I was recently listening to a segment on the Diane Rehm show on NPR about First Lady Michelle Obama’s new initiative to combat childhood obesity, “Let’s Move,” (to hear the segment: http://wwww.wamu.org/programs/dr/10/02/11.php). Growing up in dance, I maintained a high level of physical activity as a child and, while the health benefits were never my motivation for dancing, they were a welcome benefit. Listening to the current debate on childhood obesity and the strategies of “Let’s Move,” I am struck by two things.
- Why does the focus on physical fitness and health so often focus solely on sports and leave out dance?
- How, as proponents of an education in dance in the ARTS can we tap into the concern over fitness and health without falling back into our traditional and stifling place as dance in P.E. programs?
In the green paper on dance education I am here representing, the National Dance Education Organization makes a clear point on the difference between dance education in the arts and dance education in P.E. I will not include the whole section here due to its length, but I urge you to reference the full green paper for a complete understanding.
“If the goal of the program is to teach the artistic processes (creating, performing and responding) and the outcome for students is to have them create, perform and critically analyze work of self or others, then dance is taught as an art form in education…
If the goal of the program is to promote physical activity (directed towards health, social and recreational aspects of education), then the dance component is taught under physical education…”
This should be no means infer that dance arts education does not provide health and fitness benefits, but merely that doing so is not the primary mission or focus of dance arts education. Moreover, we in the dance arts education field believe that dance arts education taught by qualified teachers has numerous health benefits for both the mind and the body. Importantly for children, dance arts education imparts knowledge of and respect for one’s own body that is so often missing today and is so essential for children as their bodies grow and mature in the overly body-image conscious environment in which we live. Furthermore, dance arts education helps children develop other skills such as creativity, composition and analytical thinking not found in dance taught through P.E. Ironically, while the arts are listed as a core academic subject under No Child Left Behind (2002) and physical education is not, many more schools have physical education programs than arts programs including dance.
So my question is: how do we in the dance arts community walk the fine line between promoting dance education based in the arts that will indeed meet the fitness and health concerns raised by such as Michelle Obama without falling back into dance in P.E. devoid of the necessary artistic component?