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Communication Education

ISSN: 0363-4523 (Print) 1479-5795 (Online) Journal homepage:

Communication and the socialization of dance

students: An analysis of the hidden curriculum in a
residential arts school
Dee OseroffVarnell
To cite this article: Dee OseroffVarnell (1998) Communication and the socialization of dance
students: An analysis of the hidden curriculum in a residential arts school, Communication
Education, 47:2, 101-119, DOI: 10.1080/03634529809379116
To link to this article:

Published online: 18 May 2009.

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Date: 25 September 2016, At: 11:44

Communication and the Socialization

of Dance Students: An Analysis
of the Hidden Curriculum
in a Residential Arts School
Dee Oseroff-Varnell
This study examines the socialization process of newcomers to a residential high school for
performing arts. The author used naturalistic observation and student interviews to examine
the role of communication in reducing adolescents' cognitive, normative, and affective
uncertainty during the entry phase of socialization. Communication appeared particularly
useful in reducing affective uncertainty, providing students with reassurance and support. The
hidden curriculum of the school was also analyzed by examining the communication of faculty,
administrators, and students. Four aspects of the hidden curriculum were identified and
discussed: (1) control vs. freedom, (2) inclusion vs. exclusion, (3) teacher voice vs. student voice,

and (4) collectivism vs. individualism. Keywords: communication, socialization,

hidden curriculum, adolescents

"Adolescents are travelers, far from home with no native land, neither children nor
adults.... They don't really fit anywhere. There's a yearning for a place, a search for
solid ground" (Pipher, 1994, p. 52). As researchers examine the complex issues
associated with adolescence, the school environment is of particular interest because
of the influence that the school experience is believed to have on youngsters'
performance, achievement, involvement, roles, expectations, identity construction,
perceptions, satisfaction, and other dimensions (Bates, 1988; Elkind, 1984; Ford,
1985; Gump, 1966; Nelson, 1984; Parsons, Kaczala, & Meece, 1982; Schwartz,
1981). Although one of the primary goals of high schools is the development of
academic competencies, adolescents are keenly focused on their social development
as they experiment with new roles, develop new and more mature relationships, and
challenge their childhood beliefs and values as they prepare for their adult lives
(Havinghurst, 1972).
As adolescents engage in their "search for solid ground," researchers have focused
on secondary socialization, or the process by which youngsters attempt to "fit" and
become a part of their school community. While primary socialization occurs from
birth and includes an individual learning the cultural norms of society at large,
secondary socialization is the process of learning norms and roles particular to a
given group or institution (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Schools are important
secondary socializing agents, as they aim to teach students cognitive skills/
knowledge and psychomotor competencies through the "overt agenda," as well as
transmit the values of society through the "hidden curriculum" or covert agenda
Dee Oseroff-Varnell (Ph.D., University of Washington, 1992) is an adjunct professor at Wake Forest
University, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. This study is based on the author's doctoral dissertation. The
author wishes to thank the faculty and students at SAA for their enthusiastic participation in this project
and Ann Q. Staton for her invaluable guidance in the preparation of this manuscript.


(Shulman, 1986). The overt agenda includes learning academic skills; the hidden
curriculum includes learning the rules and norms and expectations and values
associated with being a student. Research in socialization into schools reflects a
growing concern with the hidden curriculum, as manifested in the affective, social,
and cultural components of the school experience (Anyon, 1980; Ball, 1980; Bates,
1988; Blumenfeld, Hamilton, Wessels, & Falkner, 1979; Blumenfeld & Meece, 1983;
Fernandez-Balboa, 1993;Goetz, 1981;Mehan, 1980; Staton, 1990).
In recent years, the role of communication in the socialization process has
received increased attention (Johnson, Staton, &Jorgensen-Earp, 1995;JorgensenEarp & Staton, 1993; Oseroff-Varnell & Staton-Spicer, 1987; Staton, 1990). An
important aspect of this research is the recognition of two dimensions of communication within the educational context: (1) explicit messages concerning academic
content and school or classroom policies, which are communicated through the
overt curriculum, and (2) implicit messages concerning relationships and role
expectations, which are part of the hidden curriculum. Instructional communication
researchers, with our emphasis both on actual classroom interaction as well as
teachers' and students' perspectives about their communication, have a particularly
valuable vantage point from which to examine students in an instructional setting.
We can investigate the ways that communication functions for students and teachers
during the socialization process and discover the messages (explicit and implicit) that
are communicated during socialization. The outcome of such analyses could help
educators understand how communication functions to help reduce new students'
uncertainties about the academic and procedural aspects of the overt curriculum, as
well as ways that they try to "fit" into the school environment and find their "solid
ground" as they discover the nuances of the hidden curriculum.

Purpose of the Study

This study examines how communication in a residential performing arts school
functions to reduce newcomers' uncertainty concerning academic content and
school procedures, both through the overt agenda as well as the messages implied in
the hidden curriculum. It also examines communication that provides students with
feelings of reassurance and support. The specific focus is on the explicit and implicit
messages communicated by the school administration, teachers, parents, students,
and the larger society as they relate to the school. Through the examination of these
messages, this study will identify (1) how communication functions to reduce
uncertainty in the cognitive, normative, and affective domains during the socialization process and (2) the specific agenda of the hidden curriculum (categorized as
dialectics within the school environment) that can be identified from these messages.
In examining uncertainty reduction in this context, it is important to highlight the
appropriate aspects of uncertainty reduction theory (URT) as posited by Berger and
Calebrese (1975). In their analysis of communication during initial interactions
between strangers, Berger and Calebrese (1975) suggested that communication
functions to reduce uncertainty so that each interactant can "attempt to predict the
most likely alternative actions the other person might take" (p. 100). The individual
"must then select from his own available response alternative those which might be
most appropriate to the predicted action of the other" (Berger & Calebrese, 1975, p.
100). By learning about an individual through the communication process, a
person's uncertainty about that individual is reduced because he or she can better
predict the behavior of the other and make choices about appropriate responses.


