Typhani Harris | July 2014

My First Winter Coat: Cloaking dance education perspectives in a cross-country adventure

Each year our lives fathom through different stages, different expectations, and different seasons. I was born and raised in Southern California, so when it comes to seasons, unlike the rest of the country, I have only experienced two: hot and hotter. I have never seen snow fall, have never had a white Christmas, have never really seen the truth that is winter, and hence have never needed a Winter Coat.

However, last week I accepted a position at the Williamsburg Charter High School in Brooklyn, New York! This acceptance comes with a month of pain-staking, mind-breaking, curiosity seeking, running around to get everything prepared for my new adventure, all in just one short month. I have to rent out my house, figure out what I am going to do with my dogs, pack everything I own, find an apartment, store my car, say goodbye to life as I know it, and buy my first Winter Coat.

Amidst all of the preparation for the lifestyle change and cross-country move…I also have to prepare for my new position as a New York Dance Educator. Which made me question the difference between California and New York when it comes to dance education. Geographically we are on opposite ends of the country, but are we on opposite ends of the dance education spectrum as well?? Besides the actual winter coat I will need come December, what coat will I need for my New York dance education experience? What do I need to know and familiarize myself with in order to prepare for this new venture?

So, I began researching the many coats of dance education in both states:

In California our coats tend to be lightweight, sometimes water resistant (but it’s not necessary since it doesn’t rain that often), colorful, and fashionable. Dance education is the same, lightweight in the sense that there is no defined structure or blueprint, teachers do not have a specialized dance credential, and it is often seen as a pastime rather than a pathway to the education of life. Dance Education is colorful and fashionable placing entertainment and appearance at the forefront and really relying on the performance aspect and the stage presence of the art.

New York coats on the other hand, are heavy and structured, and the look is not as important as the functionality because they must serve a purpose. New York dance education mimics this with heavily structured preparation for teachers including standards, blueprints, and an actual credential specializing in dance.  Just like a New York winter coat, functionality and purpose is key to the foundation of dance education in New York. It’s not always about the performance or entertainment, it is about the art, the exploration, the use of movement as a means to educate. Chart, Cloaking dance education, Education Closet

I spent a little time speaking with Abigail Agresta-Stratton MA, RDE, Past-President of New York State Dance Education Association (NYSDEA), who confirmed my inclination that the perceptions of dance education are as wide-spread as our country. She did explain that, although in the actual city there is a more arts focused dance education, the studio life is still very active and prominent throughout the state. She also shared that there are many dance teams and kicklines outside the city who are competitive, which is similar to California.

After putting the states side-by-side, I realized that the states are quite similar in the delivery of dance education with one major difference. California, being the entertainment capital of the world, tends to value the entertainment aspect, however due to the blueprints and the credential in dance, New York seems to have a stronger foundation for the artistic side of Dance education.

New York has coated their dance education in blueprints, standards, credentialed teachers, and artistic perception.  Whereas California’s dance education is coated in entertainment, competition, dance teams, and tricks.  Both coats are extremely valuable and equally important, but vary based on the needs of the state.  Looking at this put me at ease, as my values of dance education align nicely with New York; maybe this transition won’t be so hard afterall?

This move will be a huge lifestyle change…of which I am excited! So far, my colleagues and my new principal are amazing and I am so excited to collaborate with all of them! I am, however, concerned about working the subway system, how much time I need for commuting, where I am going to live, and of course, my first winter coat! Although, I have quite a few New York friends who will take me shopping for my first literal Winter Coat,  I am more concerned with my new Dance Education coat and how to become the best New York Dance Educator I can be!!

Good Luck shopping for your numerous coats this winter!

Next Week: Common Core
The New Core Arts Standards

Some have commented that the new arts standards are too simplistic, but is that really the case? Artists have negated to utilize the arbitrary nuance of language to present their standards, and have opted to just give us the down and dirty, and for that we should be thankful.  But that does not mean they are less rigorous, just less wordy and much less capricious!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.