Point Park University Launches a New Master’s Degree in Dance Education
January 10, 2024

In October 2023, Point Park University’s School of Education and Conservatory of Performing Arts announced their collaboration on a new program: a Master of Education in Pre-K through 12 Dance Education Certification. Set to begin this spring, the MEd program is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

“We’ve known for years now that the state of Pennsylvania did not have a dance teacher certification,” says Garfield Lemonius, dean and artistic director of the Conservatory of Performing Arts, explaining that it wasn’t until August of 2023 that the state finally approved it. “Point Park University is known to be quite innovative as it relates to education—and certainly the conservatory dance program—and we jumped at this opportunity to collaborate, recognizing that we have a very strong dance conservatory and sister school.”

Immediately after the Pennsylvania Department of Education made that approval, Lemonius sat down with the former dean of the School of Education, Darling Marnich, as well as PDE representatives and other PPU faculty members, to draw up blueprints for an MEd curriculum.

“As soon as the PDE guidelines and competencies were published, our team leapt at how to develop a robust program that met what the state outlined, but also upheld to the standards that we see at the School of Education and our dance program,” says Virginia Chambers, current chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning.

Leveraging the strengths of Point Park’s nationally renowned dance program and successful education school, the new MEd is offered almost entirely online. It is composed of six dance-content and five pedagogy courses for a total of 11 asynchronous online courses leading up to an in-person student teaching semester. For that 15-week semester, students are placed at a school where dance is taught to grades K–12 and are overseen by a teacher there, as well as a PPU advisor. Since the MEd is a Pennsylvania certification, Chambers explains, the PED requires that students carry out half of that semester in state; the other half may be done out of state or even at one of the School of Education’s international school partner locations, in Spain or Ireland.

The MEd’s dance curriculum will include graduate-level courses in subjects including dance history, aesthetics, choreography, production, and teaching methods. The educational content offers courses like child development, classroom management, special education, and culturally responsive teaching methods. Students will take dance and education courses simultaneously, and a capstone seminar focuses on interviewing skills, resumé writing, and other tools to prepare graduates for job placement.

Alumnus James (Washington) Manning teaching. Photo courtesy Point Park University.

Students eligible for the MEd include current or future dance students with a bachelor’s degree in dance, or individuals with professional dance experience who want to pursue certification. Field knowledge and experience are paramount, says Lemonius, whether or not students have carried out a professional performance career. With a total of 42 credits to complete, candidates who begin their MEd in the fall of 2024 can expect to complete the program by the spring of 2026, or in just under two years.

“The arts are the backbone for culture,” says Lemonius. “It means that there are opportunities out there for dancers who want to experience life beyond the stage—who are strong advocates for dance and who want to share their knowledge and expertise, and the gifts of dance art, with younger generations.”

Even as the MEd is just starting, the prospects are promising, says Chambers. Based on a sizable number of current inquiries, she and Lemonius expect a strong first cohort come spring. “This first class will be some of the first to earn this certification, and definitely the first in the state,” Chambers says. “That’s really exciting for prospective students—to know that they’ll hold a certification that will grow throughout the state, and that they’ll be pioneers.”

Going forward, the hope is to continue to attract candidates not only from across the U.S. but internationally, as well. In the meantime, Chambers and Lemonius have found the collaborative process uniquely invigorating. “It’s been so refreshing to work with the dance faculty because they are just as motivated, if not more motivated than we are, to develop and create new programs,” says Chambers, citing a hope to inspire other schools to collaborate. And what is more, the program sheds light on dance education as a career worth pursuing as a primary vocation, and not an afterthought.

“Oftentimes when young dancers think about a career in dance, their go-to is the stage,” says Lemonius. “We are saying that yes, performing is fantastic, but there are other options out there. Becoming a dance educator is something that has tremendous value on its own: preparing the next generation. We want to ensure that students and parents understand that the dance career is varied, and that there are many different avenues to have a successful career. Becoming a dance educator is one of them.”

For more information on Point Park’s MEd in Pre-K through 12 Dance Education Certification, head to the program website.

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