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.