“spreading the seeds of change”

On June 2nd, 80 elementary teachers from across the Ottawa Carleton District School Board will have the opportunity to participate in a workshop exploring dance as a medium through which children can interpret their experiences of the world.  The revised (2009) Ontario Arts Curriculum separates dance into its own strand and explains the philosophical underpinnings of the dance strand:

Dance is expressive movement with purpose and form. All dance communication is transmitted through movement – that is, through the body movements and gestures of the dancer. A dancer is, therefore, both the performer and the instrument through which dance is expressed. It is not recommended that students at the elementary level be given instruction in formal dance techniques (e.g., ballet, Graham, Límon techniques).   Instead, students will develop their own movement vocabularies that they will use to create dance pieces that communicate their feelings, ideas, and understandings.  This approach to dance, as outlined in this curriculum, is based on dance pedagogies (e.g., Laban), and focuses on the use of movement and the elements of dance instead of rote repetition of dance steps. (16)

The OCDSB dance workshop is facilitated by Hannah Beatch, founding director of the Dandelion Dance Company here in Ottawa.  Hannah combines her classical dance training through the Royal Winnipeg and Alberta Ballet Schools with her academic background in social work to bring a truly unique approach to working with youth through dance.  The Dandelion Dance Company is a group of young women, ages 13 – 18 who develop the ideas and then choreograph the pieces.  The company’s mission reflects an inclusive philosophy:

Our commitment is to the creation of dance theatre pieces that reflect social issues relevant to the current company members. We are a fully inclusive company that is not only open to persons with different backgrounds and abilities, but we acknowledge the gifts and enrichment that evolves when persons with various backgrounds and abilities work together.

The dance company is committed to ‘spreading the seeds of change through movement’ and I think that these young women are leading the way.  I had the opportunity to witness the company performing for our intermediate students last spring and it had a profound effect on my life.

the little ballerina that could

The Dandelion Dance Company performance changed things for me and for my daughter who is ‘in her element’, to use Sir Ken Robinson‘s phrase, when she dances.  Born with a rare genetic disorder, her body isn’t long and lean like the ballerina ideal in a tutu.  To find ballet slippers to fit her feet required costly alterations to the ‘off-the-shelf’ slippers.  We tried out a few different dance schools and a couple of programs run by the city of Ottawa, but in the end, she struggled to remember which step went where in the routines.  Always a positive and happy little one, she enjoyed herself, but we didn’t feel that those dance programs allowed her love of dance to shine through.

When I learned that Hannah was also the director of Tournesol Dance, a creative movement and modern dance school for girls, I knew that we had found the place where my daughter’s love for dance would be nurtured and where her talents would be celebrated.  Finally.

This is why I am thrilled that 80 of my colleagues will have the opportunity to learn with Hannah on June 2nd.  Changing the way that we think about dance and the arts could provide us with an occasion to shift our perspectives on creativity and communication.  Rather than seeing dance as a set routine of ordered steps to be executed to the beat, see dance as a way of making sense of the world.  Rather than seeing the arts as separate from other literacies, see them as integral parts of the ‘literacies’ whole.  The revised curriculum addresses the arts as inquiry and interpretation: 

The arts are a way of knowing that provides ways of perceiving, interpreting, organizing, and questioning various aspects of our world through exploration and experimentation.  Artistic expression involves clarifying and restructuring personal ideas and experiences.  The arts enable individuals and groups to create ideas and images that reflect, communicate, and change their views of the world.(6)

If we think deeply and differently about this, the impact on our teaching practices could be quite profound.

images:

Dandelion Seed cc Bird Eye/flickr

ballerina that could – thedreamygiraffe on etsy.com