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Professional Teaching Internships for Dance Majors

Melanie Richards
Department of Dance and Choreography
School of the Arts

“The dance is peculiarly adapted to the purposes of education.  It serves all ends of education.  It helps to develop the body, to cultivate the love and appreciation of beauty, to stimulate the imagination and challenge the intellect, to deepen and refine the emotional life and to broaden the social capacities of the individual…”
          Margaret H’Doubler, Mother of Dance in the American University, 1925

Dance in the 21rst century is a vast panorama of human movement potential.  The study of dance is flourishing and the demand for qualified teachers has expanded with the growing interest in dance.  Increasing demand for well trained teachers has expanded the role of university dance departments.  Now, more than ever before, the future teachers in the field of dance education are being trained in the university system rather than in private dance studios or professional organizations.  Careers in the field of dance education have significantly expanded in range and scope.  Universities are in a prime position to impact the depth and quality of dance education at every level of the profession.  Preparing college majors for a meaningful career in dance education requires a comprehensive curriculum with opportunities for teaching internships where the student teacher can be mentored.  In most fields of knowledge education courses and certifications are commonly offered and degrees in education cover a wide range of disciplines.  However, the inclusion of dance education courses and certifications is a relatively recent phenomenon.  The potential for expansion in the area of dance education is significant and the need for more substantial dance education course work is paramount.

Dance is an art form and a physical discipline requiring knowledge of biology, anatomy, kinesiology, nutrition, psychology, and history.  There are also the elements of the craft of dance which include time, space and energy, requiring a foundation in philosophy and esthetics.  Excellence in dance education must include exposure to all of theses areas of learning.  University dance departments have been developing comprehensive course work to advance the level of knowledge in all of these areas.  University dance majors have a greater range of knowledge and a wider perspective of the field than professional counterparts and therefore have the resources to become leaders in the field of dance education.

Teacher preparation in an art form is complex, especially an art form that is based upon the action of the human body.  Sustaining an ideal balance between personal artistry and functional knowledge is difficult and remains a challenge for all educators in the field.   The university student must place the primary focus on physical training and knowledge of the craft.  The transition personal growth to a broader awareness of the self in relationship to educating others is a profound shift for the dancer.  However, in making that transformation the young artist becomes an independent thinker, synthesizing personal training experience, learned knowledge and artistic intuition into a base of personal resources for teaching.  Pedagogy courses in dance must cover a broad range of information but central to the learning process is the opportunity to prepare and teach classes in a supportive and mentored environment.  An internship program is a fundamental requirement in the training process.  Unfortunately teaching internships in dance are limited and infrequently available in the curriculum.  It is often necessary to create a special program to provide appropriate opportunities for students who are motivated to become educators.

Grants made available through the Center for Teaching Excellence served as the catalyst for the implementation of a special teaching internship program in the Department of Dance and Choreography at VCU.  My intentions for establishing this internship program were to extend the scope and depth of the pedagogy course and provide students with an opportunity to work directly with institutions in the Richmond community.  I determined the overall focus for the program and consulted with several directors of dance programs in this region.  All of the contacts were positive and very supportive.  Following my consultations I continued developing the structure of the internship with the feedback I received.  I established the basic guidelines for the student interns and finalized the locations of the first internships.  I selected the student interns from my pedagogy course basing my decision on several factors; demonstrated teaching aptitude, maturity, artistry, ability to be a strong role model and solid verbal skills.  Three students were selected.  The requirements were specified and each student scheduled a discussion session with me before the work began.  Each intern was required to propose an ongoing project with a core intention and a stated outcome for learning.  The interns were placed in two different institutions based on their preference and their personal schedule.   Prior to beginning the teaching practicum the interns were required to submit a written proposal, observe the classes they were scheduled to teach, meet with the directors of the dance programs, write comments about their observations and take notes on the information they were compiling throughout the process.  They were also responsible for presenting detailed lesson plans for each class.  I was directly involved in giving them ongoing feedback and supervising their progress.  The directors of the participating schools were also involved with the process of mentoring the interns, giving insights into the best strategies for teaching, pointing out key issues to be aware of as they structured their lesson plans and offering helpful tools for success. 

The outcome of this initial intern program was extremely successful.  The process was well balanced with a good base of preparation and substantial engagement in classroom teaching.  Two interns completed their two week practicum at Henrico Center for the Arts and one intern completed a two week practicum at Thomas Dale High School.  The final reports from the directors of these programs and from the interns provide clear evidence of the enormous benefits of this program.  The interns were evaluated by me and by the director who also mentored them.  Written reports were given to each intern.  Additionally, the interns submitted a self evaluation.

The following quotes are taken from the documentation:

  • “The VCU student teachers, CFA [Center for the Arts] students and I gained much knowledge from the wonderful work practiced and produced during the student teaching apprentice program.  In addition, thank you for this wonderful opportunity and I hope to continue this type of collaboration between VCU and CFA to foster and grow for many years.”   
  • “’Amanda’ was very focused and prepared.  She worked well with the students, presented her ideas with clarity and assurance. She introduced them to new ideas with a patient and supportive demeanor.  Her teaching was very successful and I look forward to continuing this internship process with VCU.”   
  • “Teaching students for a longer period of time revealed more to me than the singular classes I had taught before.  For instance, I was able to develop my material and movement ideas over the course of the week.  Instead of revealing everything at once to the students and expecting them to absorb it all, I was able to take time and work progressively and cumulatively.  It was so reassuring to see changes over the week because I had never taught a group of students for a period of time in which I would be able to see a change.  It was a reaffirmation and a reassurance that I did have some business instructing other people in this form.  I was able to develop my voice and style as a teacher.” 
  • This teaching experience was an ice breaking situation for me.  I enjoy teaching, but before being offered this opportunity, I had never taught a modern class outside of college.  This experience has given me confidence that I can prepare a suitable lesson plan, teach movement, answer technical questions to help guide the students, manage a classroom and overall communicate effectively.”  
  • “As a novice teacher myself, when I began the residency, I felt I needed to have every angle of my class planned, with options in case something didn’t work out.  But, as I got to know the students, their abilities, I became less worried about the class, and more concerned with what the students were learning.  It’s something I will always be aware of now when I teach.  Over all, the experience was so eye opening and encouraging to me as an up and coming teacher.  Being my first real experience with High School students, I feel more prepared to teach all levels, and I feel that my capabilities and my knowledge is on par with taking on the responsibility of educating still developing minds in dance.  I truly did appreciate this experience.”

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Last modified: June 20, 2013
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