Michael Anthony Kerr was nearing retirement from middle-school teaching and mulling a new role as an advocate for dance in public schools.

Zakiya Atkinson wanted to fuse her two passions – dance and social justice – to inspire students to respond to political issues through improvisational and choreographed movement. 

Pascal Rekoert hoped to study the role that race and socioeconomic status play in the dance education of male students in under-represented communities.

And then came the announcement by Teachers College three years ago that it would be creating what was believed to be the nation’s only dance education doctoral program. 

Big news – for starters because, as Kerr puts it, “the history of dance education begins at TC.” Professor Gertrude Colby (1874-1960), began her studies at Teachers College in the autumn of 1911. While a student, she was employed by the Speyer school, a laboratory school housed within Teachers College. Her innovative work with the children garnered much attention, resulting in her hire to teach dance pedagogy courses to aspiring and experienced educators at Teachers College as early as 1912. Until her retirement in 1933, Colby was the innovator of “natural dancing,” a creative process approach to dance instruction. Many future dance education luminaries were drawn to study with her and other progressive faculty at Teachers College.    

TC subsequently operated a dance education master’s degree until 2005, producing leaders such as Margaret H’Doubler, who developed the first major in dance at University of Wisconsin; Martha Hill, the first Dance Director at The Juilliard School; Sin Cha Hong, the noted South Korean dancer, choreographer, vocalist and writer; Beryl McBurnie, the Trinidadian dancer known as La Belle Rosette: Rachel Moore, the President and CEO of LA’s Music Center and the former Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre; and Annie-B Parson, Choreographer and Co-Director of Big Dance Theater.

Jody Arnhold

 THE DANCE MAKER Jody Gottfried Arnhold (M.A. '73) and her husband, John Arnhold, funded creation of TC's doctoral program in dance education.

But even more important, for Kerr, Atkinson, Rekoert and others hearing about TC’s new program, was the person behind it: alumna Jody Gottfried Arnhold (M.A. ’73), who with her husband, John, had given the College $4.3 million. Called “the Godmother of Dance” by The Wall Street Journal. Arnhold is the Founding Director of 92Y Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) and Honorary Chair of Ballet Hispanico. She co-chaired the New York City Department of Education’s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance (Pre K-12) and was the executive producer of the EMMY-nominated documentary PS DANCE!

 [Read a profile of Jody Gottfried Arnhold that appeared in TC Today magazine. Learn more about TC’s doctoral program in dance education. Read an interview with Arnhold that appeared in The Wall Street Journal in 2016 (subscription required).]

The bottom line: “Everybody was talking about it,” recalls Kerr,

Now it seems that “everybody” – or at least many of the city’s top dance educators – is in the program’s first cohort of students, which arrived on campus this past fall.

Ranging in age from 28 to 73, the Arnhold Fellows, as they are known, bring multiple lifetimes of classroom and stage experience.

Most are balancing their course work at TC with full-time teaching positions in public schools or universities in the Tri-State area or overseeing private dance programs and workshops.

“All of us have a tremendous amount of teaching experience,” says Kerr. “And many of us have worked together before in different venues. For all of us to find each other at TC at this juncture of our careers is unbelievable. We all respect each other’s work and what we’ve contributed to the field. So “the Fellowship came at a perfect time for someone at my age and at this point in my career.”

Atkinson, who over the past 10 years has introduced and installed an innovative dance curriculum the Hudson County, New Jersey high school, says that TC, with its reputation for encouraging interdisciplinary research, is the perfect fit to further explore and expand on the embrace of “dance as a conduit to social justice education.” 

And Rekoert, a native of the Netherlands who, in addition to his international performing and choreography credits has served as a dance instructor at a Title 1 Brooklyn high school, sees the program as a key step toward a leadership position with a college-level dance education program: “You need a doctorate degree to be competitive for that type of position or even to get your foot in the door.”

Barbara Bashaw

Barbara Bashaw, Acting Director, says the TC doctoral program will enable the Arnhold Fellows to add research and new opportunities for leadership skills to their already-stellar resumes.

Under the program’s Acting Director Barbara Bashaw, another prominent TC alumna who is the Graduate Director of Dance Education, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, students in the first cohort include:

  • Patricia Dye, who has been teaching, advising and directing the Dance Department at Science Skills High School for Science, Technology & Creative Arts’s Jow-Ile-Bailar Dance Companies in Brooklyn. Dye also is dance faculty member for Ballet Hispanico and Founder and Artistic Director of Passing Ancestral Knowledge Along Theater Dance Company.
  • Kathleen Isaac, Director of the Arnhold Dance Education Program at CUNY Hunter College, where she is the dance education coordinator for the B.A. B.A./M.A. and M.A. dance education programs.
  • Joan Finkelstein, Executive Director of the Harkness Foundation for Dance, who has performed in the United States and Europe and served as Director of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center and Director of Dance for the New York City Department of Education.
  • Ana Nery Fragoso, Director of Dance Programs for the New York City Department of Education Office of Arts and Special Projects, and Director of the Arnhold New Dance Teacher Support program.
  • Deborah Damast, Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Director of the Dance Education Program at NYU Steinhardt, where she directs Kaleidoscope Dancers; is Artistic Director of the program’s concerts, and founding director of the dance education study abroad program to Uganda.
  • Heather Dougherty, dance artist, educator and Research Assistant for TC’s new doctoral program, has performed in petroglyph caves in Montana, ancient ruins in Rome, SoHo art galleries and a Philadelphia parking lot.

“There is a hunger for this,” says Bashaw. “Dance education is barely a century old, which is young compared to music and other arts. There’s a lot of unexplored territory.”  

Earning a TC doctorate is enabling the Arnhold Fellows to add research and new opportunities for leadership skills to their already-stellar resumes, Bashaw says. The program over the first year introduced the inaugural Fellows to the rudiments of scholarly inquiry, including literature review, research methods and other practical skills to prepare them for what Bashaw emphasizes is – first and foremost – “a research degree.”

“Dance teachers are accustomed to advocating for their programs,” she says. “Part of what we’re doing in the doctoral program is demonstrating that a well-designed research study will serve advocacy through the presentation of actual data while also serving to expand the field.”

Kerr sees the research coming out the Arnhold Fellowships reshaping the perception of dance education among students, parents, schools and communities.

“Parents tend to encourage student participation in competitive sports,” Kerr noted.  “We’re trying to change that mentality and initiatives like this will help do that because the presence of people with doctorates in dance education on school boards will be able to influence policy by supporting it with research.”

That mindset, is in keeping with an aspiration Arnhold shared in discussing the then-nascent program with The Wall Street Journal in 2016.    

“I’m trying to build the field,” she said. “I want these people to pepper the country, to be sitting at the table any time anyone talks about dance education.”