Western Sydney University
Dance is a compulsory component of the Arts Curriculum in the primary years in Australia. Today, we have a renewed understanding of dance education that utilises experimentation, guided discovery, exploration and enhanced creative thinking skills (Isbell & Raines, 2007). There is much research that attests to the benefits of creative approaches to dance education (Gersak, 2012), however, pre-service teachers’ perceptions of dance frequently misrepresent the area, often as a result of societal values, their own school experiences and the habitus that creates perceptions of dance in schools. This paper reports on a study that interviewed lecturers facilitating dance education units in teacher preparation courses in Queensland, Australia. They reflect upon the strategies they use to challenge preconceived ideas and stereotypes about dance and arts education. They also discuss opportunities for future developments in pre-service dance education and avenues of success they have experienced.
Arts education; pre-service teacher education; dance education; habitus; dance
Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in Creative Arts Education at Western Sydney University. She is a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist. Her research interests include assessment in the arts, language acquisition and the arts and embodied learning. Rachael is a teaching-artist with the Sydney Theatre Company and the Director of Research for Drama Australia. Rachael is a community activist, a freelance writer, practicing dancer and choreographer. She is an organiser of the community group, Teachers for Refugees and runs her own intercultural dance company.
Perceptions of the importance of the arts and arts education are often issues of contention within Australian society. Despite the growing body of evidence showing the values of arts education, the community is often at odds with itself regarding the ‘worthiness’ of the arts and arts educational experiences. Even so, the Australian educational community gave formalised and widespread recognition to the importance of arts education in the school curriculum in 1989 when the Hobart Declaration (Ministerial Council on Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs, 1989) included the arts among the ten Common and Agreed National Goals for Schooling in Australia. The Adelaide Declaration (Ministerial Council on Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs, 1999) that followed named the arts as one of the key learning areas (KLAs) in which students would attain high standards of knowledge, skills and understanding in the compulsory years of schooling. Dance was mandated as one of the artforms that formed the Arts Curriculum, and dance education is now compulsory in the primary years of schooling.
One key element of the successful implementation of the Arts Curriculum, including the integration of the dance education into all primary schools, lies in the quality of learning experiences available to pre-service teachers. This paper contends that there is an active habitus in the wider community that results in dance advocates having to constantly battle misconceptions about the value, content and processes of their disciplines as part of their regular teaching repertoire, therefore compromising the depth of experience available to pre-service teachers. This paper reports on a research study conducted with dance education lecturers, within a narrative inquiry structure. The findings suggest that societal habitus affects pre-service teachers’ perceptions of dance, which in turn can affect their willingness to engage in dance education in the classroom. The subsequent strategies used by lecturers to address any issues of habitus will also be examined in this paper.
There is much literature in existence that focuses on both the importance of the arts in our society (Pitman, 1998; Schacter, 1996) and the numerous benefits of the inclusion of the arts in a robust curriculum (Ewing, 2012; Griffiths, 2010; Lemon & Garvis, 2013; Temmerman, 2005; Welch & Greene, 1995; Wright, 2012). In Australia, school students are now required to engage in the disciplines of Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Arts (and Media Arts in all states and territories except NSW) in the primary years of schooling. Within the arts, there have been some renewed and redeveloped understandings of what learning in each artform entails. This paper is primarily concerned with dance education, noting that in the Australian Curriculum context, dance moved away from being a pursuit of cardiovascular exercise and fine and gross motor development.
Today, dance in primary schools needs to be viewed as an important art form, making use of experimentation, guided discovery, exploration and enhanced creative thinking skills (Isbell & Raines, 2007). As dance is based in whole body movement, it is also a medium through which we can experience the world, express feelings or convey meaning kinaesthetically, and without words (Schiller & Meiners, 2003). There is much research that attests to the benefits of creative approaches to dance education (Gersak, 2012), including the understanding and use of body movements, concentration and improvisation, problem solving (Cecil-Fizdale, 1991), higher level thinking, risk-taking, motivation to learn (MacDonald, Stodel & Farres, 2001), physical strength and health, positive social interactions and skills in working with others, understanding of other cultures, increase in musical awareness, and development of creativity (Russell-Bowie, 2005; Sowden, Clements, Redlich & Lewis, 2015). Eisner (2002) suggests that thinking through sensory images in dance, such as gesture and movement, allows individuals to examine and explore information about their world. Through participation in dance, students are provided with important opportunities to develop the ability to use dance as an aesthetic means of ordering movement and structuring gesture; gain understanding that dance is a universal means of expression and communication; increase their confidence in personal physicality and a positive self-image; appreciate that dance is a popular form of social interaction and a living expression of culture, spirituality and history; develop the ability to rehearse, rework and refine movement sequences; and value the contribution dance has made in various cultural, social and historical contexts (Barrett, n.d.). Primary dance education in Australia today places its focus on dance as a means to self-expression and communication and that through dance students can develop an understanding of dance in historical and cultural contexts, increase confidence in their own physical abilities, create, structure rehearse and perform movement sequences, and analyse own and others’ creative movements. There is no specification that teachers must create and teach complex professional dance routines, any more than the English syllabus requires teachers to write prize-winning novels in order to educate children in the written language.
However, dance in primary schools is possibly one of the least understood of the arts strands, often relying on the enthusiasms of individual teachers and the occasional expertise of dance specialists (Jacobs & Poli, 2018). Dance tends to inspire fear and trepidation in teachers. ‘I’m not a dancer’ is a common disclaimer among teachers who are yet to experience the transformative nature of dance pedagogy. For many pre-service teachers, their physical education, extra-curricular, or community based activity experiences may have focussed on sports with limited exposure to dance or creative experiences beyond their primary grades (Kalyn, Campbell, McAvoy & Weimer, 2015). Dance’s neglect can be attributed to a lack of pre-service teacher training, a very minimal understanding and knowledge of the current dance syllabus, and a limit in classroom teacher confidence regarding their ability to teach what is so often seen as a professional domain (Boyd, 2000). Pre-service teachers’ perceptions of the value of dance does not always align with policy and this can seriously impact on the delivery of quality learning experiences. Many of these issues are reflected in the broader context of the challenges associated with arts education in both schools and pre-service teacher education courses.
Russell-Bowie (2005) identifies six problem areas that impact on the delivery of arts education in schools, one of which is an individual teachers’ lack of priority for arts education. Boyd (2000) refers to the arts being regarded as ‘frill’ in a society that values paid work more highly than artistic and creative processes, both of which are often seen to lack purpose. The arts challenge many educational administrators as they’re seen as messy, unquantifiable and difficult to assess (Jacobs, 2016). Boyd (2000) further argues that an ambivalent community attitude flows from society to schools, as many are uncertain of what the arts are and what worthwhile outcomes they can produce. Further demeaning the value of the arts in a backhanded manner, when the value of the arts is recognised, their validation is also often made through non-arts outcomes (Winner & Hetland, 2000). For example, dance is often praised for its benefits to other learning areas such as literacy or mathematics, while their own unique characteristics are often dismissed as being not as important academically.
Years ago, numerous submissions to the Report on Arts Education by the Senate Environment Recreation Communications and the Arts References Committee (1995) lament the lack of priority given to arts education as opposed to what are commonly viewed as more traditional areas of study such as “the Three R’s” (reading, writing and arithmetic). Submissions discuss community perceptions that the arts are regarded as play (Deverell, 1995), valued purely for enjoyment and can even serve to hinder a school students’ university preparation. The report declares that the arts are often made to justify their existence in the curriculum in a way that few other subjects are required to do. Additionally, the document also reports that schools and universities are deeply affected by the community’s habitus in relation to arts education, for they too are products of their own and others’ attitudes. Years later most of these issues are unresolved, with the arts marginalised in schools in favour of other priority areas, such as literacy and numeracy (Cutcher, 2014; See & Kokotsaki, 2016).
Chapman (2015) asserts that the knowledge, attitudes, skills and understandings developed in the pre-service years support future teachers’ capacities to deliver quality arts education programs. However, it has been suggested that the lack of adequate learning opportunities for pre-service teachers, in preparation for teaching the creative Arts Curriculum, is leading to low self-efficacy in their ability and knowledge of how to teach creative arts (Alter, Hays & O’Hara, 2009; Garvis & Pendergast, 2010; Power & Klopper, 2011). Furthermore, when considering pre-service teachers’ existing knowledge and perceptions of the arts it is worth noting the assertions of Brtizman (1991), Ross (1987) and Calderhead and Robson (1991) who discuss the influences of the formal school system on the construction of pre-service teachers’ educational beliefs. Britzman (1991) uses a study of two pre-service teachers to argue that ideas about teaching and learning are primarily constructed from one’s own school experience. This presents dance educators with a significant conundrum; the nature of dance education has changed considerably from when some pre-service teachers were at school. Many of them learned dance as a cardiovascular pursuit (learning dance routines or aerobic activity) or a relational exercise (for examples, using set partner dances). Some pre-service teachers’ learning experiences in the arts may be outdated in terms of contemporary understandings of dance education.
