2011 Dance Education in Australian Schools Roundtable

The 2011 Dance Education in Australian Schools (DEAS) roundtable focused on providing feedback to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) on the Draft Shape Paper: The Arts. The roundtable also heard from several speakers and organisations about their role in advocating for dance in the curriculum. The roundtable was facilitated by dance educator and author David Spurgeon.

Project Status

This was the third Dance Education in Australian Schools (DEAS) roundtable, and it was mainly focused on the Australian Curriculum processes and the resources required to support it. With dance firmly embedded in the new Australian Curriculum, we decided to open the first day to a wider group of dance educators so that current information could be shared more broadly. Speakers were chosen on the basis of their leadership and educational expertise, and their broad knowledge of the current situation for dance in Australian schools.

Roundtable participants included dance educators in schools and curriculum authorities. They shared critical issues, identified strategies for improvement and planed advocacy and lobbying strategies for governments to support dance in Australian schools.

2011 speaker presentations

Day one overview

Linda Lorenza from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and Jeff Meiners, dance writer for the Draft Shape Paper: The Arts, provided an overview of feedback from the dance community and a window into the future of the Arts in the Australian Curriculum. Linda covered the processes already undertaken by ACARA to consult with the education community and noted that the Australian Curriculum Connect project will link State/Territory digital resources to support the teaching of the curriculum; she urged everyone to subscribe to the ACARA updates for further information.

Jeff Meiners contextualised the current situation for dance in schools, noting the leadership and advocacy work of Ausdance, both with the National Advocates for Arts Education (NAAE) and with the Australia Council in producing Dance Plan 2012, which includes the ambition: ‘Dance to be an integral part of every young person’s education’. He said that the 2005 DEAS Forum had provided useful information for drafting the Shape Paper dance component and invited feedback. He also mentioned teacher education and resourcing the new curriculum, and noted the joint dance and the Child international (daCi) and World Dance Alliance conference to be held in Taiwan in July 2012.

The afternoon session (Dr Katrina Rank, education and training manager, Ausdance Victoria, and Helen Cameron, education consultant for The Australian Ballet) focused on professional development, artists in schools, the training of artist–teachers, the value of dance in the curriculum, and appropriate learning in the primary school.

Day two overview

On the second day a smaller group of educators worked together in State and Territory groups to provide more specific feedback on the Shape Paper and to develop recommendations for action. Linda Lorenza provided further information and heard and responded to concerns.

David Spurgeon acknowledged the excellent dance curricula already in existence across all jurisdictions. He congratulated those present on their important work and noted that it would be built upon in the new Australian Curriculum process. He summarised several issues that had arisen the previous day: strand organisers, time allocation, language, notation, and the role of technique. He invited each State and Territory to discuss and then respond to these and other critical issues.

DEAS feedback – Draft Shape Paper: The Arts

The Arts in the Australian Curriculum: The meeting acknowledged the excellent outcome for the Arts to be in Phase 2, the result of a concerted effort by NAAE and others. Concern was expressed that Phase 1 was being seen in some States as ‘more important’ than Phase 2. Linda noted that all are considered equal by ACARA.

Five art forms, or group them as Visual and Performing Arts (as cited in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration)? There was unanimous support for development of curricula in all five art forms, rather than for grouping under Visual and Performing Arts.

Minimum hours: The majority wanted the minimum entitlement of 160 hours left in the Shape Paper, as it indicates that dance must be taught, and also represents great improvement in dance education entitlement for every child from F–8. There was concern that some advocates are citing indicative hours for minimum entitlement to 21 minutes per week for each art form, but dance educators agreed that this was a reductive interpretation. Those schools offering more hours will continue to do so, but those not offering all five art forms would now be required to do so. Examples were given of delivery possibilities such as cluster schools working together, blocks of concentrated learning each year, partnerships with artists etc., and agreement that ‘it was time for a whole new look at the way courses are delivered in the 21st century’.

Strand organisers (generating, realizing, responding): There was a mixed response to these terms for dance, with strong support for the notion ‘that they don’t relate to dance’. However, some primary school teachers noted that it is useful to have common and generic language for the organisers when a teacher is required to teach all five art forms, as it provides unifying principles.

Bands, years 3–8: Participants strongly supported recommendations to ACARA to divide the bands into two-year sections: Years 3–4, 5–6, 7–8.

Contexts: It was agreed that social, historical and cultural contexts were not sufficiently well foregrounded in the Shape Paper.

Language: There was strong support for the use of dance–specific language throughout the dance curriculum, but it was also noted that the language across the document needed to be more consistent.

Technique: There was discussion around technical skills and whether they should be more heavily emphasised in the Shape Paper. It was agreed that ‘pre-technique’ skills such as alignment, balance, simple coordination and safe dance principles should be taught in the primary school, and that more advanced technical skills should be taught developmentally and sequentially in the secondary school. However, technique is also a tool for dance expression and should not be the only focus.

