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Dance Education Essay, Research Paper

Dance Education


Why is dance a necessary and basic part of a students’ education? Is there evidence that dance education results

in significant educational outcomes (e.g., self-esteem, critical thinking, cross-cultural thinking, body/kinesthetic

intelligence, interdisciplinary perspectives)?

1. Introduction

2. Thesis statement

3. History

4. Status

5. Physiology

a. Intervention

b. Statistics

c. Positive aspects

6. Sociology

a. Socialization

b. Etiquette

c. Connection

d. Religion

7. Psychology

a. Motivation

b. Self-esteem

c. Affective education

8. Summary

9. Works Cited


Dancing is a natural impulse– an instinctual mode of self expression and communication. For many people dance

is limited to what they see on television or at the local preforming art’s theater. Nevertheless, they don’t need to

be professionally trained to move to music.

A growing body of research shows that dance is the Retin-A of physical and emotional health. It can help us age

gracefully. It stretches and strengthens the muscles, lubricates the joints, and gets rid of tension. It’s also a great

social and supportive activity (Brody 54)

According to Peter Pover, a former competitive dancer and past president of the U.S. Dance sport council:

In Germany doctors did tests in which they wired up the country’s 800-meter running champion

and its amateur dance champions. They found no significant athletic difference between running 800 meters and

doing the quickstep for one and one half minutes. That’s just one dance. In competition couples have to do

five ninety second dances in a row, with only 20 seconds between dances. Moreover, the women have

to do it going backwards! All a runner has to do is jog around the track (Swift 72).

People dance because it’s totally absorbing and makes them forget everything else. They dance for exercise, to

control weight or to overcome a physical disability. Through dancing, your body image becomes clearer.

Physical fitness and social relationships can be illusive, monotonous, time consuming, difficult to keep up with,

and expensive. In my search for the ultimate exercise experience I have done weight lifting, stair stepping,

bicycling, running, swimming, step aerobics, high and low impact aerobics, water aerobics, yoga and team

sports. To meet people and make friends I’ve tried night clubs, gyms and self-help books.

Then I found dance. The experience of dancing with a woman at the end of my arm is like nothing else I have

experienced in any other activity. The words would you like to dance?’ have a universal appeal that few people

can resist.

Dancing for enjoyment is a pleasant exercise using the body and mind in unison, directing physical energy into

rhythmic patterns. I believe that dance is for everyone and everyone can participate in and learn through dance

because we live our lives through movement-gathering, assimilating and expressing knowledge. Dance plays an

important role in the growth of students as it develops kinesthetic intelligence with creative and critical thinking

skills. It is a good way for students to learn and develop their understanding of life experiences (Paulson 30).

Why is dance a necessary and basic part of a students’ education? Is there evidence that dance education results

in significant educational outcomes (e.g., self-esteem, critical thinking, cross-cultural thinking, body/kinesthetic

intelligence, interdisciplinary perspectives)?


Dance first appeared in the American public schools at the turn of the century. Elizabeth Burchenal, America’s

famous folk-dance authority, aided in introducing dance to public education as a form of recreation. Folk-dancing

is a viable part of most physical education programs throughout the country.

Perhaps the most prevailing form of dance in the field of education is modern dance. Terry explains what this

form of dance has to offer high school and college students:

Physically it can strengthen the body, correct (in most cases) faults, develop coordination, enhance

accuracy of movement . . . Emotionally, dance aids students in adjusting themselves to group activity, to

leadership, to discipline, and it helps them in matters of personal poise, in articulation in the expression

of ideas. For dance is both a discipline and a release (236).

Many surveys have been conducted to investigating the extent and nature of dance education in the United

States. In 1938 the Bennington School of Dance conducted a national survey to decide the status of modern

dancing in education. They discovered that they were promoting modern dance as physical education program in

especially large high schools. Although the program favored the women, efforts were under way to cultivate the

natural interest of boys as well.

