“Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. …
At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts.”
Sir Ken Robinson
At the end of Year 8 in 1982, I had to choose my elective subjects for the following year. I desperately wanted to study Drama and Dance. Somehow I ended up studying Bookkeeping and Typing. Apparently, they were the sensible choices.
In those days Dance was taught by the Physical Education staff because it was perceived to be about athleticism, and subjects were chosen according to what jobs they led to. Fortunately, a lot has changed since then.
In recent years there has been a significant push by ACARA and other educational governing bodies to promote Dance to centre-stage in the curriculum. Excuse the pun. The perception that it is about mimicking what we see on MTV is far from accurate. It is about imagining and creating, the cornerstones of our ‘ideas and innovation boom’.
Why Do We Study Dance?
Dr David Sudmalis from the former Australian Council of the Arts says that we study Dance, “Not to create a new generation of artists but to stimulate a way of being in the world: considering, reflecting, analysing, communicating.” There is very little point in training up a generation of scientists if we don’t give them the skills to make Science creative, innovative and empathetic.
Research at the University of Sydney shows studying Arts subjects such as Dance has benefits across all areas of learning. Kids are:
- More academically engaged
- More academically motivated
- Have higher self-esteem
- Have a greater sense of meaning in life
- Achieve higher outcomes in other subjects
Dance is also about developing an understanding of cultural artifacts and what they reveal about history and people. It is usual in the Year 7 Dance curriculum, to begin with a study of ritualistic dance. Dance has always been strongly linked to ceremony, ritual and religion. An understanding of this promotes a more tolerant, inclusive attitude. Events of recent times make us cognisant of the importance of this world view.
Why Dance Is Important… Skills, Skills, Skills!
The main focus of the Australian Dance Curriculum is students. It is about developing in them a skill set that goes way beyond ‘making up a dance’. Students are taught how to tell a story, portray an emotion or explore an idea. Their aim is to connect with an audience and in some way move that audience to have an emotional or intellectual response.
The meta-skills that come with achieving such a task include:
- Time management
These meta-skills are invaluable. Santa Maria College Head of Dance and Drama, Amanda Huxtable says, “Our world is constantly evolving. In 10 years’ time, who knows what jobs will exist or what problems will need to be solved. What we do know is that we will need to be creative and we will need to work together.
With the increasingly global nature of our lives, being able to see the beauty in our cultural differences is also a vital skill for our students to have. Dance is one way to teach and develop these skills, and why not have some fun along the way.”
The Physicality Of Dance
Even though Dance is an art form and a cultural pursuit, there is no doubt that it also takes considerable fitness and strength. It encourages the use of the body as a machine that needs care and maintenance.
Dance teaches and develops a range of motion, coordination, strength, and endurance that far exceeds the requirements of most other physical activities. It also encourages students to inhabit their bodies in a powerful way. Their body is seen as a medium for telling a story or sharing an emotion. In this way, it is very empowering.
As a society, we tend to live in our heads. We sit at desks; we talk on phones; we tend not to labour the way our species use to. It is a gift to teach a child how to inhabit their whole body and if they can take that gift through and beyond school, then all the better.
Dance allows students to engage in their learning through a sensory and kinaesthetic approach, something that may not be offered in all learning areas, but vital when looking at the different learning styles of our students. Not everyone learns best by reading and listening. Some students complete cognitive loops by doing and experiencing. Dance enables this.
At the moment there is a considerable push in education toward Science and Technology subjects. Whenever one set of disciplines is being promoted, it is inevitably at the expense of others. As a society, we need to be mindful of this reality.
An honest assessment of what sort of knowledge should be valued needs to be undertaken. Hopefully, the conclusions are not based purely on economics. I would hate to think that we are returning to an age where the subject that leads to a job is the only ‘sensible’ option.