In her work on socialization into school, Staton (1990) made parallels between
initial interactions between strangers (the context for URT) and initial interactions of
students entering a new school experience. She pointed out that uncertainty may
occur during the anticipatory phase of socialization, when students contemplate the
entrance into a new school or grade level, and during the entry phase, the first days
and weeks when students first enter and experience the new school. This uncertainty
can be reduced through the process of communication as students, teachers, and
administrators share information about the varied aspects of the school environment. These aspects of school include academic, procedural, and social/affective
concerns. Thus, it is through communication that socialization occurs and that
uncertainty about the new school, students' roles, academic content, school procedures, and social structure is (or can be) reduced. It is through communication that
students become familiar with both the overt and hidden curricula operating within
the school.
Blending concepts of uncertainty identified by Floden and Clark (1988) and
socialization components outlined by Berger and Luckmann (1966), Staton (1990)
formulated a tripartite model of communication to reduce uncertainty in socialization: (1) knowledge or cognitive uncertainty, characterized by students' need for
information about acadmeic content, (2) normative uncertainty, characterized by
students' need for information concerning the school, school procedures, and
regulations, and (3) affective uncertainty, characterized by the need for information
that offers the students reassurance and emotional support. Students in the entry
phase of socialization feel uncertain about material they are learning, new school or
classroom procedures to be followed, and how and with whom to develop supportive relationships in their new school. These three areas incorporate both the overt
curriculum (academic) and the hidden curriculum (social).
In examining communication as it functions in the process by which newcomers
to a residential school become socialized into the school environment, the two
research questions guiding this study are: (1) What is the nature of the communication utilized by students and teachers during the socialization process in order to
reduce cognitive, normative, and affective uncertainty? and (2) What are the focal
aspects of the hidden curriculum that students encounter during socialization?
Adolescents are of particular interest because as they socialize into their environment, this age group places paramount importance on group identification and
social membership (Eggert & Parks, 1987; Elkind, 1984; Salmon, 1979; SavinWilliams, 1980). Adolescents attending specialized arts schools immerse themselves
in an institutionalized subculture of talented, performance-oriented artists and
teachers. Their lives become focused on their careers, and their school experiences
revolve around their art. Communication training for performing artists includes
extensive training in non-oral and nonverbal communication channels. Thus, an
academy for performing artists offers a unique school and social situations in which
these youngsters train and perform. A residential school is of particular interest for
socialization research because it can be viewed as a "total institution" (Goffman,
1961), that is, a unique setting in which the barriers of sleep, play, and work are
broken down. In this context all domains of activities are conducted in the same
place, under the same authority, with others who are treated similarly, according to a
fixed schedule, and for the purpose of fulfilling a set of goals designed by the
institution (Goffman, 1961). A residential school where teenagers are removed from
their familiar home and school environments-often after attending several years of


"normal" high school-is a unique social situation. This setting holds potential
implications for communication and socialization (how students interpret messages,
how uncertainty is reduced), aspects of the hidden curriculum (how students learn to
"fit in," what expectations are placed on them, how they adapt to new and complex
roles), and types of information and support available to newcomers to the school
(from whom they seek information, how they give and receive support).

Research Setting and Participants
Data were collected at a residential secondary school for performing arts, the
Southeastern Arts Academy (SAA).1 SAA is a fully accredited, state-supported
school for performing arts students from junior high through college, with Masters'
degrees offered in both music and design/production. The curriculum at SAA
includes not only academic and arts classes, but also regular recitals and performances locally and around the state and the southeast. Admission to the school is by
audition and/or interview before the faculty, and continuation in the program is by
invitation only. Invitations to continue at the school were extended "by the faculty
based not only upon a student's grades, both artistic and academic, but also upon the
student's ability to interact appropriately within the SAA community" (SAA,
1989-1990, p. 5).
The SAA campus is situated on 45 wooded acres in a mid-sized southeastern city.
The student population at the time of data collection was approximately 750. The
school provides dormitory accommodations for high school students and dorm or
apartment accommodations for college students. The few junior high students who
attend board with local families.
The focal students were 32 high school seniors enrolled in the School of Dance
program during spring semester (18 in ballet, 14 in modern; 26 females, 6 males) and
47 first year students entering the subsequent fall (39 in ballet, 8 in modern; 38
females, 9 males).2 The 22 students interviewed were volunteers. Consent to
participate was obtained from the school, the students' parents, and the students.
The senior class was targeted in order to give the perspective of experienced students
who had become socialized into the school system over the course of at least a
semester. The first year students were observed during orientation and at least four
times a week for the first weeks of school, with observations tapering off to
approximately twice a week over the course of the semester. These data provided
the newcomers' perspective as they first experienced SAA.
Proceduresfor Data Collection and Analysis
Observations and interviews were the two primary data bases for this study. A third
data source, written communication about the school, provided background information. I conducted approximately 125 hours of observations over a 7 month period.
Observations were conducted during class sessions, rehearsals, performances, commencement ceremonies, orientation meetings, and free time. Approximately half
(60) of those hours were conducted in the spring, when seniors were observed, and
the remainder of the hours concentrated on first year students during the following
fall and winter terms. Observations were recorded in the form of hand-written field
notes as I sat on the periphery of the room. Summary notes of conversations with
students or faculty members during free time were written immediately following
the interaction.


