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.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

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

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.


Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox