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make your day dance

FAQ: Teaching dance in a public school

February 20th, 2009 · 4 Comments · Tags: ····

I’m contacted from time to time about dancers who are interested in teaching in the public schools, wondering how to do it and how I started. Here’s an answer to one such inquiry, with hopes that it might help others who are wondering…

Inquiry from a dancer, after visiting my classroom:

I was unaware that classrooms like yours were an option!  I have made the decision to go into teaching, and my goal is to have a dance classroom similar to your own.  With that being said, I do have a few questions — if you wouldn’t mind letting me know how you got started in this process, and what you might recommend for me. What was your path?

My answer:

It’s great to hear that what you saw of my program helped you envision some possibilities for yourself!  Since I believe pretty passionately in the worth of what I’m doing, I’d like to see more highly qualified and certified dance educators enter the field. And since I enjoy what I’m doing (along with the income and benefits that come with employment), I’ve had occasion to wish that I’d started on this path earlier, while I was still pursuing dance professionally.

A quick synopsis of my pathway —
–Through my 20s, I danced independently and taught adult and children’s classes, wherever I could find a place.
–At 30, I spent a year in NYC and trained as a Certified Movement Analyst at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies.
–For 7 years, I taught as a private movement educator (a dizzying of Montessori preschools, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Creative Dance Center, Pacific Arts Center… again, wherever I could find work).
–For 2 years, I taught English in Japan through the JET Program.
–After the birth of my second child, I earned a Master in Teaching at Seattle U.
–I was a classroom teacher for 4 years in the Kent School District, teaching 5th & 6th grades.
–I moved to the Seattle School District and spent 2 years as a .6 dance and .4 reading/math specialist.
–I’ve been teaching as a full-time dance specialist for 10 years.

When I first decided to earn certification, I gave up the notion of teaching dance (which I had been doing for almost 20 years).  It was 6 years after I started as a certified teacher that I became a full-time dance specialist, and 12 years before I actually gained a beautiful space to teach in.  So it took awhile to achieve what is now a wonderful position!

I don’t think it needs to take that long in today’s context: there is now a dance endorsement; there are Dance EALRs and Classroom-Based Assessments in Dance; there are draft Grade Level Expectations; and there are both legal and bureaucratic structures that include Dance among the arts disciplines that need to be taught. Nonetheless, I think it’s a good rule-of-thumb to plan for 6 years between certification and your ideal job, given the complexities of finding a supportive staff and principal, a great space, a good schedule, and a decent commute!

The basic requirements of becoming a dance educator for public schools are only two: certification and endorsement. For teaching at the elementary level, a K-8 Generalist endorsement will do (that’s what I have).  For teaching at the high school level, you’ll need one endorsement to be in Dance.  I believe it will contribute greatly to your success as a dance educator if you can also find a way to student teach in the area of dance, so you can hit the ground running.  This is where you may face some obstacles, since education advisors may not want to support student teaching in an area with very few job openings.

So you’ll need to talk to the programs you’re investigating to see if you can find one that will allow you to student teach in dance. If you can’t find one, you may have to student teach in another area and gain strategies for teaching dance through your electives and continuing education credits. This is NOT a bad thing, because every day you spend in a regular classroom, teaching regular subjects, will contribute to your credibility as an educator!

As for finding a job, they’re available every now and then, and I think/hope openings will increase over the next few years.

You can find a slightly more detailed explanation of all this, along with some info about Western Washington and UW programs at the website for DEAW (Dance Educators Association of Washington):  If you live in the State of Washington, I recommend joining the organization by joining NDEO (National Dance Education Organization), since the membership email list is a common place for people to post news of openings, and it’s also a good way to get in touch with other specialists.

Enough for now!  If upon reading this, you have questions or other perspectives on certification and teaching in the public schools, please share them!

4 Comments so far ↓

  • Linda Vining

    Thank you SO much for this new blog! My 15 yr old is a determined dancer (ballet, pointe, jazz, tap). I’m going to send your URL to her. I have long said that the only thing I fear more than having a child in pro-sports is to have a child in dance. Now I know she could go into education.

  • megrm

    It’s true! Teaching is a viable, though unsung, way of making dance work. To my mind, there’s a lot to be said for dancing over competing in sports.

  • Terry Goetz

    Wow Meg, this is fantastic information. I know there are many people who would benefit from this posting. Maybe we can include some of this in the next DEAW newsletter?

  • megrm

    Terry — that’d be fine! We’ll talk over ArtsTime… Meg