Interviews were conducted with a volunteer sample of 22 students (5 male, 17

female), who were contacted by letter (with a consent form for parents) prior to the
start of the semester and through personal contact once the semester had begun. I
conducted interviews with seniors during the spring and with first year students
during the fall.3 The interviews averaged approximately 75 minutes and were
recorded on audiotape. The purpose of the interviews was to obtain information
from the participants concerning their perceptions of the socialization experience.
Additionally, the interviews allowed opportunities for me to ask questions about
specific events or functions and to inform my observations and interpretations.
Written information about the school, such as policy statements, parent information, and the student handbook, was given to me by the school staff. These
documents provided specific information about the school enrollment, admission
procedures, and faculty. They also helped me understand specific school policies
(such as dress codes and performance requirements) as well as campus concerns
(such as safety and housing) as they were identified by the administration.
The data were analyzed using the analytic induction method (Goetz & LeCompte,
1981). This method involves scanning the data for emergent categories of phenomena and for relationships among such categories, developing typologies, and then
refining these typologies as the research progresses. Staton's (1990) model of
communication to reduce uncertainty during socialization was used as a framework,
increasing my sensitivity to students' and teachers' communication which referred to
cognitive, normative, and affective domains. These categories helped to focus on
messages that pertained to these three domains in order to make the taking of
handwritten notes of hours of classes more manageable. They were also useful
during the data analysis, providing a framework for organizing the data from
interviews, observations, and written information about the school. I categorized the
messages into the three domains outlined above: (1) messages that referred to
academic content (what was to be learned, explanations of dance or academic
material), (2) messages communicating school policies or procedures (how the
students were expected to behave, specific formats to be followed), and (3) messages
pertaining to reassurance and emotional support (how students gave/received
reassurance through verbal or nonverbal channels).
Field notes were typed into the computer at the end of each observation day and
examined on a weekly basis for themes and categories which related to the guiding
framework. For example, teachers' comments which were perceived as supportive/
reassuring were identified from the daily field notes and recorded under that
category. Likewise, those that were not reassuring or supportive were noted under
this category, as they also related to the domain of affective uncertainty in Staton's
(1990) model.
Although Staton's (1990) framework provided an initial a priori category system, I
looked beyond this model to identify other salient dimensions of the socialization
process. After several weeks of categorizing the messages that related to Staton's
components of cognitive, normative, and affective uncertainty, other recurrent
themes were identified through repeated references in the data. These themes were
developed into bipolar categories that described my perception of the hidden
agenda functioning at the school.4 The subsequent observations and interviews were
informed by the ongoing data analysis, allowing me to identify similar expressions of
Staton's categories of communication to reduce uncertainty in socialization in a
variety of contexts. As new categories emerged, they served to further qualify


communication relating to Staton's domains of uncertainty in socialization. The

audiotaped interviews were transcribed and similarly scanned for categories and

Results and Discussion

Communication to Reduce Uncertainty in Socialization
Communication to provide information concerning academic content. The role of communi-

cation to provide information in the cognitive domain referred to information about

academic content. These messages included academic information or clarification in
academic classes as well as explanations or clarification of dance moves or steps in
dance classes. This type of communication was utilized by academic teachers during
lectures (e.g., "Look at the word 'vengeance.' The spelling of it. 'Cause you'll be
using it, so spell it right"), or in response to student questions (e.g., Student: "Was the
treaty after the revolution?" Teacher: "Yep, it was in 1917"). As noted, academic
content also included explanations by dance teachers about dance in general or
about specific movements or steps in a given class (e.g., "Tendu . . . what does tendu
mean?... Stretch. It doesn't mean tighten"), or in response to student questions (e.g.,
Student: "Can we mark it [walk through it]?" Teacher: "Who asked that? . . . Oh, I
guess so."). Information about academic content also included teachers' showing the
sequence of exercises or combinations to be performed by the students, as illustrated
by the following excerpt: [Dance] teacher: "And step, ballonne, step, saute . . . and
one and up and two and one and up and two . . . and arm up and two . . . run up and
two, glissade and a step on i t . . . . " Messages of this type were a combination of rapid
verbal directions accompanied by a quick demonstration of the moves to be
Communication to provide information about academic and schoolprocedures. Communi-

cation in the normative domain focused on specific academic or school procedures.

Students were told how to write an assignment or exam, what counted as an
infraction of the rules, or how individual teachers would like certain issues to be dealt
with in class. This also included messages that provided students with additional
information about school or classroom rules and policies. Dance teachers often
reiterated class policies: "You're not allowed to wear sweat pants, nylon or otherwise. If you have an injury, go to your teacher. There may be a special need to wear a
leg warmer or whatever that day and you will be given permission to do so."
Academic teachers and administrators also provided information about school
procedures, particularly during orientation for first year students and in the first days
and weeks of school:
Only two unexcused absences are allowed in a term overall in all classes.... If you're sick, go to
health services. If they will not excuse you, go to your teacher... don't wake up late and have missed
two classes and then try to have them excused.... The point of this [attendance policy] is that you're
here for a reason and you have to embrace the whole curriculum. If you can't you need to go home or
be in another school.

This type of communication also included comments by teachers concerning the

format or procedures appropriate in a given class. In academic classes the teachers
gave specific instructions to be followed for an assignment (e.g., "All right, I want
you to get out a single sheet of paper, put everything else on your desk . . . away. Put
your name, the date... I want no talking, 'cause this is a pop quiz").


Communication to provide reassurance or support. The role of communication to

reduce affective uncertainty referred to communication that provided the students

with reassurance or support. These messages were identified initially as any type of
verbal or nonverbal communication that expressed concern, empathy, understanding, or friendship. After several weeks of observations, however, it became evident
that another aspect of the reassurance/support category was utilized frequently by
the teachers. This aspect included verbal and nonverbal messages that I interpreted
not as supportive or reassuring, but instead as demeaning, threatening, sarcastic, and
emotionally abusive. Thus, the reduction of uncertainty in the affective domain had
several dimensions to be explored, as will be addressed in the following discussion.
In examining communication that provided reassurance and emotional support,
there were many messages communicated by teachers, administrators, and students
which I perceived as extremely supportive. These examples were observed during
classes and orientation meetings and included both verbal messages expressing
understanding, support, and appreciation for their hard work as well as nonverbal
communication (touching, hugging, sympathetic tone of voice). One example of this
type of supportive message is illustrated by a dance teacher sitting on the floor next
to her student, talking to her quietly with one hand on her shoulder, "Melinda, while
you're still trying to get healthy, and it's a bit on the emotional side tooif you just do
this much, rather than push it and accept that, you're not going to lose it all." Other
examples of supportive verbal and nonverbal messages include: Student [discouraged]: "I can't do it." Dance teacher [helping student with position]: "Sure you
can,"; Dean of school: "We all know that this is a difficult time for a young person.
We [the faculty] understand the pressures here."
In contrast to the supportive messages observed, there were numerous examples
of interactions which I perceived as extremely unsupportive and not providing any
reassurance to the students. These situations were observed primarily in dance
classes, and certain teachers were more liberal in their use of this more negative,
critical approach to teaching than others. In the following examples, students were
ridiculed or corrected by their teachers during class: [T follows behind student,
shouting at her] "Did you learn anythingl&st year!? [To others] Can you believe she
studied here all year and didn't learn anything? That's the rumor that's going
around... "; s [T shouting] "Do it again! Simon! Goddamit! You're going to be on
stage tonight! Be sensitive!"; [exasperated] "You're so bad with your head, Brad . . . Your arms are horrible. I can't accept that."
An interesting perspective regarding the seemingly unsupportive comments
surfaced during interviews with several of the students. After a period of time had
passed (generally after several weeks and more than one outburst of tears either
during or after class), most students reported that they began to perceive the
"unsupportive" comments as supportive. Once the students learned to deal with the
crushing ego blow of the more venomous comments when taken at face value, these
comments were interpreted to mean that the teacher cared about the students and
knew that they had the capability of improving. This helped students reduce their
affective uncertainty by providing them with the reassurance that they had potential,
that they were "worthy" of receiving harsh criticism from their teachers. As one
student commented about one of her dance teachers who had a negative style,
You have to keep strong as a person . . . because if you're not, you will walk out of class constantly and
be depressed, you know. You have to take [dance teachers] screaming at y o u . . . as, like, a
compliment, because at least they're doing it, you know. At least they're screaming at you, that means
they want you to do better, they know you can do better. (V-4)


