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Dance Counts: How Policymakers Can Support Access to Quality Arts Education

Date: 04 December 2020

Schools across the country have made great strides to offer opportunities for dance education. Educators have pivoted from prioritizing dance as a purely physical activity to an art form that allows students to use movement to communicate, express themselves, build connections to community and improve academic outcomes.

The Arts Education Partnership’s recent report “Dance Counts” uses peer-reviewed research to highlight connections between high-quality dance education and improvements in academic and personal growth. This is the third report in a series describing the researched benefits of arts education. Understanding these connections becomes even more important when learning that dance remains one of the least available art forms for students.

Policymakers and state leaders can ensure that students have access to an excellent dance education through the adoption of standards, definition of educator certification requirements and promotion of data collection and reporting. The research findings in “Dance Counts” provide a strong foundation to implement policy. Below are a few policy ideas to get started:

Revise or Adopt Standards

The new National Core Arts Standards in dance are rooted in a creative approach to teaching that describes expectations across cultures, styles and genres, with the goal of inspiring students to pursue a lifetime engagement with the arts.

Since the 2014 revision, at least 34 states have adopted or revised standards for dance education, most recently including Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota and Wisconsin. The standards revision process can prompt important dialogue between students, educators, communities and policymakers on how to provide access to high-quality arts education.

Formalize Educator Certification

Currently, 45 states have adopted policies related to licensure requirements for arts teachers, and 27 states have policies related to licensure requirements for non-arts teachers. Of the states with requirements for arts teachers, 28 specifically mention requirements for dance, and 10 of the 27 for non-arts teachers specifically mention dance. These dance requirements for non-arts teachers typically relate to early childhood education.

The National Dance Education Organization identified 75 college and university dance education programs in 38 states in 2017. Nine of the 75 programs exist in states where there is no state-approved credential for dance, and 3 of the 75 offer alternative certification to teach dance in a PreK-12 setting.

Educators are front and center in implementing high-quality dance education in schools, and formalizing certification pathways is one tool to support instruction within and beyond dance classrooms.

Promote Data Collection and Reporting

State leaders can promote better information about arts education by including the arts in state longitudinal data systems. While some states have developed data systems to track and improve access and quality, these data are not consistently broken out by arts disciplines, including dance, and often states do not publicly report the data.

For example, while 31 states appear to collect data on arts course enrollment, only 13 states publish this data. Only 15 states publish data on the number of teachers assigned to arts courses out of 47 states that collect the data.

With public data, stakeholders can gauge how successful schools are in providing access to quality dance education. Policymakers can also use enrollment data to track the impact of state policies adopted to boost arts education, such as standards and educator certification.

A research-based resource like “Dance Counts” can help leaders support dance education in state policy. From revision of standards and educator certification requirements to improvements in data collection and reporting, policymakers can ensure that students have opportunities to learn, grow and connect with communities through dance education.

This post comes from the Arts Education Partnership, a national coalition of over 100 education, arts, business, culture, government and philanthropy organizations at Education Commission of the States.

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits