Please Wait a Moment

Building a Program From Scratch

a group of high school dancers pose in a clump on stage in black and gold biketards against a purple back drop

At times, dance educators will have the opportunity to build a new dance program from the ground up at a K-12 school. This can be incredibly rewarding, especially for those who have a strong vision of the structure, content, and mission they want to imbue in a program. However, it also presents incredible challenges. Starting a dance program from scratch in a K-12 school requires extensive planning, advocacy, promotion, and persistence - but it is one of the most important things that you can do as a dance educator! Each new dance program created in a K-12 school helps increase access to dance education for all students. The process of starting a new K-12 dance program may not always be easy, but it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

As part of our vision of dance education for all, NDEO supports dance educators who are creating dance programs in K-12 schools. We offer resources, such as the Professional Teaching Standards and K-12 Model Program Standards, opportunities for connection and support through our Online Forums and Special Interest Groups, and advocacy tools that can help you through the process.

Many NDEO members have been instrumental in the development of dance programs at K-12 schools. Read advice from some of these members below:

Elisa, a white woman with light brown hair smiles at the camera standing in front of red flowers

“I established the Dance program at my school in Fall 2021. In the 2022-23 school year, I taught over 600 students weekly. With 17 classes grades Pre-K through grade 3, and 5 classes in grade 6. My elementary students had one culminating performance at our first annual Dance Festival in early June. 6th grade participated in a 10-week residency program with Paul Taylor Dance Company, which culminated with a showcase in mid-June. Additionally, middle school students had the opportunity to audition for and perform in our school's first ever musical through a Broadway Jr. grant. For those looking to do the same, I would say: use what works and let go of what doesn't. I am lucky to have a supportive administration, who support my program. The documentary PS Dance! is a wonderful resource for teaching others about what K-12 dance programs look like.” - Stephanie Bergen, Dance Educator, NYCDOE - PS/IS 48R, a public elementary school in New York City

“Yes, I have built two programs from scratch. The NCAS are essential to this process and as a tool for communicating your work to admin. Make your work visible by inviting your admin personally to attend performances, visit your classroom, or meet a guest artist. Welcome them in, even if it feels intimidating to be observed.” - Elisa Foshay (pictured right), Dance Educator at Jones College Prep, a charter or magnet high school in Illinois

“When I came into the position, the school was just opening and we only had 9th graders. There was an outline of what the program should look like with course and textbook recommendations, but over the 18 years of the school many changes have occurred. I spent the first 5 years or so tweaking and developing this outline into a more defined and specific curriculum. We received CTE certification and then had to maintain certain standards and course loads to keep this. In the last 5-10 years I have solidified that curriculum and coursework while still being flexible and mindful of the population in front of me in any given year. I am the only Dance educator in my district, and currently the only dance educator working in a public school in my state, so I am able to do mostly what I think is best and what I want. This is beneficial in that way, but also means I am alone and need to develop everything alone. This is time consuming work and my advocacy at the state level has taken a backseat to being fully present for the students in my program. That being said, I have developed the entire program and curriculum for the school, and in turn the district, and set the standard for the State as we are the only public arts high school in our state. I have worked on writing standards, GSEs, common tasks, portfolio for graduation requirements, and sat on various panels at the state level for almost 20 years.” - Tovah Bodner Muro, Dance Educator/Department Chair, Jacqueline M Walsh High School for the Art, a public high school in Rhode Island

"The program originally began as a part-time position with two classes for grades 9-12. Over time, I have had conversations with administrators about when and how other dance classes could fit into the schedule as well as cross over in the school's overall curriculum. Now we have a full program for grades 6-12. The elementary school has an extra afterschool program but still trying to make inroads during the school day.” - Ann Robideaux, Theater/Dance Coordinator/Teacher/Choreographer at Princeton Day School, a private combined grades school in New Jersey

a group of high school students performing on stage in various white and red costumes, they are all leaning toward the audience with their arms open

“I developed a high school dance program at my school in California. When I was hired, they had 3 classes of "PE Dance" where students were all the same class, regardless of level, and 1 class of Advanced dance, which was comprised of the Dance Team and was basically practice of routines for the upcoming halftime or pep rally performances. I had taught K-12 dance for 20 years in Illinois before moving to CA, and developed a dance curriculum with my dance colleagues in that district, so I inquired in my new district about existing dance curriculum. There wasn't one. I teamed up with the other secondary dance educators and we wrote a curriculum, based on what we had developed and taught over the years, and aligned with CA state standards for Dance. Later, we updated the curriculum to relate more closely to the National Core Arts Standards, and researched curriculum models approved by the UC System so that we could apply for and offer classes that are UC approved. We had to advocate for our subject, and impress upon our district administrators that this was needed, resulting in our receiving stipend for curriculum development. We also had to pitch our curriculum to committees and the school board for approval. We now offer a comprehensive program with 3 levels (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced), along with an International Baccalaureate Dance program, providing a 4-year pathway for students.” - Angela Criscimagna, Dance Director at Great Oak High School, a public high school in California