A newcomer noted a sort of dual identity that served as a coping strategy for her,
"When they're yelling at you, they're not yelling at you, they're yelling at you as a
dancer, I guess. They want you to be better" (N-12). A senior offered her perspective
of the value of the negative teaching approach, "In some cases it's . . . very healthy
for you, if you're feeling a little inflated to get really knocked down a couple of
notches" (V-l). The emphasis from the students' perspective was on the outcome:
what produced the most improvement in their dance and best prepared them for the
"real world." In explaining the teachers' behaviors, one student said, "It's really
hard out there professionally, and it's dog-eat-dog and . . . if we survive here, then
maybe we can make it out there" (N-l 1).
The Agenda of the Hidden Curriculum
Several aspects of the agenda of the hidden curriculum that were identified as the
analysis progressed are discussed in this section. This information was expressed
both verbally (primarily in exchanges between administrators/teachers and students
or between the researcher and students) and nonverbally (e.g., clothing styles, hair
styles, and the use of touch).
Each of the four aspects of the hidden curriculum are expressed as a tension or
dialectic between bipolar dimensions of a certain quality or characteristic. Using
Burke's (1945) concept of dialectic, this analysis draws on the antithetical nature of
language, exploring terms and their opposite terms, moving back and forth between
"what is" and "what is not" until an "ultimate order" is achieved. Dialectic has been
identified as "perpetual motion" (Rueckert, 1982) because of this examination of
more than one aspect of language. Thus, the agenda of the hidden curriculum is
expressed in dialectic terms, as opposites, and the interaction of those opposites
within the SAA environment are explored.
Control vs. freedom. There was a dialectic between control and freedom at SAA that
was expressed in a variety of ways. As a residential school for adolescents, there was
a great deal of freedom for the students concerning various issues which might have
been more controlled under their parents' supervision: eating schedules and habits,
choice of friends, extracurricular activities, smoking habits, school clothes, study
habits, personal hygiene, and financial expenditures. Yet many aspects of the school
were extremely structured and disciplined. Students were allowed little freedom in
the classes they took, the dance clothing they wore (particularly for ballet students),
the performances in which they participated throughout the year, the way they
conducted themselves in classes, their curfew times, and the degree of supervision
they had in their free time.
The dress code offered one example of the strict structure and expectations of the
school. Communication specifically addressing the dress code (e.g., posted rules,
repetition of the rules by faculty during orientation and classes) functioned to reduce
uncertainty in the procedural domain. Uniform leotards for ballet women were
required, and these were color coded according to grade level. Pink tights with feet
(no footless or stirrup tights) were allowed, to be worn inside the leotards (rather than
over the leotard like pants). Ballet men were expected to wear white T-shirts tucked
into black or gray tights, with white socks and white ballet shoes. (Modern dance
students were permitted more flexibility in their dance dress). Ankle warmers were
acceptable but leg warmers above the knee were not. No jewelry was allowed in
class except for small earrings; students were required to "keep their hair in a normal
state," and women ballet students "must have their hair long enough to style in a


classic fashion (over the ears)." Most transgressions elicited comments from teachers, and students were usually instructed to remove objectionable clothing such as
leg warmers or dangling earrings.
Within the residential life, there were rules and restrictions which further emphasized the aspect of control over the students and focused on the reduction of
procedural uncertainty. This was particularly true for the high school students, who
had set curfew times, rules about going off campus, and restrictions on driving, to
name a few. Punishment for violating the rules varied according to the infraction,
ranging from having early curfew for several days or weeks, to writing a paper about
the implications of a given action, to parent notification and suspension in the case of
serious situations. A senior student expressed the restrictive environment in these
Well... they basically told us you're going to be treated like criminals this whole year, so you might
as well get used to it. You know, you're not going to be given the benefit of the doubt, you know.
You're going to follow these rules, we're going to assume you're a heathen, not take the time to
determine what kind of person you a r e . . . . They give you a curfew, and they just assume whenever
you're going out, you're going to be doing something wrong, and so they have to make sure that they
know who you're going with, what you're doing. (V-9)

