Making Dance Available to Every Child

           "The creativity of the arts and the joy of music should be central to the education of every American child." - Richard W. Riley

          “Make Dance Education a Right of Every Child at Any Level of Schooling” is the title of a petition that was started by Dr. Radi Shafie, a professional dancer and parent, from New Mexico who believes in the National Dance Education Organization Child’s Bill of Rights in Dance.  Dr. Shafie’s plan is to submit this petition to the White House by February 15, 2013.  Accumulating signatures on this petition should be an easy task when one considers the benefits that dance offers.

            Because dance is a physical activity, it provides a means for improving health by increasing muscular strength and flexibility, creating neural pathways, developing kinesthetic and proprioceptive skills, and increasing metabolic rates.  Dance also helps develop the right brain hemisphere and reaches kinesthetic and tactile learners through active, experiential learning.  Several studies, which are detailed in my post, The Case for Dance in Public Education, have shown that dance can be used to increase reading scores, increase scores on tests of creativity, and improve abstract thinking.

            Allowing each child the right to benefit from everything dance offers, seems to be a no-brainer, yet the petition needs to gather a total of 100,000 signatures by this Friday and has only accumulated 1560 signatures so far.  There are numerous dancers and dance educators across the United States.  They perform on community stages, in regional and professional companies, and on Broadway as a result of the influence dance has had on their lives.  Dance educators exist in private studios, dance company schools, private schools, magnet schools, universities, and schools lucky enough to have dance as part of their curriculum.  So…where are they and why has this petition not gathered more signatures?

            A general lack of understanding has caused many to remain hesitant about adding their names to the petition.  Many dance educators will not sign this document because they fear it will change the role of dance educators in the private sector.  They fear that, by making dance available to all, we would eliminate the need for private studios and extracurricular dance classes.  It is important to understand that, if dance were to be included in the public school curriculum, it would be very different from the types of classes that students attend at private studios after school.  In an educational setting, dance and movement are used in an integrative manner to help reinforce the traditional learning that occurs in the typical classroom.

            Integrating dance in the classroom involves using movement to illustrate concepts introduced in the general curriculum.  Students might be taught multicultural dance forms while learning about other countries.   Students are taught to use movement to solve various problems or puzzles posed in other classes such as determining how the solar system works or how a right angle is formed.  Using dance and movement reinforces what is being learned traditionally, reaches students that might not respond to traditional, educational approaches, encourages teamwork, and encourages creative thinking.

            Although the actual solutions must satisfy given parameters, no dance creation can ever be wrong.  This approach showcases multiple solutions and encourages seeing things from multiple perspectives.  Additionally, students are taught to communicate in a new way, learn how to collaborate with others, are taught to think creatively, are forced to use the higher order skills of analyzing and synthesizing information, and develop self-esteem and self-confidence while becoming invested in their work.

            Schools like Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland have found that using an arts integrative approach to learning reaches all of the children, re-energizes their interest in learning, and teaches an appreciation for the arts.

            This educational approach is a positive one for everyone involved.  Students benefit from a new approach to learning, classroom teachers benefit by reaching students in new ways, dance educators are given the opportunity to offer dance to everyone, and private dance schools will benefit because, as more students are exposed to dance, more will become interested in pursuing the art form in the specialized way that private dance schools provide.

            Making dance a part of every child’s educational experience would be beneficial for everyone…makes you want to sign this petition now, doesn’t it?

            Last spring, thanks to a generous grant from the Guilford Foundation for Education, geometry came to life through dance and movement at an elementary school in Guilford, Connecticut.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy of that curriculum, click on this link.