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Philosophy- Traditionalism versus Progressivism

The philosophical worldviews, or the overarching paradigms in the dance culture set important frameworks of teaching and learning in dance. The scoping review has identified two main educational paradigms that can be traced to different practices and experiences of teaching, learning, and being as a dance student, dancer, or a dance teacher: traditionalism and progressivism.


Master dans, KHiO Foto: Yaniv Cohen


Educational traditionalism is linked to the ‘modernism’ or ‘modernity’ epoque described in the theory of sociology (i.e., Giddens). It is an era characterized by scientific thought, rationalism, individualism, a focus on industrialization, urbanization, institutionalization, bureaucratization and technical development, and a rejection of some traditional and metaphysical values.

In the field of dance, we can see this in three distinct characterizations; universalism (i.e., systems of standardized techniques for all, standardized bodies and gender identities), individualism (i.e., self-realization of own potential, individual performance and skill- development), and nationalism (i.e., eurocentrism, colonialism; Østern, 2017). T

raditionalism is typically linked to traditional authoritarian and conservatoire-style dance teaching utilizing a hierarchical, teacher led and authoritarian approach through which the student must conform to the ideal requirements of the tradition, culture, identity-roles and conventional technique (Alterowitz, 2014; Dragon, 2015)

“The authoritarian personality structure harbors such characteristics as low opinion of human nature, punitiveness, fatalism, contempt for the weak, cynicism, aggression, an ironic submission to authority, intolerance for ambiguity, and projection, ascribing to another person attitudes present in oneself.

Specific authoritarian teaching behaviors evidenced in dance technique classes and rehearsals range over many examples. They can include rote imitation and repetition over time with unchanging verbal prompts from the teacher. They can escalate to humiliation of students for making errors, screaming, sarcasm, mocking, belittlement, barbed humor, and bullying. Questions are dismissed or squelched, and the questioners degraded. Some teachers exhibit preoccupation with arbitrary behavioral control, engage in unfair or negative comparisons to other students, encourage rivalries, refer to adult students as “girls” and “boys,” and use other forms of infantilization or patronization.

Others employ inappropriate personal attributions not based on fact or comments that violate privacy codes, including some shaming or denigrating comments about students’ weight, build, or body type. Then there is the alternative of silence or withholding of feedback and responses or, at the least, giving only backhanded compliments.

Teachers exhibit frustration and impatience if there is no immediate and continued mastery of the material presented; some ignore certain students, or storm out of the room in an exasperated rage out of disappointment or anger. Some even engage in physical abuse in the form of hitting, slapping, or punching body parts with a hand or a stick.

Both physical actions and verbal attributions that seek to render the student powerless are often delivered in a demeaning fashion.

These messages can be transmitted to dance students through direct verbal language, adjunct verbal asides, and tone of voice, or through unspoken forums such as the use of silence, eye usage, and eye contact (or lack thereof).

They can be transmitted through body language, as in particular kinds of posture or gesture. They can also be conveyed through the choice of classroom activities” (Lakes, 2005, p. 4).

Lakes, R. (2005). The messages behind the methods: The authoritarian pedagogical legacy in western concert dance technique training and rehearsals. Arts Education Policy Review, 106(5), 3-20.


On the other hand, the ‘post-modern’ or ‘post-modernity’ epoque, is a movement of oppositions towards the modernism values, of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward all that is describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism (Alterowitz, 2014; Østern, 2017; Østern & Irgens, 2018).

The educational progressivism is inspired by post-modernity, but also by critical theory and progressive pedagogy (i.e., democratic, feminism, public, and social pedagogy; Alterowitz, 2014; Dragon, 2015; Hofmeister, 2019; Rowe & Xiong, 2020; Schupp, 2011).

These pedagogies embrace less hierarchical models of instruction, creation, and performance strategies that encourage individual inquiry, self-discovery, and collaboration to challenge traditional, patriarchal teaching strategies and to replace them with strategies that promote equity among all students in the classroom (Alterowitz, 2014).

Recently, the concept of 21st century skills (i.e., critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration) is been associated with the progressivism paradigm, with the gaze towards the future (Alterowitz, 2014; Minton & Hofmeister, 2010; Rowe & Xiong, 2020).

In the field of dance, the progressivism paradigm focuses on situated and contextual local knowledge, uncertainty and doubt, subjectivism, diversity of perspectives, practices, bodies and expressions, dialogue, critical reflection, and agency and alternative power structures. (Dragon, 2015; Østern, 2017).

  • Individualized teaching and learning
  • Body, mind, and emotions are integrated in a holistic way
  • Encourages agency, self-learning, learning to learn
  • Knowledge gained through the body, embodied learning (holistic view on knowledge)
  • To incorporate historical and cultural perspectives in the dance practices (to learn in, with, though, and about the arts)
  • Aim is human development, not only performance goals
  • Practices include improvisation, creative processes, reflective practice, inner awareness, use of anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology
  • Emergent curriculum, dance curriculum based on movement principles, not specific technique, steps, repertoire.

Dragon, D. A. (2015). Creating cultures of teaching and learning: Conveying dance and somatic education pedagogy. Journal of Dance Education, 15(1), 25-32.

Alterowitz, G. (2014). Toward a feminist ballet pedagogy: Teaching strategies for ballet technique classes in the twenty-first century. Journal of Dance Education, 14(1), 8-17.

Dragon, D. A. (2015). Creating cultures of teaching and learning: Conveying dance and somatic education pedagogy. Journal of Dance Education, 15(1), 25-32.

Minton, S., & McGill, K. (1998). A study of the relationships between teacher behaviors and student performance on a spatial kinesthetic awareness test. Dance Research Journal, 30(2), 39-52.

Rowe, N., & Xiong, X. (2020). Cut-Paste-Repeat? The maintenance of authoritarian pedagogies through tertiary dance education in China. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 1-17.

Schupp, K. (2011). Informed decisions: Dance improvisation and responsible citizenship. Journal of Dance Education, 11(1), 22-29.

Østern, T. P. (2017). Norske samtidsdansutdanninger i spennet mellom modernisme og postmodernisme-tidligere dansestudenters refleksjoner over påvirkningen av en danseutdanning.

Østern, T. P., & Irgens, E. J. (2018). Interfering with the lived field of dance pedagogy from organizational and leadership studies perspectives–an explorative intervention with performing and teaching dance artists. Research in Dance Education, 19(1), 57-73.


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