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Title: Social and emotional aspects of children's dance in mainstream schools
Author: Cummings, John Stewart
ISNI:       0000 0004 2680 3397
Awarding Body: The Manchester Metropolitan University
Current Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University
Date of Award: 2009
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Although, in principle, schools and dance teachers support the notion of encouraging social and emotional development, there has been little emphasis on this area within English schools, little theory or research on how it might be applied within mainstream education, and teachers are mostly too busy to prioritise it. The basic model for dance in British schools is "dance as Art", performed for a theatre audience. It is commonly assumed by dance teachers that practice at performing dance boosts children's confidence and self-esteem. Using a social constructionist methodology and qualitative methods of group interviews, I find that children construct a wide variety of discourses about what constitutes dance, much of it based on a social model of dance for enjoyment and for each other, which is largely ignored by schools. Whether pupils gain confidence, or feel embarrassed, depends hugely on the quality of the audience, whether they are judgemental, or witnessing in an empathic way. Potentially, one of the major social and emotional benefits of dance could be as an open workshop to explore aspects of their gender and sexuality. There is still a large swathe of opinion, especially among boys, that school dance is for girls, and that boys who participate in it are "poofs". This attitude prevails much more strongly about the contemporary style of most school dance, than about popular, and more "macho" social forms such as breakdance. Apparently homophobic attitudes among boys are part of a policing of expressions of masculinity among "straight" boys, who suffer from schools' failure to tackle issues of gender, aggravated by a current discourse around so-called "child protection" that restricts most attempts to explore issues of touch and personal space, even within a heterosexual setting. I propose a model from performativity theory, of how both gender and "good dance" are constructed, or performed within schools, in a way which generates a measure of social exclusion, particularly of boys' dance. Using video recorded observations of lessons, I locate school dance within a wider social practice of "discipline of the body" and associated resistance, that constrains what movements are acceptable where and when. Within these constraints, dance lessons offer a space for young people to develop self-awareness, to explore and challenge customary boundaries of movement, the feelings associated with freer movement, and issues of identity. Some children gain self-knowledge, practice co-operation and trust, learn from cultures other than their own, extend their movement and expressive vocabulary, and experience enjoyment and zest for life. Using two contrasting approaches to phenomenology, I illustrate how the "dance as art" model, and the emphasis on school discipline and exam curricula, mostly excludes any emphasis on using movement introspectively to explore feelings and to develop autonomy, as occurs in most body / movement therapeutic settings. An emphasis on choreography omits opportunities to respond spontaneously to a partner in the present moment, or to dance alone for their own pleasure. Children resort to hiding their attempts to escape socialisation, through dance as "crazy" or "wild" self-expression. I emphasise the value of movement and dance as an embodied, non-verbal, non-rational route to knowledge of self, and raise theoretical questions about the limits to social construction, and the possibility of verbalising embodied experience.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available