This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
To the editors:
Congratulations on the Summer 2006 issue of the Notebook focusing on arts and arts education in Philadelphia’s public schools. The issue provided a wealth of information on a topic that receives too little analysis – despite the widely-held concern that our schools, by reducing arts programming, are depriving students of critical links to self-knowledge, self-expression, and communication with the world around them.
Yet I was disappointed to see that the topic of dance as a medium for arts education received only passing mention. There were many possible avenues for giving your readers a sense of the goldmine that dance education offers to schools and students.
You might have reported on some of the exemplary – although far too few – dance education programs in the Philadelphia schools, programs like the longstanding dance curriculum initiated by master teacher Faye Snow at the Franklin Learning Center, and the Philadelphia Folklore Project’s school-based residencies led by master artists in African, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese and Cambodian dance. Or you might have explored the modest but growing body of research showing positive correlations between high-quality, standards-driven dance education and learning outcomes such as improved critical and creative thinking skills, greater ability to think fluidly and abstractly, improved student engagement and behavior, and richer and more diverse powers of expression. Or you might have identified stars of the dance world who began their artistic journey in the Philadelphia public schools (for example, the late Gary DeLoach, who gave up high school football to pursue dance at Franklin Learning Center and later became a principal dancer in the Alvin Ailey Company). Brief mention of difficulties attracting certified dance teachers (who must be certified in vocational education) might have been expanded.
My experience (as a performing and teaching artist, choreographer, former District administrator, and long-time participant in local arts and education initiatives) convinces me that dance education offers rich, often unique approaches to teaching young people to understand the elements and uses of culture, to develop capacities for teamwork, constructive social interaction and leadership, and to participate and rejoice in the power and sheer beauty of artistic invention.
I hope that the Summer 2006 issue of the Notebook will help raise the volume and rigor of discussion of the role of the arts in effective teaching and learning, especially as hearings on reauthorization of No Child Left Behind commence. I also hope parents, students, and educators grow in their appreciation of the tremendous value that dance education offers.
The writer lives in the Francisville area of Philadelphia, is a professional tap dancer and choreographer, and is a graduate of the Philadelphia public schools.