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Chang Chung Shiuan

History and development of “Talented Dance Class” in Taiwan.

Chang Chung Shiuan: "History and development of Talented Dance Class in Taiwan", 14th International Conference, International Organization of Folk Art - Greek Section, Dance and History, Aridea, Pella, 13-17 September 2000.

1. Background

Talented Dance Class is a very unique educational design in Taiwan. It is set within the public schools in general education. The purpose of this special class is to discover those who are talented in dance and give them systematic instruction. It has been established for almost twenty years. This paper will mainly introduce the history and development of so-called Talented Dance Class on Taiwan so that people can know more about what we have made efforts to achieve in dance education though there are still many problems facing us.

The Ministry of Education of the Republic of China planned Special Class of Arts Education for students from the primary through junior high school in 1980 in order to enhance cultural, educational and recreational activities. Talented Dance Class was born based on this idea of setting special arts class in 1981. There were nine schools including four primary schools, five junior high schools, first selected by the Ministry of Education to try this special dance class out (Evaluation Report of Talented Dance Class, 1990). Three years later, in 1984, the first Talented Dance Class was established in high school level to enable those talented students to continue their dance discipline. At the same year, the law of special education was passed by the Legislative Yuan and the Talented Dance Class was under control by it, and became part of special education since then (Chang, 1996). In fact, the whole name of Talented Dance Class should be Special Talented Dance Class. Today, 17 primary schools, 16 junior high schools and 8 high schools all over different areas of Taiwan have set up Talented Dance Class.

With the cooperation of dance educators and educators in special education, the whole executive plan of the Talented Dance Class was completed. The whole executive plan includes the requirements and methods for entrance examination, curriculum outline, teachers' qualification, and program evaluation.

2. Requirements and methods for the Entrance Examination

The number of students in each class is limited less than 30 who may come from different districts. There is only one class in each grade. Clearly, it is very competitive. In the early stage, the requirements and methods for entrance examination were more restrictive. In order to enroll in this special dance class in the primary and junior high school level, students must pass an IQ test, and an audition for various physical abilities, sense of bodily and musical rhythm as well as dance skills and dance improvisation. Students had to take IQ test first. If their score of IQ test was unable to achieve certain standard, they failed to participate in other tests. This situation caused controversy. Some educators think it is imperative to have IQ test because this special class is offered for talented students within the system of special education. Others argue that the result of IQ test has noting to do with dance talents. Now, the situation has changed. Schools in different districts may have their various considerations. For instance, while considering IQ test is not necessarily important for those who are talented in dance, although students will be asked to take IQ test, no matter what score they get, they all can take other tests. In other words, IQ test is less important than dance audition and could be an important reference. Some schools even cancel IQ test. Indeed, IQ test is never executed for those who will enter this special class in high school level. Towards the development of professional dancers, dancing ability is the most important consideration for high school students in this special class. On the one hand, the necessity of IQ test is under debate, ; on the other hand, educators seek more suitable IQ test for evaluation. According to professor Li-chu Chang (personal communication, 1999), one of the promoters for Talented Dance Class, it is very difficult for educators to design an aptitude test for dancers and it could be a focus for future research.

The physical abilities include body alignment, flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, and awareness of space. There are methods and instruments used to test these abilities. Some people still doubt the credibility of measuring methods and instruments for physical abilities and question whether the result is more useful for physical education field than dance. Due to lack of conclusive evidences, we can't prove that students who do not have good turn-out, can not bend the body softly, can not run forth and back fast, can not stand on one leg for a longer time, or can not jump high, fail to dance well (Chang, 1997). Currently, some schools try to reduce items of test for physical abilities or the percentage of the test. The item of physical abilities is also ruled out in high school entrance examination.

As to the sense of bodily and musical rhythm, it means that students have to correctly respond to different rhythmic structures. Usually, people from music background, especially teachers with background of Orff music education or percussion instrument will help audition students. I have known students who are requested to move with selected music to tell the differences between 2/4,4/4 and 3/4. Students may also be required to clap or use different body parts in response to a series of rhythmic structure. Frankly speaking, it is more like a test for hearing and spontaneous reaction than a test for musical rhythm, which is certainly not easy to distinguish the students' sensitivity to music. This kind of test is still absent in high school level.