Other research attributes the construction of pre-service teachers’ preconceptions of teaching and learning processes to their interaction with cultural contexts (Wideen, Mayer-Smith & Moon, 1998; Wubbles, 1992) and it is here that we see the concept of habitus come into play in the construction of pre-service teachers’ perceptions of the arts. The concept of habitus is used by Bourdieu to refer to the norms and practices of particular social classes or groups (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). In Outline of Theory of Practice, Bourdieu (Bourdieu, 1977) explains habitus to be a “system of lasting transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and action” (p. 78). He later emphasised that habitus is an “embodied history, internalised as second nature and so forgotten to history” Bourdieu, 1990, p. 56). Layder (1994) explained this internalised nature to be “the basic stock of knowledge that people carry out as a result of living in particular fields” (p. 143), referring to a system of dispositions which serve to generate the basis of structured and unified practices. Habitus are cultural structures at work outside of consciousness and discursive thinking (Herzberg, 2006) that exist in people’s minds and throughout their being, thereby permeating their philosophies and practices.
Two key aspects of habitus are drawn upon in this paper. The first is that habitus manifests itself as a form of behaviour, and the individual moves through a “maze of constraints and opportunities” (Swartz, 1997 p. 99). This behaviour is learned, creating a set of dispositions that are the result of a particular social conditions. In this way, habitus is ingrained (Lim, 2012). This is significant to arts education in that it is an area deeply influenced by culture and social values, which are often dictated by political and economic orders of the day. It is these social orders that impact upon pre-service teachers’ existing knowledge, preconceptions and constructions that are brought into the learning environment upon entry into the arts program.
The second aspect of habitus I wish to draw attention to is the assertion that it constitutes dispositions formed over time. Bourdieu (1977) states that these dispositions are “a past which survives in the present and tends to perpetuate itself into the future” (p. 82). The result is that the actions of individuals are learned through a process of inculcation to behave in a certain way (Lim, 2012) that becomes second nature whereby there is no longer a conscious choice (Swartz, 1997 p. 100). I cite this to emphasise that habitus is again ingrained in the context and cannot easily be undone or even shifted. Later I discuss the nature of change in relation to the habitus of arts education in Australian society. It is useful to note that long held practices, beliefs or institutionalised dispositions contribute to the habitus presenting challenges for those who wish to make change.
When considering how the habitus is developed, Robbins (1993) contends that socialisation is essential to the construction of the habitus, describing habitus as “the disposition to act which individuals acquire in the earliest stages of socialisation and which they consolidate by their subsequent choices in life” (p. 159). Throughout the paper, arts education’s habitus will be discussed, but to foreshadow some issues, the Australian Institute of Art Education (1995) reports that generally pre-service teachers hold little value for arts education as a result of their own limited or negative experiences while at school. It is the lecturer who both anticipates and responds to the habitus in their teaching practices and methodologies. The community’s perception of the nature and importance of the arts and its associated economic benefits and employment opportunities deeply affect students’ perceived values of the subject throughout primary, secondary and tertiary education. It is the response of arts educators, and in particular dance educators, to the habitus that is of the focus of the research here.
While lecturing in arts education in the Australian state of Queensland, the university at which I was teaching conducted a review of their Bachelor of Education (Primary) course. Contributing to this review I decided to conduct a study on the models of arts education that were being used in Queensland teacher education courses, inquiring into unit structures, amount of time dedicated to arts education, philosophical orientations of arts education approaches, coverage of arts strands, the balance between practical and theoretical work and so on. I aimed to use a strengths-based approach to recommending a model for arts education for my own university, and I wanted to be informed by the experiences of other Queensland universities when crafting a new model and rationale for change.
The central research question for the study was: What are the strengths and challenges of arts education models in primary pre-service teacher education courses in Queensland?
Lecturers teaching in primary arts education units in Queensland were interviewed about the place of arts education in pre-service primary teachers’ education courses. The participants in this study taught Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Arts and Media Arts, but this paper reports only reports on the subset of participants who were dance lecturers, specifically discussing the positioning of dance education in primary pre-service education courses.
This study used narrative inquiry, as this style of research is highly linked to the context and allows for suitably complex issues to be explored in a manner that can provide paths towards outcomes and informed recommendations. According to Polkinghorne (1988), the narrative is the “primary scheme by which human existence is rendered meaningful” (p. 1) and narrative inquiry becomes the study of experience as story (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006). An advantage of narrative inquiry is that it enables the researcher to examine both individual and collective experiences. Narrative inquiry allows experiences to reflect the distinctive knowledge, based on the perceptions of the narrator, while encouraging the construction of meaning by participants in the context of their own experiences (McEwan & Egan, 1995). Narrative inquiry also enables the researcher to draw individual cases together to gain an in-depth overview of the situation at hand, as the participant is irreducibly linked to their social, cultural and institutional setting (Moen, 2006). In this way, narrative inquiry can be inextricably linked with the concept of habitus, as the stories told are deeply rooted in the societal context from which they are spawned. Importantly, narrative inquiry enables us to understand growing problems from multiple perspectives, allowing both the participant and researcher to identify and implement strategies for addressing these problems (Coulter, Michael & Poynor, 2007).