Safe Dance: It was agreed that this is an extremely important issue that needs to be emphasised throughout the dance curriculum, and in teacher education courses. There is an expectation from television shows of a ‘wow’ factor (So You Think You Can Dance etc.), and that all will be possible with a few lessons. The Federal Government’s BER had recently produced some excellent new, safe spaces for dance in Australian schools, but there were still many without safe environments for dance.

Indigenous dance culture must be more strongly represented in the rationale and be at the forefront of the curriculum. Australian students have a unique and rich opportunity to engage in traditional and contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island dance history and culture, unique to this country.

Notation: The meeting agreed that if notation meant documentation in various forms (rather than formal Benesh or Laban notation), then it should be defined. However, one participant noted that it should only be there if it was essential or core, otherwise it should be deleted.

‘Listening’ had been suggested for inclusion in the dance section of the Shape Paper. Most DEAS participants did not understand this feedback, citing ‘listening’ as integral to all learning. However there was a suggestion that ‘listening’ could be interpreted as listening to the body to help understand stillness, silence, rhythms etc. If ‘listening’ is included in the Shape Paper it should be defined.

Glossary: A video glossary was suggested, with unanimous support. Include copyright and OH&S issues.

Australian Curriculum – implementation issues

Quality training for teachers: It was noted that there has been a reduction in dance education training for generalist and specialist teachers in the university sector, an issue that must be addressed, particularly for primary school teachers. For instance, the Bachelor of Dance Education degree course at the University of NSW has been discontinued. Josephine Wise from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) drew attention to the new Standards and Procedures for the Accreditation of initial teacher education programs in Australia.

Teacher PD: There are many drama and PE teachers teaching dance – different levels of PD are needed, with a particular need to upskill independent and private school teachers. Several PD non-arts examples were cited, including Languages, where high schools support local primary school feeders, and the Arts Scope and Sequence information released by the Asia Education Foundation, which includes professional learning guidelines and would provide a good template for arts educators.

Resources: There was considerable discussion about the ways in which resources might be developed and distributed, and what could be done nationally. The potential of the NBN was canvassed and there was agreement that web-based resources would be one of the key drivers. ACARA was developing its Australian Curriculum Connect website which will link State/Territory digital resources to support the teaching of the curriculum. Ausdance has long-term plans for developing interactive resources via the NBN, in partnership with other organisations and institutions with expertise in this area. Primary Connections (a science resource) was cited as an example of the NAAE’s current focus. Less expensive alternatives were also discussed, and advice provided by the Independent Schools representative that Education Services Australia (ESA) could be a partner in developing arts resources.

Research: There needs to be stronger links with schools working with arts practitioners, and more research about how dance and the arts can contribute to other learnings and the development of children. Dance needs to demonstrate how it contributes to mental health, engagement and school attendance, literacy outcomes, embodied learning, etc. Politicians are often more interested in instrumental learning outcomes.

Design: WA had difficulty with the exclusion of design from the Arts Shape Paper. Linda Lorenza noted that the Melbourne Declaration had detailed 14 learning areas, not all of which had been included, but anything jurisdictions currently offer will remain. The Australian Curriculum is there to provide basic entitlement for all. Nothing is being taken away – it’s about building.

Dance educators' networks: Some Ausdance offices have dance educators’ networks, and it was recommended that all branches consider building them to encourage resource and information sharing and expertise.

ACARA response

Linda Lorenza responded by reassuring the group that all feedback received in the consultation process had been read and considered and is part of the analysis. Each State and Territory has been thoroughly represented and even though dance respondents were a small proportion overall, their opinions are important. She noted that all concerns expressed at DEAS had already been heard, so messages are getting through. She also noted that teacher training and resourcing were implementation issues that go back to States and Territories – the information has been passed on as part of an ongoing discussion; funding allocation has been devolved by the Federal Government to jurisdictions. Safe Dance is a huge issue and Linda especially appreciated that discussion and how much needs to be documented – it must also be addressed in teacher training. The Australian Curriculum is about basic entitlement, F-8 – there will be curriculum written for 9-12; if states are already offering subjects that are not there, they can be built upon. The next phase of the process is:

  • Production of a consultation report
  • Report sent to advisory group who will develop proposed actions
  • Roll-out for consultation in all States and Territories.


The 2011 DEAS roundtable provided ACARA with direct feedback from dance educators about the Draft Shape Paper: The Arts. Almost all of these recommendations were incoporated into the final version of the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, launched by School Education Minister Peter Garret and Arts Minister Simon Crean on 26 August 2011. The Shape Paper will inform the dance writers for the Australian Curriculum about all stages of schooling. DEAS participants therefore provided crucial information at an important stage in the paper's development.

Related Projects

Resourcing teachers to deliver dance in the Australian Curriculum View this project

We are working to ensure that the new dance curriculum (now part of the Australian curriculum) is high quality, provides every Australian child with a sequential and developmental dance experience, and that teachers are well resourced to teach it. We will help dance educators and students by highlighting successful teaching models and best practice, and give teachers the support they need to run a successful dance program.

Further Reading