The study also revealed that while most of colleges and universities offered instruction in some form of dancing,

approximately two-thirds of these offered modern dance. Although some institutions transferred dance to the

department of fine arts, most programs were in the department of physical education (Welch 163).

Margaret H’ Doubler and Martha Hill pioneered the preparation of dance teachers. H’ Doubler developed the first

dance major in the United States in 1926 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1934 a school of dance was

opened at Bennington College in Vermont. Hill was director of dance for years at Bennington College and New

York University, and later head of the dance department at the Julliard School in New York City. With the

development of dance as a major course of study at their respective institutions, these early pioneers prepared

the first teachers who went out to other schools and colleges.

By the late 1970’s dance education had expanded so much in Higher Education that both the American Alliance

for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and Dance Magazine publishes directories to college and

university dance programs. The prospective student of dance can select institutions throughout the country which

offer intensive courses for degree candidacy or as a minor field of study. Additionally, they may take dance as

part of an interdisciplinary major, or as a concentration within other degree programs. They may also earn

elective liberal arts’ credit. Some universities have professional companies in residence.

The advantage public schools and college campuses can offer that no professional studio can match are:

1. Free and adequate space for practicing.

2. The facilities of a well-equipped theater and recording studio.

3. Willing and patient young bodies for experimentation in choreography.

4. A resident, enthusiastic, and intelligent audiences.

5. Collaborating designers and musicians.

6. Freedom from union restrictions.

7. Freedom from commercial pressures.

8. Freedom from vulgarity and habit.

9. The general atmosphere of taste and aspiration that any college engenders. They must not

underestimate this, for it does not exist in the competitive theater.

10. Access to related arts.

With these advantages, they could organize the dance department to develop teachers, critics, and

choreographers as nowhere else.

When they teach dance as an art, artists and experts will enter the colleges as teachers. They will demand stricter

standards, standards on a college level, what an eighteen-year-old would learn in a professional atelier, not what

a child would attempt in kindergarten. They will demand sufficient time for daily practice and weekly studies.

They will demand prerequisites for matriculation (De Mille 74).

At the public schools many teachers realize the need to include dance education. Unfortunately they do not

usually have the preparation they need to feel confident or competent to do so. In fact most institutions do not

consider it a subject. Dance has no status as an art form in most schools. It is most often part of the physical

education curriculum as a strand of physical activity. Schools offer dance residencies, in which they treat dance

as an art form, but these are short-term opportunities.

Consequently, dance has very little presence as an art form in the curriculum (Paulson 30). Dance instructors

cannot get a licence to teach dance in schools. To teach dance in public school they must have a license in

another field or be a guest artist independent contractor. Few, if any in-service opportunities exist for teachers

who want to study dance. No formal accepted dance curriculum exists in most cases and this leaves teachers on

their own to create the curriculum (Paulson 30).

Successful programs are in desperate need of funds to buy things like tapes, books, illustrations and auxiliary

equipment that could be used to expand the growth of dance. Even space to teach and practice is almost

impossible to get. They teach dance classes on borrowed turf which reverts to its other uses when class ends.

This creates an out of sight out of mind scenarios where students cannot practice, experiment or create (Paulson


Gender bias is another issue. Most teachers, professional dancers and students are female. Physical education

departments often promote these images (Paulson 30). It is an almost exclusively American prejudice that boys

who dance are sissies (De Mille 5).

Dance educators are scarce and there are no forums established in which they can come together regularly for

support, information, or inspiration. They fight the lone battle against students’ fellow teachers, administrators and

often with parents and community members (Paulson 30).

To address these issues we need to begin to gather a body of data to show that a change is necessary. Some

questions that they need to be addressed are:

1. In what ways can dance education contribute to current and future efforts in shaping education


2. What models are in current use to teach dance?

3. What are the empirical implications of research in cognitive, affective, and psychomotor

development at different stages of development of the student?

