On a discussion group, a teacher recently made a comment something more or less like:

My 8th grade dance students have been invited to participate in a countywide dance judging contest. You know, the ones where they have to judge dancers on twenty dimensions of technical merit and give memorized reasons why they placed the contestants as they did? But the problem is, we don’t do judging like the traditional dance classes. We just dance. My kids dance well, but …

Participating in events outside the classroom gives students that crucial fourth, or is it it fifth, “C” that the American Association of Dance Education of America is so attached to. I forget what it stands for. Because, actually, if the AADEA had been headquartered in France, or China, there probably wouldn’t be five “C”s in the first place. And people dance just fine without any set number of C’s or K’s or any other letter. But even if it’s not necessary for good dancing per se, people (students, admins, parents) like it.

But here’s the thing. This is an invitation. Not (as far as I can tell from the original post, anyway) a command performance.

What if the same class got invited to a basketball judging contest that happened to include teams of dancers? Should they go? How little of a connection to the heart of what’s going on in class must there be before it’s okay to say “No, thank you”?

Teachers of modern dance programs know that their main goal is to teach students how to dance. Kids need to leave that classroom able to move to the music, not just talk about how other people do it. (There are way too many opinionated people who just judge other people’s dancing these days, and only a handful of them get the big bucks as TV personalities.) So every moment of class time has to be dedicated to actually dancing, not to theory about the physiology of the feet and best shoe construction.

The teacher in question, though, probably feels some outside pressure.

I now find myself desperately needing to teach them how to analyze dance by November 4th.

You know what would be easier? Teaching whomever invited you that the class regrettably won’t be able to accept the kind invitation. Full stop. No explanation.

Because spending enough class time before a deadline date to make that class able to analyze dance “so they can stand up with the other kids and not embarrass me or my teaching method” (this is the unspoken subtext here, and I’m not saying this to be critical — we all feel this way when we feel that we’re being forced to do something that we know is at odds with our true objectives in the classroom) — spending that much time on something that doesn’t make them better dancers will negatively impact their progress in dancing.

Is it worth spending classroom time that could be spent on dancing on dance analysis instead?

If it were a language teacher, would it be worth spending classroom time that could be spent on input on having kids “cram” to be able to do something that isn’t acquisitional?

It depends on how strong those outside forces are. On whether, in the teacher’s judgement, the benefit from kids participating in the contest is greater than the real language — oh, sorry, I mean dance — progress that will be lost?  The individual teacher is the only one who can answer that, because he or she is the only one who knows all the different “stakeholders” involved: parents, community, administration, the students themselves.

But not all “invitations” are created equal. Just because there’s a disco ball doesn’t mean it’ll make anyone a better dancer.