The procedures of this study were given clearance by the University of Southern Queensland’s Human Research Ethics Committee. Initially, the study invited lecturers from five strands of arts education (Dance, Drama, Music, Media Arts and Visual Arts) in Queensland to participate, resulting in a diverse area of inquiry. Eight participants from four Queensland universities became volunteer participants in the study, however this paper reports on the narratives of the four participants with expertise in dance education. In individual interviews participants were asked questions, surrounding three key areas to be explored:
- Participants’ background and experience;
- Description of current program structure and program aims with commentary on the strengths and challenges associated with teaching within these programs; and
- Future directions and challenges in for the arts in primary pre-service teacher education courses.
The selection of participants allowed the study to be grounded in an environment that would allow for insights into practices in various institutions, across a range of arts disciplines. However, it must be noted that no effort was made to screen potential interviewees; they were simply the individuals who responded positively to the invitation to be involved in the research. Therefore, these findings do not represent all lecturers’ views, but they do shed light on a range of issues that exist in pre-service arts education. It must also be noted that one participant was not attached as an employee of any institution, but worked as a sessional lecturer at a number of universities and a consultant in arts education. The inclusion of this participant allowed for “linkage to outside support” (p. 87) that is an area of examination suggested by Hoyles, English & Steffy (1998) in matters associated with curriculum reflection.
The data collection and analysis ran together, as suggested by Wiersma and Jurs (2005). Data collection and analysis were not strictly separated and those processes were not mutually exclusive. Issues that emerged in early interviews, particularly those that were seen to have bearing on the field of pre-service arts education, were noted and the interviewer prompted other participants into giving more extensive answers on these matters. The process is highly suitable for a narrative inquiry, as data must be synthesised into an explanation that requires recursive and reflexive action from the data to the emerging narratives (Coulter et al., 2007).
The analysis of interviews took place through a modified use of Rudestam and Newton’s (2001) method, adapted from Moustakas (1994):
- Transcription of interviews
- Coding of statements into themes using categorisation whereby “information units derived from the unitizing phase are organized into categories on the basis of similarity in meaning” (Rudestam & Newton, 2001, p. 93). The themes were not pre-determined, rather they emerged from the data after the coding process and categorisation.
- Combining data into a descriptive statement of the meanings, subtext, arguments and opinions with use of quotations from the interview
- Use of other research to establish possible meanings and descriptions within the context
- Written description of meanings, relevance and analysis drawn from the interview
Finally, a reflexive element of analysis was employed; during the analysis stage participants were contacted intermittently to clarify issues and elaborate on their responses on matters that emerged through data interpretation. Larson (1997) suggests that the potential for misinterpretation can be minimised through use of the reflexive and deliberative dialogue. This brief but important reflective experience allowed the narrative to be grounded in a realistic context that allowed for accurate representation of the variety of views offered by the participants. The analysis of data was not limited to a literal representation, given the many perspectives and contexts addressed in the study. Rather, a faithful representation emerges as the ‘story-truth’ (Coulter et al., 2007; O’Brien, 1990) serves to represent many of the diverse and complex issues in the field of pre-service arts education.
As the researcher I adopted a ‘believing’ approach (Elbow, 1986) when engaging in analysis of the narratives in question. My inquiries privileged individual practitioners’ perspectives, through the telling of their personal stories from the field. The narrative knowledge each brought to the knowledge community (Craig, 2004) was embedded in the respective institutional contexts and it is their practices within these contexts that is the primary focus here.
Perceptions Of The Arts
Boyd’s (2000) description of creativity being perceived as “frill” (p. 2) by society certainly permeates the psyche of many people working in the arts field; to this, dance education is no exception. Traditionally, rational and functional modes of thinking are more commonly privileged in Western education systems, and embodied ways of learning or aesthetic values are often absent in discussions of learning and curriculum. Martin-Smith (2005) argues that this tension originated from Descartes’ philosophy that dissociated the mind from body and considered aesthetic feelings to be associated with irrational senses of the body rather than reasoned thought. As a result, Martin-Smith (2005) contends that theories of education are focused on the primacy of cognition, believing that learning is independent of experiential senses.
This traditional devaluing of the body in education is one example of the way that habitus is formed around ways of knowing and learning. This results in dance professionals often feeling they are fighting a constant battle to be taken seriously in terms of the value they bring to the curriculum. These strong views were reflected in several of the narratives. The conversations about the challenges associated with teaching in dance provided the participants with several opportunities to use their narrative authority to provide a commentary on their perception of the arts in our society and the ways in which pre-service teachers are affected by the habitus.
Participant 1 recounted stories of negative preconceptions that were expressed by pre-service teachers as a result the community’s habitus, particularly in her attempts to communicate the academic rigour of the arts in her classes:
There’s a view that dance is no more than a ‘fun subject.’ That’s probably our greatest challenge with our students, […] that they’ve got their ideas that dance is about bush dancing and not a meaningful cognitive exercise, and we have to fight against that.
Participant 1 elaborates on the perception of the importance of the dance and the arts, reflecting on the hierarchy that seems to exist across the curriculum:
We’re up against those constructs that maths and science and English are the only really important things in the world, why should we ever have to do [the arts]?
Among other reasons, Participant 3 attributed pre-service teachers’ perceptions of the arts to the influence of educational leaders:
Leadership comes from above […]. Many principals and school leaders and even educational writers up don’t understand the value of dance education. There are lots of principals who are signing off on dance education without knowing if it’s been meaningfully completed.
Participant 3’s narrative authority was strong, as she constantly referred to her extensive experience teaching in both schools and tertiary institutions across the state. It must be stressed that her intent was not to apportion blame, but rather to explain some of the many influences that exist within the educational community. Participant 3 went to explain some reasons behind the ignorance that may exist among educational leaders:
The problem is that they never experienced dance education in a positive and transformative light. They themselves have only learned dance routines and probably were never invited to understand movement in a creative way.
According to participants, the influence of ones’ own educational experiences on their perceptions of teaching and learning cannot be underestimated, as has been explored in much research. In the broader field of arts education, Chapman (2015) and Russell-Bowie (2013) have provided evidence of a cycle of marginalisation of the arts is perpetuated between the school curriculum and in teacher preparation courses. Most generalist primary school teachers lack experience in dance education in a way that prioritises creativity, self-expression and embodied learning. As a result, pre-service teachers arrive in teacher preparation courses with pre-existing ideas about dance education that do not reflect the Australian Curriculum or current conceptions of primary dance education. Dance education lecturers are required to teach dance knowledges and practices from scratch, in conjunction with theories of creativity, imagination and play-based learning, while activating pre-service teachers’ aesthetic senses and instilling a value for the dance. The stakes are high. Further studies by Russell-Bowie (2010) find that if primary pre-service teacher education students do not have an overwhelmingly positive experience of arts education in their teacher preparation courses, they will not attempt to implement the arts in their classrooms upon entry to the profession, and the cycle of marginalisation will continue. Participant’s 2 comments elaborate on the potential danger to the future of pre-service teachers’ pedagogies if their pre-service education does not rectify their existing preconceptions adequately:
Of course, even though we teach them a particular thing here and we go through methodologies very carefully, students will often end up falling back on the way that they learned themselves, and in some way I would like us to have a much deeper, broader understanding than that.
Certainly, one of the main issues that emerged from the comments on the effects of habitus was the pre-service teachers’ lack of understanding of the creativity involved in dance education. The participants unanimously cited this as a perennial difficulty throughout their differing disciplines as they spoke, unprompted and at length, of the need to address pre-service teachers’ chronic unfamiliarity with the arts and particularly dance education. As far back as 2000, Boyd (2000) reported of a lack of recognition or allowance made for the fact that few pre-service teachers possess personal skills in the arts; therefore, requiring a degree of scaffolding that facilitators in other areas may not need to factor into their teaching. Many years on, this difficulty is reflected in the participants’ narratives.
The participants went further to explain that pre-service teachers are often unaware of dance’s utilisation of experimentation, guided discovery, exploration and enhanced creative thinking skills (Isbell & Raines, 2007) and the related benefits of creative approaches to dance (Gersak, 2012). Many pre-service teachers arrive expecting to learn: “[w]hat they did in school which was basic routines that copy the teacher.There was no creativity” (Participant 3). Participant 4 adds “[t]hey think they know what dance is, but when we get into the creativity of it, they don’t.”
It appeared that all four participants held a deficit view of pre-service teachers with regards to their understandings of the dance education in the contemporary context. This was accompanied by a general tone of frustration. Participant 2 elaborated on this issue within the discipline of dance education:
Let’s be honest, they fail to see the actual educational implications of it and that idea of the arts as a pleasant diversion is really common. Really, really common. Because the name of the thing is dance and drama they immediately think, ‘oh dance, we’re going to be learning the Tango or the Chicken Dance or the Madison’. That’s the resistance that comes into the classroom. My challenge, if you like, is to break that down within the first five minutes.
Additionally, some participants lamented the lack of prominence of dance as a language and a mode of communication within the everyday lives of ordinary citizens in Western society. Participants’ narratives were peppered with comments that reflected on the broader community habitus surrounding movement, dance and artists in society. Participant 2 commented that “[d]ance is not part of our cultural heritage”, adding later that “[w]e pay lip service to creative minds.” Participant 4 concurred, stating that “[m]usic, singing, dance, theatre and acting are not part of our ordinary actions in this culture. They’re just not things people are used to doing”. Finally, they felt community perceptions about the value of dance were confined to performance, ‘shows’ or concerts, stating “[p]eople associate the arts with formal performance. They think that’s what it’s all about” (Participant 1). Several participants went to great pains in the interviews to provide examples of learning experiences that focus on creating or evaluating/appreciating dance in a direct effort to move away from performance outcomes. Some examples included working across the curriculum to explore themes such as sustainability, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, or poetry. Other examples included expanding students’ dance vocabulary so that critical analysis became easier.
Participants’ Practices In Dance Education
The participants’ narratives concerning the community’s perceptions of dance largely reflected those issues mentioned previously in the literature. This naturally leads to an investigation of how the participants respond to the habitus and the ways in which this may affect their practices in the education of pre-service teachers.
The narratives revealed that, as a result of pre-service teachers’ unfamiliarity with arts knowledges and processes, the demands placed upon the participants are great. The participants felt they have to maintain a wide focus within a limited time to enable pre-service teachers to facilitate meaningful dance experiences upon entry to the classroom. Gilbert (2005) echoed and extended this sentiment stating that dance teachers need to master and apply learning and child development theories, pedagogical knowledge, and classroom management strategies. The issue of the lack of time devoted to arts education in pre-service teacher education courses has been previously established by Russell-Bowie (2010). Bamford’s (2006) research finds that a similar situation presents in Global South countries such as Namibia and South Africa, indicating that the problem may be universally pervasive in arts education. Participant 1’s example from her own unit was almost overwhelming in the list of areas she aimed to cover within the program:
I have to teach them about the middle years’ contextual framework and how this links to the middle years’ learner. Then I have to teach them about management, health and safety, you name it, and it’s only in a two hour workshop. Of course the learning we give them as teachers has to be embedded with pedagogy and theory as well. In that three weeks I also have to teach them everything about the syllabus.
With regards to the way that dance is addressed in pre-service teacher education courses, all four universities described a different approach. None of the courses studied provided students with a dedicated unit on dance education, because dance sits within the Creative Arts Syllabus, grouped with the other arts strands. A brief breakdown of the approach that each participant described is as follows:
- Participant 1: dance education allocated three week blocks embedded into three units on active learning and multiliteracies scattered throughout four-year course
- Participant 2: dance education allocated six weeks of lectures and tutorials, in a shared unit with drama in the four-year course
- Participant 3: dance education allocated two weeks per arts unit, embedded into two creative arts units in the four-year course
- Participant 4: dance education allocated three weeks per arts unit, embedded into two creative arts units in the four-year course
Each of these models can be described as an integrated approach, whereby arts strands or related skills are taught together. Integration is often seen as the answer to the issue of time management. Hughes (1991) claims that the concept of integration suits student learning; it involves cognitive processes; it has the power to generate new knowledge; and it transfers concepts across disciplines. However, Boyd (n.d) laments the rationalisation of the arts into an integrated area at universities, as it leads to a watering down of arts education in the effort to save time. By teaching strands together, the depth of study in each strand is inevitably diminished. Additionally, integration is predicated on a perceived ‘sameness’ of the arts. Each arts discipline is distinct and has its own elements, history, traditions and conventions. Sometimes the principles of each strand can overlap, such as creativity, imagination, aesthetic literacy, embodied or kinaesthetic learning, but they also utlise distinct pedagogies and unique content. Smith (1996) argues that the teaching of each discipline must be explicit:
Although it may be essential for teachers in early-childhood and middle-primary schools to be multiskilled across the arts, it is generally agreed that each art form, as it is represented in the whole arts education package, must maintain its own integrity. (p. 25)
Barrett’s (n.d.) remedy for integration concerns lies in creating connected approaches that allow each strand to maintain its own integrity:
It is imperative that arts educators actively seek; connections between the arts disciplines in order to advance their own and their students’ capacities to grapple with the multiple ways in which artistic meanings are constructed and reconstructed in a range of settings. (p. 6)
Stinson (1993) adds that pre-service dance education units of study must must find ways to integrate dance technique, choreography, history, criticism, and body science because, like schools, they often do not have separate courses.
It is not the intention of this paper to delve into the integrated models of arts education used in each institution, nor choose a best model, and this may be the topic of a separate paper or research report. Rather, the focus of this paper is on how dance educators approach their craft given the limitations before them, such as the lack of time, as previously explored by Russell-Bowie (2010) and Bamford (2006). Having said this, the time allocated to dance education at all institutions surveyed seems inordinately low. As a lecturer in pre-service primary arts education myself, my own bias is clear, but considering the content that needs to be covered, in addition to allowing pre-service teachers exposure to pedagogies they may never have experienced, the challenge is great.
