The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
New frontiers
Animated, Winter 1998. Lyn Paine contemplates the state of play of dance in schools and proffers some words of advice to artists-in-residence
Current strengths in dance education
Dance continues to develop healthily in many schools. In primary schools features of good practice include - planned schemes of work which provide pupils with a range of dance experiences; continuity of experience from term to term and year to year and progression in performance, composition and appreciation skills. The best practice also provides opportunities for pupils to experience dance in a culturally diverse range of contexts.

Additionally in secondary schools, where practice is good, links with the professional dance world are well developed through work-shops, theatre trips and dance on video. The number of centres and candidates for GCSE and A/S Level dance increases yearly and the majority of these students complete their courses as well-rounded performers and choreographers with a breadth and depth of dance knowledge.

INSET needs for teachers
Weaknesses in teaching include limited dance knowledge, lack of confidence and ineffective use of the growing number of commercially available dance resources - for example BBC tapes that are frequently used without reference to the published teachers' notes. Some teachers have difficulty in providing culturally diverse experiences and there is still a perceived divide between traditional country-dance and 'creative' or 'expressive' dance in many primary schools. There are some serious weaknesses in Key Stage Three where teacher expectation is often low, there is inadequate timetabled time and inequality of opportunity exists for boys. In many secondary schools dance is viewed as an alternative 'sport' rather than a distinct area of physical and creative experience.

Teachers' professional development needs can be summarised as follows:

  • Basic dance knowledge - practical and conceptual

  • To develop observation skills in order to improve quality of movement

  • To appreciate that they have transferable skills

  • How to access and use resources, including 'human' resources

  • Devising schemes of work (planned, documented work that has progression and continuity)

  • Efficient use of limited time and resources to provide a quality experience for pupils

  • The effective integration of 'tradition' and 'creativity' in dance

  • Clear understanding of the activities of per-forming, composing and appreciating dance.

You might like to consider which of these issues you could address and what your role might be.

Dance artists-in-schools
The visiting dancer is often seen as a glamorous and exotic creature. You have to achieve a fine balance between providing your specialism and convincing teachers that they too have the necessary skills to provide a worthwhile dance experience. Be clear about the aims, objectives and expectations of your part of the programme.

What can you offer in relation to performance skills?

  • High expectations

  • Physical and mental challenge

  • Refinement of physical and performance attributes (projection, focus, etc.)

  • Unfamiliar movement experiences and a new vocabulary

  • High level of expertise

  • Opportunities for pupils to perform aspects of an established repertoire.

Composition skills?
All too often I have been disappointed with the range of compositional techniques employed by visiting professionals. They provide too few opportunities for pupils to make choices, select or develop material. This is especially true in some of the more traditional dance contexts. Teaching a dance phrase then asking pupils to 'play with the material' is also a 'cop-out' and does not adequately address the knowledge, skills and understanding of composition required of pupils at Key Stages Three and Four.

Appreciation skills?
Are you able to communicate information about the dance context you work within in order for pupils to acquire knowledge and understanding as well as practical skills?

Valuable assets
As far as dance artists are concerned your most valuable asset is that you are a human resource. You can open pupils' and teachers' eyes to the diverse world of dance; you can provide real challenge and you are role models from the public and professional dance world. Pupils need to know what dancers do each day, that you get paid (not enough), about your own education and training, how a dance company operates, what choreographers do and how musicians and designers contribute. The company outreach worker, although providing high quality dance teaching, is somewhat 'removed' from the dance company, who pupils only see on the stage from a distance.

In schools it is important that you become part of the teaching team and this requires partnership, planning and evaluation. Focus on what you can offer in the limited amount of time allocated for your work - don't claim to know everything there is to know about the curriculum and child development. Remember that pupils need to be engaged in the activities of composing and appreciating as well as performing. What you bring with you to schools is of real value - high expectations, no preconceptions or prior knowledge of the pupils, enthusiasm for the art form, specific practical expertise and a sense of culture.

Lyn Paine, Dance Adviser, Dorset Local Education Authority. Senior Moderator, GCSE Dance. Team Inspector, OFSTED Primary Inspections.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001