Reine Duell Bethany - Author and Illustrator
My Blog

Balanchine and the Fight for the Arts

A 2011 report on the National Education Association website (http://www.nea.org/home/48907.htm) details the devastating effects of state budget cuts on school services and curriculums -- not least being cuts to the arts, especially in lower-income schools. A Jan. 21, 2015 news release (http://www.nea.org/home/61627.htm) describes the efforts of educators across the country to delete the No Child Left Behind testing mandates, which cause a month of school learning time to be lost to administering 2.5 times as many tests to elementary school children as before NCLB was enacted.
     How can a nation explore and express its soul without the arts? I agree with the NEA educators: teaching children to take tests does not equal education. And diminishing support for the arts in school results in a restricted, incomplete version of learning.
     George Balanchine was no legislator. Yet he developed an effective means to address children's souls: he established an education division as part of the School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet. Each year, groups of SAB and NYCB dancers performed in area schools or in theaters to which area children were bused, exposing New York City children of all backgrounds to dance, visual art, and music. My own dance director when I was in my teens, Josephine Schwarz of the Dayton Ballet Company, followed this model. My dance compadres and I performed lecture-demonstrations year after year in schools all over the Dayton metropolitan area. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, one of Balanchine's founding danseurs, Jacques D'Amboise, created a program for getting thousands of New York schoolchildren to participate in huge dance events. D'Amboise's autobiography describes the lifelong impact these events had on the kids.
     If the state and federal budgets lose perspective and cut school arts programs, then the private sector must rise to the occasion. It has done so repeatedly. The more I research youth in gangs and the problem of literacy, the more I dream of establishing a writing cooperative that would unlock the expressive potential of thousands of young minds, the way Balanchine and those surrounding him did with dance. That dream is far from me right now, but as I establish area connections and continue my research and my writing, to borrow a Quaker saying, the way will open.

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