I recently visited a high school dance program at Chartiers Valley High School and wrote about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Cathy Jenkins has built a dedicated and enthusiastic following at CV, but it set me to thinking. When will dance be put on equal, well, footing with the other arts at other public schools? Students can usually take advantage of assorted art, music and theater classes. But dance is generally left out of the loop. Only pioneer CeCe Kapron’s long-running program at Mt. Lebanon High School also offers dance as part of the curriculum in this area of Pennsylvania.
Part of the problem is physical education. Most teachers in that category have little or no training in dance. If a “dance” teacher is brought in, it puts their position in jeopardy. Virtually the only way a school can currently add dance is to have it be a part of the physical education program.
Of course, Pittsburgh’s creative arts schools, CAPA High School and Rogers’ Middle School occasionally have to defend their decision to hire working professionals. They are hired part-time, in order to continue their artistic development. Professional artists, be they dancers, singers, saxophonists or whatever, contribute mightily to students’ artistic development. In public schools, they conduct mostly workshops and residencies to broaden the students’ artistic experience.
So a Slippery Rock University or University of Pittsburgh grad can teach, but not someone from Point Park University. Yet all have different qualities and can contribute to the overall spirit of a school district. Hopefully local schools will realize that a well-rounded education means providing a holistic education — body, mind and soul. That could mean athletics, academics and arts. But if you stop to think about it, dance is the only art form that encompasses all three — a real shortcut. Of course it develops a fit body. The creative expression feeds the soul. And the memorization involved, often knowing many different and highly complex versions of a dance from a choreographer, enhances the mind. As for discipline, that goes without saying; dancers understand a strong work ethic, so important in life.
I think that I have the best arts beat in the city, because the dance performers are, yes, extraordinarily balanced. I would like to see more students experience that feeling.