In schools there are some good dancers, some who are not. But it doesn’t matter. Dance should be accessible, enjoyable and shared.
These wise words from ACT teacher Mardi Roberts-Bolton underlined why Ausdance continues to focus on Dance Education in Australian Schools (DEAS). The 2013 DEAS forum, with a new national curriculum on the horizon, was focused on providing teachers and policy makers with the capacity to ensure dance is accessible and enjoyed by all. DEAS2013 took place in Melbourne from 26 to 27 September. Policy makers and professional dancers from across Australia joined together for two days of learning, sharing and practical skills development.
Martin Dixon MP, Minister for Education in Victoria welcomed participants to the forum acknowledging the need to harness our innate ability for dance in schools. Mr Dixon noted the prominent role of dance in many cultures and the way dance can be an accessible way of growing cross-cultural understanding. In talking about the benefits of integrating dance into the curriculum, Minister Dixon noted it won't be a one size fits all approach and schools should have the freedom to teach the curriculum for local benefit, building partnerships with local artists.
Key note speaker for DEAS2013 was Professor Brian Caldwell. Professor Caldwell is a leading researcher and has been examining the benefits of arts in schools. Recent studies he has undertaken with partners such as the SongRoom have found strong evidence of the benefit of arts for all aspects of the learning environment. Attendance increases, and literacy and numeracy improve as a result of arts based programs. Professor Caldwell noted that arts are vital in every school, at every level.
Linda Lorenza from ACARA outlined how the new Arts Curriculum will be accessible online, once it is cleared for publication. The Curriculum was approved by State and Territory Education ministers prior to the Federal Election, but there are still some revisions to be progressed before the final curriculum is available.
Professional dance companies are working to ensure teachers looking for resources to support the delivery of dance in schools will be able to access high quality and relevant tools. Sydney Dance Company, Restless Dance Theatre and Tasdance provided a snapshot of work currently underway, connections companies are making with young people and opportunities for future engagement.
Jason Coleman, renowned choreographer, studio owner and judge from ‘So you think you can dance’ entrained DEAS participants with his story sharing the joy of dance and leading the group in some moves. Jason listed the five things he learnt from dancing: hard-work, passion, team work, confidence and the ability to use your body and mind. He continues to teach these to his dance students as they are useful lessons for life, whatever you end up doing.
To close day one of discussions at DEAS2013 a new publication by Ausdance VIC’s Education and Training Manager Dr Katrina Rank was launched. Teaching Primary Dance, which provides practical insights to teaching dance in primary schools, will be available following the finalisation of the National Curriculum.
Jeff Meiners, University of SA and drafting contributor to the dance curriculum started day two by asking participants to consider our connections across Australia as dance practitioners and how the new dance curriculum can be used to change culture—ensuring great connection and engagement with the arts.
Three school-based dance teachers shared their experiences (good and bad) of teaching dance. Jacqui Fenwick, currently based in Victoria, discussed the particular challenges and benefits of engaging young boys in dance, noting recent research from UK that showed more boys want to be dancers than fireman as their future profession. Mardi Roberts-Bolton, working in the ACT, spoke of the struggle of turning a professional dance career into that of a successful dance teacher, and the long journey to overcome prejudice in schools from students and teachers. Mardi’s advice: ‘expertise counts for nothing if you can’t translate it for your students’. Renee Place, working in distance education in QLD, spoke of the benefits of new technology in engaging regional young people and the strength of networking with other teachers.
The afternoon saw a group of teachers and educators heading to The Australian Ballet to work with their Dance Ensemble and experience hands-on their in-school program. Others focused their discussions on the challenges and opportunities arising from the new curriculum and the future of dance education in Australian schools. The ideas and questions arising from this session are being reviewed by Ausdance staff and will inform our work in the coming years.
Dance Education in Australian Schools 2013 ended with participants sharing their visions for dance in schools in 2015 and 2030. Ideas included 1) access to live performance and digital resources would be commonplace, 2) a strong community will allow teachers to share ideas and tools, and 3) students and parents will have a strong understanding of the place of dance in Australia’s history and future.
Visit the 2013 Dance Education in Australian Schools project page to view presentations.