Of course, students' dance skills have to be examined; nevertheless, stylized dance movement vocabularies should not be emphasized during the audition in the primary level, because some students may not have any formal dance training before entering this special dance class, and yet do have potential in dance. In junior and senior high school levels, different forms and styles of dance technique could be involved in the examination, especially ballet, movements from the Chinese opera and Martha Graham technique. Graham technique had been the only modern dance technique taught on Taiwan for a long time. No wonder since the beginning of Talented Dance Class, it became teaching materials and its exercises were singled out for audition. Over the last few years, disagreeing voices were raised to whether Graham technique should be taught to younger students. Dance educators point out that Graham technique may be too difficult for younger students to learn, and it is unreasonable and narrow-minded to learn only Graham technique for dancers. If we do not change this practice, the tendency of exam-oriented teaching is getting obvious, which will badly influence on the development of dance education in the long run (Ping, 1996). Hopefully, with increasing numbers of dance teachers who study abroad or come from other countries, a variety of dance technique styles are brought in, so this strange phenomenon may be changed as long as all dance teachers have consensus.

Dance improvisation is another item for audition. The testing method is usually giving students a topic, music or some prop to explore and present within a short time. It is really a challenge for both students and judges. How can students express themselves well with almost no time for incubation? How can we judge students' creativity and body expression in one or two minutes? From my own experiences and what I have heard, it reveals that judges often see students unmeaning moving around with /without music and props or being still, in particular, when given topic is quite strange such as "If you are the president". As a judge, it is hard for me to give each student a score under this condition. My suggestion is to give a guided improvisation class about 30 minutes so all judges will get more time and chances to observe each student's exploration process and to perceive how they transform their thoughts into body movements under guidance. I am happy to know that some schools have adopted this idea and it worked out well.

3. Curriculum outline

Four basic dance classes are offered from the third grade all the way through high school. They are Chinese dance, ballet, modern dance and improvisation and creative dance. Originally, folk dance was also included in the elementary level but it was taken out in 1987 (Evaluation Report of Talented Dance Class, 1990). To meet the needs of this special dance class in terms of time allotment, and spatial arrangement, the curriculum and classroom of those selected schools have to make some changes. Subjects such as Group Activity, Music, Art and Physical Education that are regarded as marginal curriculum may be replaced by the dance classes mentioned above. As for other main curriculum such as Chinese, Mathematics, Social Studies, English are remained intact. There are about 8 classes for dance training in the primary and junior high school levels, usually combining two-class time for one dance technique class.

In high school level, not only does the time for dance increase but also subjects like dance history, dance and music, performance and fundamental knowledge about anatomy are included depending upon each school's situation. Thus, the time of learning dance technique and its related subjects extends up to 17 to 19 classes (Hong, 1993). Students will pay more attention to dancing regardless of other subjects and dance becomes their center of school life. In so doing, their interests and academic performances in other areas will degrade. It results in dance talented students' poor performance in many aspects. Especially, subjects such as physical education, fine art and music that are supportive to dance are not suitable to be totally replaced by dance. How to motivate students to stretch out their learning and make a connection between dance and other subjects are main concerns of teachers, educators and curriculum designers.

The lack of curriculum standards is still a big problem. For each dance subject, the teacher takes the responsibility for its teaching contents and methods. Without clear scopes and sequences of curriculum, students may face the situation of repeated learning or of unsystematic learning in different level. This is ironically against the setting objectives of Talented Dance Class.

Also, in order to get the permission for setting Talented Dance Class, schools have to show that they have enough space and facilities. The studio is definitely required. Few schools even own a building in which there are studios, offices, shelves for dance books, videotapes, CDs, a storage room for costumes and other machines just like an epitomized dance department. On the contrary, many schools build their dance studios in the basement without good air-condition which needs to be improved soon. Educators suggest that each school should have at least two studios and the teaching resources including both hardware and software should be shared with other classes in order to fully use the school environment (Evaluation Report of Talented Dance Class, 1999).

4. Teachers' qualification

Qualification of teachers is another crucial problem waiting to be solved. Dance has been affiliated within physical education for a long time in human history. It happens on Taiwan, too. Dance is taught within physical education class according to the standard of curriculum in general education. Since dance is not an independent teaching subject in general education on Taiwan, there is no channel to cultivate professional dance teachers. When the establishment of Talented Dance Class was in a hurry, the deficiency of dance teachers was neglected. Unfortunately, based on the law of special education, for Talented Dance Class, one class has to have at least two teachers, and any qualified teacher has to take enough credits in education and special education. Under this condition, it is very difficult to find qualified teachers for Talented Dance Class. So far, most teachers graduated from dance programs and working in this special dance class as part-time teachers or substitute teachers. Most of them are under stress of making a living with limited means, so they have to teach at different schools, across levels in various districts; otherwise, they are not able to survive and earn their living. It is detrimental to teaching quality. They even do not have time and energy to carefully plan their lessons. What they have taught is what they have learned from their own schools. This direct transmission is ignorant of learners' age and their abilities which is what Gray (1989) noted as dance teachers who have to be aware of.

