Dance in Schools & Why it Matters

Utah has been a hot spot for expanding dance education since the early 1900’s. Since its beginnings in Physical Education Departments at universities such as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, the idea of dance in an academic setting has traveled all the way to high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. There are now many flourishing dance programs all over the state. 

Dance access for all

The idea of dance in the schools was foreign to me when I moved to Utah. I grew up in small-town Ohio, where the only dance opportunities available were through expensive private studios. I was one of only a few serious dancers in my whole school and I always craved more chances to tap into my artistic knowledge at school. My whole understanding of performing arts in the schools was flipped upside down when I learned about the dance programs in public, private, and charter schools all around Utah. For the first time, I saw dance as equitable and accessible to students of all backgrounds. If they could come to school – they could dance.

What does dance education look like in Utah?

I graduated college with a degree in Dance Education K-12 and have spent the past couple of years teaching dance in the public schools. Here are a few reasons why I believe Utah is paving the way for dance education in schools and creating an excellent academic experience for students. 

State Standards

The state standards for dance education provide guidance for curriculum that gives students a well-rounded academic experience. The standards are create, perform, respond, and connect. These standards are often taught through a framework we dancers know as B.E.S.T. (Body, Energy, Space, Time). This framework is used in all levels of classes so students are familiar with the vocabulary and can continually build upon their dance knowledge and skill over time. The topics we teach within this framework are relevant, research-based, and adaptable to student needs. 

Unique Opportunities for Students

Professional companies and University companies throughout the state offer opportunities for students to learn from, collaborate with, and even perform alongside their dancers. Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company makes community outreach and education a priority which is something I greatly admire as a dance educator. I know that it is a valuable opportunity for my students to spend time with dancers in higher education and in the professional realm. 

Flexibility and Accessibility

Dance classes are often offered as an art credit, a PE credit, or an elective. This allows virtually every student the chance to take dance at some point in their middle or high school career. There are also carefully crafted levels and steppingstones for students that choose to pursue dance at higher levels after their first class. I have seen students take a beginning level dance class and graduate years later with an inspiring journey through the dance program and a promising future in dance outside of school. 

Self-Expression through Dance

Maybe most importantly at this time in the world, many dance programs here focus on giving students the opportunity to express themselves in a supportive space. Helping students learn to communicate through movement is a vital component of dance education. Students often find great fulfillment in their dance classes because of the humanity they can experience. Those who may struggle with classes such as math or science may shine in a class with more of a creative emphasis such as those in the performing arts.

What do the students think?

A student at Cedar Valley High School who has participated in the dance program all four years of high school wrote:

Having dance in schools has been the greatest outlet for me. I look back to all my experiences in high school, and almost all of them relate back to dance. Each school activity where I get to demonstrate my abilities has brought me more joy than you can imagine. It has been a place where I feel completely accepted for who I am. It has become my second home. School can be extremely stressful at times, and dance has been a great way to cope with it. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to show what I am passionate about and be able to express a big part of me through dance in school.

I love my job!

I am so grateful for the chance I have to share my love of dance with the incredible students that walk into my classroom. They inspire me every day. One quote I share with all of my classes comes from modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. It says, “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.” There are still strides to be made in Utah, as well as all over the United States, in regard to advocacy, funding, and support for the arts in schools. If you have a student of your own, encourage them to take a dance class! You never know – it could make a lasting impression for years to come. 

About the author: Daylin Williams has been exploring movement and dance since the age of 3. She grew up in Mansfield, Ohio and trained at the Richland Academy of the Arts until she moved to Utah to study at Brigham Young University. During her time at BYU, she spent multiple semesters as a performer, choreographer, and served as the President of dancEnsemble. She also traveled to Europe to study contemporary dance, presented choreography at the Rocky Mountain Choreography Festival, performed at ACDA, and attended the National Dance Education Organization Conference. Since graduating, she has taught dance at Centennial Middle School and choreographed and performed for community events such as Dance for Hope. She currently teaches dance and directs the dance company at Cedar Valley High School and loves being a part of the WCDC family where she can grow as an artist among such wonderful and supportive people. 

Photo by Greg Baird