On November 29, 2016, the National Dance Education Organization will host its third annual Thank A Dance Teacher Day campaign, in conjunction with #GivingTuesday. NDEO’s Thank a Dance Teacher Day is a global movement to shine the spotlight on quality dance education and the teachers who make it possible. It was started in 2014 by the NDEO with two goals. The first is to use social media to raise awareness of the benefits of dance education and the important role that dance teachers play in shaping the lives of their students. The second is to raise money for NDEO's Professional Development Scholarship Fund. Each year, these Professional Development Scholarships are awarded to deserving dance teachers, so that they can advance their careers, better serve their students, and give back to the field of dance education.

For the past three years, NDEO has invited dancers, dance students, former dancers, dance moms and dads, and everyone who believes in dance education to participate in Thank A Dance Teacher Day. Participants are asked make a donation of ten dollars or more to NDEO in honor or memory of a dance teacher who impacted your life in a special way. Then, they share their stories and thank their dance teachers on the social media platform of their choosing, using the hashtag #NDEOThankADanceTeacherDay.

In the past two years, Thank A Dance Teacher Day has grown into a global movement. But with all of the worthy causes asking for support on #GivingTuesday, one of the questions NDEO is faced with is, "Why is it important to support dance education, and more specifically, dance educators?"

At NDEO, we know that "It All Starts With A Dance Teacher!" Research suggests that a quality dance education provides physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and psychological benefits. According to Evidence: A Report on the Impact of Dance in K-12 Schools (NDEO, 2013), studies from a range of sources reveal that dance classes as part of school curriculum can have a positive impact on student achievement, teacher satisfaction, and school culture. In addition, thousands of personal testimonies from dancers and former dancers that attest to the fact that dance education can have a life-changing impact. Through dance education, students acquire self-respect and self-discipline, learn to collaborate, communicate, and think critically and creatively, and develop empathy and community building skills.

For Michaela DePrince, who had been orphaned in war-torn Sierra Leone, dance taught her about community and collaboration, which helped her to become a member of the Dutch National Ballet:

"In ballet I’ve learned that there is no “I” in “class” or “corps”. Dancing in a ballet class or a corps de ballet teaches you that you are not the center of the universe. Learning this basic fact of life is absolutely necessary if you expect to collaborate and empathize with others in all aspects of your life and career, no matter what it might be."

Dance education isn't just beneficial for students who want to pursue careers on the stage, however. A quality dance education helps students succeed in all facets of life, in and out of the studio. Melinda Siligo, a United Airlines Pilot, credits her dance education with her success in the air:

"When I showed up to my first interview with an airline, they asked me why I have dance all over my resume. I told them that it is because of my dance classes that I should be a pilot. If I can do several pirouettes, I can spin an airplane. The same thing that keeps you spotting is what keeps an airplane safe. Flying is an art form. It is an aerial dance. You can’t be a pilot with just smarts. You can’t fly airplanes by numbers, but by kinesthetic awareness."

However, none of the students' success would be possible without a trained, qualified, and committed dance teacher. James Whiteside, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York City, acknowledges that his dance teachers were influential in both his professional and personal development:

"They are the reason I fell in love with dance so quickly. The thing I cherish even more than the ability to dance is the work ethic they instilled in me. There was no other way. It was go hard or go home, and they had little tolerance for nonsense…which is an incredible influence for a wayward teen (as I was) to have."

An important aspect of a dance teacher’s training and preparation is Professional Development. It plays a critical role in the life of a dance teacher and their ability to provide quality dance education to their students. To be successful, dance teachers constantly need to to broaden their knowledge, improve their teaching skills, and stay up to date on research, trends, and development in the field. Professional development provides all of this, and more. Most importantly, the teachers can take back what they learn in their professional development to their studios, classrooms, and communities.

Unfortunately, taking part in quality professional development can be a challenge for many dance educators. Often what is provided by school districts is not dance-specific, and teachers in universities or private studios have to seek out opportunities on their own. For dance teachers in all settings, professional development can be cost-prohibitive, especially when funding is not provided by their employer. NDEO is proud to provide access to quality professional development specifically for dance educators through its annual National Conference, Special Topic Conferences, and Online Professional Development Institute. These face-to-face and online learning opportunities provide dance teachers with access to the latest research and trends, tried and tested teaching methods, and valuable content that can be passed on to their students. Dance teachers who demonstrate both financial need and merit are eligible to apply for an NDEO Professional Development Scholarship. These scholarships provide a crucial opportunity for dance educators to advance their careers, benefit their students, and give back to the field in new and exciting ways.

For Shawn Lent, a 2015 Professional Scholarship recipient, the scholarship helped her connect with the field after working abroad, and allowed her to give back a meaningful way:

“After living and working overseas for a few years, I was struggling to regain a place in the U.S. dance education landscape. I knew the unique voice and perspective I had gained could be a contribution to the field, but I didn't know how to access the conversation. Years of volunteer work and life on an Egyptian Pound salary had made for an unstable financial situation; the NDEO Professional Development Scholarship was thus a crucial life-line, a way back into the national field. Since attending the NDEO conference last year, I have had a paper on "Inclusion Strategies for Conservative Dancers" accepted to the Journal of Dance Education, spoken at four universities, and have been pushed by my peers to expand my thinking and practice.”

For Terri D. Smith, Founder of the iMOVE Dance & Production Program, taking courses in our Online Professional Development Program (OPDI) gave her credibility and the confidence to reach her students in new and impactful ways.

"In the after school care program that I started last year (iMOVE), I'm teaching students about the basic elements of dance, how to observe and comment on what they see in dance and they're learning how to create simple dance movements. They're broadening their understanding of the art form. And they are also able to make connections between dance and subjects they're studying in class, like reading, history and science. The Elements of Dance course was extremely helpful in shaping my knowledge and allowing me to share and teach what I've learned. In addition, I'm also starting to identify developmental needs in my 4th-6th grade students that helps me to teach them more effectively. And I wouldn't be as aware of the various stages and needs of my students as I am know if I had not taken the Developmental Domains course."

These stories and so many more allow NDEO to say with confidence that “It All Starts With A Dance Teacher!” We have seen first hand how impactful a quality dance education can be for students, regardless of their gender, age, race or culture, socio-economic status, ability or interest. We know that dance teachers make that impact possible, and we exist to support those educators in their good work. Participating in #GivingTuesday has helped us share the benefits of dance education, and the teachers who make it possible, on a global platform. Our Thank A Dance Teacher donors are helping us to increase access to our Professional Development programs, so that dance teachers from across the country can continue to shape and change the lives of the students for the better!