Although there was a strict sense of control, structure, and expectations concerning
many aspects of SAA, the environment was also liberal and relaxed in many ways.
In contrast to the strict dress code for the dance students, the clothing worn by
students for academic classes and free time was extremely casual. The lack of a dress
code outside of dance classes reinforced the focus of the school, offering covert
validation that dance was the primary emphasis of the school. The strict dress code
for dance classes reiterated the strict discipline expected in those classes, and the
casual dress (by both teachers and students) minimized the formality of the academic
classes and the rest of the school environment. Jeans, sweatshirts, shorts, tank tops,
and sandals were the standard dress for students. Even at commencement ceremonies there was a freedom from the cap and gown tradition, inviting such unusual
attire as a Grecian toga (complete with laurel wreath headpiece), cutoff shorts and
inline skates, a formal evening gown with white gloves and a tiara, and everything
from jeans to cocktail dresses, many accented by neon sunglasses or baseball caps.
Another expression of the freedom allowed students at SAA was in the residential
situation. Having high school and college students living on the same campus away
from home invited the freedom to develop and pursue friendships, romantic
relationships, and extracurricular activities. Although there were residential advisors
on each floor of the dorms, the students had ways of getting around the rules.
Sneaking in and out of the residence halls seemed to be common, and students
engaged in a variety of permissive behaviors, including drug and alcohol use,
late-night parties, and romantic rendezvous. One senior expressed her concerns
about the implications of the freedom of the residential life of the school in the
following comments:
I'm constantly worrying about the younger ballet students who are like 14 or 15-years-old and they
seem to be so vulnerable. And that scares me because I know that a lot of them come here and start
smoking and drinking and things, you know, things that maybe they would do at home too, but I
don't know, it just feels to me like it's more of an easy thing to get into when you don't have your
parents there watching. (V-l)


There was also a freedom to "be who you are," which was expressed by several
students in their interviews with the researcher. The school population was diverse,
bringing people of varied backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and cultures together
to learn and train in their art. An open-mindedness and acceptance of the variety of
students was a notable aspect of the school from the students' perspectives. The
students perceived this freedom of self expression as supportive and reassuring, as
expressed in comments made by several of the interviewees and noted in this quote:
It's much more open and friendly [at SAA] and [the people here are] willing to accept people because
most people here are the kind of people who weren't very easily accepted in their old school.... So
when they come here, it's like a very unusual gathering of minds and attitudes. (V-l)

Another student disclosed that he had been able to be open about his homosexuality
for the first time at SAA, to talk freely with others and be accepted as gay because the
students were so accepting and understanding:
. . . [C]oming here . . . it's easier to accept who you are, and you know, what you're all about... being
here and being so accepted . . . it's made me much happier, being able to voice what I have to say,
you know, and to do what I want to do. (V-4)

One student commented: "People are accepted for who they are and you don't have
to have the right clothes or the right this or the right that to get in [to a clique]. It's just
whatever, I think you can be who you are" (V-7).
The dialectic of control vs. freedom described one dimension of the hidden
curriculum not examined in the initial analysis of uncertainty reduction. While
many of the rules, such as the dress code and curfew times, communicated a strict
sense of control over the students, there was also a feeling of freedom to "be who you
are," dress casually and/or unconventionally outside of dance classes, and be largely
unsupervised during free time. The tension between control and freedom was
embedded in messages in a variety of contexts and was reiterated verbally and
nonverbally by both students and the administration throughout the data collection
Inclusion vs. exclusion. A second dialectic describing the dynamics of SAA can be
expressed as inclusion versus exclusion. The dimension of inclusion-exclusion has
been examined in the context of relational communication, where inclusion is
defined as "one's accessibility to others," and exclusion as "communicating a desire
for privacy" (Burgoon & Hale, 1984, pp. 194-95). The inclusion-exclusion dimension has been widely recognized as one of three principal dimensions of relational
communication (the others are dominance-submission and affection-hostility, Burgoon & Hale, 1984). The inclusion-exclusion dimension has been further categorized by Burgoon and Hale (1984) as a subset of intimacy, along with affectionhostility and intensity of involvement. However, the inclusion vs. exclusion dialectic
identified in this study departs from Burgoon and Hale's definitions of inclusionexclusion because it focuses on messages that suggest a separate category, space,
dimension, or type of person that determined those who were "included" as
opposed to "excluded." This dialectic emphasizes those aspects of the hidden
curriculum that suggest being a part of a select and unique group (inclusion) versus
being outside-both physically and emotionally-from the group (exclusion).
The students and faculty at SAA repeatedly referred to life within the school in
terms such as "in here," "us," "artists," versus life outside the school as, "out there,"


"them," "normal people," and "the real world." As one senior commented, "You
leave the [school] gates, you're in a different universe" (V-5). This tension between
inclusion and exclusion was expressed verbally, by the students and teachers, as well
as nonverbally, primarily in the physical layout of the school and campus and the
use of touch.
One example of a sense of inclusion was expressed as a sense of cohesiveness and
camaraderie among the students which, according to the students interviewed, was
derived from being artists sharing goals in performing arts careers. This inclusion, or
being part of a select group, was one way of reducing uncertainty in the affective
domain and providing reassurance and support to the students. As one senior
Everybody [at SAA] really understands what means a lot to you. Obviously what means a lot to you is
here, your art here. And even people who aren't in the same art as you, they understand because it's
the same feelings that go along with it, the same dedication and discipline... Unlike at my regular
public school, I had my group of very close friends... but they really wouldn't understand the
emotion that goes along with having something like an art. (V-2)

The use of touch within the school provides another example of inclusion for
school members. In their analysis of touching behaviors, Jones and Yarbrough
(1985) identified inclusion as one category of meaning that was assigned to sustained
touch occurring between close friends or sexual intimates. The touch that they
described suggested psychological closeness or "tactile statements of 'withness'"
(Jones & Yarbrough, 1985, p. 37). The medium of dance naturally invites more
physical contact than many other types of expression, and this was evident between
dance teachers and students and among the students themselves, especially directed
towards what Jones and Yarbrough (1985) describe as vulnerable body parts (head,
neck, torso, lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet). This unspoken acceptance of
physical contact was an integral part of being a dance student and highlighted the
inclusive attitude toward those in the dance school by teachers and other dance
In addition to the touching that was incorporated into the dance instruction during
classes (e.g., for alignment, to correct a position, to dance together), there was also a
notable intimacy expressed in the use of touch outside of the instruction. This
included teachers tousling students' hair, patting them on the back, hugging students, or touching them (on the shoulder, waist, arm) as they talked. It also included
students holding hands, hugging each other, kissing, and massaging each other's
backs or shoulders. These types of interactions I did not perceive as sexual in nature,
but instead as supportive, platonic expressions of friendship and concern. They were
observed to occur both between boys and girls and among students of the same
gender.6 This type of initmate contact did not preclude romantic intimacy between
boyfriends and girlfriends, which also was observed on several occasions (homosexual intimacy was reported by the students, but was not observed by the
researcher). Romantic touching generally did not occur during classes, however,
whereas platonic or supportive touching was observed during classes as well as
during free time. The acceptance of touching of vulnerable body parts between
students/teachers and students/students outside of instruction I interpreted as a
message of inclusion of not only psychological closeness, but of identification, unity,
and group cohesion.
The physical layout and location of the SAA campus contributed to the contrast