4. What influences control some teacher’s decisions to use dance in the class room?

5. What tools and media are available to the educator?

6. What training influences teachers at various stages in their careers?

7. How are dance classes assessed?

8. What are the important assessment factors?

9. What is the perception inhibiting the use of dance as a valid educational activity?

Current dance research is usually focused on psychology, history, kinesiology, philosophy, aesthetic, therapy,

sociology, and other academic areas, dance education has been the subject least examined (Beal 38).


Dr. Lulu E. Swergald, who was a student of movement, developed a technique for improving posture and range of

movement based on mental imagery. Empirical studies showed a marked increase in coordination and efficient

muscular actions (Jacob 26).

Rosemary Flores did a study to decide if Dance for Health, an intervention program designed to provide an

enjoyable aerobic program for African American and Hispanic adolescents, has a significant effect on improving

aerobic capacity. The scope of the study focused on whether dance could help students maintain or decrease

weight, and improve attitudes toward physical fitness.

Students in the intervention had a greater lowering in a body mass index and resting heart rate than students in

regular physical activity (189).

Despite the potential for physical activity to help reduce or maintain weight, physical education programs are

giving students at best minimal activity and they are becoming less common in schools. Our own Palm Beach

Community College has dropped the Physical education requirements required for a degree, and the Recreation

department is almost nonexistent. Children engage in approximately 20-40 percent of their physical activity at

school, with physical education classes as the primary source. However, according to many surveys, children

spend less than 10 percent of their physical education time in moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. This amounts

too less than ten minutes per week (Flores 190).

Almost any kind of dance can be considered aerobic exercise. An example of the kind of aerobic dance that is

popular is line dancing. Most of the three thousand plus line dances currently being done are choreographed for

Country and Western music, but they readily adapt them to any type of music (Yoxall 16).

Besides building up their heart and lung fitness, dance makes gives them more flexible and coordinated. One of

the best things about line dancing is they don’t have to be in the gym to practice. They can do it at home by

themselves or with a friend, once they learn the steps (Yoxall 17).


Our education and socialization as good Americans are geared almost exclusively toward making good business

and professional people or good workers. Where are we taught-or socialized to listen with empathy,

communicate consciously, to look at ourselves honestly, to feel and express emotions appropriately? An

occasional eight-grade family-life class? One hour of Sunday school a week? An eight-or ten -hour parenting


In a competitive, work-oriented society, love and emotional connection have difficulty growing between people.

Susan Page calls it the great emotional depression because much like the Great Depression of the 1930’s and its

shortage of money and jobs, we have a shortage of emotional maturity and an apathy about human relationships


Older generations used to learned manners by osmosis from their families and the surrounding culture. Many took

dance lessons in their communities, while others learned to dance by teaching each other and practicing at home

with parents or siblings. In Texas they have clubs that children can go to on a Friday night and learn the local

dances like the two-step and the push whip, a variation of west-coast swing. They are adept at social dancing and

manners by the time they reach adolescence.

In the 1950’s dancing was an omnipresent part of the culture, and basic social skills were a given. Then in 1960’s

Americas culture was turned on its head while they searched for new paradigms of living. In the 1970’s

disillusionment made use break away from our dependence on one another. The 1980’s was the time for space in

our relationships (Page 3). If we are to rebuild our culture we must begin with the basics (Walsh 5).

Dance floor etiquette can easily be incorporated into a ballroom dance class. Paul Lanoureaux, a dance

instructor by night and a middle school principal by day has been teaching dancing and etiquette to 11 and

12-year-old children in the Boston area for five years. He gives instruction three nights a week but because of high

demand he could fill these classes every night of the week.

The curriculum for the six-week session includes ballroom dances like the foxtrot and polkas. They teach students

to use phrases like “may I have this dance?” and respond with “I’d be delighted.” The boys seem to appreciate

the rules of the class. The young women quietly worry about having to dance with ” a geek.” They are all

expected to dress in their best attire for most of the classes in the session.

