Moving Through the Dance Standards

IMG_0559My last trip to San Francisco was perfect for the National Dance Education Organization’s (NDEO) conference on the new National Arts Core Standards (NCAS) in Dance. The National Arts Core Standards include dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, and now, media arts. It was encouraging to learn that these standards are firmly founded on 4 Artistic Processes: (1) Creating, (2) Performing/Presenting/Producing (depending on your field), (2) Responding, and (3) Connecting. I was excited to see the creative process become the bridge between all the arts practices. I became an immediate fan of the NCAS website.

I arrived late on a Friday night, ready for a weekend of wrapping my brain around new standards. Yet I found myself dancing with a room full of other dance teachers early on Saturday morning. This first breakout session included practice and dialogue around Creating and Performing, two of the Artistic Processes. The lesson prompt was choreographer Bella Lewitzky’s Impressions #1 (Moore), dances inspired by the sculptures of Henry Moore. I experienced how the NCAS value of enduring understandings pushed us to articulate our values through the language of the standards.

Several of the workshop facilitators included team writers in the Cores Standards Dance Task Force, including Joan Finklestein, Rima Farber and Marcia McCaffrey. They helped clarify the interpretation of the standards. For example, the term “performing” should be defined as embodying a movement idea or concept, rather than performing on a stage during a show. I immediately saw an emphasis on backwards design. Later, I learned that The Understanding by Design (UbD) Framework, co-created by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, also known as backwards design, was used to build the standards themselves[1]. I am very familiar with this approach because CoTA projects are also developed using backwards design. I confess it has taken me more than a couple of years to truly feel confident saying “I can teach you how to use backwards design!” But the fearless rebel inside of me never let doubt get in the way, even my understanding was only intuitive at first. Now I understand the philosophical underpinnings of backwards design and why it works well in today’s educational climate.

The next session included the revising and responding parts of the Artistic Process, also around Lewitzky’s work. Scholar Rima Farber, chair of the Cores Standards Dance Task Force, presented an approach that reminded me to experience the movement ideas myself as I develop lessons for my students. I felt less overwhelmed by the vastness of the standards when Rima explained that the standards were built for us to start with an idea, and then scaffold to get to the standard. It made so much of the work I do with CoTA come into focus.

I opted on participating in the K-3 focus group led by Rima, where a conversation about personal boundaries (personal space) and self-control issues with these lower grade students began to emerge as a theme among K-3 teachers coming from different parts of the country. I began to wonder what it is about this instant-gratification, video-game-obsessed phenomenon happening in most developed nations. How do we reach these children? Why don’t these children know how to play joyfully with one another? How are spatial awareness and play awareness related? I left that focus group with more questions than answers.

The theme of personal space (spatial awareness) continued during another breakout session with Kathy Ng, Director of Community Engagement at the Luna Dance Institute. Her presentation was titled “The Realities of NCAS Implementation in a K-5 Urban Schools.” She articulated rather accurately how many K-5 teachers emphasize the need for students to have more self-control and maintain their personal space, while dance teachers are advocating for more risk-taking in their creativity, often at an impasse. I think both concepts stem from the same issue, which is a lack of spatial awareness. This basically means that students are not aware of how connected we are, simply by being in the same room, and fend only for themselves without a sense of community, without knowing how to play during recess (yes, she reported this was an actual student comment). Kathy reminded me that children in these incredibly diverse urban schools benefit significantly from grounding movement activities, accessing their natural core and breath so they can feel present in their personal space, so they can connect with others personal space, with respect, self-confidence, and authenticity. Out of this authenticity comes the ability to take creative risks, which is not too difficult because we are already authentic by being ourselves since we are all different people. This is such a simple truth, and yet there are often so many barriers to finding this simplicity.

Kathy invited us to attend the launch of a new book Body, Mind, Spirit & Action: A Teacher’s Guide to Creative Dance written by Patricia Reedy. This book includes curriculum development frameworks using the NCAS in dance, which I believe makes it the first book in its kind. The book launch was at the nearby Luna Dance Institute whose mission is to bring creativity, equity and community to every child through dance.

I had the pleasure of meeting Marcia McCaffrey, Arts Consultant of the State of New Hampshire Department of Education and facilitator for the National Association for Core Arts Standards writing team. She directed me to a very useful document in the Resources page of the NCAS website entitled “The Arts and the Common Core, Phase II,” which connects NCAS with the Common Core Standards. I was bold enough to suggest a follow-up document that connected NCAS with the NextGen Science Standards. Marcia, I am looking forward to this document.

In addition to meeting many new brilliant minds, I was able to re-connect with old friends from my undergraduate years at the University of Utah and the University of California, San Diego. This convening of dance teachers made me realize how far we are from each other, and how many of us work in isolation as the only dance teacher at one school. This made me wonder why dance is an art form people shy away from, when it could be the center of all disciplines, the great equalizer, where the body and the intellect meet. There is a powerful potential for dance to flourish in education, where science, arts and culture are linked through dance education. Perhaps the Victorian era is not completely behind us.

During the last segment of the conference, we were given materials to make an art piece that reflected my core values, and related them to the NCAS learnings over the last few days. It was great to finish the weekend CoTA-project style. Still, I wondered how I would get through that poster-size standards matrix and turn it into a workshop that I could share with my San Diego colleagues. It took me an afternoon walking around San Francisco to digest what I had experienced. It was sunny, windy, and simply a gorgeous day.

ndeo conference photos - 6

National Core Arts Standards in Dance Matrix, with Patricia Reedy’s collage prompt. Something to wrap my head around…

I am grateful to Rising Arts Leaders San Diego for the Quick Grant which made it possible for me to attend the K-12 Dance: Standards in Action NDEO conference. Special thanks to CoTA’s Dennis Doyle and Danielle Reo for their ongoing support. Stand by for an upcoming workshop on implementing the NCAS in Dance for San Diego educators and advocates.

[1] “National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning.” National Core Arts Standards. (2014). Pg. 7. Web. 31 Jan. 2016. <>



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