My dancer-friend Tara Willis takes this issue to heart in her recent blogpost. She writes a Letter to The Latin School of Chicago, her high school alma mater. Much to Tara's dismay (and I imagine plenty of other people), apparently the school is proposing to cut its entire dance program. Tara's letter simultaneously expresses sincere gratitude for the depth of her dance education that she received at the school, while demonstrating how cutting the program fails to uphold the school's own core mission and values.
I think her letter highlights some of the key facets of dance education that are often overlooked when thinking of its importance. The core of her argument is here:
It is no coincidence that I attended the only Ivy League dance major that exists in this country. (Barnard College, Columbia University) Apart from the heartbreaking tendency to terminate arts programs before any other budget cut in schools across the country, dance is often widely ignored as an academic field even at the university level, despite the fact that American universities are where dance innovation has been rooted since the 1930’s.I encourage you all to take a look at her letter, but even more to think about the ways in which you can perpetuate the life and growth of dance education in your own communities. Whether we want to recognize it or not, dance is important for all of us.
Arts education has always struggled in this country, especially dance. Blame it on a societal fear of the body and tendency to disconnect the body in motion from academic study; blame it on the difficulty of delineating creative values in legislative language; blame it on an “American dream” mentality, claiming that work not producing monetary value is not valid. Regardless, this kind of disrespect for dance in education is a trend throughout this country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 13,053,787 students enrolled in public high schools in1999-2000 . But only 14% of public schools offered dance education that year. A sad fact for the majority of this country’s students that can only have gotten worse with recent financial shifts. It is thus, as it always has been, the duty of privately funded schools to pioneer the way toward what school should be, even if that cannot yet exist for millions of public schools. Historically, private institutions include those educational elements that other schools cannot. If none of our students have access to dance, already so underfunded and undervalued, who will be the next generation of adults who do value it, who do fund it? Who will put those crucial analytical and inquisitive skills they learned in school to the test by choosing to attend a dance performance or support a struggling company?