Formulating Dance Education Theory Pertaining to Children and Youth.
Report on the Society for Dance Research (VDO) afternoon seminar on the subject of the formulation of dance education theory pertaining to children and youth, which was held on February 10, 2012, in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Everyone was welcomed by VDO treasurer Bianca Nieuwboer. She stated that very little is happening with regard to the formulation of theory about dance education. Much field research and inventorying has been done, but very little new theory has been developed. However, there appears to be much interest, as became more apparent during the VDO seminar in 2011. This afternoon, both old and new research will be presented. The planned presentation of research on dance education for boys has unfortunately been canceled.
A presentation by Thérèse Boshoven followed Bianca’s welcome. Thérèse concerns herself with shaping the standardized national exam for general arts education in secondary education (Kunst Algemeen, or KUA), and she teaches at the ArteZ School for the Arts in Arnhem, the Netherlands. In her talk she presented the dance content of KUA in the HAVO and VWO tracks: What should students eventually know about the arts, dance in particular, and how is it being taught? The presentation was not based on research, but rather on practical experiences and their associated theoretical knowledge.
Thérèse led us through the structure of the arts competencies in Dutch secondary education. The KUA has been structured in such a way that students develop general basic knowledge and (reflective) ability, enabling them to shift between different disciplines. In secondary education, within KUA, each separate discipline such as dance, fine art, music, film and theatre is not being addressed in depth. Each year a number of subjects, which range from the culture of the church, the culture of the court, the culture of the Dutch citizenry in the seventeenth century, the culture of romanticism and realism in the nineteenth century, the modernist culture in the first half of the twentieth century, to mass culture starting in 1950, are selected for inclusion on the standardized exam.
Examples of the arts content in standardized exams can be found at www.examenblad.nl.
Vera Bergman, VDO secretary, was the second speaker. Her presentation was about New Learning (Het Nieuwe Leren) coupled with dance education. New Learning is a term which was coined around the year 2000. New Learning is not so new anymore and “Authentic Learning” would be a better nomer. Authentic Learning is rooted in constructivist concepts of learning. Its fundamental principle is that learning is a process in which the student continues to build on existing or earlier acquired insights. Authentic Learning takes place in practical and real-life contexts in which the student fulfills an active, constructive and reflective role, in addition to communicating and interacting with others. What could a dance instructor do with this? How can theory be transformed to a didactic approach? There are five important didactic indicators:
1: The student is central. David Kolb’s theory, in which he makes a distinction between different learning styles and student types such as a doer or an observer, comes into play in this indicator. It is similar to the division into active-receptive-reflective and shows a kinship with its application in arts education. In other words: dancing, dance making, and witnessing dance.
2: Learning is a social activity. Although a dance class most often consists of a group lesson, it does not alsways constitute social learning. Often students work very individualistically. A choreography class in which students collaborate on creating dance closer approximates social learning because of a positive, mutual dependency and interactive feedback.
3: Productive learning environment. Applied didactics that challenge the student may effect much more than a mere knowledge transfer from teacher to student. The possibilities of new media can further enhance this.
4: The teacher as facilitator of the learning process. This suggests that the student shapes their learning process while being coached by the teacher. This is not always possible in a dance class, because the transference of dance movement often occurs through immitation. The teacher demonstrates the movement and the student copies it.
5: Meaningful context. The objective is to provide “real life” learning tasks derived from activities performed by professionals in society. The concept “authentic” does not only reflect the personal contributions or the internal motivation of the student, but also the realistic character of these learning tasks. In dance education this could occur through witnessing a dance performance or organizing workshops facilitated by professional dancers or choreographers.
Based on constructivist learning theory, dance education must provide a meaningful context for students by creating a connection with the interests and the life environment of the students. Of course these are different forms of theatre dance [sic], however, through new media other dance forms such as musical theatre, show dance, hiphop, tap dance, and dance forms resembling acrobatics create a new frame of reference for themselves. A quick scan of the dance offerings indicates that a great variety of dance expressions is available in large cities, giving access to a broader spectrum of dance. There is less opportunity for this in smaller towns and villages.
The third presentation was by Carolien Hermans. She is conducting dissertation research in dance education for autistic children. Her area of research is very broad and for this presentation she concentrated on the aspects of the kinestetic ability; physical learning. Three learning types formed the nucleus of the presentation: mental imagination, obervant learning, and immitation learning. She also referred to kinesthetic empathy and a recent study on mirror neurons.
Mental imagination can be observed in dancers who mark the performance in the theatre; an embodied simulation process. The mental imagination is usually defined as “an internal rehearsal of movements from a first-person perspective without any overt physical movement” (Lorey, et al. 2009, page 1).
Cross et al. (2008) conducted in-depth research on observant learning in dance. Remarkably, the motor cortex becomes active when observing a dance movement and not only when performing a dance movement. Dance experts can see a dance movement and can imitate it more precisely than a non-expert. Research by Calvino-Merino et al. (2005) shows that a person’s own dance style (for example, ballet or capoeira) can be picked up more easily than an unfamiliar dance style. The mirror neurons are more active when observing a familiar movement vocabulary.
Immitation learning is an interplay between observing and doing; something we do from a young age. Children are immitation monsters [sic]. Important is that immitation is not synonymous with copying. Authentic immitation is specifically human, because it is assumed that this is a complex cognitive activity in which both the objective and the means are being immitated.
Question: How does immitation learning apply to a boy when a woman is teaching the class? The answer is largely determined by culture and it depends on the measure in which the difference in sex is being experienced.
Remark: In the presentation immitation through manipulation is not being addressed. In non-Western dance the teaching of a movement through a teacher’s manipulation of the student’s body is quite conventional.
Question: What would you say to dance teachers in special education? The main base is always safety, trust and structure. Moreover, dance education is not the same as dance therapy.
Translated by: Marc M. Arentsen, MFA
1After elementary school, students in the Netherlands are directed to enroll in distinct types of secondary schools, according to their academic ability. Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs (HAVO, lit.: “Higher General Continued Education”) is one of several secondary tracks in the education system of the Netherlands. Intended for students aged twelve to seventeen, HAVO is comprised of five grades and successful completion allows access to polytechnic, tertiary education.
2Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs or so-called “Atheneum” (VWO or “pre-university secondary education”) is the highest-ranking track in the secondary educational system of the Netherlands. The VWO track is comprised of six grades and successful completion allows access to a Dutch university. As a second form, a limited number of VWO schools offer the so-called Gymnasium track, which curriculum includes Latin and/or classic Greek as compulsory subjects. In addition, there is a more recent, third form of VWO, called Technasium, which focuses on independent learning and the processes of research, design and development.