More serendipity than by design, the contributors to this issue of Brolga outlay the reaches of what education in dance contexts may mean. In its formal sense, education spans the time of learning which takes place in institutions such as schools, colleges and universities, whether public or private, or in classrooms and studios.
While learning to learn still resonates through the actualities of such institutions, in today’s culture, the pervading principle is centred on vocational ends, on equipping the individual to take a place in employment statistics and the much vaunted economic progress. Education thus works on an individual’s aptitude to shape him or her with the skills to become a classifiable entity, a lawyer, financial advisor, horticulturalist, doctor or dancer.
In this respect, Barbara Snook, Ralph Buck and Patrice O’Brien’s article, A Historical Overview of Dance in the New Zealand School Curriculum is instructive in tracing the figures and ideas which contoured the incorporation of the multi-facets of dance into the official New Zealand education curriculum. The military tones of late nineteenth century body culture’s entry into the school system belies the cultural values of the time, when people were seen as fodder for nationalism, geared to becoming fit and malleable for demonstrations of collective power. As the article demonstrates, this close association with a fighting spirit embodied in physical education shifted in time to dance’s association with music, cultural inclusiveness and, finally, to the hard-won status of autonomy within the arts’ curriculum.
A curious revelation of the article points to the role of men within the educational establishment, staunchly encouraging the changing perceptions of dance until it is championed as a valid discipline of knowledge under the umbrella of art. Women were there too, growing in influence alongside the accomplishments of the men, but this historical record certainly challenges the perception that dance education is, exclusively, the provenance of women.
Still within the formal confines of education, Avril Huddy and Kym Stevens cover the latest pedagogical concepts in the training of dance teachers across a broad spectrum at a university level. Dance Teaching and Learning in Context: Activating the Head, Heart and Hands offers an insight into the principles of reflective approaches to the role of imparting knowledge, revealing the teacher and pupil as partners in the quest for knowledge.
While acknowledging the firm framework of learning provided by official curricula, Huddy and Stevens suggest that the hierarchy of informed and uninformed no longer holds and, instead, learning is better served by practices which emulate the cooperative nature of learning and an appreciation of vulnerability in both teacher and student. The inclusive underpinnings of this approach could be challenged by situations in which the specialized embodiment of dance may involve more than a collaborative journey of discovery?
Representing the next step in the formal continuum of education is Sela Kiek-Callan’s account of a postgraduate research journey in Dancing the Design. This project explores affinities between architecture and dancing bodies which become manifest in embodied responses of weight, rhythm and intensity when dancers pay attention to the built environment in which they are encased. Kiek-Callan argues that rather than taking the studio and its campus surroundings for granted, dancers have the skill to discern the forces emanating from walls, pavements and staircases and that these forces can be harnessed for dance-making and, in this instance, for a particular type of dance-making that makes those forces kinaesthetically available for its audience. In relation to the other contributions, this article illuminates the grounds of learning, in the simple quest for discovery, admittedly driven into an appropriate complexity when pursued at the refined levels of doctoral endeavours.
The final two forays into dance education permeate laterally into the very fibre of our lives, the ongoing processes of learning. Extending Underscore Alchemy locates discovery in the bodies of a group of community artists in the south west of Western Australia indicating, amongst other things that dance moves everywhere. Vahri MacKenzie here takes the framework of Nancy Stark Smith’s Underscore, a contact improvisation program developed in the US to promote a “deepening/releasing and sensitising to gravity and support” in bodies that pass and meet each other, to a multi-disciplinary gathering of artists. Her objective is to test if the conceptual infrastructure of the program can stimulate the creative processes in poets, visual artists and musicians, as much as for dancers. The participants found awareness of their bodily presence shifted attitudes and developed trust in pursuing familiar skills from altered points of departure, giving added impetus to imaginative play.
Paige Gordon’s A Space & A Place looks back and forward from the creation of Shed—A Place Where Men Can Dance (1994) to current involvement with Tracksuit “an inclusive dance-based workshop and performance program for adults who have had an experience of disability, mental health or social exclusion” (Gordon) and the performance The Return.
Education, in this instance, relates to a choreographer who has learnt about her commitment to making dances which affect people’s lives. Coincidentally, Gordon’s reminiscence of a life-changing moment also draws on the fine threads of history interwoven into our present and, pointedly, through her inclusion of the Shed’s cover image for Brolga Issue 17, to the ongoing history of this journal, as fraught as it is with my own problems to keep track of time’s forward rush. I can but be grateful for the sheds of our lives where we tinker with many dances and learn something of our frail and tenacious purposes.
Education is a dance we cannot escape just as dance is an education we must pursue. I extend my gratitude to all of the contributors for their gestures that have spun that duality of vision in their diverse ways.
Lastly, I am pleased to announce that the next issue of Brolga for 2015 will focus on the inimical and increasingly important theme of improvisation—arguably an extension of the current focus on education—and will be edited by Olivia Millard of Deakin University. Improvisation is quintessentially elusive, being and vanishing in each instant of impulse, so what might happen in its writing or attempts to capture its flights on the page? Please direct any queries or contribution to Olivia Millard or to Rachael Jennings at Ausdance National.