Washington Square Park is one of my favorite places in NYC. It’s located in the wonderful Greenwich Village (Manhattan) and always filled with (what seems to me) happy people enjoying the slower pace that you can only find in NYC public parks. It’s the area where New York University (NYU) is located and you will always see young students hanging out in the park, it just has a lovely vibe. Especially when the weather is good, like on the day I visited New York University (NYU) to meet with Dr. Susan R. Koff; Clinical Associate Professor of Dance Education and Director of the Dance Education Program. As I mentioned in my previous blog: over 400 public schools in NYC have dance in their curriculum. But there is another thing that NY has that we don’t: a master program in Dance Education. The second I heard about this program, I knew I had to schedule a meeting with Susan to learn more about it.
Susan and I first met at the Dance and the Child International (daCi) conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2015, where she recently started serving as the Chair Elect. Next to her work at NYU and daCi, she also served as a founding board member of the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), published over fifteen articles in several journals and has many, many years of experience as a teacher in (higher) education. But besides that very impressive resume, she is also a wonderful person that speaks about creative dance in a very passionate way.
We meet at her office which is located at the university building on W 4th street. The Dance Education program is a part of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Profession and founded by Martha Hill in 1932, which makes it one of the oldest in North America. The website states: Throughout our long history, Dance Education at NYU has been guided by a belief in movement as central to human development and education. From this perspective, dance and education are viewed as complementary domains of knowledge. Dance represents an intelligent expression of human experience and is an important source of understanding that contributes to our cognitive, emotional and physical growth in multicultural settings. Education is the means by which we increase knowledge and develop expertise.
MA in Teaching Dance, All Grades, Initial Certification
MA in Teaching Dance, All Grades, Professional Certification
MA in Teaching Dance in the Professions, Non-Certification
MA in Teaching Dance in the Professions: ABT (American Ballet Theatre) Ballet Pedagogy
MA in Teaching Dance, All Grades, Initial Certification and MFA in Dance
The chance of doing a master in Dance Education just sounds wonderful. Yet again, New York amazes me with it’s many great programs and options. Dance seems integrated in school curricula. It makes me very excited for my trip ahead: will I find this everywhere in America?
Creative dance in education
Unfortunately, I probably won’t, as Susan tells me; there are many states without an official certification in dance. So there are still a lot of schools without dance in their curriculum. Susan tells me it has a lot to do with the status of dance in our society. We see professional cheerleaders at sports games, television shows with little kids dressed up in glitter outfits and professional dance competitions with celebrities. No wonder that this is the general image people have when we talk about dance. School principals are mostly interested in performance, because that will make their school ‘look good’. Instead of focusing on the creative process, it’s the performance that is of importance to them.
Susan has written many articles on the subject (highly recommended reading material!). In 2000 she wrote an article called ‘Toward a Definition of Dance Education’ in which she explains how dance is often misinterpreted by schools. Do we expect kids to become highly trained writers when they learn language? So why would we expect them to become highly trained dancers when learning dance? Dance is about much more than just technique. Dance education does not have complex mastery as its goal. Rather, it enables every child, regardless of physical capabilities, to be expressive in a nonverbal manner – to explore and incorporate the physical self as a functioning part of the whole social being.
She also talks about learning through movement and that it is a natural form of communication: it is among the earliest forms of communication that children explore and learn, because it allows for the expression of ideas and imagination without words.
Creative dance is something that is highly supported by the daCi community, a community Susan speaks very highly of and that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of for the past couple years. So if you’re interested in learning more about daCi, you can check out their website here. Also, I would love to see you all at the next conference in Adelaide, Australia on July 8-13 2018!
Susan concludes our talk with an article that she read on the subway just a couple hours before our meeting. The article, published in the NY Times, compares Anne Frank’s history to the current stories of many Syrian refugee children. A very interesting and disturbing point of view. I can tell Susan is touched by the subject. I know she points it out partly because she knows I’m from Amsterdam and wants to show the article to me, but mostly because during our entire talk it was extremely obvious we both feel very strongly about dance being able to give more to people than just a physical awareness. If we open up and embrace people, embrace our differences, the world would be a different place. Dance can do that. In dance, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your background is. We speak a common language. I believe we can truly change the lives of many people with dance and Susan believes it too. How wonderful that she gets to teach this to her students.
In 2009, I spend six months in NYC doing a dance program. Somehow I wished I had known about these master degrees. Next to the amazing material I would have learned, I would have a certification to teach in NYC (!) and would have had classes from inspiring teachers like Susan. Hopefully, in this way, a new generation of future dance teachers will be inspired to go and explore these programs. Learn, grow and change the world!