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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

A Response to Critics

This article will use "social dance" to refer to the many forms of dance taught in the USA that involves couples dancing together. (Admittedly somewhat tautological, but it seemed appropriate.) This will include, but not necessarily be limited to, social ballroom dance, swing dance, country dance, and many other forms of folk dance where couples dance in synchrony.

Several articles on this site are critical of the curriculum and associated instruction practiced by the traditional ballroom dance studio and by most teachers of social dance. This is to answer some of the critics of these articles, who have alleged, among other things, that the articles are inaccurate, harsh, inappropriate, negative, and detrimental to social dance. Rather than begin with the defense of individual arguments, which, incidentally, are generally defended within each article, I will begin with " profession" as a formal descriptor, and I will move from an overview to some associated issues.

The Certified Professional Dance Teacher is, by purported title, a member of a profession. Let us then consider some of the characteristics of a profession, that is, an occupation that involves extensive training terminating in some form of certification*: 1) professional organization, 2) limited membership, 3) scope of inquiry, 4) mechanism for validation and dissemination of findings. There might be several others, but these are clearly implied by the term, profession.

Professional Organization. There appear to exist in the USA at least two, perhaps more, professional organizations of teachers of social dance.

Limited Membership. Each organization examined has membership requirements, and, in addition to membership, some confer certification by examination, the latter based on the organization's proprietary criteria.

This, unfortunately, is where the professionalism seems to end. With no designated scope of inquiry, no research component, no scholarly journal, and no advancement of knowledge within the profession, professional practice changes little over time. Indeed, it appears that there has been no change in methodology for decades, either within the respective professional organizations or within the practice of those who, though not certified, practice their craft in a comparable manner. Indeed, it would be difficult for the student to distinguish the certified from the non-certified teacher of social dance. Furthermore, studios, whether independent or franchised, tend to teach in essentially the same manner.

When one considers the advancement in most professions over the past century, and, yes, one of these organizations has been in existence for over a century, the social dance syllabus and methodology are amazingly static. Considering the advancement in research into cognitive and motor learning over the past few decades, to remain static in the teaching of social dance seems anything but professional. It is interesting that the youngest professional organization adapted syllabi indistinguishable from the traditional except for media options. (ProDVIDA, established in 2001, offers syllabi in popular video formats, generally of admirable quality, but otherwise indistinguishable from the traditional curricula.)

Much is known about teaching and learning, but that knowledge has had little affect on the teaching of social dance. To paraphrase a portion of the concluding paragraph in Profession, we might be dealing with faith-based organizations, representing a pseudo-profession that depends on tradition and lack of public understanding to maintain status, progress of related professions and associated knowledge advancement notwithstanding. Having a profession in the ordinary sense does not necessarily make someone a professional in the formal sense.

Numerous articles on this site delineate specific criticisms of the practice of teaching social dance, and many of these have been severely criticized by both those within and without the professional. However, no critic has pointed out any specific fault in either documentation or reasoning. No critic has countered with an example of significant application of known principles of teaching and learning in the practice of teaching social dance. No critic has pointed out any sign of advancement based on systematic inquiry. No critic has referred to any significant change in methodology almost within the entire history of the teaching of social dance in the USA. And no critic has produced any evidence of any effort to advance pedagogical knowledge within the alleged profession.

Disclaimer. One might argue that most dance studios teaching "ballroom dance" do not teach "social dancing;" rather, they teach "formal, exhibition or competition" dance form and style. At best, this is disingenuous, for only a minuscule proportion of their clientele aspire to such lofty heights. Most clients clearly take dance lessons for the purpose of social dancing. For studios/teachers not to distinguish among these aspirations, and not to structure their classes to reflect the differential skills associated with these differing purposes might well be more of an indictment than a defense.

Research. Interestingly, this writer has had occasion, as a researcher and instructional designer, to collaborate with a dance teacher who was both a scholar and an educator in the application of systematic instructional design principles to the social dance curriculum. As often happens in academia, opportunities for further study were precluded by institutional curricular revision and untimely retirements. Even so, the core assessment seemed valid, and prototype testing tended to confirm the initial findings. Unfortunately, no professional thus far encountered seems willing even to examine the possibility that there might be ways to improve a practice that has seen essentially no change for almost a century.

In addition to a passion for social dance, this writer has academic and professional experience that has confirmed, in the classroom, the laboratory, and in the private sector, the efficacy of the application of instructional design principles to all forms of learning, including those forms relevant to learning social dance. It is not from a dislike of the teaching of social dance that these criticisms are offered; rather, it is a genuine enthusiasm for social dance and the desire to see it effectively and efficiently taught as a healthy, enjoyable, and rewarding activity. Note, also, that these arguments are not without substance, and, in retirement, such substance is freely given. See A Workshop to Improve the Teaching of Partner Dance.

*A derivation of these characteristics may be found in the short treatise, Profession. Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.