Tuesday, August 14, 2012

the importance of dance education

I was recently asked in an interview to explain why I believe dance education is important (talk about a big question for an interview…!). I've had some ideas on that written down for myself for a long time —  one of my last assignments from my student teaching seminar (15 years ago) was to write about my educational philosophy and why I feel the subject I teach is important — so I was able to pull out some of those points I've had in my mind for so long:

...that dance is the most basic and elemental or art forms, since in dance, the instrument is oneself — not a piano or violin, nor paint and canvas, nor even a smaller part of oneself such as the voice, but one’s own moving body… and students expressing themselves through movement are challenged to think in ways they may not have previously attempted, to form their thoughts and feelings into physical reality…
… that dance is one of the most universal and elemental of art forms — all cultures dance in some way, whether for ritual, celebration, social, recreation, or expressive reasons. Although dance leaves few physical traces and we cannot say for certain when it became part of human culture, it is likely to be among the oldest of art forms as well: there are cave painting depicting communal dances…

(Of course, I continued, one can also make arguments for the importance of all of the arts — I recently re-read The Grapes of Wrath, after many decades, and was struck by the power of fiction to convey the truth of a situation with so much more immediacy than any work of history I have ever read.)

But since I first wrote down those earlier thoughts, I found out a lot about the value of dance and the arts to those underserved students I taught at EOSA… I know there were a number of students who had trouble in their regular "desk" classes, and may not have stayed in school had they not had arts classes to come to every day (and as we were often told in staff meetings, in East Oakland the difference between staying in school and dropping out can be a life and death matter). But I remember especially one student in particular, who came into school wild and angry as a ninth-grader, but because of dance and track stuck with it and became one of EOSA's most diligent and accomplished students by her senior year. She was one of the group who created "All Arms Open" (below), and was asked to speak at an Alameda County "Art IS Education" event being held at EOSA… This is a part of what she said: "I come from a community where there are a lot of killings, the community right outside of this school, and I have lost six of my loved ones to gun violence… and because of that, I am sometimes deprived of my right to happiness… However, when I walk into the dance studio here at EOSA my feelings of being deprived of my right to happiness no longer exist. I feel like when I go into the dance studio at EOSA I am home— they are my family, we learn to care about each other... And things that I wouldn't be able to say in words, I know that I can express how I feel, and my ideas, through dance."

I can't add anything better than that…

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