Rewiring the Dance Education System
by Erin Pride
In 1998, I auditioned for Marymount College for Dance.
I was only a brown kid in my class.
I was having a hard time as I didn’t feel I measured up because my body was different, my skin tone was different, because of all the things…
So I always thought that Eurocentric cultures were considered higher in the dance world because that's all that was in the college programs.
I thought: “I need to study these forms to get into college, these are the people that are in colleges, these are the people that run the companies that I want to be in.”
So may dancers feel like they have to embrace Eurocentric styles of dance to be considered “serious” and this needs to change!
So about a month ago, I had the privilege of conducting an amazing, shifting conversation with my friend and former NYU teacher Kim Elliott on the Dance Boss Podcast.
Not only did my audience get to know the amazing Kim, but we had a dynamic and open conversation about how to bring more racial consciousness into your dance classroom, how to shift the value from certain dance techniques to others, and the importance of demonstrating what diversity really is.
She told us her experience at Universities like NYU and Sacred Heart teaching Hip-hop as an elective class rather than being a concrete part of the dance curriculum, and although fun to teach and perform, how this specific genre still seems to be seen as a “fad” rather than a culture.
So Kim and I got to the root and really started to think about how the dance education system could benefit from some editing…
And this is what I want to share with you today...
The first thing I want to mention is that before we fix or change something, we have to identify what is broken.
When it comes to the dance education system, much like other systems in our western world, systemic racism exists.
So when we are looking to rewrite the dance education system we have to first examine the building blocks of this system. As dancers and educators, we must respect all cultures in which dance stems from and the history within that.
But so many of us (and myself included for many years) walked around saying “ballet is the foundation of dance.” And due to this, so many of us are seeing dance history from a tiny perspective, and today I want to widen that perspective for you.
This does not discredit the beauty of form, technique, and other genres of dance, but rather opening our minds to more than one “right” way to dance.
So as we move forward to make changes to our dance education system, we must reframe our perception and get educated on a broader view of dance history, the foundation and creation of this art form we all love so dearly.
So what can we do?
What are some key elements we can integrate, edit, and rewrite in our dance education system that all dancers and fellow humans could benefit from?
Well, what does that mean to diversify?
It is more than just mixing up POC and white dancers into one room, and a diverse dance program does not mean you input a black teacher.
Diversity is where students have the ability to learn beyond 1 style or “standard” of dance education and form.
Example: Provide genres beyond ballet. You can have modern-based Horton technique classes, Hip hop, Street Dance, Latin, Tap, and so on…
Diversity in the classroom goes beyond having students of different backgrounds and skin tones.
Diversity goes beyond who we teach, and what we teach. We need to integrate the “why?” in our lessons...Aka: The history.
- Knowing your dance history:
Kim shared a story about a student who was a ballerina. They got into a conversation about ballet and Kim explained that ballet and hip hop are not that much different in culture. She reminded the student that ballet, like hip hop, was not created for the stage. They both were originally court dances, social dances.
Be that kind of teacher that knows your history. Beyond the form, technique, and movements… Learn and teach your students by asking these questions:
- Where did this dance originate from?
- What culture does this dance stem from?
- What does this dance mean to this culture?
- What is the traditional attire for this dance?
- Where was it first performed?
- How has it evolved over time?
- Where can you see this dance performed today?
- Am I teaching this dance the culturally authentic way or an adaptation?
Know the history, culture, and importance of those dance genres you are teaching, especially if it’s origin isn’t from your own culture.
Just like I mentioned in my previous post, dance is so much more than a teaching series of physical movement, it is educating the human.
- Have honest conversations
Start by thinking about what you're offering. And think about how you are going to make this integrated interdisciplinary or sort of diverse inclusive program. Knowing what you know now, it's not putting some black kids on your side. No, no. It is literally figuring out, okay, what styles do we want to integrate? And how do we do that?
Look at the curriculum, look at who is building it. Because they are the leaders of the school or studio, and it trickles down from there. Then have those conversations with them, or if that is you, ask others, listen, and learn what action is needed.
So what does this look like?
Having a more diverse program!
Maybe you add in hip hop, maybe West African, or even let's say salsa. You add in these dance forms to your pre-professional track. And have teachers who are actually trained and educated on these genres as well as the cultures that these dances come from.
The problem is that I’ve seen a lot of studio owners have programs without thinking about making, or building a curriculum that integrates this kind of diverse education. So when adjusted, this not only gives students a different way to move but also, helps students understand that dance is not a white art form.
I have to work to do in these areas as well, we all do.
These are merely 3 of many actions to take as dance educations, studio owners, or dance program coordinators. And although change may not be seen overnight, we can expect it over time as we shift into making our dance classrooms more diverse, safe, and culturally appropriate for our students.
From there, we can create a bright, more inclusive, and well-rounded future for this industry of artists and educators.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post.
Want to learn more and listen to my full episode with Kim Elliott? Click HERE to listen to Ep.87 of The Dance Boss Podcast titled Rewiring the Dance Education System with Kim Elliott
Erin is an online business coach for dance educators and host of the Dance Boss Podcast. She is a Jersey girl all the way, graduated from Montclair State University with a B.F.A. in Dance and received her Masters in Dance Education from New York University. Erin helps dance educators niche down, build an online business, and bring in additional revenue for them and their families. Erin began her coaching journey as a dance education coach, providing resources and training to help dance educators run more successful classrooms. Now Erin helps her fellow dance educators pursue their dreams and start an online business that impacts the masses. To learn more about Erin visit erinpride.com, and you can hang out with Erin on Instagram and Facebook.
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