Ethical Practice

Ethical Practice in Oriental Dance Education

by Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan

Dancers conversing on the internet med-dance list have been sharing in a discussion of instructor certification, examining the various systems and formats that exist here in the United States, Australia and Europe. Topics such as peer review, judgment process and the scope of knowledge required before one can become a certified instructor of Oriental dance were discussed. Familiarity with the ethical issues which dancers and dance instructors face is an essential part of being a competent instructor.

Unlike other professions and fields of interest with a strong performance orientation, dance education has only recently begun to consider the role of ethics and its relationship to the practice of dance and dance education. Dance professionals and dance instructors continually make decisions and solve problems related to the practice and performance of Oriental dance, but there has been little discussion about the ethical issues involved in making these decisions. In Oriental dance, this lack of focus on ethics may be partly due to the diversity of the field, as well as its learner-centered focus, with little attention being place on understanding the practice of teaching.

The following discussion describes some of the ethical dilemmas that are inherent in the education of dancers, provides ideas, examples, and a model that should be helpful in decision making relative to these issues, and concludes with some suggestions for promoting ethical practice in dance education.

Ethical Dimensions of Dance Education Practice

By its nature, the practice of dance education is an endeavor in which ethical choices are not some abstract ideal but are embedded in the very fabric of teaching. Because ethics is the process of deciding what should be done, the ongoing choices dance instructors make, such as what to teach and to whom, or how programs are to be developed, reflect the ethical values in their practice.

Dance instructors are often prevented from applying standardized principles to solutions because of the ambiguity and conflicting values characteristic of many situations. In these situations dance instructors may tend to make choices that are based on their beliefs about the way that things ought to be, rather than reflecting thoroughly on the value judgements and assumptions that implicitly operate throughout the decision-making process. A decision-making model is needed to assist dance educators to draw upon their basic values in making dance education practice decisions. Rather than providing prescriptive guidelines or telling instructors what they should to in a specific situation, the model proposed here is designed to help them discover the best course of action for themselves.

The model consists of three interrelated dimensions or levels of ethical practice: 1) personal value system, 2) consideration of multiple responsibilities, and 3) operationalization of values.

Personal Value System

Ethical practice begins with an understanding of personal values: “What do I believe?” and “How committed am I to those beliefs?” Personal values affect how instructors teach, what they teach, and how they interact with their students. Teacher’s personal value systems will influence whether they focus on a learner’s strengths or inadequacies; whether they treat students equally regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, or creed; and whether they believe dancers can learn regardless of age, social class, and previous learning experiences. The med-dance list discussion recently focused on the plight of the awkward and less-graceful dancer, and the teacher’s responsibility to assist the dancer and the dance student’s comfort level. How a teacher deals with this issue in class is very revealing of his or her personal value system.

A teacher may encounter an ethical dilemma when her personal value system regarding the appropriate conduct in class conflicts with that of students. For example, teachers who have a humanistic view of people usually perceive their teaching role to be that of facilitator. They tend to be more student-directed in their teaching, and think of themselves as catalysts in the learning process. However, some students may resent this approach and expect the teacher to use “watch me and do” methodology, rather than develop their skills as self-directed learners. The teacher is faced with the decision to abandon, modify, or stay on course with the approach that is consistent with her personal view of human nature.

Consideration of Multiple Responsibilities

The second dimension, consideration of multiple responsibilities, revolves around the question, “To whom am I responsible as an adult educator?” The teacher is faced with numerous options when faced with the task of meeting what are frequently conflicting needs. The teacher may be responsible to students, employers of dancers, dance associations, dance colleagues, contemporary society and the cultures from which this dance is derived.

Teaching dance is seldom a full-time occupation, and the teacher may be faced with ethical dilemmas when other responsibilities conflict with teaching or are given a higher priority than the teaching role. Individuals whose teaching role is secondary to other responsibilities may need to examine their motives for teaching dance as well as whether they can take time from their major roles to prepare adequately for teaching. It is a common misconception that because one can dance, one can necessarily teach. Even in the profession of higher education, this same assumption occurs as people who are experts in their field teach without the background and knowledge of teaching techniques; it is just assumed that accomplishment in the field provides an appropriate background for a teaching role.

Operationalization of Values

The third dimension, operationalization of values, asks, “How do I put my values into practice?” Although the translation of values into practice in adult education has tended to be informal and without a written code of ethics, a written set of guidelines has proven to be essential in many fields. It may help to consider the following six basic moral principles that lie at the heart of teaching practice as a guide for putting values into practice:

1. Respect: Do I respect the cultural traditions with which this dance is associated?

2. Justice: Is there equity in service to learners?

3. Obligations to clients: Are the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved shared and considered?

4. Beneficence: Are harmful outcomes minimized and positive outcomes maximized?

5. Caring: Do I really care about the learners with whom I work?

6. Self-awareness: Am I able and willing to reflect on my own instructional strategies and dance education practice?

Teachers need to model ethical behavior in teaching. This practice requires all participants in the learning activity, teachers and students alike, to be willing to question what is being taught and how the subject matter is being addressed. Student learning styles and needs vary and dance educators need to consider how they will address student needs.

Promoting Ethical Practice in Dance Education

Ethics are an integral part of dance education practice which has not received widespread attention in the Oriental dance field, and our dance form would benefit from teachers developing a greater awareness and sensitivity to ethical issues. I suggest the following ideas for promoting ethical practice in dance education:

1. Self-examination. Personal value systems must be articulated. Writing down and reflecting on one’s own philosophy of dance education is a helpful process for clarifying personal beliefs.

2. Reflect on ethics in practice. Finding time to engage in personal and group reflection on ethical issues will increase awareness of ethical dilemmas and ways to resolve conflicts.

3. Examine the practices of other professions. Learning how other professions deal with ethical dilemmas can lead to more insights about dealing with them in our own field. However, be forewarned against adopting practices used by others that are incompatible with one’s own philosophy and personal and cultural value system.

4. Encourage and support forums for discussion on ethics and share effective teaching techniques. An open discussion can lead to greater understanding of ethical issues in dance education and provide information that will help dance educators respond to those issues.

Having completed her MBA, Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan now divides her time between her career as a university professor of business, her work as a business consultant, and her performing, teaching and continued study of Oriental dance. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Administration.

Copyright 1998, Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan

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