between inclusion and exclusion. The campus itself was located in a lower income
area of town, where neighboring businesses included thrift shops, a vacuum cleaner
repair, and many vacated stores. A housing project notorious for its high crime rate
and drug trafficking was located within blocks of the school, contributing to the
security and safety concerns both on and off campus. There was little available to the
students within walking distance from the school; the one convenience store
frequented by SAA students was the site of at least two robberies during the fall of
data collection. The campus was surrounded by 8 foot black wrought iron fences.
In contrast to the exterior neighborhood, the campus itself was a beautifully
landscaped, modern school facility where the brick or stone buildings and surrounding grounds were well maintained and attractive. Thus, the physical location and
layout of the school added to the feeling of exclusion from the outside community
surrounding SAA. This aspect of the hidden curriculum relates to the affective
domain of uncertainty reduction, with the inside atmosphere of the school offering
students reassurance that they were physically enclosed and therefore protected
from the harsh realities of the surrounding off campus environment.
Contrary to the strong theme of inclusion in the arts community and exclusion
from the "real world," students were encouraged to have a life outside of dance.
Buses were available for trips to the mall, bowling, and other outings, and many
students visited their friends and families at home as much as their schedules
permitted. The opportunities for pursuing friendships and activities outside of SAA
were limited, however, especially for the more successful students who were in high
demand for performances and rehearsals. Thus, the explicit message that students
should have a life separate from their art conflicted with the implicit message (and
the reality) that they were physically and emotionally separate from the "outside
world." A veteran senior expressed both positive and negative aspects of the
inclusive-exclusive dialectic in his description of the school:
. . . I know it's that way [a lot of pressure] in the real world too. But also since we are all in our own
little Utopia, I think it can be ten times worse here because a lot of times there really is no escape.
Sometimes it's so nice just to go the mall, for God's sakes. You know, what is a mall? Nothing. But you
just get away.. .. We are run by a piece of paper, you know. That's what we have to do at that certain
time. All through the day. And what we know is what's here. And a lot of people forget about what's
'out there,' you know. So that's why I call it a Utopia. I think it's a utopia of its own. (V-4)

The dialectic of inclusion versus exclusion comprised part of the hidden curriculum examined in this study and identified the dance students as part of a larger
group of artists who were included, accepted, and emotionally close to others in the
SAA community. It also reinforced the separation they felt from others outside the
SAA community.
Student voice vs. teacher voice. A third dialectic that was manifested primarily in the
observations was a sense of "voice." By voice I am referring to the individual's
ability to be heard in class and for her or his comments to be accepted as important
and worthwhile. As Gilligan (1993) noted, "To have a voice is to be human. To have
something to say is to be a person. But speaking depends on listening and being
heard; it is an intensely relational act" (p. xvi). In some classes the voice of the
students was not heard; their comments had no bearing; they were not supposed to
think; they were in the wrong. In these cases, the teacher's voice dominated; she or
he gave the directions and made the comments, and student input was neither
invited nor given credibility. The sense of "teacher voice" was much more apparent


in the dance classes than in the academic classes observed, and the following
examples are comments of dance teachers: [Firmly] "OK, that's it. Everybody quiet.
Everybody watch. Try not to think"; "Why are you lifting your elbow up? I don't
care about what you want to do now for yourself... that is not what you're in class
for"; [Sarcastically] "Did I do this with my arms? Did you see me fold my arms like
some bridesmaid? Then why are you doing it? Do you think I'm not capable at my
advanced age? Damn you!"
In contrast to a sense of teacher voice, "student voice" is the students' ability to be
heard and respected as a person. This included the teachers' receptivity to student
comments or concerns, her or his willingness to admit fault, and readiness to accept
more than one "right" way. Some examples of student voice include: [Academic]
Teacher: "If you folks see something that is right and I marked it wrong, I want you
to say something. I'm not perfect-I want you to get all the points you deserve";
[Dance] Teacher: "Who knows what makes the mazurka as opposed to a waltz?
That's your homework to find o u t . . . .then you can educate me, 'cause I'm not sure
how to tell"; [Dance] Teacher: "See what I'm saying, there's no right or wrong about
anything. If the intent is kept clear, you can do what Bill did or what he did . . . [and
both are okay]."
The concept of voice can be understood in both affective and procedural terms.
Teachers who allowed the recognition of student voice provided reassurance and
support by fulfilling the relational act of listening and actually hearing (giving
credibility to) student comments. Yet the emphasis in many classes on teacher voice
let students know that they still had a lot to learn from their teachers. Students were
expected in many cases to do as they were told without thinking, without discussion,
and without the relational act of teachers recognizing student voice. The dialectic
between teacher voice and student voice was a third aspect of the hidden curriculum
that was embedded in the verbal and nonverbal communication observed at SAA.
Collectivism vs. individualism. A fourth aspect of the hidden curriculum that became
evident during the observations at SAA was a sense of collectivism, cooperation, and
working together versus a strong desire to be unique, and a sense of individualism
which was evidenced in several sources. The idea of collectivism was promoted and
encouraged through several inherent aspects of the school. Being a residential school
where teenagers were living, eating, studying, socializing, and training made the
need for cooperation among the students imperative. As the Chancellor commented
to the new students during orientation: "You're all in the same game, on the same
team, all here to help in your pursuit of excellence: the ultimate adventure." Despite
any personality conflicts that might have arisen from being so intimately involved
with schoolmates, it appeared from the observations and interview data that the
students felt a great deal of commitment to work together amicably, to provide
instrumental support when needed, and to provide the emotional support that was
so critical to their happiness at SAA. This sense of collectivism functioned to reduce
uncertainty in the affective domain.
The strict dress code was another example of collectivism at SAA and has been
discussed previously. The use of a dress code for dance classes was one strategy used
by the administration at SAA in an attempt to establish uniformity within the dance
The desire for uniformity of performance during dance classes was another


example of collectivism at SAA. The following teacher comments, made during the
first week of class, underscore this theme:
In order to look well schooled and like a class, we all have to be doing the same thing... when you're
at the bottom of a plie, the arm should be at the knee . . . any extra mannerisms you're going to have
to throw away, any extra energy, save . . . we all come from different schools and we all do things
differently. The main thing is that you as a class have to look 'schooled.'

