A Primer on Dance Standards in Dance for New Teachers

You may be wondering… Now that I’ve landed this fabulous dance teaching position, what are the expectations regarding what I teach? Must I align each lesson plan with the dance education standards from my state? Will the standards benefit my students? Will they benefit me? Educational standards benefit the dance educator in at least three ways:

  1. Easing the planning process and helping to establish clear, effective dance curricula
  2. Helping make connections to learning in other subjects
  3. Explaining the value of dance education and advocating for programmatic growth

It is usually a requirement for teachers, regardless of discipline, to align curriculum to established sets of standards because it helps standardize what students are learning across the country. Written at the national, state, and even local or district level, dance education standards can expedite your planning process by offering a broad survey of what you are likely to teach. Categories from the National Arts Standards include *creating, performing (producing/presenting), responding, connecting* along with the grade level of your students, can help you search for appropriate competencies that you’d like your students to learn. 

Whether you are teaching primary or secondary grades, using a disciplinary-focus or an arts-integration model, you will benefit from diving in head-first and getting used to the structure and format of the set of standards with which you are expected to work. Start with your state’s department of education website and search for educational standards in your discipline. I also recommend visiting the website for the National Core Arts Standards. It is incredibly easy to search and it includes an online customization tool for a handbook specific to dance. The website even includes “Model Cornerstone Assessments” that will offer examples of how to implement unit plans based on the standards and assess your students effectively. 

Efforts to establish National Core Standards in all subject areas, began in 2009. They were led by two agencies, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA). The Common Core State Standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and educational researchers who understood their purpose as providing a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce. Even if you have been hired to teach dance, you will be expected to support students’ general education goals. Consider the mission of your school as well as the school’s annual improvement goals. These goals are usually based upon data from standardized tests taken by students the previous year and they address standards in reading, math, social studies, or science.

Where do the standards fit in your planning process? You can begin with them or use them as a reference point somewhere in the middle. If you wait until the end, you will still find that they are generalized enough to be helpful. Personally, I have found that the standards are an excellent place to start when I have an idea about what I’d like students to learn, but building connections with other academic subjects can be challenging.

You can, of course, look at the standards for other subject areas such as language arts, but the national and state standards for dance education offer many opportunities to examine such connections already. The artistic process, connecting, is an example. As you glance through the standards, imagine how they could tie into concepts from geometry, literary arts, the scientific process, health, and more.

By identifying age-appropriate developmental levels for our youngest dance learners, using the standards consistently will help you create authentic assessment tools that measure whether students are really understanding goals from the lessons you teach. They could even inspire ideas for choreography. Look at this performance objective from the national standards, for instance, and imagine what kind of project might manifest:


Anchor Standard 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.
Enduring Understanding: Space, time, and energy are basic elements of dance.
Essential Question(s): How do dancers work with space, time and energy to communicate artistic expression?

Our minds might turn to Katherine Dunham and the culture of American modern dance in the 1930s and 1940s. What was happening in her day? How did she respond to the world? How did the world respond to her? Before you assign a random research project, consider the goals you want your students to achieve. Do you want them to understand the path of a single artist, or do you want them to connect to broader historical themes? 

When you design your own dream curriculum for a full quarter, semester, or year, your task will be much less intimidating if you break your content down into small segments. What will you base these segments upon? You could divide your term into segments that introduce various dance genres-a unit of 4 weeks each on ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and so forth, but is that the ideal choice for your students? I recommend asking how you could expose students to ideas and principles that pervade dance. It’s also worth considering how you could help them find the relevance of dance to their lives. Instead of segments based on dance genres, what about looking at the relationship with the audience? One unit could explore dancing to please each other (social forms) and another could look at dancing for an audience (theatrical forms). Or you might look at basic elements of dance like time, space, and energy, breaking down these elements within each unit. 

As we know through our experiences with the choreographic process, creating limits or structure can actually be a liberating force that drives creativity in our curriculum. The standards allow for freedom within structure. You, the dance educator, can adopt the standards for your curriculum in any sequence you choose, with an emphasis that reflects your individual values and the values of your school community. 

Standards Links

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