For this reason, all participants emphasised the importance of giving pre-service teachers practical experiences whilst communicating the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of their disciplines within the context of a contemporary understanding of dance education. In response to pre-service teachers’ general lack of experience in dance, all participants made reference to engagement in ‘hands on’ or practical approaches as being essential to allow pre-service teachers experience learning in, through and about dance, as opposed to simply learning theoretically. Strategies mentioned included displacing expectations by “getting students out of their comfort zone” (Participant 3) by engaging pre-service teachers in high levels of embodied learning (Participants 1, 2 and 4). This approach has been previously recommended by Kaufmann & Ellis (2007) who state that risk is an important factor in pre-service dance education. Recounting the experience of viewing pre-service teachers in action, they observe:
Though unfamiliar at first, the college students slowly become more comfortable moving with one another. At first, many of them view creative movement as ‘looking silly’ and worry about ‘not looking cool’ […], [i]t became most important to demystify the creative movement experience and create a comfortable environment, conducive to openness and creativity. (p. 8-9)
Related to Kaufmann & Ellis’ study, Participant 1 added that they wanted pre-service teachers to empathise with the experience of children in the classroom to help enable them to teach dance effectively:
The activities are to try and get their confidence and get them [to] recognise that they are lacking in confidence, which is exactly what their students will be experiencing at school and what it is to frame a learning experience.
The participants added that much of the learning is focussed on students developing their own creative and analytic voice in regards to dance education. This is done by facilitating exposure to dance by viewing dance works (Participants 3 and 4); and dance composition exercises (Participants 2, 3 and 4). Writing in the field of pre-service drama education, McLauchlan (2007) provides advice as to lecturers’ orientation, stating “Teachers of drama must not assume the stance of omnipotent experts, but rather should assist students in discovering their own voices” (p. 124). In order to do this, Russell-Bowie (2012) recommends that generalist preservice teachers should watch, analyse and discuss dance performance videos, where possible attend live dance performances and research choreographers and their work, as well as researching and experiencing different dance genres. However, with the time constraints of the course structures that the participants have to work with, this degree of depth appears unlikely unless assigned or independent work is utilised.
Finally, all participants additionally felt the need to emphasise the inclusive nature of dance education; they want to communicate to pre-service teachers that dance isn’t just to be taught by specialists, visiting dance companies or highly talented individuals:
I think it’s important we’ve got to get across you don’t need to be talented, you don’t need to be a specialist to be able to teach it. (Participant 2)
This is important as preservice teachers’ background and confidence in dance influences their effectiveness in teaching this art form when they enter the profession (Alter, Hays, and O’Hara 2009 Alter, F., T. Hays, and R. O’Hara. 2009. Creative arts teaching and practice: Critical reflections of primary school teachers in Australia. International Journal of Education and the Arts 19, no. 9. http://www.ijea.org/v10n9/. ; Russell-Bowie, 2012; Russell-Bowie, Roche, and March, 1995 Russell-Bowie, D., L. Roche, and H. Marsh. 1995. Wow! I can do music! A study in self-concept of student teachers in relation to various subject areas. Presented at the Australian Music Education Lecturers conference, September 26–29, Melbourne: Australia. ). Russell-Bowie (2012) additionally emphasises that teacher education arts courses need to develop students’ personal confidence and competence in dance and dance education to be able to implement the dance component of the arts syllabus effectively.
One participant reflected on a teaching aim that is, perhaps, particular to dance and arts education. Participant 3 believed that lack of attention given to the Arts Curriculum in schools would always permeate the consciousness of the area (Jacobs & Poli, 2018), meaning that the arts would constantly have to justify its existence in a ‘crowded curriculum’, perhaps more so than other subjects. Furthermore, Kalyn, et.al (2015) detail some of the reasons for the perceptions of dance among pre-service teachers, including media, social influences and cultural influences. Experiences of dance in western society may be limited to entertainment, for example “at a half time show” (p. 3) or casual dancing at social events, rather than the creative, imaginative and cognitive experience described in the literature review. Participant 3 felt that her teaching approach not only had to justify the existence of dance, but teach pre-service teachers to be able to quote that justification, arming them with the tools to combat the negative stereotypes that plague the subject:
We have to be so well-versed in the research that attests to the benefits of dance. Our students have to know it, have to hear it, and they’re shocked when they see the evidence. I mean, pleasantly shocked.
Participant 3 felt that to address the benefits of dance education to its full extent, one must become an advocate within the educational community. To her, arts practice and arts advocacy could not be easily separated. Participant 4 concurred with these sentiments, elaborating that:
Teachers need to have a basic fundamental philosophy about education which they can apply it wherever they go. They need to be able to have a solid understanding of the value of arts education, because somewhere, at some time, they will be challenged.
Pre-service teachers’ unfamiliarity with dance practices also directly impacts upon the amount of content and depth that lecturers are able to explore in their teaching. Participant 2’s description of the way she concludes units tells a familiar story of the teaching practices of other participants:
You really have to let your students know that you’re just giving them the very tip of the iceberg. If they really want to develop it into it into a truly authentic arts experience that has transdisciplinary links, and I mean meaningful ones, that they need to do professional development once they get into schools.