In contrast to the feeling of community and collectivism, the dance school also
encouraged a uniqueness and individualism that was apparent from several sources.
This individualism was encouraged by the faculty and administration (mostly
concerning the students' performance as artist), and was summed up in the following
comments made at commencement by the recipient of a teaching award from the
School of Drama, Design, and Production:
listen to the sound of the drummer you hear, instead of the drummer someone else hears for
y o u . . . so often peopleparents-say 'Do something that will earn a living and not do something
dumb like go into the arts....' I'm proud of you [for going into the arts].

As noted previously, the freedom from the traditional cap and gown ceremony at
commencement invited and encouraged the students to express themselves individually. Not only was this evident in their dress, but in the silly pranks that they played
on stage: blowing bubbles, tossing hats, giving balloons or tennis balls to the Dean
upon receiving their diplomas. This emphasis on individualism was perceived as
supportive by the students, as one senior student commented: "You're just made to
feel like you count [at SAA]... my composition] teacher said, 'This is not McDance.
You don't come in and order a dancer and they shove you out, this is more than that.
You have to be deeper' " (V-2). The dialectic between collectivism and individualism, as expressed in the continuous interplay between being part of the collective yet
listening to the sound of your own drummer, was a fourth aspect of the hidden
curriculum that was identified in this study.

Summary and Implications

This study examined communication as it functioned in the socialization process of
newcomers to a residential school for performing arts. It illustrated how communication helped reduce newcomers' uncertainty concerning academic content and
school procedures, both through the explicit agenda as well as the messages implied
in the hidden curriculum. This study also identified communication which provided
students with feelings of reassurance and support. It was noted that a variety of
messages, both explicit and implied, were perceived as supportive by the students
Further analysis of the data illuminated aspects of the hidden curriculum of an arts
school. These dimensions were discussed in the context of Burke's (1945) concept of
dialectic and were presented as bipolar categories: (1) control vs. freedom, (2)
inclusion vs. exclusion, (3) teacher voice vs. student voice, and (4) collectivism vs.
individualism. It should be noted that within each category discussed, neither
extreme was emphasized; instead, the communication in and about SAA revealed
an interplay between the polar opposites described in each category. Thus, the
tension between the bipolar qualities examined above contributed to the rich and
unique learning environment for the adolescents at SAA. Although the messages


were sometimes conflicting (e.g., be an individual yet work as a collective), the

balance between these opposites provided the students with numerous options for
exploring their art, their relationships, and themselves.
This in depth description of the hidden curriculum helps to identify the affective
and normative information transmitted to students through their school experience
at SAA. Much of the hidden curriculum focused on reducing normative or procedural uncertainty by informing students about how they should behave, dress, and
think in a variety of situations. The strict dress code for dance classes, the curfew,
driving restrictions and supervision for high school students, and the strong sense of
teacher voice in dance classes were all examples of communication to reduce
procedural uncertainty. Yet newcomers often received mixed messages concerning
the behavioral expectations at SAA, thereby increasing their level of uncertainty.
Students were sometimes asked for their input (student voice), and other times they
were chastised for having their own thoughts or opinions (teacher voice). They were
encouraged to express their uniqueness (inclusion, individuality) yet also were
expected to be a part of the collective. Successful students came to understand and
reconcile these conflicting messages during the socialization process.
A second emphasis of this study, as noted through the application of Staton's
(1990) framework to these data, was on the reduction of affective uncertainty by
providing students with reassurance and support. This was evidenced largely in the
analysis of the hidden curriculum: freedom to "be who you are," freedom to explore
relationships, a sense of inclusion in a community of people who understood you,
recognition of student voice, a feeling of collectivism and cooperation, and an
emphasis on individualism and personal expression.
Of particular interest in this examination of the socialization process is the role of
communication within it. In this setting, messages originating from teachers, administrators, or the school environment served to reduce uncertainty through overt
means (e.g., school or class rules) as well as through more covert ways (e.g., a feeling
of belonging, enforced through the physical layout of the school and acceptance by
students). Communication between students also functioned to provide newcomers
with the reassurance and support that they needed in order to deal with the
uncertainty they felt from "being made to feel like you suck" (N-4) by many dance
faculty. Students indicated that this was one of the most difficult things to learn at
SAA and a source of continued stress at the school. One newcomer noted the
importance of communication in this context:
You go into the locker room and bitch. Scream! Or go to lunch and all we do is bad-mouth [the
teachers], because that gets whatever tension you had about them, you get all the anger you had, or
you just cry... You have to go talk to somebody that's had her. You talk to somebody that doesn't
[have a particular teacher] and . . . they can't relate to you. (N-4)

The strategy of seeking support from a fellow student who shared some of the
same experiences helped in several ways. This strategy can be articulated using
Albrecht and Adelman's (1987) model of social support. They suggest that:
[S]upport providers directly reduce uncertainty and enhance control by reframing a recipient's
cognitive perspective, improving the recipient's skill levels, offering tangible assistance, and
expressing acceptance or reassurance. Providers also offer support when they act as catalysts by
enabling recipients to ventilate about their stressors, thus offering indirect help with easing initial
states of uncertainty. (Albrecht & Adelman, 1987, p. 31)


