Unfortunately it is a fact in California that quality dance education is constantly under attack. A relatively recent example of this is how the state-wide educational budget crisis of the Great Recession around 2007, along with over a decade emphasis on testing-based education practices (necessitated by the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law and the state’s Public School Accountability Act) dealt repeated blows to arts education by reallocating resources away from the arts to disciplines that were deemed critical to school’s success such as remedial math classes. In this instance the State’s largest school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District, was forced to terminate 345 art teachers’ employment between 2008 and 2012, while half of its k-5 students lost all arts offerings. In Northern California, Adams Middle School, which had a vibrant arts education program (with well equipped dance studios), lost all arts education except certain band and visual arts (at a reduction of 40%) over a five year period from when NCLB began enforcement. Out of moments like these coalitions like CREATE CA and the call for new standards arose, and so many constructive actions took place to better education.
It may be a tired exercise for many but it’s important to question our practices at times like these, if we are to sustain them. Why do we do what we do? What is the value in dance education? What do we lose, when our programs are restricted, cut, swept away? What is our responsibility to speak up for ourselves as dance educators? How do we empower our students and greater communities to use their agency to express why dance is needed in schools? How do we do this is a way that upholds our values and our mission to support dance education for the state of California?
The following 3 sections are filled with thoughts and resources to aid you in forming a centered position when you meet a variety of potential challenges in regards to changes/restrictions/cuts to your program.
How Are You Being Assessed and What is Being Proposed?
When your administration or some kind of outside governing body comes to you, with proposed curricular changes, new sets of restrictions, and/or budget cuts to your program it is important to know how your practice, courses, and discipline have been assessed and the reasoning behind new decisions. If you can determine how new choices were determined as necessary you can best evaluate how your own perspective compares. This may lead to new forms of understanding for both parties, or at least allows you to have a clearer understanding so you can decide how to best respond.
Choosing How Best to Respond
Can you accept the changes being imposed upon you? This may be an exciting opportunity to grow within new restrictions challenging you to revamp your teaching style and approach to the form. We teach our students how to function within new boundaries (and stretch them) on a daily basis—can you do the same thing here and make the most out of your circumstance? With refreshed positivity and constructive actions you may be able to grow your program in new, more sustainable ways.
Yet if you cannot accept the actions that are being enforced upon your classes, then you should constructively and proactively assert it. We say “yes” easily in the arts, but we should have confidence to say “no” as well when our practices are being threatened. You cannot retain your program or find suitable compromises and solutions until you establish that you have an objection. When you know where another party is coming from, and you know that you do not agree with their assessment of the situation you can begin deciding how to respond.
These are but a few ways to react:
* Search for common ground between the other party and your party.
* Establish better plans of actions that may not have been previously thought of by the other party.
* Who/what makes up your base of support? Is it your students? Your students’ parents? Fellow colleagues? A set of data or studies?
* Decide what are “constructive actions” for your cause. Is anger constructive? It can be if employed effectively, such as using the energy behind the anger to write a letter or to organize a meeting. Is a protest constructive? It can be if you have the sturdy foundation of support, a goal for the gathering, and a clear message to express. Is a letter writing campaign optimum? Is a petition appropriate? What serves your end goals needs to be pinned down and executed efficiently.
The Movement is Bigger than You
It can be difficult to take your arts advocacy to the next level, as educators often have to walk a fine diplomatic line between being constructively proactive but not incendiary. This is not a time to muzzle yourself but instead to take your position and to use it to empower your communities to express their voices and presence in positive ways. Holding transparent-informational meetings for students, parents, alumni, and the wider community is a good-grounded place to start. Then this newly informed collective has the power to come together to create plans of action, visibility, and resources for change (join in the planning and execution of actions as appropriate). These may show up in terms of performative protests of Flashmobs, Site Specific work, or tried-and-true letter writings campaigns.
Being present and creating visibility needs to happen not only in-person, but also online. A perfect example of this is Mills College, which while home to the nation’s oldest continuous dance program, is currently facing curricular changes that would dismantle their undergraduate Dance Major. While the department maintains their Facebook Page and increased their presence through online short films, their student body has created a Tumblr Blog where they express their reactions to the proposed cuts. Additionally, the student body has taken further online actions like creating an online petition in the hopes that gathering support and creating visibility will aid in their cause of saving their undergraduate major (click on the links if you wish to support…).
In the end it is important to remember in your advocacy of dance education in your school, state, world that dancers and dance educators have been fighting for legitimacy and validation as a form for decades, if not centuries. And we will keep fighting. The movement is bigger than you. We hope that you move all the same and add to the conversation.
…A member of CDEA’s Greater Board, Zackary Forcum works as a Dance Teaching Artist and is a MFA Dance Candidate at Mills College…