Dance Education | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Dance Education

Dance education, as defined in this entry, does not include popular social dancing such as ballroom, ethnic or folk forms unless they lead to professional, theatrical presentations.
Student, National Ballet School
Student in ballet class (courtesy National Ballet School).

Dance Education

Dance education refers to education or training that leads to theatrical dancing, as opposed to dance in education, which is limited to dance in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools where dance is offered as a useful tool for physical and personal development and as a way of developing higher learning skills. The distinction is not always clear. Some universities claim, for instance, that whether or not students emerge as dancers for the professional stage, they should be given a sufficiently high level of physical training to allow for careers in dance. On the other hand dance academies and other pre-professional institutions are beginning to offer courses in dance notation, anatomy, music, theatre and other related subjects previously not thought to be essential to dance training.

Dance education, as defined in this entry, does not include popular social dancing such as ballroom, ethnic or folk forms unless they lead to professional, theatrical presentations. It must be pointed out, however, that popular dance forms continue to attract a large number of participants and to exert a strong aesthetic influence on the evolving professional dance field. Dance in Education, however, referring to the kind of dance activity offered within academic schools as enrichment experience sometimes leading to further vocational study elsewhere, deserves special mention in this entry.


Until after World War II there was little theatrical dance produced in Canada, but a few dance studios prepared dancers for the stage, some of whom went on to successful careers in Europe and the United States. Ballet schools grew in number in the late 1940s in response to the public interest generated by the North American tour of the Sadlers Wells Ballet of England and the release of the film The Red Shoes. During this period and the decade which preceded World War II, some excellent teachers helped provide the base for what became a ballet tradition. Gérald Crevier and Elizabeth Leese of Montréal; Mildred Wickson, Bettina Byers and Boris Volkoff of Toronto; and June Roper and Mara McBirney in Vancouver trained dancers who joined the original companies of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (Montréal), The National Ballet of Canada (Toronto) and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. As these companies grew it was deemed necessary to found professional schools to ensure consistently well-trained dancers suitable for the unique repertory of each company. These schools subsequently gained national and international reputations and are no longer limited to the needs of the companies which founded them.

Public interest in dance, and consequently dance education, grew dramatically in Canada during the global dance boom that occurred from the 1960s through the 1970s. Dance performance gained a large supportive audience, and thousands of young people began to enrol in studios hoping to become professional dancers. Many more began to take dance classes for personal enjoyment or physical well-being.

It was also during the 1960s and 1970s that the scope of dance expanded in educational institutions. Previously, university dance was limited to activities within physical-education departments, with little attention given to dance as an arts discipline. Dance was introduced by several Canadian universities as a legitimate arts study leading to its own degree, modelled to some extent on university programs well established in the USA. While most university programs offered ballet training, priority was given to modern dance training (seeDance, Modern) and the creation of new work, in line with a developing national interest in contemporary dance. University dance programs contributed significantly to the new phenomenon of dancers and choreographers working outside of established groups or traditional organizational structures.

Parallel with modern dance's introduction into universities, training centres were founded as an adjunct to the artistic vision of two modern dance companies, Winnipeg`s Contemporary Dancers (1964) and Toronto Dance Theatre (1968). This was followed by the establishment of Les Ateliers de Danse Moderne de Montréal Inc (LADMMI; 1985; renamed École De Danse Contemporaine De Montreal in 2012), unattached to a particular dance company but of service to the large group of contemporary dancers. All three schools have effectively prepared students for careers with modern dance companies or as independent artists.

During recent decades, more attention has been given to the development of choreographers in response to public interest in art which reflects the time, place and social circumstances of contemporary life. Universities continue to encourage creativity while the professional field has begun to provide opportunities for dancers to experiment with new ideas. Professional companies such as Le Groupe De La Place Royal and Ballet Jorgen have extended their mandate to include the training of choreographers, and a series of four national choreographic workshops have effectively instructed emerging choreographers in a collaborative and critical creative environment. This new emphasis on choreography, as well as the ability to perform it, has given considerable impetus to the development of dance as an art form in Canada.

Educational Centres

Students of classical ballet usually begin their training during childhood with a local teacher among the many that exist throughout most regions in Canada. Paths to professional careers most often begin with a local teacher progressing through studios of more advanced technique to one of the pre-professional schools associated with Canada's three major ballet companies. While there is no legal licensing requirement for dance teachers, many have joined the Canadian Dance Teachers' Association, founded in 1947 to monitor teaching standards. Other organizations exist to oversee and accredit teaching within standard syllabi set for the Cecchetti, Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) and Russian methods of classical ballet training.

