“The 6 Defining Characteristics of Holistic Dance Education”
By Julianna Hane, Guest Blogger
Feb. 15, 2015


We live in a society where is it not uncommon for people to blame others for their problems. Dumping responsibility onto other people and playing the victim are all the new gimmicks for getting out of Dodge.

Unfortunately, these quick-fix solutions not only harm others, but they eventually harm the individual. People who play the victim are susceptible to brainwashing, because they do not value thinking for themselves and making their own choices. So what’s a dance educator to do?


How do we solve this problem?


We as teachers can value students’ voices and show them how to think for themselves. We can demand that students take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions through democratic teaching.


What is democratic pedagogy?


It is a teaching philosophy that empowers students to think and speak for themselves while also being considerate of others. John Dewey believed in treating every student as morally equal, capable of forming intelligent opinions, and most effective when collaborating with others (MacMath, 2008).*


But won’t the kids get out of control?


While some might argue that allowing students to make choices for themselves is a passive approach to education, this philosophy is everything but. The teacher needs to structure the lesson so students get a say in aspects of their learning, but in way that is productive for everyone.


By guiding students to make choices relevant to the class context, students take responsibility. In other words, they own it.


What will the students get out of making choices in class?
People who have authority over their own lives are our current entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, and business leaders. They are known for:

  • Visualizing the future using creativity
  • Forming a clear intention that leads to decisive action
  • Taking ownership and responsibility for their role in contributing to community/society


How is democratic pedagogy used in dance education?


Dance Curriculum Designs LLC has outlined six characteristics of holistic teaching in dance that are core to the democratic pedagogy. Outlined in the textbook, Teaching Dance as Art in Education (McCutchen, 2006), holistic dance education must be:

  1. Comprehensive (wide reaching),
  2. Substantive (deep),
  3. Sequential (incremental),
  4. Aesthetically driven (focused on quality),
  5. Contextually coherent (relevant and related),
  6. Inquiry based (investigative).


How can dance educators learn more about democratic teaching models?


Dance Curriculum Designs LLC offers workshops in Transformational Teaching based on the 6 traits of holistic teaching in dance. Learn more about how to incorporate this into your course planning, and see the incredible results in your students’ autonomy and depth of understanding.


Next time: We will focus on Characteristic #1: The Comprehensive Dance Program.


*Teaching Dance as Art in Education (pages 460-464) also includes models for democratic and relational teaching, a nurturing pedagogy, and constructive interaction. Dr. James P. Comer, professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine

“advocates building learning communities in the schools that emphasize working for a common good rather than competing. This translates to [dance by] our showing students how to work together (much as you do in peer critique and composing …) to get better results than each working alone. Show students how to be patient with each other (rehearsing a work), respect differences (unique creative responses to the same stimulus), take turns (showing work and then critiquing a peer’s work), and collaborate to strengthen the learning process (group work) and its creative products (critiquing performances.” (McCutchen, 461).



MacMath, Cheryl. “Implementing a Democratic Pedagogy in the Classroom: Putting Dewey into Practice.” Canadian Journal for the New Scholars in Education Vol. 1 (2008). http://www.cjnse-rcjce.ca/ojs2/index.php/cjnse/article/view/16/13 [accessed Febuary 2015).

McCutchen, Brenda. Teaching Dance as Art in Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006, pp.460-464.


About the Author

Julianna Hade

Julianna Hade

Julianna Hane traded life on a cotton farm to become a dancer and aerialist. She holds an MFA in Modern Dance, a CLMA (Laban Movement Analysis), and is on the dance faculty at the College of Charleston.




Brenda Pugh McCutchen, M.F.A. Director
Dance Curriculum Designs LLC
Columbia, SC USA 29223-7400