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Stop subject snobbery: Why Dance and the Performing Arts deserve to be taken seriously in UAE schools

There was a time when the arts, including Dance and the Performing Arts, were seen as the definition of true civilisation. Music, painting, dramatic arts, literature and other ‘humanities’ were seen the essence of what it means to be ‘human’ and took centre stage in the interests of the cultural elite.

But while this remains relevant to an extent, over the years the spotlight has shifted.

Our modern emphasis on STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – has created a new standard of for what academic excellence ‘should’ look like.

With governments’ increasing investment into STEM, and its subsequent perception as the educational field with arguably the most academic cachet, performing arts subjects such as dance have been largely pushed into the shadows. Seen as ‘soft’ or ‘not serious’, these disciplines often do not benefit from the sort of facilities and investment that really do them justice.

But it’s time for that to change, says Emma Tate, Academy Dance Programme Manager FS1 – Post 16, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis.

Far from being ‘easy subjects’, performance arts such as dance force students to take risks, collaborate and push themselves to their absolute limit – creatively, emotionally and physically. Combining project management, critical analysis, and interpersonal skills with athletic discipline, artistic talent and psychological bravery, dance is both an incredibly challenging and fulfilling course to take, and a creative and complementary counterbalance to other subjects, including STEM disciplines.

Here, Emma Tate, who has been teaching dance in education for 18 years, explains why studying dance deserves a spotlight in schools.

Academy Dance Programme Manager FS1 – Post 16, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis. Dance and the Performing Arts are a vital subject area in all schools, she argues.

Academy Dance Programme Manager FS1 – Post 16, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis


Why dance deserves a spotlight in UAE schools 

Dance is an art form that has been present at every stage of civilisation. It is used all over the world in different contexts, to tell stories, celebrate life events and to educate. This depth of human history is part of why I believe studying dance is worthy of the same respect as any other arts subject.

Transferable skills

As a discipline within performing arts, dance is a very physical and expressive form. The benefits of dance include increased physical fitness, improved strength, coordination, energy and wellbeing. Dance is a fantastic outlet for creativity, while dancers also develop the skills of resilience, collaboration, being responsible, time management and patience, all of which are easily transferrable to other aspects of life.

A vehicle for powerful political commentary

Last term, my Year 12 BTEC students studied and explored the professional work ‘Zoon Nation – Message in a Bottle’, directed and choreographed by Kate Prince.

I have such admiration for Kate and her work, and particularly this piece. Not only was the choreography breath-taking, but the concept of the entire work was seamless, educating her audience about the situation in Syria and bringing refugees and their stories to life through dance choreography. I remember watching it and thinking, this is why dance is important; it educates and inspires. The piece moved me and my students deeply.

Athletic rigour and creative depth

Some people argue that dancing is a sport, as it requires immense physical stamina, muscle strength and flexibility. The strength that dancers need means they are often just as athletic as rugby players, marathon runners and tennis players. Others argue that dance is an art form, as it demonstrates emotion, characterisation and storytelling. For me, dance is a crossover of both, as it requires both skills sets. Dance is an art form like no other, and it has the ability to capture the audience’s attention because of its technicality, beauty and emotion.

My team and I are very lucky to work in a school where all three performing arts disciplines are fully supported, particularly dance. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case among other schools in the UAE. I see first-hand what a positive impact dance has had on the lives of my students and others. It unites a school, creates a community where everyone can come together and celebrate dance.

Dance can lead to formal qualifications, with experience at school helping students to become a professional dancer or choreographer. Alternatively, it can be an outlet for fun and a social pursuit for creating new friendships. We have a breadth of dance pathways for students that want to take their dance studies further – enrichment, elite youth dance teams (that represent at an international level), GCSE, IB and BTEC dance qualifications. We also offer dance leadership opportunities through our Saturday Academy and weekly community hub classes, which are led by our external industry partners. There is something for every child, which creates a bespoke and inclusive provision for our school and wider community.

Dance as social currency

On a wider scale, the rise of TikTok has seen people of all ages and abilities use dance as an outlet to de-stress, have fun and share the joy of dance with their social networks. While I personally don’t use TikTok, from speaking to students, professional dancers and practitioners, I know it is a fantastic tool for supporting, engaging with and connecting the world with dance and dance businesses. TikTok definitely inspires more people globally to use dance and creative movement in their everyday lives, it is an impressive platform to explore and proves the unifying power of dance.

The connecting  power of dance

Over the course of my career, I have worked with hundreds of students, and many still keep in touch with me after they have left school. Some have progressed to the next level and are now dance graduates working with professional dance companies, some are now teaching dance or even own dance schools, while other still pursue dance as a hobby alongside their professional careers. The one thing they all have in common, are their fond memories of dance at school. Dance taught them how to collaborate, think out of the box, use their initiative, take risks, be organised and conquer their fears. These are skills that have served them well in their lives beyond school. Knowing this makes me feel grateful for the opportunity to teach dance and happy that dance is such a big part of my life.


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In the wake of International Dance Day – which is held on 29 April each year –  it’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate all the different dance communities out there: professional dance companies, dance schools, youth dance companies, professional dancers, dance leaders, students and teachers, and all the competitive dance platforms.

Let’s remember how diverse the dance community is globally and that dance has such a positive impact on so many people’s lives, creating a special community that everyone can be part of: #togeatherwedanceunited.

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About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and's The School's Report - the global weekly round up of what matters in education for parents which is published every Friday, reviewing schools across the UAE - and features on issues that really matter.

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