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Something we’ve been exploring in the Creative Teaching and Learning team is the idea of dance education as an ecosystem. There are groups, layers and structures within the dance education community which form networks and enable knowledge, both traditional and embodied, to be shared and transferred in ways similar to the ecosystems in the natural world… And just like those found in the natural world, the dance education ecosystem doesn’t exist in isolation and however self-sufficient it may be or become, it will always be reliant on its ability to adapt and evolve in response to the external factors beyond its control.

The environment dance education inhabits has changed rapidly and dramatically in recent years: be it the apparent de-valuing of creative arts subjects by politicians, reform to National Qualifications, or the increasing financial challenges faced by the professional bodies and organisations which support it. Climates of change and uncertainty can be quite unsettling and this could be especially true for both freelance dance artists and school-based teachers, who often tell us they feel somewhat isolated in their roles. Our Creative Learning: Dance professional development events have, for the last three years, focussed on bringing dance artists and school teachers together to explore and learn good practice. We recognise the overlapping yet different skills and approaches individuals from both fields utilise, and the increased value of their collective knowledge when it is shared in an environment where it can thrive.

We know that dance plays a different role in every school and we know, through ourLearnPhysical programme, the power it has to engage learners and help them to develop – and not just as dancers. That’s why, for our March 2014 Primary Education Day, we brought together 14 enthusiastic primary teachers and dance artists to explore and learn practical and effective ways of using dance in their school setting. Teaching a variety of subjects through movement has been part of our work for quite some time now but we only had a day, so focused on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science.

Beginning with English we devised ways of creating physical representations of positional language, parts of speech and opposites. Our friends at Maths Dance led us all through a brilliant session to understand fractions, and number sequences and patterns, kinaesthetically. In the Science workshop we used our bodies to learn about different materials and explore their properties. The lunch break gave everyone the chance to refuel, network and share experiences before spending the afternoon session creating dance solos, duets and group work inspired by ICT. Two weekends later we welcomed 10 teachers and dance artists working in secondary and FE to frame their practice within the analogy of a dance ecosystem. After creating diagrams and models of their setting’s current ecosystem, we worked together to analyse and evaluate their health and sustainability, providing constructive ways to embed dance more deeply across each professional context.

A main focus for the day was exploring effective yet creative approaches to evidencing student learning – how to capture their progression…or enable them to undertake it independently. A challenge the group touched on was how to facilitate students’ own creative work to steer them to explore more than the obligatory ‘motif development’…which was the catalyst for the Creative Teaching and Learning team to plan our most recent CPD event: Inspiring Choreography – Creative Approaches to Dance Making. In October, dance artists and teachers, Marie Forbes and Jo Rhodes, shared a wealth of ways to make and develop dance with young people…without a motif in sight! The aim of the day was to demonstrate that abstract movement developed towards a theme generates a much more unique response than if the material is created in response to a theme. Starting with basic principles of ‘chance’, journeying through pre-existing scores, generating vocal scores, playing with directing other’s work…it’s amazing what teachers and artists can create together in just one day.

Our final Creative Learning event (October) for practitioners working in primary schools built on the success of the last workshop day in March. We invited 14 teachers and artists to ‘start with a story’ and use children’s fiction as the stimulus for dance lessons which teach other subjects. Working again with our friends from Maths Dance we enjoyed exploring shape and area without the constrictions of a desk, paper and pen. We used the LearnPhysical session to dance through aspects of the History and Geography curriculums: travelling around the globe, reading maps and co-ordinates, learning about contrasting climates and cultures from present day London to Ancient Egypt.

For the Creative Teaching and Learning team, the professional development events we run are some of the most rewarding days of the year – watching a studio full of teachers and artists passionate about their subject sharing creative experiences and ideas with each other…and leaving with even greater enthusiasm than when they arrived. We believe this enthusiasm and sharing of practice, filtered through the networks and groups of dance education, is what will nurture the students of today, and the artists and audiences of tomorrow and, ultimately, ensure the dance ecosystem of the future thrives.

To register your interest for our 2015 Creative Learning: Dance events please contact ania.coverdale@theplace.org.uk or check the website for updates.

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