Good dancers are not equal to good dance teachers. Dance teachers do need to know more about pedagogy. In order to strengthen teachers' capabilities of instruction, opportunities for further study were provided through different workshops in the past. Some foreign dance experts were invited to teach workshops here. For example, in 1985, Bonnie Bird was invited from the LondonLabanCenter to teach (Chang, 1996). In the future, we expect that there will be more opportunities and channels for those who are interested in teaching dance to further their studies.

As to solving the problem of unqualified teachers, the Ministry of Education has commissioned the department of special education at TaipeiMunicipalTeachers College to plan a curriculum for those who are teaching Talented Dance Class to take educational credits. After written and oral tests, about 45 teachers have been chosen to take courses in August of 2000. Once they finish and pass all credits, they may possibly be recruited as full-time teachers.

To sustain dance teachers' qualification and teaching quality, present six dance departments at college or university level should open courses about dance pedagogy through a planned educational program. In addition, some dance educators suggest that government should reconsider the confirmation of dance teacher's license and plan a more complete system for employment and upgrading of dance teachers (Chang, 1997).

5. Program evaluation

For every school year, each school has to demonstrate their teaching results, and these schools take turns inviting other schools to participate in performance and discussion. The Ministry of Education also asks experts to visit these schools for evaluation. The latest evaluation was held from November of 1998 to April of 1999, and the result was issued in June, 1999 (Evaluation Report of Talented Dance Class, 1999). For schools that perform well won the prize with financial supports from the government. High school Talented Dance Classes were not evaluated this time. It is noticed that in the future, under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, Talented Dance Class will be evaluated every other year in terms of each school's facility, equipment, teaching, research work, administration and so on.

Annual performance of Talented Dance Class is a big event that is an essential consideration for evaluation. The elementary and junior high schools of the same region cooperate to submit programs in one joint performance. Each high school arranges its performance individually. Principals, teachers, students, parents and guests excitedly join in this event together. Dance teachers choreograph and arrange dance pieces for students. The school prepares and raises money for all cost. Students wearing make-up and designed costumes perform on stage with simple lighting design. They have very strong sense of achievement although they are nervous and afraid of making mistakes. It is important for students to have performing experiences in public and at the same time to understand what is happening on the stage and back stage. The negative side is that many schools sacrifice normal class time and use too much extra curricular time for rehearsals for the annual performance. The most exaggerative thing is that the primary administrators including the principals of some schools often send students out for competitions and festive performances in spite of the fact that students have rights to other courses that were cut off. It implies that many administrators misunderstand the meaning of Talented Dance Class and know little about dance and dance education. Obviously, many administrators need to be re-educated. How to avoid this impropriety is really a key issue; otherwise, the educational goal of Talented Dance Class will be lost and talented dancers will be used for performing instruments to winning awards.

Beginning in 1985, these schools in the primary and junior high level started their own summer camp activities and one of the schools was in charge of planning and implementing the summer camp (Review of Arts Education in the Republic of China, 1988). Later on, probably due to shortage of hands and money and also the factor of students' safety, the summer camp stopped for a while. Recently, it has begun again because both teachers and students think it is a wonderful opportunity for them not only to learn more during summer vacation but also to share what they have with others and make a lot of friends. Some schools even use vacation time to join international dance festivals in other countries to share dance experiences and also win friendship.

6. Other aspects

Because Talented Dance Class is so special, there are some problems burgeoning out gradually. For instance, influenced by traditional concepts of social value, people think that studying is most important, and give intellectuals the highest social status. The average people see dance as a physical activity; therefore, parents and teachers hardly encourage students to pursue dance as a viable profession. The bias also exists in the attitude that dancing is a feminine activity, so boys are not supposed to learn dance, or they will become sissy after learning dance (Chang, 1991). Hence, until now, few boys are once chosen into this special class. All girls in a class, especially girls with pretty appearances, often become the center of attention of the whole school and naturally cause the envy and curiosity of other classes. In the eyes of students of regular classes, students from Talented Dance Class are too special to be welcome. So, it is necessary for teachers of Talented Dance Class to pave a way for students from different classes to communicate with each other. Inviting other classes to observe dance class or to see performance would be a good idea. If there is one or few boys in one Talented Dance Class, because of big difference in numbers between girls and boys, the interaction among students and role identity problem need teachers to deliberately cope with.

