Dance Education in Australian Schools Conference

By Grace Edwards.

If you’re a dance teacher, student, researcher or performer and want a say in the future of dance education, then head to Arts Centre Melbourne on the 26th of this month. There, Ausdance National, in partnership with Ausdance Victoria, will be hosting the fourth Dance Education in Australian Schools (DEAS) roundtable, which spans over three days and across two locations.

The roundtable follows the recent release of the National Curriculum: Arts, and hopes to bring the dance community together to consider how to give every Australian child the opportunity to dance. With an impressive line-up of representatives from The Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Restless Dance Theatre and Tasdance, and other leaders in the sector, the conference promises to inspire and engage.

In the lead up to the Roundtable, Ausdance Victoria’s Director and CEO Andy Howitt speaks to Dance Informa about the importance of getting dance into schools.

Andy, why do you think a conference like the DEAS is important?

I think especially now with the change of the whole curriculum and who we are at this moment in time, the DEAS conference has been a necessity for the dance sector. The big questions — who’s going to deliver the curriculum? How national will it be? Who are the teachers who will be helping deliver it? — these are important questions that need to be discussed. We also want to consider how the major dance companies could be involved in the process as well as the independent sector, which is also a part of the whole mix in terms of who will help to deliver it.

Who do you hope to encourage to take part in the conversation?

For the young dancer who is coming out of college or thinking of teaching dance in schools in the future, this would be a fantastic conference. They are the future of dance education, they will be the ones delivering it in five to ten years, and they are the ones who need to know where it’s at. They are the ones who need to know the protocols for working in schools, what you need to go through, the difference between RTO and VCE and skills set,s and all these big terms.

For me, it’s really about allowing as many people as possible to access good quality educational dance. That is what this conference is about, that is what we’re trying to achieve and that is what the curriculum is about. You wouldn’t allow bad English to be taught or bad maths, so why do we allow bad teaching in the arts?

There is going to be a fantastic line-up of specialists and practitioners, and there will also be representatives from major dance companies. All of the companies have developed their own outreach programmes. Are there any that you think are working particularly well?

Oh yes, definitely. I think Sydney Dance Company and The Australian Ballet — the projects they have are just fantastic and quite unique. I’m also really interested in how Tasdance is doing it; they started off as an educational dance company, so they have completely different approaches, traditions and different client groups who they have to target.

One of the things that I am really interested in is beginning the process of allowing dance companies to start sharing their educational practice so that we begin to allow the great resources and the things we have produced (like skills sets) to be rolled out. How can we learn from the great projects that, for instance, Sydney Dance Company has done or that Reckless Dance Theatre is doing at the moment? There are really good ideas and new approaches to dance in education developing in these contexts that you want to help to develop and flourish.

How do you think dance is seen in comparison to other arts in schools?

Most schools have an art teacher and a music teacher, but very few have a dance teacher. It’s really interesting, isn’t it? Dance is one of the main subjects being taught in the performing arts and yet as a community we’re still having to go out and mount a fundamental challenge in schools.

One of the difficulties in mounting that challenge is how do you deliver an education right across the whole of Australia, particularly the hard to reach areas, as well as the cities. That is really going to be a challenge for anyone to push through in order to help as many people as possible and give them a well-rounded dance experience. But we’ll do it because we believe it’s rewarding to them, it’s educational to them and it’s transformative for them.

It will take probably about five to ten years. I mean, let’s not think it’s going to happen overnight. What’s interesting about the DEAS for me is it’s about trying to put the inspirational leaders, companies and artists right at the heart of that debate.

How do you think we are doing in Australia, particularly Victoria, and what could we do better at this stage?

I think that what’s going on here at this moment in time dance-wise is absolutely fantastic. I think we are going in the right direction, but we need to work together and develop more partnerships amongst it all. I think there’s also the struggle to get all these ideas ‘into the cook room’ and through to the heart of the performing arts. All of that takes time, but this is the start. What is fantastic is that everyone is coming together to discuss that.

What does Ausdance see as its own role in helping to implement these ideas?

This is the beginning. This conference will not change everything overnight, but it will start the process of putting things in place. For us, it really is about getting dance into the schools and not about anything else. We’re really trying to get dance in the school curriculum, trying to ensure for everyone, both male and female, the right to do dance. That is a major challenge right across Australia, but that is what we aim to do. 

Dance Education in Australian Schools Roundtable

ANZ Pavilion—Arts Centre Melbourne
100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Day 1: 9.30am-6.30pm
Day 2: 9.30am-4.30pm

Australian Ballet

Level 5, 2 Kavanagh St, Southbank
Day 3: 10am—1pm

To book, go to deas2013.eventbrite.com.au. For more information, visit ausdance.org.au or go to the DEAS event page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/events/158147617710061.

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