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Dance teachers up in arms over remarks by NSW Premier

NSW Premier
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian holds a press conference on May 28. Screenshot from ABC TV.

These past few months have been incredibly stressful for dance studio owners, who, without warning, had to close their businesses before even finishing term one of the school year. Now we are almost in June, and some states still don’t have a date for reopening, or class size restrictions keep changing, as with the case of South Australian studios who were originally told they could restart classes from June 1, with 20 students per studio. Now with only days until opening and schedules meticulously redesigned and sent to staff and parents, the SA government has revised the numbers down to 10, all while pubs and gyms can still have 20 patrons per room!

But to top it all off, the New South Wales Premier showed the complete lack of understanding of our industry that we all feared, when on Thursday, she inferred that dance studios couldn’t open yet because the staff aren’t qualified!

When a journalist asked Premier Gladys Berejiklian, “When will private dance studios be able to open to little ones, considering they are already doing the same thing at school?”, Premier Berejiklian replied, “We are obviously looking at all those opportunities, but it’s important to put things into context. What happens in our school environment is very different to what happens in an out-of-school environment. School environments are controlled; you have qualified teachers.”

Studio owners and dance teachers all over the country were shocked, and rightfully upset. Sinead Vidler, director/owner of Academy Ballet in NSW exclaimed, “What a horrible slap in the face! Schools have qualified teachers, but apparently private studios do not. To say my degrees do not count, nor do my 20-plus years as a teacher, is unfair and nothing short of devastating.”

Rebecca Taylor, national director of Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) Australia, who trains and qualifies hundreds of Australian teachers, has just released a letter to the NSW Premier saying, “RAD registered teachers are qualified professionals and experienced small business owners whom we believe will adhere to government and health advice stringently to ensure that dance studios remain a safe place for Australian dancers of all ages.”

Nichola Hall, national marketing and communications manager of the RAD added, “That moment when the NSW Premier infers a whole sector of independent dance educators are unqualified! The RAD has been training dance educators for 100 years and our Faculty of Education with higher education programmes up to postgraduate level is 25 years old with qualifications supported by the University of Bath!”

As a representative of over 800 dance teachers, Comdance President Diane Gepp also wrote to the Premier, saying, “As one of Australia’s oldest dance societies with 87 years of commitment to training dance teachers, your comments are unfounded and with due respect, incorrect. Our members are highly qualified teachers. The Comdance training method requires a comprehensive understanding of anatomy, safe dance practice, appropriate teaching styles, a recognition and development of appropriate teaching methods for children with disabilities, awareness and strategies for dealing with mental health issues, child safety regulations and policy, and developing and maintaining sound business practices amongst many other skills. These are all required over and above a minimum of 15 years of dance training!”

And the RAD and Comdance are just two of many renowned syllabi and registered training organisations that have qualified teachers all across Australia, adding to that Cecchetti, Australian Teachers of Dancing, Australian Institute of Classical Dance, Australasian Dance Association, Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, BBODance, Education in Dance and Theatre Arts Inc, Acrobatic Arts and more, as well as demanding university and private studio degree programs, diplomas and certificates.

Kym Degenhart of Bom Funk Dance Studio, a former dancer at the prestigious Moulin Rouge and Arts Education Tutor at University of Canberra, explained on social media, “In NSW, to be an Active Kids provider, you have to produce a huge amount of evidence that you and your staff are qualified. As many dance studios are Active Kids providers, the Premier is either admitting that they are not properly vetting their own programmes or that we are qualified!”

The dance and performing arts industry was one of the first to be hit, with theatres and studios shut across the country, and now comments like those from Premier Berejiklian add insult to injury. But dance teachers and studio owners are not keeping quiet. In Facebook groups, studio owners are suggesting that all dance teachers flood Premier Berejiklian with emails of their CVs and bios, to show just how qualified and experienced they are.

Many primary and secondary schools who are currently open and teaching dance are actually employing the exact educators who also teach at private studios, or they rely heavily on them for quality dance training of their students out of hours.

Highschool dance teacher Celeste Maxwell posted on the Dance Teachers Australia Facebook group, “On behalf of the dance teachers working in both primary and secondary schools of NSW, I sincerely apologise for the insult our NSW Premier simply rolled off her tongue regarding studio owners and dance teachers without any consideration to the weight and impact of her words. Many of you are over-qualified in your roles, and as a secondary teacher myself, I rely on the work you guys do with our students outside of school to assist them in succeeding and progressing in a school context. Therefore, it is simple — we need one another, and we are all qualified professionals. We value your work and we appreciate your efforts. I hope some day soon, you are all able to reopen and that your businesses are not completely destroyed by everything that has occurred.”

There’s no denying that private dance studio teachers are extremely qualified and more than capable of complying with COVID-safe practices, but to make matters more maddening, pubs, clubs and cafes are opening in NSW from Monday June 1, with up to 50 customers! So are publicans, waitresses and bar staff more qualified than dance teachers? Are restaurants, with no set enrollments or contact details of all patrons, safer and easier to contact trace than private dance studios? Are clubs, full of drinking adults, cleaner and easier environments to enforce social distancing in than spacious, strict training facilities like dance studios?

“The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee continues to note that there is very limited evidence of transmission between children; population screening overseas has shown very low incidence of positive cases in school-aged children,” (www.health.gov.au May 25, 2020). Therefore, there is no reason to keep private dance studios closed when the hospitality sector is allowed to open facilities for adults.

Dance teachers, we must have our say. Every major leader, including Premier Berejiklian, has had an extremely difficult task these last few months, but we must not be forgotten, dismissed or labelled as “unqualified”. Dance studios are safe environments run by professional educators, and they should be allowed to reopen.

Contact Premier Gladys Berejiklian here: www.gladys.com.au/contact-gladys

As member for Willougby, Premier Gladys Berejiklian can also be contacted here: willoughby@parliament.nsw.gov.au. We also encourage you to contact your local MP.

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

*May 30: Article updated with additional quote from Comdance.

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