Only 7 per cent of children attend schools in which dance is taught weekly, and only 17 per cent receive regular theatre instruction, the US department of education reported.
Officials reacted to the findings by calling for a new commitment to arts education.
"In this age of information and when our economy is increasingly built on generating ideas, it is a serious mistake to short-change our children's instruction in the arts," said education secretary Richard Riley.
He said that the survey shows that "most American children are infrequently or never given serious instruction or performance opportunities in music, the arts, or theatre. That's wrong."
The government surveyed 6,660 pupils aged about 14 in 268 schools. In addition to answering questions about the arts opportunities available, each was asked to create, perform or interpret works of art. Those with performing experience or regular exposure to arts courses fared best.
Music was more widely offered than drama, theatre or dance; about 81 per cent of schools schedule regular music classes. But only one in four of those surveyed reported singing or playing an instrument once a week or more.
Arts programmes often are the first to go when local schools face budget limitations. Thomas Hatfield, director of the National Art Education Association, said: "We have a citizenry that just doesn't value the arts. There's going to be only about 1 per cent of the kids in the nation who are going to do this as a vocation. But one of the ways we think that the arts can make a difference is that it's a form of communication that you don't get in reading and maths."
Demand for more arts education is growing. In 1980, only one state required arts proficiency as a condition of graduation. Now 32 states do.