European Network of Opera and Dance, an article

European Network of Opera and Dance, an article

I was invited to write an article for the ‘GENERATION Y: Engaging young adults in opera and dance’ conference in Brussels, October 2013, organised by Reseo (see previous blog to see how that came about).  They wanted me to share my perspective as a young adult involved in dance and how/why I felt the English National Ballet’s and Royal Opera Houses of Europe could make their projects more accessible and engaging for young adults… through using dance of course!

“We have heard of projects that used dance to teach subjects like science and humanities in primary or secondary schools. But what about more high-level concepts? The recent ‘Dance Your PhD’ competitions struck a relationship between dance and conveying highly academic concepts. But ‘conveying’ is not the same as ‘teaching’. What would happen if you used dance to teach high-level, even degree-level, concepts?

I recently managed and co-produced an innovative project that aimed to teach degree-level statistics through short dance films. A collaboration between artists and academics, the ‘Dancing Statistics’ films were designed to guide non-dance trained audiences through watching and understanding carefully composed choreographies that demonstrate fundamental statistical concepts.

Statistics can be tough to teach, as the subject matter can be dry and complex. Lecturers constantly look for novel ways to present information to make it more engaging and to make learning (and teaching) easier. Dance was able to offer a completely novel perspective on the subject: it is dynamic, human, aesthetic and different to what is normally seen in lecture theatres.

Statistics are essentially about demonstrating relationships (similarity, difference, effect) – dance is innately well placed to illustrate just that. Dance and movement are made up of: the body, space, time, relationships and actions. Any subject that relates to any of those ‘structures’ can be accessed through dance. For me, using dance to demonstrate and facilitate learning seems like a natural step. Get up and be the statistic or the molecule or the musical note!

Further than watching dance, actually participating in dance as part of a learning process can physiologically improve learning. It creates more neural pathways for the information going into the brain – not just reading and listening, but doing, relating, moving through space. The more neural pathways created when learning, the deeper the encoding and the better the recall of information – the ‘better’ the learning. But its not just an extra layer to the learning, dance also offers a way into learning for different types of learners. It can be a challenge to access kinesthetic learners in a classroom or workshop, especially if the learning involves a lot of listening and writing. Dance is an obvious way in for kinesthetic learners and can therefore be useful for teaching many subjects, especially ones that naturally lean towards one other learning style.

Stepping back and thinking more widely, consider the transformational benefits of dance on an individual and social level. Participation in dance has been shown to re-engage at risk young people with work and education (Dance United, UK), adults with dementia have become animated and reminiscent (Art of Touch, Lucinda Jarrett, UK). Now consider dance as a teaching tool in schools, universities & community centers having positive social impacts as well as deepening knowledge and understanding of a multitude of subjects. Sounds like nothing but a good thing. I, for one, am excited to see the impact of continued integration of dance with all sorts of education.

Watch the Dancing Statistics films on the British Psychological Society’s YouTube channel (bpsmediacentre). If you would like to find out more about the Dancing Statistics project, follow the conversation on Twitter: #dancingstatistcs

The project was possible because of the hard work and creativity of the Dancing Statistics Team, including: founder, Lucy Irving; project manager and producer, Elise Phillips; statistics lead, Andy Field; choreographer, Masha Gurina, filmmaker, Kyle Stevenson; and a fabulous team of dancers. Not forgetting the support from our funders: the British Psychological Society and IdeasTap. (Photography by Jonathon Vines.)”

See the original article on the Reseo website.

UPDATE 3/1/17: The films are still used by statistics lecturers and students across the country (and beyond) – including the legendary Andy Field! – and have been viewed nearly 200,000 times so far. The project was featured online and print publications by the British Psychological Society, in numerous blogs and online news outlets, as well as in The Times Higher Education Supplement.

Europe, lend me your ear!

Clare Guss-West is a very interesting woman.  She is the dance moderator for the European Network of Opera and Dance (Reseo): a network of all the “movers and shakers” in dance and opera across Europe (think ENB, ROH).  I was lucky enough to be contacted by Clare to speak about dance, its various uses and how it can be used to capture imagination.

