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Credentials rules leave some East Bay dance instructors unable to teach

on April 4, 2016

Dance choreographer Cherie Hill wants to teach dance in Oakland public schools, but she can’t. The state of California doesn’t offer a teaching credential in dance.

Despite being one of the dance capitals of the world, with 73 public and private colleges and universities offer dance majors, for decades there hasn’t been a single-subject teaching credential in dance for the California public school system. For now, if someone wants to teach dance in schools, he or she would have to be credentialed in physical education.

“I was always attracted to teaching children in public schools, because a lot of times those children don’t have access to the arts. But it’s been disappointing that as positions open up for dance teachers in public schools, I’m not qualified to apply for them because I don’t have a credential,” said Hill.

According to the California Department of Education, there are 8,305 full-time credentialed teachers of the arts, teaching 1,462,297 students in discipline-specific arts classes, which represent only 23 percent of the State’s 6.3 million students.

Hill earned both a bachelors degree in dance performing arts studies and a master’s degree in dance, but has to go through a non-profit if she wants teach dance in schools as a guest of a teacher or after-school program.

In other states that offer a dance credential, an educator in dance can receive a salaried teaching position in a school district complete with healthcare and benefits.

Having a physical education credential allows teacher Jessica Kronenburg to instruct dance classes at El Cerrito High School.

“When I first came into this position, I did have PE on my schedule and I’m not trained in PE. So in my PE class at the high school level we did a gymnastics unit, salsa, tango, swing dancing. We did a Pilates unit, we did some meditation, and occasionally they would also do sports with balls and things,” said Kronenburg,

According to the California Dance Education Association, dance credentials are focused on preparing students for the performing arts and not on fitness. Because dance focuses on artistic expression, dancers focus more on the artistic elements of moving and creation and expression, and they want the state to recognize this subject is different from physical education.

In a press conference earlier this year, Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts, introduced legislation to establish a single-subject teaching credential for dance and theatre. “To tell people who have earned a degree in dance or theatre that they can’t teach in their respective fields unless they get a credential in PE or English is a disservice to them as teacher, to their students and the subject matter,” said Allen.

Allen introduced Senate Bill 916, the Theater and Dance Act (TADA!) in January, but it still has a long way to go before it is officially approved. The bill has to pass through the state senate education committee, the senate appropriations committee, the senate floor, the assembly education committee, the assembly appropriations committee, and the assembly floor in order to land on the governor’s desk by October.

California had a credential in dance and theatre, but it was eliminated under the Ryan Act of 1970. The act historically created the first independent standards board in the country, the Commission on Teacher Preparation and Licensing, which established teaching as a recognized profession.

The Ryan Act, authored by teacher-turned-congressman Leo J. Ryan, included an ambiguous sentence. A line in the act included credentialing in music and art, with an omission of the “s” for “arts.” When the “s” was dropped from the draft, it abolished the credentials for dance and theatre.

Ryan did not live to clarify the language in his bill. He died in Guyana while investigating the Peoples Temple settlement in 1978.

The futures of the TADA bill and those hoping to become credentialed dance and theatre teachers remains in limbo, but supporters like Hill hope it will pass this fall.

“I was born in California, raised in California, and even though I have a degree, I can’t have the opportunity to give back to my community,” said Hill. “I think for the students in California who we want to do their best, and the adults who are teachers and educators we want to be able to employ, it’s really important to support this credential happening. It’s overdue for it to happen in California.”

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