachers not only have the aforementioned curricular and extracurricular work fields, but have now acquired a new one, too! Dance is on the rise in society as a whole. Dance for all ages and at all levels of society. Here dance often no longer serves as an end in itself, but is used more as a means to an end. To help (dementia-afflicted) older people out of their isolation or to increase their physical fitness, to offer asylum seekers relaxation and relief, to get people in a neighbourhood working together artistically, to combat obesity and to provide stimulating physical and creative input for managers, or indeed for their employees. But also to bridge the gap between people with and without handicaps and to increase human dignity.

In this ‘Community work field’ the dance lessons focus more on social, emancipatory, health-promoting or social aspects. Dance in society and for society, that’s what it’s about. And so the lessons or projects take place at locations that previously would not have quickly been associated with dance lessons: on the street or at work, in health centres, asylum-seekers’ centres, prisons or community centres. In flats, in parks or on town squares.

The roles of the pupil and didactic approaches

Very many types of people can be encountered within the three fields of work. Each type has their own reasons for taking dance lessons. Their own wishes and possibilities, ambitions and affinities. And the dance teachers must be able to respond to this when shaping their lessons, because they recognise these differences and understand that successful teaching is also about responding to the pupil’s learning issues and goals. Take note! Many pupils/learners enjoy all of the roles described below and like to vary them during the lesson.

Many pupils attend dance lessons simply because they want to become a better Dancer. They feel an affinity with a certain dance style and want to learn and perform this kind of dance better. They like this type of movement, the dynamics, the music and the appearance or image associated with this kind of dance. That’s why they want to learn the steps and the jargon, be physically challenged and develop a feel for the style. They want to follow the leader in step combinations and dances, and to learn to transmit the choreographer’s ideas. And usually they want to show their skills to an audience. The didactic approaches to be applied here are the Technical and the Reproductive, as described in Dans in Samenhang. 

The role of Creator can also be very challenging and attractive. Devising movements yourself, making dance compositions or choreographies, these stimulate the imagination and creativity of the pupil. Translating sources of inspiration, themes and ideas benefits one’s problem-solving ability. This role appeals to a pupil who like to let dance arise in the moment itself. By playing with the material he finds his own movements, which he imbues with intention and meaning by varying the elements of time, energy and space. Or alternatively he likes to design and define dance. For himself as dancer or for other dancers. This is often accompanied by artistic choices for costume, stage decor, lighting and music. Here the teacher applies the Creative and Choreographic approaches for the pupils.

And finally there are pupils who like to be an Observer. Who want to become an expert audience member, a skilled watcher. Pupils who have an analytical and critical nature. Who like to slip into the role of the teacher, repetiteur, coach or reviewer for a moment. Who find it fun to know so much about dance that they can constructively correct or comment on their fellow pupils. They want to learn to understand dance, to recognise styles and discover structures. They want to develop their own opinion of dance and to find words to tell others about dance. The Theoretical/Receptive approach is the right one for these pupils.

The roles of the student dance teacher

These roles partly resemble those of the pupil, but essentially they have a different aim. The roles of the pupil are activated to inspire the dance artist in him. The roles of the student are about promoting development to the point where he can begin giving dance lessons. This is why the knowledge and skills involved in the various roles can also be clearly linked to the nationally defined set of competencies.

The roles of dancer, creator and entrepreneur may be linked to the role of teacher in terms of professional requirements, but here they are subsidiary to the teaching role. Or in other words, a good teacher does not automatically also need to be a good dancer and a good creator and a good entrepreneur.

In the Dance in Education programme, students are provided with a solid theoretical foundation for the internships/work placements and later professional practice of the Teacher. The pedagogic, didactic and methodological lessons form the core of this foundation, of course always in relation to dance as an art subject. This relationship is established by linking the generic teaching competencies to the specific wishes of the target groups in the work-field situations. Together this determines how dance is offered. Which pupil roles are addressed and using which didactic approaches. Each teacher must have developed competencies in this role in order to provide lessons.

Depending on his (physical) possibilities, dance background, talent and ambitions the student will develop more or fewer competencies in the roles set out below. His personal learning goals should guide his learning/training process in these roles.

The student who himself likes to dance or to serve as example during his lessons works on his role as Dancer. Experiencing general physical and style-related technical training through his own body helps the budding teacher to appreciate and empathise with what he is asking of the pupils and to become skilled in developing teaching material. In addition, he gains inspiration for his own lessons and sometimes also for his own style. And by performing choreographies for an audience, he learns to incorporate, interpret and present dance. Students are given a non-style-specific technical foundation, in which they can work on overarching skills such as the ability to absorb information, coordination, physical and form-related awareness, placement, dynamism etc. The aim here is to be able to alternate effectively between the wide range of required dance styles in the work field, each with their specific movements and their own feel and appearance.

