Jody Gottfried Arnhold Has Devoted Her Career–And Philanthropy–to Bringing Dance to Everyone

April 1, 2022

For Jody Gottfried Arnhold, dance and dance education are one and the same. The visionary philanthropist has spent her career dedicated to transforming the lives of New York City’s public school students through dance; first as a teacher, and then as the founder of the 92nd Street Y’s Dance Education Laboratory, a program designed to train the next generation of dance educators. And Arnhold’s reach doesn’t stop there. She’s the executive producer of the 2015 documentary PS DANCE!: Dance Education in Public Schools, she works closely with the New York City Department of Education, and she’s the supporting force behind the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at Hunter College and the doctorate in dance education at Teachers College Columbia University.

Jody Gottfried Arnhold. Photo by Arthur Elgort, Courtesy Arnhold.

Her Path to Educator:

“I was always a teacher. I was the oldest of four; I taught my siblings, I taught the kids in the neighborhood, and when I was 15 I had the keys to my teacher Erika Thimey’s studio to open it on Saturday mornings and teach the 5-year-olds. I came to New York after college to dance, and I needed a job, which led me to being a classroom teacher.”

Dance Equals Education:

“I’ve come to the point where I just really don’t want to hear dance without hearing dance education—they go together, and can’t be separated. Any dancer who doesn’t think about where they came from, and how they became who they are without thinking about their responsibility to the next generation, I think has missed an opportunity for personal growth.”

On Arts Education:

“We need systemic change to institutionalize arts education. There’s still writing that says “Music and the Arts”; that’s not right. Arts education is, in alphabetical order: dance, media arts, music, theater, visual arts. So I’d like to see everywhere people say “The Arts,” and start with dance.”

The Similarities:

“Dance has historically been overlooked, but if you look at it, dance and education have the same agenda: cooperation, community, problem solving, individual voice—all those important things.”

Teachers College Columbia University:

“The doctoral program at Teachers College is a pathway for people who are interested in developing themselves as leaders in the field, and taking it to the highest level, whether it’s K–12 or higher education or working in departments of education. Those people and others like them are going to be the ones that solidify this work and bring it forward.”

Her Purpose:

“I have a goal: dance for every child. And that means dance education in every public school. I started by creating the Dance Education Laboratory and that led to working with the Department of Education to educate teachers, and then there weren’t enough teachers, so Hunter College started the Masters of Dance Education. And then we needed the leadership, so the Teachers College doctoral program. I don’t know what will be next.”

Looking Back:

“Looking back, it looks like I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t have any idea. I was just lucky enough to always know what to do next. And I’m always looking for a big idea.”