The EvilImp™ 'Tempest, Teacup, Etc'

Last week Dance UK, the dance advocacy organisation that specialises in not saying much of anything at all, got its knickers thoroughly in a knot after a government minister was quoted saying vaguely negative things about dance A-levels.

David Willets, Minister for Universities and Science, suggested that certain A-levels should be considered less important when applying for university courses. Included in that mix were dance, photography and media studies.

In response Dance UK had a hissy fit so large it almost caused a tsunami in the North Atlantic. Caroline Miller, Director of Dance UK, said via their website that;

"Young people should be able to develop a range of skills at school, preparing them for a complex world with varied career routes and jobs. If we set up an old-fashioned hierarchy, only valuing a short-list of subjects which were formally regarded by universities as the 'academic' subjects, it undermines young people who choose to develop intellectual and academic rigor through the arts and humanities. "

Fair point you might think, well constructed argument you could say. The only problem is Mr Willet's comments don't actually stop any of that from happening. If you are taking A-level dance you still get all the benefits of the subject whether or not a government minister says otherwise.

Also, university admissions criteria are not determined by government ministers, they are determined by universities themselves and also by UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).

If you're applying for a university place to study astrophysics then the chances are they're going to look at your grades in relation to physics and maths rather than your achievements in the arts and humanities. On the other hand if you're going to university to study dance, sports science or education then an A-level in dance might actually be of some use to you.

It's always been the way with academia, your test scores in relevant subjects are going to be of more help to you than your test scores in subjects that bear little or no relation to your chosen future career. Universities didn't need a government minister to tell them that.

Dance UK also misses the obvious, ironic, elephant in the room when it comes to dance A-level. That particular qualification is of no help if you actually want to study dance at a recognised school like NSCD or Laban.

Tell any of those schools you have an A-level and they'll say; "cool, now if you don't mind, get in the studio because you have an audition class to do". Nobody asks professional dancers for their degree qualifications before giving them a job, if they can find a job to apply for that is.

If a dance school is faced with a prodigiously talented student with no A-level and another student with two left feet and a pronounced equilibrium problem with an A-level then guess who's going to get a place?

There is a wider issue to discuss here concerning the obsession we have in the UK over test scores, degrees and other qualifications that, apparently, prove the high level of intelligence possessed by individuals. Or not as the case may be.

Out in the wide world of dance and throughout society there are plenty of folks with 2-1 Degrees, BA Hons. PhDs an other bits of paper attached to their names who couldn't think their way out of a bus shelter. Stomping your feet on the ground because some no name minister says dance A-level is somehow "less than" is a waste of valuable energy that Dance UK should be expending doing something, dare we say, important!

Watching Dance UK get upset about something like this is like watching Winnie the Pooh get high on meth. It's mildly amusing for Tigger to watch but completely harmless and when the dust has settled nothing has changed.

  • Kema

    Hello "ANON",

    I wouldn't say I am any more convinced about my opinions that you are, I am quite changeable about most things arty.

    I think the people who have danced loads and seen loads of dance, are the young people who started dancing in youth groups and have really varied performance and choreographic experiences, these are the people who are let down by A-level Dance, which as you say is very restrictive. In my Dance Youth Group we didn't really do dance History but when Gene Kelly died our group leader talked about him and showed us some video. When I was auditioning for Dance College I was worried about the "Technique" class and then relaxed when I realised it was what we called "Warm Up".

    I do think the Dance A-level is suggested for people who want to go into "Academic" Dance Studies but like the GCSE Dance, dance educationalists think educational dance can only be given value by making it more rigorous to impress non-dance educationalists which in turn makes it boring and narrow for the kids.

    By the way I wasn't attacking you personally, I always have a go when people respond on Article19 without using their own name. The Dance community is quiet enough due to fear of losing funding etc;so when we have an opinion on a topic we should allow ourselves to be seem and heard and maybe more dancers will speak up !!



  • Kema

    To ANON: Why not have the balls to use your real name?

    I have taught in HE and expected the dance students to know more, but realistically why would we expect students following an A -AS syllabus to know more than they need.
    I have a thorough grounding in Dance History British, European and American (because I am a geek and like reading dance books and watching old video), I know what a tendu is because of my ballet classes at college and my choreography improved after I had finished training.

