How Self-Examination Becomes a Tool for Navigating Anti-Racism in the Dance Classroom

Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown was published in the International Journal of Education & the Arts in January 2022.

In her paper, “Navigating Anti-racism in an Anti-black Landscape: A Dance Educator’s Reflection,” Dr. McCarthy-Brown shares some of her personal experiences in the dance classroom. Her 20+ years of teaching experience span from elementary school through the university level, in public and private schools, and in various regions across the country. She is also a parent, which informs her teaching and reflections.

The introduction of her paper includes an explanation of “reflective and reflexive” practices that guide her continual engagement with dismantling structures of oppression. A section on “Lessons Learned Through Reflection” is an open sharing of specific and significant experiences she’s had with colleagues, students and parents.

An excerpt:

“My dance training indoctrinated me into an ideology that values the pointed foot over the flexed foot and to be sure, this ideology values ballet and modern—Western and traditionally White dance aesthetics, over hip hop and other dance forms derived from African-based dance characteristics, characteristics outlined by Glass (2012) and Welsh (1990). This ideology is implicitly disseminated and widely spread throughout mainstream America and the world. It is why most of the first-year college students I have encountered throughout my career believe that ballet is the foundation of dance (McCarthy-Brown & Schupp, 2018). When asked to critically think about this narrative, many students realize that it is a flawed paradigm but seem too deeply invested in it to shift any of their behaviors that display this value system. This value system was so deeply ingrained in me that I did not see how oppressive pushing a ballet and modern curriculum on a hip-hop dancer was (is).”

In every dance classroom there are power dynamics in play. Our work as dance educators is informed by our own backgrounds, experiences, and the often oppressive, Eurocentric prioritization of our training as dancers.

In DEL’s new course on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Dance Education, participants will work through videos, lessons, resources and assignments curated by Dr. McCarthy-Brown.

Educators will go through their own process of self-examination and teacher reflection, examining how culture, identity and race show up in their own teaching practices. Participants will be given building blocks of culturally responsive teaching strategies to de-center Whiteness in the dance classroom.

Dr. McCarthy-Brown shares that “Through reflexivity I can assess a situation, considering power dynamics, my role, and positionality of all parties. I am able to make the needed shifts to my behavior and approach to be a more responsive and effective teacher. The reflexive practice requires heightened cognitive awareness to respond in real time, as opposed to the reflective practice which centers what can be learned in hindsight.”

We encourage you to read Dr. McCarthy-Brown’s exceptionally engaging and instructive paper in its entirety here.

Consider your own experiences navigating systems of oppression in the classroom. Join us for this important course to discuss those experiences, grow as teachers, and apply regular and practical teaching strategies for anti-racist dance education.

Register for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Dance Education, starting April 18, 2022.