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Dance Education in the Arts vs in Physical Education


Threats to Dance Education: Our Field at Risk
Jane Bonbright EdD
Journal of Dance Education (JODE)
Pages 107-109 | Published online: 17 Aug 2011
The following is an excerpt from the above article outlining the difference between dance education delivered through the arts and dance education delivered through physical education.

What is dance education? Who teaches dance in the arts? Is the channel of delivery through arts or physical education (PE)?
Lack of clarity to these questions continues to promote major misunderstandings at national, state and local levels among our colleagues in the arts and education fields. This confusion causes gross misalignment of curriculum and resources in schools, school districts, and states. Without dedicated alignment, students and teachers suffer.
The clearest way to answer these three questions to people outside our field (including the other art forms, disciplines, parents, students, and administrators at all levels) is to simply state: It all depends on the goals or outcomes of the program.
  • If the goal of the program is to teach the artistic processes (creating, performing and responding) and the outcome for students is have them create, perform and critically analyze work of self or others, then dance is taught as an art form in education. The channel of delivery is the arts; and, under the law (No Child Left Behind, 2002), the program must be taught by a “highly qualified” educator – meaning the instructor must be teaching in his/her major area of study (e.g., dance art performance and education) and must be state certified in this discipline.
  • 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. The channel of delivery is physical education; and, though physical education is not legally defined as a core academic subject under No Child Left Behind, it too should be taught by a qualified educator – meaning the instructor is teaching in his/her major area of study (e.g., physical education) and be state certified in physical education. 
  • Each discipline requires completely different pedagogical preparation. Generally, dance specialists are trained in Colleges of Fine Arts and physical educators are trained in Colleges of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance – or some similarly titled college/department.
  • It is important to note that both professions are valid and legitimate. They absolutely serve different educational goals and outcomes, and they require very different professional preparation. They must not be confused. They must not be substituted one for the other! In fact, it is illegal to do so under No Child Left Behind (2002).  
The 2002 legislation is the first time in our history that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) literally mandates that dance as an art form must be taught by a qualified dance educator. This law is our opportunity to get the right people in the classrooms teaching the right content under the arts.
Thus, dance educators, administrators, and state arts consultants throughout America should analyze their own dance programs at local, district, and state levels to see if their program goals, staffing, and channels of delivery are in alignment. If we are wise, we will use the law to its maximum advantage to henceforth align arts programming, teachers, and delivery systems so they support arts education. Students deserve no less!