When did you have your breakthrough as a teacher?
Although I had been teaching dance for some time at a number of colleges and universities, it wasn’t until I took a full-time job teaching dance at an inner-city high school that I realized who I was and whom I wanted to become as a dance educator. Upon entering my classroom it quickly became clear that I was inadequately prepared to me to meet the needs of my students. Years of training and teaching dance in a variety of settings had not equipped me to deal with the apathy, disrespect, hostility and lack of incentive to learn I sensed from many of my students. My old pedagogical bag of tricks was not working. After being accused of being racist, threatened by students, and breaking up a number of fights in class within the first two weeks of teaching, I found myself dreading going to work and feeling fearful of my students and failure. I struggled in my attempts to reach my students and to manage the classroom in order for productive and meaningful learning to occur.
After much trial and error, I intuitively began engaging students in verbal and physical dialogue about what was important to them and challenges they faced in their everyday lives as adolescents in the twenty-first century. Discarding many of my previously held perspectives and approaches to teaching dance, I began engaging my students in experiences that explored and addressed issues they identified as important to them. The learning environment slowly began to change and paved the way for students to feel safe in the classroom and invested in their learning. A pivotal teaching experience for me occurred one day after my students had been discussing and physically expressing the issues they faced in their lives such as peer pressure, self-esteem, suicide, racism, and gang and domestic violence. As the class neared its end, one student, who had known ties to a school gang and who had previously been uncommunicative and non-paticipatory, walked to the chalkboard and wrote:
I post my feelings on the door for everyone to see. But no one hears me.
They tell me to do right. They tell me not to fight.
Something blocks their sight.
They can’t see me.
I tell them my pain and sorrow and they think I’m insane.
Hoping someone will hear me.
Set my soul at ease.
Unlock my wings so I can fly…
Higher and Higher
Soar and touch the sky.
But here I’ll sit in my dark eternity until one day
I’m strong enough to break free. (Name withheld)
It was in this moment that I realized my calling as a dance educator. My experience teaching high school dance led me to contemplate and re-envision my pedagogical practices, values and assumptions. It was through this experience that I came to understand my potential as a dance educator and individual.
What role has the teaching of dance in our contemporary society?
As global society has become ever reliant on technological forms of entertainment and social exchange, the need has increased for embodied, physical and relational experiences dance can offer. Dance is widely recognized in society for its entertainment value, as is evidenced from widely televised and popular dance talent shows. However, less understood and supported is the potential role dance can play in the social, physical and emotional development of adolescents, as well as the continued health, growth and fulfillment of adults. It is the impact dance can have on individuals’ everyday lives that I feel is grossly underestimated and undervalued in contemporary society. This is something I hope will continue to change as we work together in these goals.
Why is teaching dance so important?
There are numerous arguments I could make for why teaching dance is so important. However, I will focus my response on why teaching dance is so important to me. Dance has allowed me to realize and develop who I am. It has changed the way I physically and emotionally engage in the world. It is a way for me to understand and make meaning of my embodiment and my relationships with others. It is a way for me to express what is inexpressible in words. Teaching dance is a way for me to share these opportunities with others and to contribute to society in a way that is meaningful.
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