Please Wait a Moment

About Dance & Dance Education

What is Dance?

Multiple college age students taking a dance class in a studio with high ceiling and blue curtains

Dance is most broadly defined as the rhythmic movement of the body in time and space. Dance may be considered the oldest art form, as it predates language and embodies one of our most primal relationships to the universe. Movement is innate in children before they possess command over language and is evoked when thoughts or emotions are too powerful for words to contain. As humans, we move to achieve mobility, to communicate, to connect with others, and to express deeply held emotions. When movement becomes consciously structured and is performed with awareness for its own sake, it becomes dance. Dance is practiced for a variety of purposes, including as part of ceremonies, rituals, and rites of passage; to communicate, tell stories, and pass down information; to celebrate or mark special occasions; to connect with one another or foster community; and to express individual or collective emotions, moods, or feelings.

A flamenco teacher stands in a circle with 5 young students all arms outstretched to the center of the circle

Dance can be a form of physical exercise, an important aspect of cultural heritage, a social activity, a therapeutic practice, and a form of artistic expression. There are a vast number of dance genres, styles, and traditions practiced by people throughout the world. Each dance practice is a reflection of the time and culture in which it was created, a unique expression of the people who practice it.

Dance and Diversity

3 african dancers performing on stage in front of musicians

Though our organization is focused on dance as an art form, we acknowledge the role that dance plays throughout the human experience. We recognize the wide range of dance practices that have existed throughout history, and the peoples and cultures from which they originated. We value the contributions of dancers, choreographers, and dance teachers from all backgrounds, working in all dance genres and styles. We honor the interconnectedness of the field of dance, knowing that we benefit from its rich diversity. Furthermore, we acknowledge that many of the dance genres and styles taught and practiced today are rooted in the history and current artistry of historically oppressed peoples, but that connection is often overlooked or outright erased in education, choreography, and performance. We recognize the vast contribution of dancers, educators, and choreographers from marginalized groups, yet we know that they are often overlooked, neglected, and outright rejected in academic and creative spaces.Together with NDEO's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee, we will continue to seek ways to fight for justice within the dance community. We know that there is still much to do within our organization and within dance education. We will continue to seek new ways to ensure that marginalized perspectives are recognized within our membership and throughout the dance education field.

We know that dance has the power to create change in our communities and the world, and we seek to be part of that change.  

About Dance as an Art Form

Female dancer jumping in air with multiple colors of paint on her body

In dance as an art form, movement is used to communicate meaning about the human experience. The art of dance is a powerful medium to express one's values, thoughts, and aspirations. It can be an important tool for introspection and reflection about the world in which we live. As part of our mission to advance dance education centered in the arts, we support dance educators, artists, and students as they find and express meaning through movement in all dance genres and styles.

About Dance as Art in Education

In the United States, dance education is offered in a broad range of dance genres and styles, to students of all backgrounds, ages, skill levels, and abilities. Dance education is delivered in a number of settings, including:

Some of the most-taught dance styles in the U.S. include Hip Hop, Tap, Ballet, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Creative Movement, and American and Latin Ballroom Styles. Dance education is also increasingly available in movement practices originating in cultures across the globe, including dances of the African diaspora, Indian Classical dance styles, dance forms from Ireland and Scotland, and Chinese classical and folk dances.

The 4 Artistic Processes

Education in the art of dance involves four artistic processes, designed to help students achieve dance literacy. Dance literacy, as defined by the NDEO, involves discovering the expressive elements of dance; knowing the terminology that is used to comprehend dance; having a clear sense of embodying dance; and being able to reflect, critique, and connect personal experience to dance.

Conceiving and developing new choreographic ideas and work.

Realizing choreographic ideas and work through interpretation and presentation.

Understanding and evaluating how dance conveys meaning.

Relating choreographic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

Through these processes, dance students in any genre or style develop the skills required to create, perform, understand, and derive meaning from movement as a means of artistic communication. NDEO believes that a comprehensive education in the art of dance, regardless of the genre or style being studied, includes the unique technique required for that genre or style, improvisation, choreography, performance, observation, and analysis. Exposure to the roots and history of dance as a cultural practice and art form, kinesiology and anatomy, and movement theories further enriches the dance education experience.