The role of Creator appeals to the dance teacher’s own artistic leanings. By investigating his own fascinations within dance, the student develops his own opinion, taste and style. The student becomes familiar with his own movements and movement motivations and thus increases his personal idiom. He learns to collaborate and to communicate in dance and with regard to dance. He learns to think in theme- and concept-related ways. And he is given tools for translating and shaping his sources of inspiration to create teaching material or choreographies for his pupils. He makes educational performances for pupils or for other contexts in society. But always with the aim of (promoting) dance education. 

Today’s dance teacher is also an Entrepreneur because professional practice often consists of many separate lessons, projects and shows. The teacher usually has several contracts and employers. And in practice he often has to present and market his professional expertise himself in order to shape his professional career. The student learns to respond flexibly to market demand and to manage his own enterprise in a sustainable and businesslike manner.

Differentiation and specialisation in the Dance in Education programme

The majority of dance teachers is active in at least two of the three work fields. These three work fields require both specialists and generalists to provide lessons to all target groups and thus to meet all requirements from the work sector. However, it is impossible to train students to the level of specialist in all forms and styles of dance practiced in the current work sector in the space of four years. And that isn’t desirable either. It is mostly only the Extracurricular amateur sector that requires specialists in a particular dance style, for their exclusive, high-level lessons, aimed at the role of dancer (Technical and Reproductive approach).

The Curricular work field and the Community work field require above all generalists who can provide inclusive lessons which are often not linked to a particular style. Teachers who appeal to all the pupil’s potential roles in the lesson and can switch between highly diverse pupils, levels and learning goals within the lesson (all approaches, apart from the Technical).

Considering the competency set for the dance teacher, it is logical that the programme chiefly trains generalists. A broad-based programme, aimed at developing general dance-sector qualities and teacher skills so that the teachers can provide lessons to every target group and in every work-field situation.

But just like every pupil, so every student too has his own preferences, talents and possibilities. And the diversity of the work sector requires a wide variation in the type of teachers. So let the students take differentiated learning paths. With an individual programme profile that matches both the work sector and their own preference for certain dance styles or certain roles.

This would benefit the inclusive nature of a Dance in Education programme because it can offer the students the freedom to make choices within the subject as a whole. These choices can be the consequence of physical possibilities (or impossibilities) or (the lack of certain) talents.

However, true specialisation in a certain style, through to the level required by the work field, is hardly possible alongside the large generic part of the curriculum. This is why it is desirable for the professional sector itself to be involved actively in the training process. The student can, outside the academy, receive lessons in the chosen style and after graduating continue to learn from a recognised expert in the work field. A specialist who trains a new specialist.

Consequences of the mission

If a Dance in Education programme decides to really aim for inclusion in dance education, then this has far-reaching consequences for the student intake. Aiming to make dance education available to all members of society means being open to students with a profile different to the customary ones. This can include ex-dancers who wish to gain a teaching qualification, students of MBO (senior secondary vocational education) programmes who wish to gain an Associate Degree or lateral-entry students from HBO (higher professional education) sports programmes. But this can also include those in their forties or people with a physical handicap who wish to become a dance teacher. For these potential new intakes too, their own learning goals are crucial in determining their programme profile. This requires a flexible curriculum and lecturers who are prepared to show corresponding flexibility. Inclusion requires tailor-made solutions!

To conclude, a brief ode to dance

Dance is a special art, one that is very close to the human essence because you do it with your own body, prompted by music, by other dancers around you, by ideas and imagination. Dance is the embodiment of inspiration.

Immersing yourself completely in dance lets you experience a magical interaction between body and mind, in which the dancer plays with the elements of life itself: with time, energy and space. You can here reach a ‘state of being’ in which the dancer is simultaneously both a thinking body and a sensing mind. In dance, you can very much feel human.

In dance, the body does the talking. That’s why it is difficult to express in literary terms what dance art is. But if we can see dance as a language, then its movements are the words and the manner of performance or design is the personal voice and meaning.

The special thing about the language of dance is that it is universal. All over the world, people dance, people speak the language of dance, the language of the body. And body language is the most expressive, meaningful element in interpersonal communication. People from different languages and cultures can understand each other excellently through dance, understand each other’s emotions, intentions and stories. Dance can bring people together. Boundaries and obstacles that now often stand between people can disappear during shared dance. This positive experience can lead to reconciliation and bonding and to (personal) peace. Let’s dance and let’s teach dance!