She found out about me through LinkedIn and my involvement in the Dancing Statistics project.  We met on Skype (slightly wierd for a first introduction!), did our introductions, and Clare asked me some questions.

Clare spoke of how she is interested in dance as a teaching tool, not just for teaching ‘the ususal’ curriculum subjects, but as a way into learning about music and opera – dancing the different qualities of the music to give a novel perspective by which to experience the music.  Clare was presenting this idea at the Reseo ‘GENERATION Y: Engaging young adults in opera and dance’ conference in Brussels, October ’13.  She said wanted to capture the imagination of the delegates and get them thinking laterally of new ways to make arts in big oragnisations accessible and creative.

She wanted my perspective as a young adult as to how it might be possible to make dance, opera and the arts approachable and engaging for other young adults.  She wanted to know about other projects I’d been involved in that were for young adults, about Dancing Statistics (as a clear example of using dance to access non-dance-related subject matter), and about my wider interests in dance and its potential uses.

It turned out we had both previously been involved in research projects investigating the use of dance with older adults, including those with dementia (though she set up a research project, where I only assisted in one!), and our conversation even strayed to the positive social impacts of dance more widely.  Such sparkling conversation after meeting on Skype!

After talking, Clare invited me to write “something” relating to what we’d talked about (she later referred to my “something” as an article – thank you very much!) to give to the delegates at the conference and put on the Reseo online newsletter.  Amazing.  I often feel that children and young people get an aweful lot of focus from arts projects (and indeed a gazillion other governement initiatives), so to be asked to write as a young adult about my ‘perspective’, my passionate opinions and beliefs around the efficacy and power of dance as a tool for many things was fantastic.

I would like to see more projects, work placements, funds, master classes, and opportunities for young adults – or rather young adults at the start of their artistic careers.  I speak as one of them: I’m not an emerging artist, I’m not a virtuosic youth, I’m a young adult and I want to make a go of being an artist – help me out!

Maybe I should start setting up opportunities for others instead of waiting for them (and stick to the managing and production and writing)…

From one leader to another.

From one leader to another.

Six months after a graduating from the postgrad diploma Community Dance course at Laban, I saw an ad for a Dance Leadership training course – ABLE. A little premature maybe, having just started my career in dance, but combined with having moved out of the dance and arts hub that is London, a little CPD was definitely in order. I applied and was 1 in 30 that got a place. I expected to go for a couple of workshops, get some handouts, and be on my way with something to add to my CV. I got so much more from the project.

One of the main things was Hakeem Onibudo, the course designer and leader, reminding the group that we had all been selected to take part in the program based on our drive, attitude and outlook – we were all leaders in some way already. We maybe just didn’t think so. (Or didn’t like the word leader.)

I read the delegate list on the way to the first session and it hit home how serious this thing was – people working in respectable roles at English National Ballet, Royal Opera House, Candoco! I’d just started and these guys were seasoned professionals! But as Hakeem kept reminding us,

we had all been chosen as leaders in our fields.

Experience aside, these amazing people were my peers! This was a massive confidence boost. And a necessary one.

I think it’s hard, being a freelancer, to constantly remind yourself where you’re at and how good you are. Without the structure of a ‘workplace’ you don’t have the same benchmarks to compare yourself to, or feedback from someone more experienced than you. Having a British Council appointed Cultural Ambassador tell me that I AM a leader, and that the things I’m doing and the vision I see are worthwhile to the point where others may want to come with me on my ‘quest’, is priceless at this stage. I may be new to the dance sector but I have a big vision regarding how people can link up, share and collaborate and it appears I’m on the right track!

Laban Graduation Speech

When asked to make a short speech on behalf of my fellow postgraduate diploma community dance students, I did some soul searching and reflecting about the previous 2 years… Below are some excerpts and a link to the speech.

“CAN dance really achieve social change?… A Greek author named Plutarch once said, “what we achieve inwardly, will change outer reality”. By that logic, in offering a space to experience yourself and others in an equal and respectful way, any inward change, realisation or skill acquisition, will change our ‘outer reality’.