Comparision of Cognitive Proccesses

Adapted from the book 'Dance About Anything' by Marty Sprague, Helene Scheff, & Susan McGreevy-Nichols

Task Creative/Artistic Scientific

Problem Solving

1.Concept Choose Topic

Ask question and define problem

Define a problem as a question Identify topic
  2.Investigation            Research Topic Research and collect data Research and investigate Do general research
3.Exploration Identify important aspects of topic Revelation, see a method, generalize Get many solutions Collect ideas, expand research

Devise problems to be solved, ask  questions

Develop hypothesis Choose best solution Limit subjects
  5.Development         Solve problems and produce material Experiment or test, verfiy or prove false Check validity of solution Write first draft, self evaluate, rewrite

 Design art work, self evaluate, revise

Write final peer evaluation Tryout solution Do first review of final draft

 Get and use feedback from performance or show

Publish response to feedback: acceptance or criticism Get feedback and do final evaluation of solution Publish and recieve public response


Why Is Dance Education Important?

Research and anecdotal evidence indicate that dance education contributes to students' physical, emotional, and social well-being by providing a method of physical awareness and fitness, an outlet for creativity and personal expression, and a means to develop social-emotional skills, such as self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Students who study dance develop 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, and creativity, and dance has been shown to positively affect students' attitudes, perceptions, and values. Dance provides children multiple perspectives. Through dance, children develop enhanced sensory awareness, cognition, and consciousness. It is this heightened state that creates the magic of movement that is dance.

young female child looks to be about 2 years old dancing with a tamborine and drumsticks

Benefits of Dance Education

Physical Development:  Dance involves a greater range of motion, coordination, strength and endurance than most other physical activities. This is accomplished through movement patterns that teach coordination and kinesthetic memory. Dancing utilizes the entire body and is an excellent form of exercise for total body fitness. Dance offers all students, but especially children, an avenue to expand movement possibilities and skills.

Emotional Wellbeing: Dance promotes emotional health and maturity. Children enjoy the opportunity to express their emotions and become aware of themselves and others through dance. Students learn valuable life skills through dance, such as responsibility, persistence, communication skills, grit, and accountability. Dance offers a structured outlet for emotional release, while gaining awareness and appreciation of oneself and others.

Social Awareness:   Dance fosters social encounters, interaction, and cooperation. Children learn to communicate ideas to others through the real and immediate mode of body movement. When they dance together, students learn to understand themselves in relation to others. They develop empathy by connecting kinesthetically, learn to cooperate by solving movement problems together, and come to respect themselves and others by participating in the creative process together.

Cognitive Development:  Dance promotes cognitive growth in a number of ways. Research from the field of neuroscience asserts that movement can teach students how to function in and understand the world. Through dance, students learn to:

  • Embody movement concepts in a way that works for their own physicality and development.
  • Apply new skills and concepts through movement. Interpret meaning in and respond to choreography.
  • Solve movement problems.
  • Create choreography in response to a prompt.

Dance Education Teaching and Learning Environments

At NDEO, we believe in the importance and value of all dance education teaching and learning environments. We recognize 4 primary teaching and learning environments, which we call sectors. We use these to denote our different types of Institutional Memberships.

  • K-12: Consisting of public, private, and charter PreK-12 Schools
  • Dance Studios: Consisting of dance studios, conservatories, and academies that are privately owned and operated as a small business
  • Performing Arts Organizations: Consisting of professional dance companies and presenting venues that also offer dance education programs, as well as community centers, and similar institutions
  • Higher Education: Consisting of colleges, universities, and post-secondary training programs

We believe in honoring the synergy among these environments, recognizing that each plays a vital role in sustaining the field and affording access to dance education for all people.

While the individual needs and goals of each sector and each kind of institution within the sector may differ, we all desire to create a thriving field in which all dance students are encouraged and supported, and dance is respected as a vital part of society. We believe that dance and dance education are best served by a cooperative, supportive relationship among all sectors of the field, and do our best as an organization to foster this synergy.

a group of NDEO members sitting in a circle on the floor at an NDEO conference
Photo Credits From Top: Brad Wakoff courtesy of Erica Dankmeyer, Rachel Neville Photography courtesy of Ballet Hispanico School of Dance, Brian Mengini Photography, Amy Bramlett Turner, Bronwen Houck Photography.