3 Reasons to Go for a Dance Education Degree

With 4 tips on how to choose a program

Dance ed grad Sarah Hayes performed in at least two productions a
semester at Radford.

"I always knew I wanted to teach dance,” says Tawny Garcia, who studied dance as part of her high school’s program. Though she was sure she wanted to teach in a public school, earning a dance education degree didn’t initially occur to her. So she began studying elementary education at a California community college. “But after two years of that,” she says, “I thought, ‘This doesn’t seem right for me.’ I ended up switching to be a dance major.” She transferred to The University of Texas at Austin just when the dance department’s education degree launched: “It was exactly what I was looking for,” she says.

Programs like UT Austin’s give dancers the chance to earn skills and credentials necessary for K–12 teaching certification. Typical dance coursework, like technique class and composition, is offered alongside education courses and at least a semester of student-teaching. With a dance education degree, students get all the benefits of a standard BFA— like collegiate-level training—but with a few extras: guaranteed career options and the know-how to advocate for dance education.

From Graduation to Employment (Attn: Parents!)

A dance ed degree, unlike a typical dance BFA, comes with built-in job prospects immediately upon graduation. “One hundred percent of our dance ed students who complete the Michigan teacher certification requirements get employed,” says Wayne State University professor Eva Powers. That’s an appealing statistic for parents reluctant to let their kids major in a field as unpredictable as dance. Even if students plan to pursue performance or choreography careers, odds are that they’ll have to teach at some point to sustain a living—and they’ll be more marketable with teaching experience under their belts. Those who plan to teach in a studio setting, too, will be better qualified than non–dance ed BFA grads: They’ll learn basic pedagogy and classroom management and get practical experience.

Bottom line, the dance ed degree makes a difference to potential employers. “We developed this degree because we found that we had a number of dancers who had to find ways to receive their certification in order to compete in this job market,” says Lyn Wiltshire, UT Austin’s department head.

No Sacrifice Necessary

Students who dedicate themselves to a dance education degree don’t need to sacrifice the typical BFA experience, rich in performance and choreography. Dance ed students experience many (if not all) of the opportunities that their BFA peers enjoy, until the final semesters of their degree track.

At Radford University in Virginia and UT Austin, for example, the first two years include the same coursework in technique, performance and creative classes for all majors, regardless of track. At Wayne State, dance ed requirements are layered on top of either the BFA or the BS dance tracks—there are zero missed opportunities.

Dance ed grad Sarah Hayes performed in at least two productions a semester while at Radford. Though her final year was challenging (she juggled writing lesson plans, attending evening rehearsals, commuting 75 miles round-trip for student teaching and squeezing in adviser meetings), she found it “extremely rewarding” to be able to perform so frequently. Radford’s dance ed program, she says, didn’t scrimp on her artistry.

Educate, Advocate

One important benefit of a dance ed degree is often overlooked: Students gain valuable skills as advocates for dance education. After all, they’ll be intimately familiar with the value of dance in the classroom, says Powers. “I hammer that into their delicate minds over and over again in classes,” she jokes.

At UT Austin, students take courses on state and national teaching standards, behavior and time management, curriculum design, how to work with at-risk and differently abled populations and developing relationships with administration. They’ll even have “the knowledge and skills to navigate external resources and funding sources,” says Wiltshire. Dance ed students graduate with their teaching philosophies, lesson plans, letters of intent and even teaching video reels ready-made—they are well-equipped for life after college.

Hayes, who now teaches at a private middle school and a studio, thinks that the confidence, authority and experience she earned as part of her dance ed degree distinguish her experience from non–dance ed majors. “Knowing how high Radford’s expectations are and just how hard I had to work to obtain my degree,” she says, “I can honestly say if I were given the chance to repeat it, I wouldn’t change my decision.” DT

Lea Marshall is associate chair of dance at Virginia Commonwealth University and a frequent DT contributor.

What to Look for When Choosing a Dance Education Program

Location Where you want to live after graduation should shape which programs you consider, since most schools offer teaching certification only in their state. But there are exceptions: Radford’s BS degree is recognized by 43 states (though additional criteria may be required).

Balance Dance education programs that build on the foundation of a BFA curriculum allow students to cultivate skills in performance, choreography and improvisation and knowledge of dance history and anatomy. At UT Austin, “everybody is on the same playing field in their first and second year,” says department head Lyn Wiltshire. “Physical process, creative process, somatic practice, scholarly practice and performance practice are exactly the same in the first two years, and then the [dance ed] students veer off.”

Hands-on experience Programs with hands-on teaching experience allow students to bridge what they learn in education classes with dance. Radford, Wayne State and UT Austin all include a semester of student teaching in the public school system for their dance ed students.

Is the program linked to licensure? The teaching certification or license granted through most dance ed degrees confers the ability to teach in public schools. But for the student who wants to teach in a studio, a program that offers a dance ed degree without licensure could be a more direct option. —LM

Photo by Tom Hikaru Lim, courtesy of Hayes

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