TADA! Legislative Dance Yields Results

Sometimes we need to forget how to lose and learn how to win.

On Sunday, December 11 The Wallis hosted nearly 100 arts educators and advocates from across California to thank State Senator Ben Allen for his work in establishing teaching credentials in dance and theater for K-12 schools. While several past legislative efforts had been unsuccessful, Senator Allen secured overwhelming bipartisan support and the signature of the Governor. The legislation will finally value the expertise dance and theater educators bring to the table, no longer requiring they first secure a credential in physical education or English. As an organization that celebrates dance and theater on our stages, The Wallis was honored to join with California Alliance for Arts Education to help organize and host the celebration. In the spirit of the bill, the event was held on Dance Sunday, a free dance class open to the public and curated by Wallis Board Member Debbie Allen.

After decades of struggle in Sacramento, the breakthrough happened this year because the state’s major teacher unions changed their tune.  Rather than oppose the “proliferation” of new teaching credentials, they supported Allen’s SB 916.  This was the result of very effective “bottom up” advocacy by rank and file teachers.  Educators teaching dance and theater organized and made their voices heard within the internal processes of their unions.  It was thrilling to have California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association join in support of this bill.

While the passage of this legislation took decades to achieve, it is the relatively “easy” part of the journey.  Actual implementation is always more difficult.  In this case, universities that prepare educators need to develop new academic programs and courses tied to the new dance and theater credentials.  This comes at the same time California faces a global shortage of teachers of all sorts.  With competing needs and pressures facing them, Deans of Education need to consider the supply and demand for new dance and theater teachers.  This will require sustained advocacy from those of us who care about these disciplines.

Finally, we should consider why dance and theater almost always lack the status of visual art and music within K-12 schools?  What is it about these arts disciplines that lead to fewer resources and less support?  I have a theory.  Art and music often require students to learn “technical skills” that imply greater rigor, such as learning to read musical notation or mix colors of paint.  But because dance and theater can appear as almost too much a “natural” part of the human experience, perhaps they are seen as “less than” when it comes to core school courses or subjects.  In spite of the outward appearance, we know dance and theater – when done well – require just as much discipline, hard work, and technique as any other content area.  I hope the establishment of new credentials in dance and theater will help correct these misperceptions.