In Minnesota, dance educators swap lessons online.

"Now do the entire dance at a low level—as if my hands are making a roof over you," instructs Diane Aldis during an interactive video conference.

In the 1980s, Minnesota governor Rudy Perpich and his wife Lola dreamed of creating a performing arts school, à la the “Fame” high school in New York City. Because they also wanted to make arts resources available to teachers across the state, the school became part of an ambitious multipurpose center for arts education in all disciplines. Today, the Perpich Center for Arts Education is a high school, a library and a clearinghouse of tools for arts educators nationwide.

Located in the Golden Valley suburb of Minneapolis, Perpich Center has a legislative mandate to provide professional and technical services and money to help support arts education across Minnesota. It houses an extensive library stocked with a catalog of over 14,000 books and videos that are used by educators in lesson planning, curriculum design and other research. And with the recent addition of digital access to materials in the Dance Education Program, the Center is pioneering a unique way for dance teachers to interact.

“I built a version of this website two years ago,” explains Diane Aldis, state dance education coordinator at the Center. “We’ve uploaded things like video clips of Minnesota choreographers and companies to examine body, space, time and energy. I’ve included some student worksheets and discussion prompts—there’s a lot on it.”

Aldis says that instead of using the official Perpich Center website, she created a satellite site, The Elements of Dance Learning Module—a free digital library of movies, ideas, worksheets and other resources to help educators teach dance vocabulary and concepts—available to anyone who can access the web. The site takes advantage of the flexibility and immediacy of Google Docs and Wikis.

“These kinds of sites have a level of quick response and interaction, because it’s not just a static publication; we’re also inviting collaboration,” she says. “If two teams of teachers in two different cities are both working on a curriculum on the Harlem Renaissance dances, they can use the site to learn from each other.”

Even though The Elements of Dance is still a work in progress, Aldis adds that she’s been surprised at how it’s being used already. “Last spring I was contacted by a phys ed teacher, who said to me, ‘I’ve been using that website that you built—is that okay?’ She’s a teacher who loves dance, but is marooned in this isolated classroom where there’s no internet. She had downloaded and printed out everything on the website to make her course book.”

One of the most specific ways the Center works with K–12 schools in dance programs across the state is through the successful Arts Courses for Educators (ACE) dance program. “We work with five to six different school teams or district-based teams for two years to help their teachers integrate dance in their curriculum and to hopefully establish some dance courses,” says Aldis. She’s put many of the materials she uses for the ACE program online. “In most cases, K–6 phys ed teachers are responsible for delivering dance curriculum. We’re helping the teachers not only design curriculum, but also to gain the confidence and skills to teach and use dance—so they can use dance in conjunction with a unit on sunflowers, or on studies of other science or literary subjects. ACE dance is about teaching in the arts in dance, but also using dance in an integral way with other subject areas. That part of dance being integral rather than decorative to the curriculum is something I’m passionate about.

“For instance, the K–6 dance teachers of St. Paul are a close-knit group and they informally swap lessons and curriculum,” she says. “They want to develop a K–6 curriculum in dance. What I can do is support some sub reimbursement time for them and help bring in someone to do some of the writing and crafting.” Aldis enjoys her ability to advocate for the teachers on the district level. “It’s worthwhile, because one of the advantages of being a state agency is that now we can point to the work they are doing as models for other districts wanting to develop a K–6 dance curriculum. I can go back to the district and say, ‘Your teachers are doing some great work that you should be proud of and that other people need to hear about.’”

An essential aspect of Aldis’ job is helping people use the technology. “I’ve been teaching teachers to contribute to our online resources,” she says. “The advantage of having everything online is that you can easily make changes and update the lessons. I’m slowly setting everything up so that it’s available publicly to anyone. I think the inherently collaborative sense of dancers in general fosters effective ways of working online in collaborative documents and websites and resource sharing.”

“This is how we work,” she says. “We like to pull in many voices, so often the Perpich Center becomes a gathering place for arts educators from across Minnesota.” DT


Former dancer, now teacher, Mary Ellen Hunt writes about dance and the arts for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo by Nathan Duffy, courtesy of Perpich Center for Arts Education

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