The dance classroom as a laboratory for democratic practices to flourish

DEL Dance and Civics asks: how can we build authentic democratic processes into dance learning?

In DEL’s new Dance and Civics course, Ann Biddle, Director of The DEL Institute, will explore instructional practices that support civic engagement and social justice awareness in the dance classroom through democratic discussion protocols and collaborative dance-making practices.

We sat down with Ann to discuss the course:

Ann: I feel strongly that artists and educators must engage in a grassroots movement to address structural inequalities that exist in our country. The dance classroom can become a laboratory learning environment where democracy can flourish as the “soul” of the school and the place where all students feel valued and heard. Dance is a universal language and vehicle to create community and build an inclusive and diverse learning space

In my work as a dance educator and school administrator, I have seen how powerful dance learning can be when community and civic engagement are emphasised. After all, we are preparing the next generation to stand up and lead our world, so we need to think beyond the teaching of “steps” and ponder what life skills we can give our students to help them navigate this complex world. Dance learning involves discipline, dedication, creative thinking, collaboration, self-reflection, empathy, embodied expression, and more! These are important human qualities that can help change the world!

DEL: What does civic engagement look like in the dance classroom?

Ann: We often equate civics with politics and/or government and yet civic engagement in the K-12 realm is really about learning how to become an active citizen within a community. Our country is still experiencing systemic inequality which has eroded our ability to respect each other’s beliefs and values and has contributed to even greater disenfranchisement.

In our diverse and inclusive dance education community, focusing on increasing civic engagement translates to increasing equity of participation and advocating for every student’s voice to be heard and included in the conversation. Of course, civic engagement looks very different across the grade span. In elementary school, we want to build creative and collaborative spaces where students feel a sense of belonging. By high school, we want to encourage our students to become socially engaged as activists and leaders who can speak up against injustice and advocate for social change.

DEL: How can we build authentic democratic processes into dance learning?

Ann: In our course, we will explore many different international ways to embed democratic practices into dance learning. For example, I have adapted several of Stephen Brookfield’s democratic discussion protocols for dance learning contexts and course participants will get to explore these practices.

It’s so important to help students know how to engage in collaborative and respectful dialogue and gain skills that help them express disagreement in healthy and positive ways. Collaborative dance-making activities offer opportunities for students to practice working together to build something that expresses who they are.

Join us for Dance and Civics, January 22 & 29

The design of DEL Dance and Civics has been informed by multiple scholars in the field of educational leadership, including Meira Levinson (2012), Kirshner & Jefferson (2015), Charles Haynes (2009) and Nyama McCarthy-Brown (2017). In addition, this integrated dance and social studies workshop is informed by the NYC Blueprint for Learning in Dance, New York State standards, and the Massachusetts social studies standards in civics, and draws links to NCCAS dance standards in choreographic processes and interdisciplinary connections.