Teaching teachers to use dance in the classroom

                                           Photo by Tanner Dance Staff

I recently heard about an interesting (and apparently successful) arts education program in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here’s the scoop: the University of Utah has a community dance program, which has a performing arm called the Children’s Dance Theatre, which has an outreach program called Side-by-Side Teacher Training Residency (SBS). Basically, SBS is a year-long program in public grade schools where dance faculty from the Children’s Dance Theatre give dance instruction to students while also training the teacher to lead dance exercises and implement dance into classroom lessons. Since the program began in 1994, there has been a positive impact in and out of the classroom, and the requests from teachers to participate have exceeded the abilities of the SBS dance specialists.

So let’s see: 1) Children are introduced to dance at an early age; 2) Dance is taught by qualified specialists from a university program; 3) Students learn to use dance as a tool and a means of expression; 4) Teachers are taught how to teach dance & use it in the classroom; 5) Dance influence spreads exponentially as more teachers are trained & more students are influenced. It all sounds pretty great to me.

Apparently it sounded pretty great to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) also. I initially found out about the program because it was chosen for a 2010 Learning in the Arts grant from the NEA. I presume such a grant will enable the program to continue to grow and reach even more students and teachers each year.

It’s interesting to note that prior to receiving the NEA grant, the SBS program has received funding from the Utah Office of Education because dance is actually a mandated part of the Core Curriculum for grade schools in Utah. As early as kindergarten, kids are to be expressing themselves with simple dance steps and performing dances from various cultures. By 3rd grade, children are doing strengthening exercises like crunches, as well as working to improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. The Utah Office of Education website as well as the partnering Utah Education Network outline the mandatory curriculum requirements for dance in grades 3-6.

A program like Side-by-Side excites me because I would love to see dance introduced to all Americans at an early age. I wonder, though, what is the best way to do this? Should dance be part of public school curriculum? How early should dance be introduced? What is the best program or method for thoroughly informing children/teens about the art of dance and what it can do? And of course, if it is important enough to be mandated, who should fund such education? 

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