The National Ballet School is the oldest and most established of the schools originally attached to major ballet companies. It offers a complete ballet and academic training program housed within seven buildings, including student residences. The Winnipeg Ballet School and École Supérieure de Danse du Québec in Montréal provide reputable training in classical ballet. All three schools attract students from abroad as well as from Canada and have prepared students for national and international employment opportunities. There are many other smaller ballet centres including the Quinte Ballet School in Belleville, Ontario, the School of Dance in Ottawa, the Alberta Ballet School in Edmonton and the Goh Academy in Vancouver.

Of the university dance degree programs, the Dance Department at York University in Toronto is the oldest and remains the most comprehensive. Others exist at the University of Québec and Concordia in Montréal, the University of Calgary in Alberta and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Of these, the dance departments at York, University of Québec and Simon Fraser have graduate programs for advanced study. Dance is also offered in several other universities as components of other disciplines, such as music, drama or physical education. Dance training is also found at the college level, particularly through the series of CÉGEP colleges in Québec, Ryerson Polytechnic University and George Brown College in Toronto, and Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.

Pre-professional modern dance training, outside of universities or colleges is offered in three established schools: Les Ateliers de Danse Moderne de Montréal Inc in Montréal, the Toronto Dance Theatre School and the School of Contemporary Dancers, Winnipeg. The training program at Main Dance in Vancouver offers three years of intensive study.

Issues of Dance Training

Following the national trend away from centralism in favour of regional interests, dance training centres may now be found in all Canadian regions. Professional dancers have begun to travel from company to company and from region to region more freely than before. Many schools have adapted to the needs of the profession at large and no longer specialize in the styles and techniques used by a particular company. Dancers must be highly versatile to be successful in an increasingly competitive profession. Contemporary ballet and new trends in modern dance require dancers to have many more skills than before. Traditional training methods such as those of the Royal Academy of Dancing and Cecchetti ballet syllabuses and the Graham, Cunningham and Limon modern dance techniques are still widely taught, but attention is being applied to other studies such as body conditioning, injury prevention, improvisation, acting, and a balanced academic education. The National Ballet School, for example, has instituted a number of changes to make students more aware of the potential and limitations of their bodies in order to prevent injuries and extend the number of years graduates might continue to dance.

The Dancer Transition Resource Centre in Toronto was formed to help dancers at the end of their dance careers to be retrained for other professions. This has assisted many dancers who found themselves ill equipped to join the workforce because of the highly specialized nature of their previous training. Questions now arise about the responsibility of dance training institutions to prepare students for a second career from the time they enter.

The quickly changing demography of Canada and the influx of a great number of culturally specific art forms make it no longer possible to regard dance education as limited to European traditions of theatrical ballet and American modern dance. Classical East Indian dance, jazz, African dance, aboriginal dance, indigenous Canadian folk dance and folk dance from other countries are some of the forms which have become current theatre fare deserving of recognition.

Dance in Education

As education falls under provincial jurisdictions, dance studies within school systems vary a great deal from province to province. Some very comprehensive programs have been developed in a number of high schools for the performing arts in Ontario and specialized college programs (CÉGEP) in Québec. Secondary school dance studies also exist in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan but there is little coordination between the provinces or even the schools offering dance within each province. At the elementary level, there has been a trend toward the establishment of courses which combine dance, music, drama and visual arts into a general introduction to the experience of art making. While this fairly rapid recognition of dance studies in the school systems is seen as a very positive step leading to a more humanitarian future population of Canadians, there are too few teachers qualified to teach dance within the schools, particularly on the elementary level where they are expected to be knowledgeable of all the arts.

Universities are beginning to recognize their responsibility to prepare student teachers to teach dance. The Arts Education Program of the University of Regina and the faculties of Education at the Universities of Alberta and Calgary are good examples of university programs successfully involved in dance teacher training for education systems. Other dance programs associated with faculties of Fine Arts and faculties of Physical Education are cooperating with faculties of Education to service the acute need for qualified teachers of dance in education.

Recreational Dance

The Canadian Dance Teachers Association was organized regionally and by dance form. Other training systems used in Canada are mostly British or Russian in origin including the Royal Academy of Dance, the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, the Cecchetti International Ballet, the Society of Russian Ballet, the British Association of Teachers of Dancing and the British Ballet Organization among others. Within any of these systems, the higher grades require more hours of study per week and it is possible for the serious-minded student to achieve a very high standard.

A common feature of Recreational Dance programs is the annual recital or demonstration in which each class presents a dance for family and friends. Some dance schools have performance troupes that give senior students the opportunity to develop performance skills. In Canada, several of these troupes have developed to a very high, even pre-professional standard, employing guest choreographers from Canada's major dance companies to work with the students.

Dance competitions are another feature of recreational dance. Students compete for medals, trophies and scholarships in competitions sponsored by teacher organizations and by private sector companies. While the competitions provide stage performance experience they are controversial, raising the issue of how far competition can serve artistic goals. Graded systems and competitions are mainly intended for children and teens. Adults who study these dance forms as recreation rarely take exams or participate in recitals.

Further Reading