Communication that served a social support function was useful for students by
venting their feelings, offering more than catharsis. Venting can be a way "to clarify
feelings, to develop strategies for managing them more effectively, and to begin
active problem-solving" (Wortman, 1984, p. 2343). The students' interactions with
sympathetic listeners who confirmed their feelings of anger and frustration enabled
many distressed students to cope effectively with those feelings. Second, through
talking with others who had had similar experiences, students were assisted in
reframing their perspectives. They realized that they were not singled out because
they were less competent, had less potential, or made more mistakes than others.
The emotional aid which they received through talking with their peers helped to
reinforce their "capabilities and sense of belonging, reducing any insecure uncertainties experienced about one's self-worth and value in the eyes of others" (Albrecht &
Adelman, 1987, p. 32). Thus, feelings of inclusion and collectiveness were enhanced
through the seeking and receiving of support from peers.
A third function of students' interactions with peers was that of reframing their
perspectives, shifting some of the locus of control from internal (self) to external
(teacher) factors. Through their talk with others, students were able to accept that the
criticisms they received were more reflective of the teacher's personal style or mood
that day than they were of the students' own faults or shortcomings. They became
aware of appropriate situations in which teacher voice was dominant and other times
when student voice was both accepted and encouraged.
A final function of their peer interactions was that of interpreting the seemingly
unsupportive teacher comments in a constructive way. It was essential for students to
preserve their confidence and self concept in spite of the critical, scathing remarks
made by some of their teachers. The faculty alluded to the value of a harsh
instructional environment, as evidenced in the following statement: "We cannot
stroke and pamper you because it's not that kind of profession. We want you to be
successful here-that's why we asked you to come here." Yet it was through their
peer interaction that students received the emotional support and perspective
necessary to interpret some of the negative comments and understand them as an
expression of the teachers' concern for their dance career. Students who were able to
adapt to the negative style of communication common at SAA thrived in their
environment; others who were unable to interpret teachers' comments as supportive
described the SAA atmosphere as "stressful" and "unsupportive."
The role of the peer group in providing social support was particularly important
in the SAA setting, where students were removed from their family and friendship
networks at home. The desire to talk to others who could truly empathize with their
experiences and feelings was facilitated by the feeling of inclusion and collectiveness
inherent in the school and encouraged the development of close supportive relationships among classmates. The freedom that the students had to pursue friendships
and romantic relationships, coupled with the amount of time that they spent with
their peer group, increased the opporutnities for supportive communication to occur
and for close relationships to develop. It could be beneficial for the administration at
SAA to implement peer support groups within this context. Some groups have been
utilized in a variety of educational settings to provide structured, ongoing support to
students in need of affective assistance (Abatso, 1982; Shaffer, 1986; Sosa, 1987;
Turner, 1985). Support groups could potentially ease the transition for new students,


helping them receive support from peers that was so critical to their adjustment at
These findings highlight the importance of students' perceptions of teacher
communication to understand more fully the dynamics of the classroom. As several
researchers have noted (e.g., Brophy, 1981; Morine-Dershimer, 1982), the use of
praise by teachers is mediated by the students' perceptions of that praise. The image
of the teacher who is nurturing and compassionate, and who praises the students for
their progress and achievement, does not necessarily fit into the SAA School of
Dance context. According to many of the students interviewed, once they understood how to interpret the negative comments, the critical teaching approach
motivated them to work hard to improve. It would be beneficial to explore the
possibility of teachers and administrators telling newcomers how these negative
comments were to be interpreted, rather than relying on the peer group to supply
this information. A teacher who yelled at a student during class might talk to the
student afterwards, possibly easing some of the hurt and frustration experienced by
newcomers to the dance program who had not yet learned to detach the criticism of
their dancing from their self worth.
The current study is a single case study of a particular residential arts school, and
the small number of participants makes it inappropriate to generalize the findings to
all schools and adolescents. However, these findings do present relevant issues
concerning socialization into a school environment. In a school where continuation
of the student at SAA was based in part on her or his ability to "interact appropriately within the SAA community," it was imperative that the students learned
appropriateness as defined by that community. Although many schools do not claim
to evaluate the students on such specific terms, student success and satisfaction in
any school is, in part, based on that student's ability to interact appropriately within
that community. In addition to academic content that is learned at school, a student
must know the correct procedures to follow, the expectations of that school (and how
to meet them), and the modus operandi of any given school environment in order to
experience social and academic success at that school. It is also important for a
student to know how to seek out affective support in any school setting. Although
faculty and counselors were available at SAA, the primary place that students sought
reassurance and support was through their peer group. Given the importance of the
peer group to the adolescent, it is likely that this finding would apply to other high
The next step for communication researchers is to examine how communication
functions to reduce uncertainty within the hidden agenda identified in this study. For
example, it would be beneficial to understand how students reduced their uncertainty as it related to issues of freedom and control. On what information did the
students rely in order to understand the dynamic between control and freedom?
Whose input gave them the "freedom" to sneak out of the dorms, even with the strict
"control" operating within the system? A more complete understanding of how the
students learn the nuances of the hidden curriculum would add to our understanding
of the overall socialization process. This knowledge could help newcomers learn the
system more readily, reducing the amount of time it takes to become a part of the
community and function appropriately within it. This information could potentially
expedite the adolescents' "search for solid ground" as they socialize into the new
school setting.


1Allnames in this document have been changed to protect the anonymity of the school and the participants.
2 It should be noted that ballet students generally entered the school at an earlier age than modem dance students,
particularly ballet girls. First year students thus differed from traditional schools in that they ranged from freshman to
senior status.
3 The interviewees are referred to by number in the "Results" section, preceded by "V" for veteran (senior) or "N"
for newcomer (first year student).
4 The descriptive categories outlined in this study are not intended to be mutually exclusive; they are one way of
identifying and categorizing the data. It was often my perspective, combined with the context in which the
communication occurred, that placed a message in any one category.
5 T h e teacher berated the students in such a sarcastic, mocking way that at one point during the class she turned to me
and barked, "Don't you quote me on that!" The examples from this class are therefore not representative of the most
scathing comments which I was directed to omit
6 It is my conclusion, both from observations and from past personal experience as a performing artist, that the use of
one's body as a "tool" in a field such as dance permits the objectification of one's body so that personal space is not as
clearly defined; most touching is not perceived as sexual in nature, and the attitude towards physical contact is one of a
working environment instead of one of intimacy.

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