I posted my article “Too much to ask: dance without music” (about religious restrictions on music in a dance classroom) to a forum of fellow dance educators, and their responses were very helpful – thoughtful and well-considered! They did research and sent me links, they referenced their own context and made suggestions, they commiserated and sent their support.
So… upon reflection, where am I now on the issue?
First, I will continue teaching a sequential, comprehensive dance program, including music. My elementary school has dance instead of music, so I feel a particular responsibility to provide exposure to music, which is not only a soul mate of dance but also a required academic subject.
Second, I can incorporate activities to accommodate the students whose father has expressed discomfort. In this particular case, percussion & voice are more acceptable than instrumental music & melody. Keeping this in mind, I can make a conscious effort to increase the percentage of improvisational & choreographic projects using percussion & poetry instead of instrumental music.
One thing I’m not able to do is invite the dance traditions from these cultures into my dance classroom. It’s a good suggestion, but not applicable in my case because my students’ cultures, from Somalia & Southeast Asia, don’t include dance. As Abdulrahim, a former 5th grader, once wrote in his journal, “My family doesn’t dance so I can’t answer the question [of what kind of dances my family does]. It is because it’s against the muslim thing. My family doesn’t dance or never will dance. So that’s all I have to say.”
I am fairly committed to forestalling the day when students or families opt their children out of dance class, although it may be inevitable. About 10% of my students belong to communities that look askance at music & dance to varying degrees. If one family opts out, the problem may expand exponentially with other families joining the exodus. In my 15 years of teaching in this school, I’ve been lucky that this is the first outright request. So long as all students in the school are included in the program, I’m able to build an all-school dance culture, nurturing social & collaborative skills that really contribute to our community.
And I’ll continue to communicate with parents over the long-term, face-to-face and on a wider scale. I would guess that one of the reasons that families choose my school is that it’s a delightful community where children from many places in the world get along well together, which is perhaps partially due to habits our children develop by learning & playing together in dance. This, despite the diversity of our population: Our 98118 zip code was reported at one time as being the most diverse in the nation. This point is one I can continue trying to articulate to parents, as I did in placing a video on our website, specifically for the purpose of explaining the dance program to current & prospective parents. So in conferences & in the community, I can redouble my efforts to communicate.
For now, I’m just grateful that I had other educators with whom to communicate, in order to clarify my thoughts and find a way forward…