A Donor's Vow: To Place a Certified Dance Teacher in Every NYC Public School

It isn't very often that you see a gift earmarked for training teachers in the dance space. But that's precisely what happened recently thanks to Jody Gottfried Arnhold and her husband John's $4.36 million gift to allow Teachers College at Columbia University to establish a new doctoral program to train those who train dance teachers. For more information about the Arnholds' grant to Teachers College, go here. For information about the PhD in Dance program at Teachers College, go here.

The Arnholds' intent is to "ensure that Teachers College will create the next generation of leadership in the field of dance education" and ultimately, according to Columbia, "place a certified dance teacher in every public school in New York City."

It's a pretty audacious goal. The New York City Department of Education is the largest school district in the U.S., serving 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools.

Arts education has been famously under siege in New York, as it has been in many places, and dance is not the first art form you'd think might have a fighting chance in a Darwinian budget environment. It's quite rare compared to other art forms, like music and theater. A recent federal report cited by the New York Times found that the percentage of elementary schools offering dance fell to three percent in the 2009-2010 school year from 20 percent a decade earlier. In fact, in his analysis of the Arnholds' gift, the Times' Michael Cooper notes, "But the question remains: What will the market for dance teachers at public schools look like in the coming years?"

It's a fair question, but I'd argue that a bit more precision is needed to confidently answer it. After all, Arnholds' vow isn't focused on "public schools" in the general sense, much less public schools located in, say, Little Rock or Omaha. It's focused on New York City public schools, where things don't look so grim. 

Back in 2015, the New York City Department of Education released a revised edition of its Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts in Dance: Grades PreK-12. The document provides guidelines for "implementing rich and creative instruction" and templates by which educators can evaluate programs. The revised Blueprint also includes guidance for aligning the arts and Common Core.

Guess what former public school dance teacher is also the co-chair for the creation of this document?

Yep, that'd be Jody Gottfried Arnhold.

She's also the founder of the Dance Education Lab at New York City's 92nd Street Y, where she serves as chairman of the Y's Dance Center Task Force and as a member of the Y's Board. And she received the 2008 Spotlight in Dance Education Award presented by the New York City Department of Education.

Bottom line? It's safe to say Ms. Arnhold knows what it will take to make her vow come to fruition.

Related: Meet the Arnholds, Big Dance Funders