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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Unleashing the dancer within
Animated, Winter 1998. Historically pupils have encountered dance in English schools more by luck than judgement - largely dependent on whether their class teacher felt able, or even liked teaching dance. With the introduction of a National Curriculum dance is now a legal entitlement for all pupils at Key Stages One and Two. Keyna Paul considers the challenges countenanced by today's teachers
As an industry we are faced with the bizarre situation of having a structure which requires the provision of a dance education but which teachers often feel ill-equipped to deliver.

This is the challenge I find myself addressing constantly. One possible solution would be the employment of specialist teachers for dance, either in single schools or shared between clusters. I have a fundamental problem with this whilst other subjects at Key Stages One and Two continue to be delivered by multi-disciplinary classroom teachers. If such special provision is made for dance there is an implicit message given to both pupils and teachers that dance is different; either it is not important enough for teachers to deliver or, it is something only dancers do. Neither message I suggest is helpful for the development of dance in schools. The solution, I believe, is to work with classroom teachers to support them in the delivery of structured and progressive dance programmes which include working in partnership with performing artists.

The biggest barrier I have found when working with non-specialist dance teachers is the wall of misconceptions they have about both dance and their own ability to teach it. For many individuals anxiety and fear have ensured they have avoided teaching dance throughout their entire careers. The challenge if dance is going to take its rightful place in the curriculum is to support teachers to move over, under and around - or even knock a hole in their own personal wall. It is not only established teachers however, who feel unprepared to teach dance. The large number of newly qualified teachers attending Dance Network INSET courses indicates that they also lack confidence in the delivery of dance. Provision of dance at initial teacher training level inevitably varies due to pressure of time caused by recent government initiatives.

INSET is perhaps the largest single opportunity to change practice. It is time to move forward from one-day open access courses where participants work creatively around general themes. But what form should INSET take? In considering this question two significant points have become apparent in my work. Firstly, it must not be forgotten that mixed ability INSET presents the same problems as mixed ability classes in schools. There remains a place for open access courses yet the notion of accountability associated with the National Curriculum demands more tightly focused courses. Narrowing the targeted audience creates a safer and more secure environment for participants and enables the facilitator to address the needs pertinent to individuals present rather than leaving teachers to take what they can from a general input.

Secondly, multi-disciplinary classroom teachers may be nervous about dance but INSET providers need to remember that they are knowledgeable in the fields of education, child development and management of children. INSET which capitalises on these strengths can provide more than a few creative ideas for use in the next session. Effective INSET needs to be perceived by teachers as an ongoing programme, not as isolated events. It is important that teachers see how a task develops: which specific dance skills are addressed and the age for which such activities are appropriate. Teachers will then gain the confidence to be able to devise their own structured activities.

Recent years have seen a plethora of new resources for dance. Many preach to the converted, few speak to the nervous. A selection of creative ideas is excellent for those who already have the ability to think divergently, but can be intimidating for those who prefer more tangible structures. In response to teacher demands Dance Network published The Non-Specialist Dance Survival Pack. The pack comprising 25 Key Stage One and 25 Key Stage Two lesson cards, with photocopiable visual resources, an audio cassette and teachers handbook is, as its title suggests for the more inexperienced or unconfident practitioner. It can be used to form the basis of a structured dance programme leaving teachers secure in the knowledge that greater demands are progressively placed upon pupils in terms of choreographic structures, movement vocabulary and appreciation skills. Demand for the resource and the effect upon the teaching of dance in schools where it is used has provided some useful information. Far from limiting teachers' or pupils' creativity, clearly structured ideas and interchangeable development formats appear to provide a secure basis from which teachers can gain in confidence, exploring their own perceptions of and skills in, teaching dance. The resource has made most impact in schools where it is used to support and augment INSET. When used in this way it appears a resource can become empowering acting as a point of reference for individual teachers and providing a common vocabulary for staff collectively.

In conclusion, I suggest the integration of structured INSET with appropriate resources can help teachers to change their perspective on dance and not only teach it, but enjoy the experience, thus gradually unleashing the dancer within teachers and pupils alike.

Keyna Paul, Director, Dance Network. Contact +44(0)1205 761748.

Dance Network is an independent organisation committed to the development of the individual through dance. It is concerned with the investment that dance can make within education and the community. It seeks to:

  • Establish dance as a positive aspect of life

  • Promote dance as a medium for personal and social development

  • Develop qualitative programmes of dance within the primary, secondary and post 16 sectors of education.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001