According to Catherine Walsh:

This is what our society needs: to teach children manners and social skills and to require them to

dress appropriately. In a culture in which both parents work and one-parent families are more common than

ever, where there are few cultural norms and expectations, someone has to teach the children how to

make conversation. Pundits too often lament the lack of civility and manners in our society, without noting

that they often neglect the teaching of these traits in our culture. Children are more self-assured when they know

that dancing is a fun and no pressure way for them to meet and interact with the opposite sex (5).

Dance may help people by decreasing isolation, loneliness and boredom. Asking a woman to dance is the perfect

icebreaker in many social events. Dancing may also increase tactile support, cooperation and enjoyment while

giving participants something to do with their hands, feet and bodies when communication on a purely verbal

level is awkward (Crenan 50).

Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, chairperson of the Sociology department at Rutgers University has written extensively

about the connection between developing values and dances’ cultural significance. She teaches a combination of

sociology and dance where one day a week she lectures and the other is spent in the studio. She explains that

sociology is the study of human behavior; dance is “rhythmically organized” human behavior (A5).

Connection may be the essential social impact dance has on people. Julianna Flinn describes this connection in a

religious sense, calling it the “flow experience,” that relates to American country dance as a transcendental

awakening or a way of encountering something beyond the ordinary, conscious individual self. This makes it

something akin to a religious experience by subsuming people, connecting them to something elemental. By

focusing on music and movement all other concerns become absent and the complexity of the dance reduces


The experiences dancers describe are not limited to this “flow experience.” The connection with community and

heritage, dancers feel, is also considered part of a religious experience. Therefore, although it has no theology, it

has many elements of a religious experience (67).

The social aspect of dance education is equal to the physical in importance. Teaching children good manners in

social dance situations should be a part of the curriculum. The main reason for a social dance is to meet other

people and relate to them within a frame work of rules. Knowing what to do when someone asks you to dance is

difficult, without some guidance.

For self-expression and communication dance enhances every aspect of well-being be it physical, social,

emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. By connecting the mind and body dancing lets you tap the energy of the

music and the people around you. The stress relief comes from having all this energy channeled into your body

and minds go out to your hands and feet. You don’t have time to think of anything but the next step (Krucoff 82).


Dancing is an expression of culture. The struggle of life to raise itself into fertility is its theme (Updike 192). When

men and woman dance together the man must lead and the women must follow. The partnership forms a

powerful unity. Demanding that life give life, and love give love, in return. The struggle is found in the pulse of

the rhythm. As the man leads he invites the women to twirl around him until he closes with her. Only a moment or

a beat goes by before he sets her in motion again.

The fondness for conjoined rhythmic motion relates perhaps to a gender trait a female somatic

unity, a sense of the entire body as an expressive and erotic means. Men are compartmentalized creatures,

and in dancing the part-the feet, the tongue, the libido, the diagrammatic brain-go flinging in different directions

(Updike 192).

The motive people feel for dancing is a powerful need to express feelings about their bodies. These feelings are

part of their personal body image (Jacob 26). Through dancing these images become clearer. They become more

aware of their potential as they test and expand their limits. By being aware of their body image they learn that

they can dramatically change it. Changing this image is a process of imagining their ideal body. Their fantasy

image is as important as their realistic body image for realizing their potential.

Dance gives children and teachers self-esteem, motivates them, and makes learning a joyous experience. In

using dance in the curriculum, teachers express a new vitality in their teaching. While a dance residence is taking

place in a school student attendance went up, and when they test them on ideas they explore through dance they

score higher on written and oral exams. Students gained confidence and self-esteem which made it easier for the

reluctant ones to participate in class room activities (Lee 45).

Wanting to know how students experienced the dance classes they took in school, Susan W. Stinson observed six

dance classes taught by three teachers at two schools. Using open-ended questions about the differences between

dance class and other classes, and their dance teachers, and other teachers, she interviewed 36 students. They

responded that they felt a release from worries or freedom in dance class that their other classes lacked.

Though she was not looking for relationship responses specifically, the theme of the “caring teacher” emerged.

