When public schools feel the crunch of dwindling budgets and the rigorous demands of No Child Left Behind, arts education is often the first to go. Mandated to raise test scores in reading and math, school principals know that if the government standards aren’t met, they could be forced to cut staff or even lose their own jobs. In light of this, the idea of using school hours to teach ballet or hip hop can seem dangerously frivolous.

But for two principals working in the Bronx, New York, the question of whether to continue providing arts  education is non-negotiable.

Middle School 223, once shuttered as one of the most violent middle schools in New York City, was reopened in 2003 as M.S. 223/The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology. Today, Principal Ramon Gonzalez says attendance is about 4 percent higher than at any middle school in the area. Meanwhile, test scores have risen from an 8 or 9 percent competency in reading and math to a whopping 65 percent of students on grade level for math and 40 percent for English language arts. And Gonzalez credits a large part of this success to the school’s robust arts program.

“Dance is a way to get kids involved in the school,” he explains. “It immediately affects attendance, and that immediately affects test scores.” When the educators at M.S. 223 realized that arts classes were such a draw, they began scheduling them on days when attendance was typically low. This led to a wholesale change in philosophy. “Before, we saw [arts and academics] as mutually exclusive, and now we see things differently,” says Gonzalez.

Public School 24 Principal Philip Scharper likewise sees arts education as “culturally and educationally enriching.” Having danced professionally for 13 years with Oakland Ballet, Arizona Ballet, Westchester Ballet Company and the Princeton Ballet, he knows firsthand what the rigors of dance training can offer beyond the stage. “Dance is a tremendous discipline,” he says. “It offers children the opportunity for physical stamina as well as mental discipline, coordination, body-mind-spirit health and connections that increase their aptitude in academic areas as well.”

Making arts education a top priority has required both principals to find  creative ways to increase funding for their programs and fit the classes into the school curriculum. Here, we discover how they’re making it work.

Making the Time
M.S. 223 slots 10-week blocks of arts education—including visual arts, drama, dance and instrumental and digital music—into the students’ weekly schedules. A double period of math, for example, becomes a single period of math plus a dance period for one 10-week block. Then it’s on to the next artistic discipline.

Each grade level has a dance component tied into its regular curriculum. For second graders this year, it’s all about tap. “The teacher is interested in bringing them the history of tap and the Harlem Renaissance,” explains Scharper. “So, on a regular basis we’ll have a period of enrichment that is tap, plus some social studies and literacy connections.”

Meanwhile, at P.S. 24, recess and lunch periods are used to practice music, while phys ed classes are devoted to rehearsing dance numbers in the weeks prior to the school’s spring performance, “Dancefest.” On occasion, students have gone on field trips to see American Ballet Theatre and work with Dance Theatre of Harlem, or to watch shows by visiting dance troupes like South American folklore group Yarina.

Raising the Bar
Students at Gonzalez’s school study dance within a very broad educational context. The dance instructor collaborates with the classroom teachers to coordinate lessons. “If students are studying jazz, then they’re relating it to social studies as well, so they’re learning about the Civil War and how blues and jazz had an effect on American culture,” Gonzalez explains. “And then we also connect dance to other arts and disciplines, like a digital music piece utilizing technology in connection with dance. It’s really intense.”

The staff is held to strict accountability standards. It’s no longer just about putting on a nice show, says Gonzalez: “Now we go in and measure.” Twice a year, he leads a retreat during which teaching artists and classroom teachers work together to form a creative plan that includes teaching goals. “It’s important to have time for the artist and teachers to sit together and go over the curriculum and really understand what they’re teaching,” says Gonzalez. “Then we do what we call ‘learning walk-throughs,’ where we have a sheet of paper with the characteristics that we’re expecting to see.” For some dance instructors it’s a little intimidating, “but it has improved their instruction because now they have an idea of the things we’re looking for and expect,” he adds. “So everybody is now accountable.”

Finding the Funds

Gonzalez initially was working with a $20,000 annual arts budget, which is what NYC schools once received through the Department of Education’s now-defunct Project Arts. (It has since become ArtsCount, and school arts budgets vary depending on the number of students.) “We realized that to make our vision come alive, we  needed more money,” he says.

So Gonzalez’s school took part in a pilot program called the School Arts Support Initiative, sponsored by the Center for Arts Education and funded by the New York Times Company Foundation and the NYC Department of Education. M.S. 223 received $25,000 to plan an arts program, and it “drastically changed the school,” says Gonzalez. In fact, its success has fostered a national program. M.S. 223 now acts as a model and holds workshops for other schools, in addition to receiving the grant. With that money, plus other grants and funding from the school, M.S. 223’s annual arts budget is now roughly $100,000, according to Gonzalez.

In the past, P.S. 24 relied on Parents As Art Partners grants from the CAE to supplement its arts budget. (The school was ineligible to receive it this year because the program is looking to help a new crop of schools.) These days, however, much of the school’s arts funding comes from its parents’ association. “The parents are very supportive,” says Scharper. “They come forward to help us supplement our arts budget.”

Without that support, he admits, it becomes much more difficult to maintain arts programs. “If you have academic challenges at a needy school, then principals may make choices that shift money from the arts,” he adds. “We have not done that. We don’t believe that that’s going to serve us.”

Looking to the Future
Together with higher attendance rates and better test scores, Gonzalez is proud that students at his middle school have a solid grounding in the arts. “If they want to go to an art school or become a dance major, they can do that,” he says. “That was never an option before.” He estimates that fewer than 10 percent might make that choice, but those who do are going on to study at arts schools like LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Talent Unlimited High School and the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music. “Up until last year we never had any kids apply, let alone get into those schools.”

It’s all about giving students a choice, Gonzalez says: “Now they can say, ‘I’ve taken these different classes, and you know what, I do like dance.’ We joke about it because we are a finance and technology school. So I say, ‘Look, you don’t have to be a dance instructor, you could own the dance company—that’s fine with us.’”

Jacqui Gal is a freelance writer in New York City.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox