For Jody Gottfried Arnhold (M.A., ‘73), there have been many times in recent years—as she witnessed the growth of TC’s one-of-a-kind doctoral program in dance education and the Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy and Leadership she funded and inspired—when she thought back on her time on campus in the early 1970s.

She remembered the magnificent dance studio up on the 4th floor of Horace Mann Hall with big windows and a striking view of Broadway and 120th Street, and also a ground-floor black-box theater. “It had a lobby, a ticket office, a small theater, although I think I remember it being bigger and dressing rooms with lights around the mirror, and it was perfect,” Arnhold recalled in a recent interview.

These memories spurred Arnhold to begin questioning some of her former classmates about what they remembered about the space, and ultimately to assemble a tour with Teachers College administrators to explore what still remained of the old layout.

But Jody Gottfried Arnhold’s interest wasn’t just her personal curiosity. Instead, she saw the restoration of a modern, totally-up-to-date dance studio for teaching, performing and for research projects as the next logical step forward for the project she helped inspire in 2016. Her mission has been to make Teachers College a national leader in dance education expanding leadership in the field, through its unique doctoral program as well as the Arnhold Institute that champions and conducts policy-relevant dance education research—to forge new paths in PK-12 education, and to eliminate disparities in the availability of high-quality dance education for children, families and communities.

Now, Jody and John Arnhold and the Arnhold Foundation have donated $5 million to build the Arnhold Dance Education Research Studios, a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that will reclaim the ground floor of Horace Mann Hall with flexible-space dance studios. The new space will both advance research and teaching around dance education and also foster collaborative projects with community groups and cultural partners.

“This marks yet another milestone for the arts and education at Teachers College that will help to ensure that dance education is a core component of a well-rounded education.”

President Thomas Bailey

“The new Arnhold Dance Education Research Studio space will affirm and advance core components of Teachers College’s founding principles: to enable teachers and schools to provide culturally relevant opportunities for growth and development for every child, everywhere,” said TC President Thomas Bailey.

“This marks yet another milestone for the arts and education at Teachers College that will help to ensure that dance education is a core component of a well-rounded education,” said Bailey.

As planners begin drawing up the blueprints for the studios, the doctoral program in dance education that launched in 2016 with funding from the Arnholds is preparing to enroll its fifth cohort and hear doctoral dissertations from its initial class of future leaders in the field. All told, Jody and John Arnhold and the Arnhold Foundation have now donated $15 million for the doctoral program, the 2019 founding of the Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy and Leadership, and the new studios.

Barbara Bashaw (Ed.D. ‘11, M.A. ‘96), Arnhold Professor of Dance Education, and Executive Director of the dance education doctoral program and Arnhold Institute. (Photo: TC Archives) 

“We are enormously grateful to Jody and John Arnhold and the Arnhold Foundation for helping us to realize the full potential of the doctoral program and Arnhold Institute as we forge new pathways and transform dance and education nationally and internationally,” said Barbara Bashaw (Ed.D. ‘11, M.A. ‘96), Arnhold Professor of Dance Education, and Executive Director of the dance education doctoral program and Arnhold Institute.

The gleam of the new facility will cap an impressive resurgence of dance education at Teachers College. The school had developed the concept of dance as arts education within academia in the early 20th century with the pioneering work of Professor Gertrude Colby and remained long a leader in the field.

Today, dance education at Teachers College is inextricably linked with Arnhold’s personal persistence, her vision that began to form in the 1970s with studies at the college and work in New York City public schools, and her passionate belief that America’s youth need dance education to reach their full potential.

At a moment when the United States is struggling with political division, as well as the impact of two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and disruptions on the nation’s students, Arnhold can boil her rationale for expanding dance education down to three words: “To save democracy.” And Arnhold makes a powerful argument that this is not hyperbole—that young people spending part of their school day in a dance studio can offer a framework for physical fitness, for creativity and critical thinking, and to foster perseverance and hard work that will someday transfer to the workplace.

“I’m all for science, technology, engineering and math…but those scientists, technologists, mathematicians and engineers need the arts—they must have the arts,” Arnhold said, addressing today’s emphasis on so-called STEM courses. “That’s the soul, that’s what holds everything together. And to have generations of people who haven’t had that as part of their lives, as part of their education—I think that’s a big problem.”

Indeed, Arnhold remains so focused on advancing dance education in part because she feels the current state of dance education in America has, in her blunt words, “a way to go”. Hard numbers are hard to come by. But after decades of budget cuts for the arts, most U.S. K-12 schools—a whopping 88 percent according to one 2017 survey—don’t offer a sequential dance education program. Many people and organizations nationwide are working to change this.

New York City has bucked that trend in recent years, and Arnhold has been at the center of that turnaround. The city’s roster of public-school dance teachers more than quadrupled from 2004 through 2016 and has continued to grow. Many of these new teachers trained at the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at Hunter College, which she endowed with a gift in 2012. And many were trained with techniques honed at the Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) 92nd Street Y that Arnhold founded with Joan Finkelstein, who became a dance-education leader for the city Department of Education now earning her doctorate through the program at Teachers College.

A remarkable thing about Arnhold’s drive for dance education is how it developed organically from both her passion for both the arts and for learning. Her studies as a child in Washington, D.C., with modern dance pioneer Erika Thimey inspired her to attend the University of Wisconsin, which had an acclaimed program. But a detour into general education brought her to New York to teach in public schools, where her desires to better teach underserved students on Manhattan’s West Side melded with her graduate studies at Teacher College. At P.S. 75, Arnhold would both teach dance and create a model program and form a close bond with the local community’s Ballet Hispánico —which she is Chair Emeritus.

“I’m interested in equity and access,” Arnhold said. “I want dance education for every child in every school, not contingent on their zip code.” That philosophy has led to a number of projects, including helping the city’s Department of Education craft its Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance PreK-12. She is the executive producer of the New York Emmy-nominated documentary PS DANCE!. Its sequel, PS DANCE! NEXT GENERATION aired throughout June and will air again on July 17.

But her efforts in supporting Teachers College over the last six years has been critical for tying together all of that work, by creating a new generation of teacher educators and thought leaders who are developing strategies for expanding and improving dance education across the United States.

Since the Arnholds’ first gift in 2016, five cohorts with more than 40 students have worked toward their doctorate in dance education, with nine of them preparing to defend their dissertations and earn the first batch of degrees in 2023-24. Those in the pioneering group are already highly accomplished educators. They include Finkelstein, who is studying how to make dance education standards more culturally responsive, as well as leaders like Pascal Rekoert, who currently directs the dance teacher preparation program at Central Connecticut State University, and Chell Parkins, who is Ballet Hispánico’s Dance Education Scholar-in-Residence.

The new studios that will be funded with the Arnhold’s $5 million donation is a logical next step forward for the initiative. The facility will connect on the ground of Horace Mann with the offices for the Arnhold Institute, allowing scholars and researchers to interact with teachers and dancers as they bring their ideas to life. The studios will also house the offices for the doctoral program. 

Stephanie Rowley, TC’s Provost, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs added: “In any discipline, research is essential to knowing what works for each learner. For the dance education doctoral program, that means providing the best space possible to examine and share successful methods of embodied research, teaching and learning.”

“Research will happen in these studios—research by students, by faculty, by fellows of the institute,” Arnhold said. “These people need space.” Going forward, Arnhold said she’d also like to see the program expand its geographic reach so that teachers are spreading the gospel of dance education to every corner of the United States. “We have to go national,” she said. “This means every child in every school, every child in every school in every city and every state.”

Beyond that, Arnhold isn’t sure what’s next in her odyssey to expand dance education—only that it’s far from over. “We’re building a field here and it’s really an opportunity for dance educators—there’s no end to what they can accomplish,” Jody Gottfried Arnhold said. “If I don’t have another idea, they will!”