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Norvald Nilsen

Changes in content and practice in dance education in the Norwegian school system after the Curriculum Reform of 1997.

Nilsen, Norvald: "Changes in content and practice in dance education in the Norwegian school... 1997", 14th International Conference, International Organization of Folk Art - Greek Section, Dance and History, Aridea, Pella, 13-17 September 2000.

Dancing is not of new date in the Norwegian school system. Dance has been on our curriculum since 1974 and remained there throughout subsequent curriculum reforms. But the use of dance as a method within education has been much more important after the 1997 reform. This is evident within schools generally, and especially in the teaching plans for music and physical education. Unfortunately these teaching plans have been written by groups of people who have never discussed the matter with each other, and nothing has been done to coordinate the terminology or the content in the curriculum aimed at different class levels.

Although dance is not a new phenomenon in schools, it is new that teachers cannot just overlook it and do something else. Parents can demand dance education. However, it is still not clarified who is responsible for ensuring that the curriculum is followed, the teacher or the headmaster.

If we sum up all the words referring to dance and varieties of dance in the national curriculum plan, we end up with three main areas:

· Dance expression and creative dance

· Norwegian traditional dance material

· Foreign traditional dance forms.

In traditional dances there can also be much room for leadership, improvisation and creativity. We shall look more closely at each of these areas.

1. Creative dance and dance expression are referred to in various ways in the plan. The pupils are to: 'create their own dance expressions', 'drama activities', 'creative dance', 'artistic expression' and 'dance as a form of expression'. This part of dance is mainly presented in teaching plans for physical education rather than in the teaching plans for music education. In my view, the curriculum reform lays greater emphasis on this area within the national plan than on the following two areas.

2. Norwegian traditional material is found under several terms as 'local dances', 'village dances', 'traditional games'. The plan also uses the term 'Norwegian dances', as if there existed a living dance form that begins or ends at the Norwegian border. There is no such dance.

There are many dances and traditional games in this group which leave considerable room for leadership and improvisation (also improvisation as a couple). This applies both to the old village dances, and to the round dances (pair dances) from the 18th century.

3. Foreign dance forms are a large and comprehensive field. The national curriculum plan mentions some regions in particular. However, in my opinion, it would be nearly impossible for the average teacher to cope with all of these forms. I think it would be better to find dances which are representative of the people (ethnic groups/nations) we 'borrow' dances from, and use them with respect. In much of this dance material there is great room for leadership, improvisation and creativity.

The term 'International folk dance' is used under this heading. The term is difficult since there is no dance form which is truly international (apart from modern disco dance). The name 'foreign dances' is much better in my opinion.

In all these three areas pertaining to dance, we can find content referring to 'dance expression' and 'dance management'. Both terms are found in most dance material, more or less. However, some dances have more 'expression'

than 'management'. I think it is wise to find a balance between 'expression' and 'management' in an attempt to reach all children with something suitable. I am convinced that the absence of the management part of dancing will make this activity attractive only to girls, and this is not what we want, I think?

Many teachers are frustrated about how many different formulations they find referring to dance in the national plan and that these vary from one class level to the next. Consequently they wonder if they are supposed to forget all about what they did the previous year and start doing something quite new at the beginning of the next school year.

Normally education in school isn't that way. What we find useful and functional one year will of course be used and built on the following year. Dance material that children have been positive to should be used in school activity and social occasions in schools also at higher class levels.

What we dance in school is often decided by handbooks for teachers, or by people working on teacher training programmes or by course supervisors. The dances which the authors of handbooks for teachers select seem to be rather casual and often show no critical reflection. Here are some examples of the traditional dances that we can find in handbooks for music teachers after the curriculum reform of 1997:

1. “Musikkisum” has the following dances (without stating their sources):

- Klappdans (Norway), a dance that is more or less a “new traditional dance”. No room for creativity.

- Jig Circle (Scotland) in a home-made Norwegian choreography. No Scot has ever danced it. No room for creativity.

- Jugo. 'An example of a Yugoslavian dance' (!) - the choreography was made in Western Europe after World War 2. No 'Yugoslavian' has ever danced it as a traditional dance.

- Line Dance (USA) based on traditional material. It allows room for some individuality.

- Swing (USA/Norway). A folk dance now both in America and in Western Europe. Considerable room for creativity.

- Breik (USA/Europe). Here too there is great room for creativity and management.

2. “Alle tiders musikk” contains the following dances:

- Halling, Springar and Gangar dances in basic figures. All three are old regional dances in Norway, from the 16th century. The author says that there can be great room for improvisation in these dances, without telling us how.

- 'International folk dance' in fixed choreographies and dance compositions to Russian, Greek, Rumanian, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian (!) and Scottish music. This is rather sensational! They are definitely not representative of nations elsewhere in Europe.

3. “Opus” presents very little dance material. We can find a few lines about some Norwegian regional dances, such as Halling and Kruking.

Better and richer material may come from the publishing houses in the future, and I know that CDs and handbooks for teachers of physical education are about to be published. I look forward to seeing them as I have heard this material will be good. But I also believe that in the future we will get new handbooks with dances such as Trojka as an example of 'typical Russian

culture'. The dance 'Trojka' was made in the USA to a Russian tune, and no Russian has ever danced it traditionally.

Many Norwegian teachers have done a lot to qualify themselves for dance education in recent years, especially female teachers. Others are waiting, or are hoping that this claim will not be necessary for them. In this group we find many male teachers of music and physical education.

How long we shall have to wait until dance has a natural place in every single school is a matter for discussion. Headmasters are responsible for following up the content and the intention of the curriculum reform of 1997, and some of them may feel that they are in a hurry. Sooner or later the children’s parents will demand that something be done to take this reform seriously.

Norvald Nilsen

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