Responsiveness To Dance Education Experiences
By nature, pre-service teachers’ responses to any educational program vary widely and this research does has not documented pre-service teachers’ response to the learning experiences. Rather, it is the participants’ interpretation of how their teaching approaches are received that is the focus here.
Within the participants’ responses, a number of views were articulated. Participant 1’s experience has led her to expect that not all pre-service teachers will be changed or excited by arts experiences. Her comments reflect an understandable unwillingness to compromise the integrity of the discipline in order to make it more palatable to pre-service teachers:
I do believe in making a course challenging, and you do get hostility, because they are thinking ‘why should we ever have to do [the arts]’.
However, Participant 4’s descriptions of their teaching approaches demonstrate that the concept of challenge does not always have to have negative connotations. Challenge need not be associated with hostility or distaste in all instances:
We teach that inherent notion of challenge with support. I call it ‘rigour with support’; Inclusive rigour. I want the students to have to work. I don’t think that students gain anything where they don’t actually have to work at it.
Three participants felt that pre-service teachers almost always gained an enlightened perspective of dance education through active involvement in their programs. They generally found pre-service teachers to be both inspired by the possibilities for learning through dance and surprised by their own capabilities. Participant 4 reflected on the journey that pre-service teachers experience when undertaking an arts unit:
Some are scared, but usually they’re delighted and usually they’re surprised at their own capabilities. And they’re surprised at the freedom they find because all their preconceptions of what it is are thrown out the door. And they have fun and they enjoy having fun.
Participant 4 also saw it as a very positive step forward that new teachers are being trained with a grounding in arts education. She discussed the scope for influence on other teachers, which certainly is significant, given the numbers of pre-service teachers graduating yearly:
When we think of 650, or however many it is, students going through each year that’s a really large impact that can potentially influence a large number of schools and a large number of students over the years. And when students go out on field experience they have had contact with the arts that most of the teachers in schools haven’t had, so they’re actually seen as the new people, the people with new knowledge. They’re willing to try things and the people that are having them as student teachers are enjoying having that input into their lessons. So there’s a broad influence, I think, from having that access.
How much of that translates into arts practice and is able to shift the community habitus towards the arts and dance education is yet to be seen and further research is required in the area.
Is Change Possible?
Community perceptions of the arts have been well-documented in the preceding literature, and explored at length by Kalyn et.al (2015), and it comes as no surprise that pre-service teachers are seen to be affected strongly by the community’s habitus. It also appears that participants have had to alter their teaching approaches and practices as a result of community perceptions of dance. The participants also appeared to behold an awareness of the community attitudes towards dance in schools and they explained their considerable efforts to prepare pre-service teachers as best they can in light of the existing habitus.
Nevertheless, there is potential for individuals in the field to act as catalysts to reflexively influence the existing habitus. Change is slow, and the narratives certainly reflect participants’ ardent desire for change. However, it also appears that much of the action tends to be reproductive, rather than transformative. Logistical issues (many of which were not explored in this paper), such as the lack of teaching time available, has meant that the reproductive nature of the habitus has been frustratingly reflected in many of the narratives. The potential for the participants to affect the habitus reflexively is limited. Some theorists have suggested that habitus can only change as a result of changing structures (De Certeau, 1984), whereas others such as Beck (1992) argue that the new world of uncertainties means that there is more scope for people to craft their stories and worlds. Giddens (1991) however, believes that the increased institutionalisation and standardisation of the world mean that our lives are now organised according to institutional patterns. He specifically names education systems as one of the sites of standardisation. In the field of arts education, Neelands (1984) concurs, stating that that schools shape teachers as much as teachers shape schools. This suggests that schools can be places for social reproduction rather than revolution. As example of this, McLauchlan (2007) laments that many pre-service teachers are not encouraged or permitted to attempt their newfound arts education skills when they go on practicum owing to the traditional schooling structures in place. This is also possible when new teachers enter the field. Expectations of school-based procedural obstacles minimize the opportunity for students to experience the pedagogy under supportive conditions. While this aspect of pre-service arts education did not arise in the data, it is worth considering at a future stage when enquiring into avenues that can promote change.
Having said this, participants often feel they’re ‘making a difference’ when they change individual pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards dance and understanding of dance education. The change does not feel systemic and there are significant barriers to the possibilities of a system-wide shift that affords dance education more time and resources. The lecturers in this study certainly do their best to address these challenges under pressured circumstances. They are advocates as well as educators, exposing pre-service teachers to new ways of thinking in and through dance. With the large numbers of pre-service teachers graduating from primary pre-service teacher education courses each year, it is encouraging to see that they have had some exposure to quality dance education, albeit on a surface-breaking level.
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