Five College Consortium

Five College Dance Department

Community-Based Learning in Dance Guide

Every human being is an artist and in the moment of creation, we are at our most sane, most healthy, and most fulfilled.  When we share a piece of our vision of the world with others, we are better able to see ourselves, to interact with others, and to make our own choices.” 
-Robert Alexander / DC’s Living Stage 
“Art for art’s sake––we don’t have time for that anymore.  What we need now is ‘art that saves lives.'” 
-Rhodessa Jones / Medea Project


Welcome to the Community-Based Learning in Dance Guide to your home campus!

This is a guide to share with you at-a-glance resources, people, and ideas that can help support your own unique ideas in engaging your students, your courses, and yourself in community-based outreach, learning, scholarship, and events!  Use this guide as you wish, and we will do our best to keep it updated as you help us discover more!

What is community-engaged dance and community-based learning (CBL) in dance?

Jan Cohen-Cruz (2010) writes that community-based process and performance is inspired by a desire for social justice and commitment to exchange and interactivity within and among communities.  CBL, known by many names, including academic service-learning, encourages the academy to positively respond to community challenges and opportunities for collaboration, and is a teaching methodology which utilizes community involvement as a means for students to gain a deeper understanding of disciplinary course objectives as well as a deeper understanding of and participation in civic life through collaboration and structured reflection. In other words, CBL in dance, (CBLD - acronym, Falk 2014), encourages dance knowledge as well as knowledge built on real, hopefully meaningful, community connections.

Click here for a glance at dance and civic engagement work in and outside of university walls.

There are many levels of involvement that support community engagement, from one-off outreach, to sustainable, reciprocal partnerships that serve to support a need - curricular, civic, artistic, and/or academic.  Ideally the need is important to the community served, as well as the campus dance program. Click here for an article by Michael Rohd that explores the concept of engagement as it relates to the performing arts.

N.B. - Most CBL or academic service-learning programs in the US to date encourage the more sustainable, reciprocal, collaborative partnerships between “town and gown”, as opposed to single, uni-directional (have to have-not) academy to community interaction.  This plays out in possible funding and course support.

Examples of CBLD?


  • Visit a school and observe a dance class.  Reflect on pedagogy and population. Learn from great teachers in your community.
  • Have your students teach a class in dance (any style, or perhaps using dance movement as a creative process) in a local school. Work with the curriculum of the class and share how dance can teach many topics in engaging ways. Click here for photos and videos of FCDD students working with students from Rebecca M. Johnson School in Springfield.
  • Have composition students work with a local school’s dancers, or a mix of college and community dancers, to create their next choreography.

More complex:

Even more complex:

Create exchanges between communities that use movement as a vehicle to give voice to folks who are typically marginalized and also shift power dynamics - e.g., have the communities teach the colleges, to create bridges where there are valleys, and/or to make art that draws attention to civic needs and paves the way to social action. For example:

Note: The "Even more complex" category is the one more encouraged and supported, yet all can, if done in ways that truly create partnerships and allow "town" to teach "gown" as well as "gown" teaching "town", be considered engaged partnerships that can lead to collaborative, community-based pedagogy in higher education. 

Who do you contact to get started, to get money, to get support?

On each of the Five College campuses, there is an office that is focused on supporting faculty and students engaged in community-based learning.  The office on your campus can support you and your class in many ways.  Although you should check with your specific campus, some of the benefits of connecting with the community-based learning folks on your campus can be:

For faculty:  

  • Links to existing or new partnerships in the community
  • Support (financial and logistical) with transportation
  • Some financial support for your project
  • Support with documentation for your course
  • Conversations and resources to help shape your visions 

For your students:

  • Internship opportunities
  • Certificate program to frame and guide course of study
  • Some financial support
  • Connection to a daily round-trip bus to Holyoke                  

Contacting the CBL office on your campus:

MHC: Community-Based Learning - Alan Bloomgarden

Smith:   Center for Community Collaboration - Jennifer Walters, Lucy Mule

Amherst:  Center for Community Engagement - Molly Mead, Sarah Barr

Hampshire:   Community Partnerships for Social Change - Mary Bombardier, and Critical Studies of Childhood, Youth and Learning - Natalie Sowell

University of Massachusetts: Civic Engagement and Service-Learning - Carol Soules

Five Colleges CBL website:

General links on CBL that may be helpful:

More information on CBL in higher education from AAC&U: and how democracy itself is at risk without academic civic engagement: 

Tool to aid in facilitation in CBL:

MA Campus Compact, part of national organization:

Resources and links for CBL in the arts:

Imagining America: A national consortium of artists and scholars who practice, teach and research civic/academic work in humanities, arts and design. Pertinent publications for higher ed and civic work.

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange: An Aesthetic of Inquiry, and Ethos of Dialogue

Urban Bush Women: A great dance artist working in this genre in ways that support transformation of communities from the inside out is Jawole Jo Willa Zolar of Urban Bush Women.  A link to their work in communities such as New Orleans details their processes (such as asset mapping) and principles.  
Amans, Diane. 2008. An Introduction to Community Dance Practice. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Cohen-Cruz. 2008. Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response. NY: Routledge.
Goldbard, Arlene. 2006. New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development. New Village Press

"When people learn to dance together, they learn more than new steps: They learn new ways of seeing and being with one another. For dance practitioners working with communities who might not identify themselves as dancers, dance is a tool to bridge boundaries between thought and action; between individuals and communities; and between communities and their sense of worth and agency. Lasting, sustainable work cannot be done without partnership between organizations and, ultimately, with the participants in such work." (from Dance and Civic Engagement, Paloma McGregor, in Animating Democracy - Americans for the Arts)