    How is knowing about X6, Dartington, Yolande Snaith, Ian Spink, Namron, that LLoyd Newson danced with Extemporary, Celeste Dandeker actually danced with LCDT and was injured in Manchester, Steve Paxton was actually a Cunningham dancer before all his Contact Improv and Laban lived in Manchester for a bit; or that Stravinsky and Balanchine were best mates going to help a student in a professional dance audition?

    The problem is with dance and drama we expect 18 year olds to have a thorough grounding in performance and prior knowledge when they come to us at HE level.Which isn't expected in other subjects at HE level where the first year is virtually a foundation year so everyone is on the same level.

    We wouldn't expect a Pharmacology student to know UK dispensing history from the last 60 years, a Dutch Language student be able to explain the Germanic links in the language, or anEnglish Literature student know every British Fiction author.

    Some dance educators (including myself!) feel the need to expect our students to have a thorough grounding in dance history. To be honest it's not that interesting for most people and if you need that knowledge you can go and study it or buy a few books and catch up.

    Some of us have a academic interest in an artform that is based on moving (sorry travelling) about the space, I assume 90% of students who audition at LCDS,NSCD Laban etc want to dance and get into a performing company where it won't make any difference what dance history they know.

    ANON: you said this;
    "I have found that the A-levels in dance are uneven at best and completely unrelated to anything I value at HE"

    Obviously your personal interest lies elsewhere which means you have different expectations than the A-level dance course. 

    I asked someone who had left LIPA after 3 years studying dance about Troy Game and she didn't know what it was, I was shocked but how relevant is knowing about 30 year old LCDT piece from 30 years ago for a performer in 2011?

    My students are amazed when I tell them I saw DV8 Enter Achilles and Strange Fish on stage in Manchester, they think they were just Dance for Camera, again does it really matter?

    ANON Were you aware of every dance fact I mentioned above ?
    What if you didn't does it make you less qualified to teach dance at HE level?

    Who is the better educated? A drummer studying Jazz at Leeds College of Music or a drummer studying Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester?


  • ANON

    I guess I wrote ANON because I knew I would get a rant from someone and I am not as convinced of all my thoughts as you are. I am exploring these issues.

    I suppose I should comment on what I value in higher ed. I value thinking and curiosity. I would like my students to have seen a lot of dance and different kinds - on youtube or wherever. I'd like them to have danced their arses off. I'd like them to view artistic process as something that has to do with creation and investigation and not something that has to do with justification. But what you missed is that I would rather they not have any A-level in dance. I find the kind of thinking the dance A-level creates is very narrow and limited. Yes, they will learn dance history in HE. And if they don't know dance history (and who said anything about British dance history?), then they should be focused on dancing. There is a bit of cart before horse here. Choreography is good to experiment with but I'd like to them to be able to move.

    There is a distinct lack of openness and educational attitude in your message and I may add in many arts professionals in general. I did not write my message to generate ire, but rather to promote discussion, which I am pleased is begun. However, the discussion would go better if no one had to be "on the attack". I have found that distinct misunderstandings in dance occur as we put our thoughts into writing. We may be valuing exactly the same things, but speaking at cross purposes.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on the current state of dance A-levels and your reaction to the article above.

  • ANON

    I am very hesitant to comment here, but as a teacher in HE, I have found that the A-levels in dance are uneven at best and completely unrelated to anything I value at HE, at worst. I discover this through dealing with students who have insufficient knowledge of dance history, little exposure to the canon of masters works, don't know what a tendu is, and think that choreography is a tick-box process. I worry about making negative statements about dance education, but sometimes i wonder if my students would be better prepared if they just had a broader education. Needless to say, I am not that bothered about these statements either. If it means that my dance students will have A-levels in other areas and study dance privately, then that might be ok.

  • Nkwe16

    OK some valid points that it doesn't really matter what the government says and also its about your dancing not your grades to get into Laban etc..... 

    However, you do need a certain number of UCAS points to get into Laban etc as well and if the number of points you get for Dance A level is lower then it puts you at a disadvantaged from the get go. That is why its a bad thing. Because ultimately it means less people will take the subject in search of subjects that provide higher UCAS point scores.

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