“It’s work, work, work, work”: Young people’s experiences of effort and engagement in dance.

Bond, K. E., & Stinson, S. W. (2007). “It’s work, work, work, work”: Young people’s experiences of effort and engagement in dance. Research in Dance Education, 8(2), 155-183.

Abstract:

This study is the second phase of a large research project examining young people’s experiences in dance education. This phase describes students’ experiences of engagement and disengagement in dance and the qualities that define dance and dance-making as “work” or “play.” Students become excited and want to “keep going” (play), but also exhibit self-discipline, focused curiosity, commitment, and seek out challenges (work). The researchers analyzed multi-modal data (including interviews, video, AND student drawings) they gathered from over 700 young people, ages three to 18, diverse both demographically and in terms of degree and kind of dance experience.

Key Findings:

The researchers coded the data to articulate qualities related to engagement or disengagement from dance. Obstacles to engagement in dance are fear, lack of confidence, dislike of the effort involved, and boredom (too easy). Qualities of high engagement include commitment, passion, challenge, autonomy and sense of self-control requiring determination, patience, and discipline. High engagement also includes a personal or emotional connection to dance, either liking dancing itself, or the process of using the body to explore and express other thoughts, feelings and ideas. Experiences of engagement and disengagement in students are not mutually exclusive. The researchers note the complexity of both qualities expressed by the same students and conclude that it is a continuum rather than a dichotomy.

Significance of the Findings:

This study finds that dance is not unlike other school subjects, in that some young people are more engaged than others and may find some parts of it more appealing than others. However, the research shows specific characteristics related to qualities of student engagement and builds on the argument for teaching to multiple learning styles in order to engage all students in education.

Methodology:

The study is based on original data from the researchers gathered from over 700 children and adolescents (ages three to 18). The subjects are diverse in gender, ethnicity, age, degree of dance experience, and country of origin. Most students are native English speakers and only western dance forms are included in this study. This research is the second phase of a three-part analysis. It is a phenomenological analysis of several data sources including video of students studying dance, interviews, and students’ drawings.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers cite a common challenge of researching a non-verbal art form, the difficulty in capturing specific meaning of the experience of dance into words, either by the researchers or by the students. Because of the nature of this study and the data collection methods, data cannot conclusively be compared between different populations of young people. In addition, the researchers did not randomly select their subjects; rather examples in the research were selected as representative of data trends found in the research.

The methods in this particular paper are not clearly articulated, because the researchers explain this paper to be part two of a three-part research project where they analyze the same data with a different focus.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Do the students who report working hard in dance class also have similar patterns of effort and discipline in their academic, athletic, or personal pursuits? And is the trend for students who complained of dance as being too hard work have similar complaints in other areas of their life? These questions will help illuminate whether personal interests are a main drive in motivation.

Does dance inspire and/or teach students to self-motivate thus transferring skills of engagement to other subjects?