“…consider the idea of Kinaesthetic Identity – that “we do not live IN our bodies, we ARE our bodies”, And that “my body is not a tool through which I access dance, but that I AM the dance”, “the movements I make ARE my identity” – It is possible to see how dance has the potential to elicit deep personal change

and that change may also impact on one’s surrounding environment.

“On the Community Dance course, I worked harder and in a more committed way than I ever have in my life. I now feel I have the licence to slow down, to work more attentively and with more space, as a deliberate choice – it does not equate to being lazy… [And] we’re allowed to do it everyday – to give ourselves space to appreciate the things we do, to work more attentively; as a deliberate choice.”

Alternatively you can read the speech below.

Honoured Guests, Graduates and Graduands,

I want to ask you all a question and I’d like you please to answer with a show of hands. Who here feels they know what Community Dance is? (respond) Not enough people know what community dance can be. When someone asks me what a community dance artist is, I say that: I make, teach, and dance-with people from all back grounds, people with Learning and physical disabilities, young offenders, children, , older adults with dementia, etc. I help people to discover what they are already capable of.

As an individual, I’m committed to social change. When I came to Laban, I was interested in the role dance could play in that. But CAN dance really achieve social change? It’s a big ask. I believe that by giving people the opportunity: to make their own and collective decisions, to be seen/witnessed, acknowledged and validated, to problem solve and succeed, you give them a chance to feel empathy and have a sense of self worth.

A Greek author named Plutarch once said,

What we achieve inwardly, will change outer reality

By that logic, in offering a space to experience yourself and others in an equal and respectful way, any inward change, realisation or skill acquisition, will change our ‘outer reality’.

To consider the idea of Kinaesthetic Identity – that “we do not live IN our bodies, we ARE our bodies”, And that “my body is not a tool through which I access dance, but that I AM the dance”, “the movements I make ARE my identity” – it is possible to see how dance has the potential to elicit deep personal change and that change may also impact on one’s surrounding environment.

I’ve been called an idealist in my time, and don’t get me wrong, Community Dance alone will not change the world. The same way activists chaining themselves to oilrigs and diggers will not change the world – on their own. It’s the network of campaigns, action, advocacy and alternatives that WILL. My work as a community dance artist is my contribution to this ‘network’, providing an alternative way of being and relating – to ones self and to others. That’s what we can do as Community Artists. That’s why we Dance.

I want to share today that I really have felt privileged to be part of this year’s Commmunity Dance cohort. As someone who had never done contemporary dance before coming here – never did GCSE or A Level dance, never choreographed before, Laban was a shock to the system! Being part of this group has supported and nurtured me and helped me to learn more about my development as a person, artist and practitioner. To quote a fellow student Agnese,

Working together opened my way of seeing, feeling and experiencing dance.

I completely agreeI want to thank Agnese, Catherine, Kathleen and Kathryn for being wonderful. I want to thank Sue and Jamie for some carefully worded and supportive conversations (that turned out to be quite pivotal for me), that helped me figure out what contemporary dance was, and why the hell I was here – thank you both. I can’t be up here and not thank my parents and boyfriend for their emotional and financial support throughout. I literally wouldn’t be here without them.

That’s enough of that! I finally, I want to share with you the most important lesson I learnt during my 2 years at Laban. On the Community Dance course, I worked harder and in a more committed way than I ever have in my life. I really hadn’t ever pushed my self this hard and really wanted to do the very best that I could with all my being. In doing this, I proved to MYSELF what I was capable of. I now feel I have the licence to slow down, to work more attentively and with more space, as a deliberate choice – it does not equate to being lazy. That was a profound realisation.

Today, we’re all allowed to stop, for a whole day, and revel in all we’ve achieved, we’re allowed to not worry about what comes next, we’re allowed to speak proudly of our trials and our successes. But its not our only opportunity to allow ourselves space. We’re allowed to do it everyday – to give ourselves space to appreciate the things we do, to work more attentively; as a deliberate choice.

Thank you.