Susan W. Stinson is probably the most wellknown and highly respected US-based dance educator among her colleagues in the Nordic countries. This brings special interest in her newly published Embodied Curriculum Theory and Research in Arts Education. The book consists of twenty chapters, of which three are coauthored, published since the 1980s. It can be read as a personal, professional journey from a dance pedagogue’s perspective, as well as a historical overview of trends and changes within the fi eld of dance pedagogy. The text is divided into three parts: the fi rst section focuses on such themes as curriculum, pedagogy and practice; the second part includes articles on research methodologies and the voices of young people; and the third section is a contemporary comment, summing up Stinson’s views on dance, teaching and research.

The core thesis of the book mirrors Stinson’s own professional credo. She argues that it is of vital importance to put your own pedagogical work through a rigorous critique of your values and assumptions. She emphasizes how she has used the works of other scholars to affi rm and extend, but also to challenge her own attitudes and interpretations (p. 92). This demands getting to know your own personal values and visions, which chapter titles such as “What We Teach Is Who We Are” and “My Body/Myself” make manifest. In addition, it requires continuously remaining open to new insights, new educational research and new encounters with inspiring colleagues.

Stinson calls herself a curriculum theorist. Thus it is perhaps surprising but also exciting to understand that this does not result in a book fi lled with technical and theoretical texts on curriculum construction. To some readers, this could be disappointing if they are in search of inspiring models for or evaluations of dance curriculum. (However, there are some chapters that have a more handbook-oriented style, e.g. “Teaching Research and Writing to Dance Artists and Educators”, coauthored with Ann H. Dils and Doug Risner.) In Stinson’s understanding, creating curricula is not basically a question of scheduling classes in the best mix and fi nding creative titles for different subject matters. On the contrary, it involves questions of morality and ethics, and an overall perspective on Embodied Curriculum Theory and Research in Arts Education: A Dance Scholar’s Search for Meaning. Author: Susan W Stinson. Springer, 2016. Nordic Journal of Dance - Volume 7(1) 2016 63 what education should and should not do. This is obvious throughout the book, but very clearly exemplified in chapter 5, “Choreographing a Life: Reflections on Curriculum Design, Consciousness, and Possibility”. Here, she includes a discussion of a course she has taught to graduate students that significantly reveals her ambition to put students in touch with their values and move beyond merely solving problems in curriculum planning. She starts with such questions as: “What is dance, meaning, what is the vision of dance that you wish to communicate to your future students? Should it be the same for all students? … What does it mean to be educated?” (p. 61). In this manner, she encourages students to consider the implications of their answers and perhaps to even understand that a career in teaching dance is not really what they should pursue.

From a historical viewpoint, it is interesting to follow Stinson’s views on e.g. the Discipline- Based Arts Education (DBAE) popular during the 1980s and 1990s, and the later Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), which many Europeans use today in the Bologna-derived evaluation system. With DBAE, a more standardized art program’s model was developed, in which it became more important for students to understand and appreciate “great works” than to work with creativity and self-expression. Stinson’s view is that weak and/ or abused students, in particular, needed first “to appreciate themselves” before they could go on to understanding professional works of art (p. 23). In chapter 10, the historical perspective becomes the major focus when she discusses tendencies and changes in postsecondary dance education during the past three decades.

The personal perspective complements these historical aspects with many interesting thoughts, but it also adds conflicting dimensions pointing to the complexities inherent in the profession of being a dance teacher. One example concerns her discussion of a gendered perspective applied to traditional dance pedagogy. With great clarity, she articulates differences between when girls and boys usually start dancing (boys are older) and how this age difference affects them psychologically, creating docility and obedience in girls and a more military-like competitive individuality in boys. However, in a personal reflection, Stinson testifies to her own desire for hard physical work and for what she describes as “freedom in obedience, the freedom from responsibility” (p. 37), which makes these issues much more complex and more thought provoking. As Stinson argues, we must not give up technique classes, but we must “become aware of what we give up as well as what we gain” (ibid). In another chapter, she criticizes the requirement to grade students, which she has to do, but this also violates her own vision of how you should relate to other people (p. 62). I find this approach particularly rewarding, since she advocates the need to also look at the “dangerous” aspects of dance education (p. 8), even if it concerns an art practice you love and want to defend. She stresses that we cannot omit moral concerns in our educational work.



Grading is mentioned above, and Stinson devotes one chapter to revisiting a few earlier articles she wrote on the topic. In chapter 11, she questions assessment on the basis of what students should learn. To her, the most important things students should learn are life skills rather than technical dance skills, and she identifies them as “Self-Management, Performing and Attending, and Creating and Communicating” (p. 132). This is indeed a chapter that would be valuable for each aspiring young dance pedagogue to read, because of its argumentation but also the detailed proposal of how these skills can be translated into educational practice in the dance studio.

Part II of the book deals more explicitly with research, e.g. concerning the nature and meaning of children’s dance, the body-mind duality, the value of dance education among school-aged students and the meaning students of different ages fi nd in dancing. In one project from the 1980s, Stinson and her fellow scholars Donald Blumenfi eld-Jones and Jan Van Dyke made a study of young female students and their experiences of dance technique classes. The research was one of the earliest dance examples based on qualitative data. It has been frequently presented and cited, and it remains a classic within educational dance research. In this part of the book, Stinson reveals her rigorous and innovative research methods. As she points out, a large extent of the results are relevant for all (art) educators, not only for dance teachers.

Each chapter in the book has a short commentary which gives her the opportunity to provide a contemporary perspective on the content of the texts, as well as refl ections on her own personal and professional development. In one of them, she notes how she has begun to draw much more on works of other scholars than she did in her earliest articles, and also how this reassures her own legitimacy as a scholar, since she fi nds her own voice “much more intimate than much scholarly writing” (p. 92). I fi nd this a most endearing personal perspective, revealing a strong self-awareness and a humble professional persona.

These commentaries can be linked to the last chapter, “Dance/Teaching/Research: The Practice of Living”, written in 2015. The beautiful and inviting prose there summarizes and refl ects “on how her life in dance became part of her teaching, how both became incorporated into her understanding of research and how all are related to the larger project of living” (p. 299). She remarks on how intimately connected to teaching and dancing her own research has been, and I fi nd this a crucial statement. In this way, the chapter provides highly relevant input to the discussion of a hierarchy between performing, teaching and working with ‘academic’ research, unfortunately still often heard among dance students. It should be read by all, regardless of readers’ plans in dancing, educating and/or researching!

Lena Hammergren
Professor of Dance Studies Stockholm University




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