Students' counseling is another important duty for teachers to deal with. With students' growing, they may become more hesitant to their future. Several main factors will influence their decisions on continuing dance career or not. If besides dance they find out other interests that direct a brighter future, they may give up dancing. They do not worry teachers. Teachers are also not worried about those who are excellent in physical ability with good body shape. The reality is that physical condition does change in years to come. Severe injury, fatal disease and fatness could be the reason to force students to stray away from dance. When body and mind influence each other, for those who love dance so much but unable to accept formal dance training again will be a terrible impact on their life. Teachers have to help them to go through all struggles and difficulties.

During the process of counseling, teachers often fall in a dilemma between encouraging or discouraging students. As I mentioned before, there are only six dance departments at college and university level. To become a dance major is a hard way to go. It needs strong base physically and psychologically. As dance teachers, to tell students that they are not talented enough to go on is a very cruel thing. But if we do not help them predetermine, it may be too late for them to develop a new orientation. Dance teachers always encounter with this inner conflict.

According to the research report (Pei-an Junior High School, 1994), students in Talented Dance Class need both physical and psychological counseling. How to help students keep good body shape, supply nutritious diet, improve learning attitude, and plan life career are all concerns that students wish to know more. It is emergent for Talented Dance Class to have a residence-in-school counselor. It is believed that through the cooperation of teachers and the counselor, these sensitive and diligent students will get better assistance and pursue better future. As professor Chang (1996) states that the counseling work should also reach out of school to build up a more complete file for each student through continuous research work.

7. Conclusion

Arts and aesthetic education enable people to improve their quality of life. Compared to Fine Art and Music, which have been required courses in school for a long time, dance is ignored and still misunderstood by people. The establishment of Talented Dance Class is an important milestone demonstrating that dance as a discipline, has been valued by the government of the Republic of China. In order to forward the development of arts education, the law of arts education passed in 1997. Although the law is not satisfactory and needs to modify, it does provide Talented Dance Class with a better ground to develop. I think it is time for Talented Dance Class to come out from the confinement of special education and go back to where it should belong. Thus, the employment of dance teachers could be more flexible and professional without too many credits bound in special education unrelated to dance and dance education. Each school can also design its own dance curriculum based on the law of arts education, local culture and school fundamentals.

The design of Talented Dance Class is a very new output on Taiwan and it can become a model for other cultures. However, it is set within the general public schools to train professional dancers and limited numbers are allowed to be in. Following the ideal that every child should know and be able to do in dance, it is hoped that every child can be exposed to dance experiences in the future. If this ideal can be achieved from the elementary school, it is believed that more talented dancers will be discovered and at the same time more dance lovers will be developed. In this way, the whole dance education in this country will be enhanced successfully.

8. References

Chang, C.: A study of Talented Dance Class on Taiwan. Arts Review, 8, 1997, 77-93.

Chang, C. (1991). A creative dance curriculum model for elementary children in Taiwan, the Republic of China. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, ColumbiaUniversity.

Chang, L. (1996). Gifted education—Talented Dance Class. National Conference Papers of Gifted Education, 133-146.

Evaluation report of Talented Dance Class. (1990). Taipei, The Ministry of Education.

Evaluation report of Talented Dance Class. (1999). Taipei, The Ministry of Education.

Research report of graduates of Talented Dance Class in Pei-an Junior High School. (1994). Taipei: Pei-an Junior High School.

Gray, J.: Dance instruction - Science applied to the art of movement. Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics, 1989.

Hong, R.: Analysis of result and curriculum of Talented Dance Class in high school level. Kao-hsiung: Tao-yinHigh School, 1993.

Ping, H.: Some viewpoints on current Taiwan's dance education. Taiwan Dance Magazine, 18, 1996, 46-49.

Review of arts education in the Republic of China. (1988). Taipei, The National Taiwan Arts Education Institute.

Ms. Chang Chung Shiuan

 

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