By being more responsive to students they thought of them as friends. This affective approach to teaching may

point away from the current trend in arts education (55).

Educators are continually told to emphasize the cognitive more and the affective less (Stinson 55)- written and

spoken language and mathematics as opposed to personal knowledge-if the arts are to be considered essential

disciplines. Exclusion of the dance discipline from basic curriculum shows a lack of awareness and understanding

of the intricacies of learning. It is not enough for a child to have only information about his or her world. All

children need to feel empowered through personal action and discovery about self, with others in the world

(Bucek 41).

Issues that a creative learning environment, applied to dance education can adapt to include: student diversity,

integrated curriculum, disciplined-based dance education, and parity with other subjects in public schools (Yoder

51). Unfortunately, caring for students is not enough if we are to educate them for the world today, in dance or

anything else. However, it is an essential ingredient in education that is often over looked (Stinson 55).


In the history of dance education I discussed the rise of dance in higher education to its current level. It seems

that with all that’s been done we still have much to do to make dance education a viable subject for degree

seeking candidates. In the high school, middle and elementary levels of education little has been done to

promote dance because of the pressure to concentrate on cognitive studies. In the physical area I’ve shown how

positive the effects of dance as exercise can be. In the sociology section I gave many examples of how dance can

increase skills in social settings and give children a much needed lesson they will utilize throughout their lives.

Finally, I discussed the psychological effects of better self- esteem.

There is a need for dance in the schools, if children are going to learn to relate to themselves, their teachers,

families, and peers in a way that is beneficial to society.


Beal, Rayma K. “Issue in dance education.” Arts Education Policy Review. March-April 1993: v94 n4 p35(5).

Brody, Liz. “The turning point: if you’re feeling out of step, face the music and dance.” Modern Maturity.

July-August 1994: v37 n4 p54(5).

Bucek, Loren E. “Constructing a child-centered dance curriculum.” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation,

and Dance. November-December 1992: p38-42.

Crenan, Mary and Frank B. Ashley. “Dance: the movement activity for the elderly.” Nursing Homes. May 1993:

v42 n4 p50(2).

De Mille, Agnes. To a young dancer. Boston: Little, Brown. 1962.

Flinn, Juliana. “American country dancing: a religious experience.” Journal of Popular Culture. Summer

1995: v29 n1 p61(9).

Flores, Rosemary. “Dance for health: improving fitness in African American and Hispanic

adolescents.” Public Health Reports. March-April 1995: v110 n3 p16(2).

Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. “A sociologist who uses dance to smash stereotypes.” The Chronicle of Higher

Education. May 5, 1993: v39 n35 pA5(1).

Jacob, Ellen. Dancing ( A guide for the dancer you can be). Massachusetts: Addison Wesley. 1981.

Krucoff, Carol. “Seniors ‘in line’ to shape up.” Saturday Evening Post. May-June 1995: v267 n3 p24(2).

Lee, Mary. “Learning through the arts.” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. May- June 1993:


Page, Susan W. If I’m so wonderful, why am I still single. New York. Viking. 1988.

Paulson, Pamela. “New work in dance education.” Arts Education Policy Review. September- October

1993: v95 n1 p30(6).

Swift, E.M. “Calling Arthur Murry.” Sports Illustrated. April 24, 1995: v82 n16 p72(1).

Stinson, Mary W. “Voices from schools.” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. May-June

1993: p52-56.

Terry. Dance in America. op. cit. p236

Walsh, Catherine. “Perspectives. (need to teach manners and social skills to children)(column).” America.

May 11, 1996: v174 n16 p5(1).

Welch, Pamela D., and Harold A. Lerch. History of American physical education and sports. Illinois: Thomas.


Updike, John. “It takes two.” Vouge. September 1995: v185 n9 p192(2).

Yoder, Linda J. “Cooperative learning and dance education.” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation,

and Dance. May-June 1993: p47-51.

Yoxall, Patty. “All the right Moves.” Current Health 2. November 1993: v20 n3 p16(2).

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