“Aligning your dance program with other arts programs at the school can be a powerful tool when building a new dance program. Connecting with your colleagues in music, visual art, and theater can be a way to cross collaborate and align your teaching standards with the same standards that they teach. Connect your curriculum to the national standards as a way to boost the meaning for projects and work that your students are doing. Propose a chapter of NHSDA at your school as a way to also boost the visibility of dance within your school. NHSDA is also a way to honor the work your students do at dance studios outside of school, as well as the work they do at your school. Identify how your dance program is complementing the training students are receiving at their dance studios, as well as a way to not compete with their dance studio, but to prepare them for college and the next step in dance. Consider them as a whole dance artist and not just a technician.” - Cara Lavallee, Middle & Upper Learning Dance Teacher at The Galloway School, a private PreK-12 school in Georgia

“Yes, in fact I am currently building my second program from scratch. My best advice is similar to creating success with students is to get students on stage as soon as possible. Developing a performance-based program where Everyone is welcome and every single dancer has a successful experience has proven to be key. The administration will notice immediately the engagement and transformation of your students.”- Gina Statile, Dance Educator at Garfield Public Schools, teaching in public middle and high school in New Jersey

Lucia, a woman with dark hair and lipstick on, gazing away from the camera, wearing a white tank top.

“It is not an easy process. Your top 2 priorities are fundraising and proving your program's worth/ successes. You will most likely not have the proper supplies or space and you will have to fundraise for those. You will also have to show administration, students, fellow teachers, and parents why your program is worth funding. Go to competitions, performance opportunities, perform in pep-rallies, etc. Get your dancers out in front of an audience to promote your program.” - Lucia Martinez (pictured left), Dance Director at AcadeMir Charter School Preparatory, a combined grades charter school in Florida

“Do your research. Take time to know what is available in your state, your city/town, your district. Find ways to make your program unique from others in your area, but provide/create chances to collaborate or come together with others in dance/dance education. Connections and networking are huge! Start small, engage the students, parents, faculty, and administration in the building of the program. Communicate and advocate often and regularly. Create ways to bring people to your school for dance and get your students out in the community. Be visible and know what you can manage. Enjoy the journey!” - Rebecca McGregor, Dance Teacher, Arts and Mentor Chair at the Lyndon Institute, a private high school in Vermont

“Yes, I actually built the dance program from scratch at my school. My advice to others would be to know that it takes time to build a dance program if there is none at your school. It takes at least 5-10 years to build a program. The best thing about building a program from scratch is that you get to make it how you want it to be. It takes time to build trust with the principal, administrators, parents, students and community. The best way to advocate for your program is to put on a show so that everyone can see what the program is about. This helps build your classes for the next year. I advocated for my program by asking for what I didn’t happen right away but now, I have a beautiful dance studio.” - Valery Nesby, Dance Teacher at Frank Black Middle School, a public middle school in Texas

“I rebuilt our program. I began by researching programs at similar schools, and collect student feedback on what they wanted from our program. I was able to use this date to build a program that better met the needs of our community, and it increased the size and scope of our dance program. This was all done keeping our school mission and vision in mind, and working to develop curriculum that centered DEIB, SEL, and Global Competencies in our teaching and learning.” - Sarah Roney, Performing Arts Department Chair and Teaching Fellows Coordinator at Holton- Arms School, a combined grades private school in Washington, D.C

“Building a new program is no easy feat. You must step into that role with an understanding that you are your only advocate. Stand up for what you and your students need and explain why you need those things with data and research. Remember you are the expert on your class and subject so don't be afraid to ask for what you need.” - Hannah Olmo, Dance Teacher at Dover Public Schools in New Jersey

Ashley, a white woman with short light brown hair, wearing a pink shirt, and smiling against a black backroud.

“I have built two dance programs from scratch. I found an administrator who was arts friendly and already believed in the work we were doing in theatre. I agreed to start slowly and told them I could build the program. They believed me and I did. I visited our feeder schools, spoke with fine arts folks there and encouraged them to come to our shows. I met with parents, got other faculty members involved and did whatever I could to show how passionate I was about the program and how beneficial it would be to our students. The results spoke for themselves as we went to a full time program in one year.” - Ashley Ware (pictured right), Dance Director for Jaxco Dance at Jackson County High School, a public high school in Georgia

“My program started with one class, and now I get to hire a part time second teacher! It has taken 15 years, so my first word of advice is patience! Convince the students that your class is worth taking so that it can grow - given a supportive administration, which I was blessed to mostly have. Don't be fussy about your teaching space, it is expensive to outfit a dance studio, so be creative with what you have and be a team player. How else can you be integral to the workings of the school? Is your face known in the front office? Does the student body know there is a dance department? Do your students do things with you outside of the school day, such as clubs, teams, or performances?” - Leslie Williams, Director of Dance at Liberty High School, a public high school in Colorado

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): By Pedro Gongorra courtesy of High Tech High School, Headshot of Elisa Foshay by Jean-Paul Masuda, Courtesy of Seckinger High School Dance Department, photo courtesy of Lucia Martinez, headshot of Ashley Ware by Diana Norton

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