Transcript of Dance topics

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the Dance topics podcast (36:26).

Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from Secondary Learners Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. As we commence this podcast today, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of all the lands on which this podcast will be played around New South Wales. Their art, storytelling, music and dance along with all First Nations people hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia. Let us acknowledge with honour and respect our elders past, present and future, especially those Aboriginal people in our presence today who have and still do guide us with their wisdom.

Welcome to the creative cast Podcast series. My name is Jackie King and I'm a creative arts project advisor with the New South Wales Department of Education. Today's area of discussion is let's talk topics and today we'll be exploring some selected topics chosen by dance teachers for Stage five and how they structure their co-curricular programs to engage Stage four. Today, our first dance teacher is Shea Atchison, a dance teacher at Orange High School and has been teaching there for the past 14 years. After learning her technique in stage presence through dance studios for many years, she decided to take her training further and gained her bachelor of dance education through the Australian College of Physical Education. She has built the dance program at Orange High School from the ground up. She enjoys allowing students of all levels and the ability to perform and express themselves through dance. Today, my second guest is Amelia Morello, the dance coordinator at East Hills Girls Technology High School. Before teaching, Amelia professionally danced with Austinmer Dance Theatre as a contemporary dancer before moving to the commercial dance industry.

Amelia is the soul dance teacher at East Hills Girls and choreographs many extracurricular dance events, including Wakakirri, In The Spotlight Dance Festival and Bankstown Dance Festival. Amelia is the Secretary for Dance Educators Professional Association, DEPA, creating professional development opportunities for other secondary dance teachers and advocating for the subject and its importance in the New South Wales curriculum. Shea and Amelia welcome to the podcast and thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks for having us.

Shea, I'm going to start with you and ask, Can you start us off by sharing a little bit about your school community and the place of dance in your school culture?

Shea –Yeah, so we actually are really lucky in Orange to be blessed with a lot of dance studios in town as well. That allows kids to do external dance classes. So it was really nice when I came to Orange High School to know that our kids had all these opportunities already outside of school and that I could then continue to build on it here at the actual high school. So we've got about 1200 students in Orange High School, and our dance program has a really great blend of girls and boys from year seven all the way to year 12 kids. They love it, and that's why that's why I love doing it. It's great that they have the opportunity to do all of these really amazing performance opportunities that they get by doing dance at school

Jackie – Amelia for you, I'm assuming it's very similar that the students have opportunities to learn dancing outside of school. I know that you have a reasonably engaging co-curricular program that you've got going on as well. Could you share a little bit more about where dance fits into the school culture at your school? And a bit of your school community?

Amelia – Yeah, sure thing. So East Hills Girls Technology High School have around about 900 students. 15 of those students are Indigenous, and 76% of those students have a background other than English. We are an all-girls high school and also a technology high school. So there really is a large focus on utilizing technology to really facilitate education in the classroom. There's also a strong focus on female education, so really empowering young women to achieve their personal best. And our school is underpinned by a culture of high expectations. It filters through every subject and every teaching classroom; our values are curiosity, creative and critical thinking, generosity and honour. And our school motto is honour before reward. So students at our school are really encouraged to extend their talents and push their boundaries, focusing on students maintaining a growth mindset. So dance sits within the CAPA faculty. We have stage five and dance classes within Stage six. So we have classes from 9 through 12, but we also have a lot of stage four dance opportunities. So I run Year seven dance during sport time there on a three-week rotation, and I really focused on targeting stage four outcomes within that space. And then, we also have another program called Project High School. So primary school students come from Year six and come to our school for a day every Thursday, and they take just creative arts, creative and performing arts subjects with us. And I found that that has had a really positive effect when they enrol and come to our school the following year. They are already familiar with our faces and our teaching methods. We do have a lot of opportunities, and the girls themselves, really are engaged. There are many dance studios within the area. However, some students have never danced before. They're still invited to participate and really embrace the opportunities that we have. So in the past, we have participated in Wakakirri. We also do state and regional dance festivals and enter the girls in eisteddfods, in a local eisteddfod. Every year we do school spectacular. We also have an annual creative and performing arts showcase in term two, which we call Virtuoso. And we showcase dance, drama and music performances live. Last year in Covid, we also filmed that and shared that out to the community, which was lovely. And we also have visual arts and photography that are integrated into that space as

Jackie – Fantastic. That sounds like a hectic extracurricular program that you've got going there, and a vast calendar of events, which I know a lot of creative arts teachers end up taking on, is a massive calendar of lots of extracurricular events. So it sounds like you've got a very active extracurricular program happening there. I wanted to talk today. We're talking about topics that you teach in your dance classes, and so you've both touched on that you have stage five dance classes, so I thought we'd really focus on that today. So, Amelia, are you able to start us off by sharing one of your favourite topics that you have taught to a Stage five class?

Amelia – I have so many favourites, so I don't really know which ones to pick. But I'll try and share a few, and everything I do is backward mapped from stage six. So I look at what we want the students to achieve in Stage, particularly in the HRC, and I work backwards from there. So as the dance curriculum is a spiral curriculum were revised and revisit these concepts each time. So I really think about how can I lay the foundations of the core concepts first, so that when they move into Stage six, they've already got a really good grasp on what I would like them to learn in terms of the units of work. The best ones are the ones where there is a really integrated, interrelated study between performance, composition and appreciation. So my favorite one would have to be in year nine dance. We do a unit called Deconstructing and Reconstructing dance. In their prior units of learning, they've already learned about performance and composition and a bit of appreciation separately. They've been introduced to these core learning areas and then in term three they watch previous HSC prescribed work set for studies, so there are many resources out there. So the girls begin by watching the work, and then I teach them a section of the work. They learn the choreography from that section and focus on performance quality as they've learned about safe dance and dance technique in term one. So I'm able to really focus on and isolate performance quality and how they can communicate and interpret through facial expression, quality of line projection focus. Students then have to manipulate the choreography and choose a new intention for that choreography in groups or in pairs. So they are really honing in on their compositional skills. But they already have a motif that has been established within the work that they can then manipulate using the 16 ways to manipulate a motif. Students are then required to write an essay, um, answering how the choreographer has used space to communicate their intent. I find space is the easiest way for students, particularly in year nine. I really do heavily scaffold that essay response. And it is backwards mapped from the HSC extended response. Students understand how to use the language of description to describe the movement. Then, they use the language of representation to interpret the meaning of the movement.

Jackie – Fantastic. I really love how your unit is called 'Deconstruct, reconstruct'. It's obviously one of the elements within aboriginal pedagogies or formerly known as the Eight Ways. So really breaking down those works and then redoing them is really important and a really great way to engage students, which is fantastic. The fact that you're backwards mapping from Stage six and using a past course prescription is really remarkable. Shea, would you be able to share one of your favourite topics that you teach with your students at Orange High School?

Shea – So I'm similar to Amelia, where everything is kind of mapped to being able to continue on into Stage six. And it's all about that continuum for that programming and that scope and sequence from Year nine into year 12. I think that my favourite place to start is purely just at the very start. I love that moment when you've got kids, and they haven't done, you know, some of them have never danced before. Some of them have danced since they were like four, you know, And then they come in and just explain how the body moves and how we move like that and why the body moves like that. And how we do that safely, I think, is my favourite part of it because, you know, they get those moments where they go. Ah ha, like I understand what that means and, oh, I can, I can physically feel that muscle moving when you place me in that lunge, or for me, it's that moment. It's those lightbulb moments for the kids and their enjoyment from actually having a greater understanding. You know, there are lots of kids that can kick their leg, but they don't quite understand how it gets there. For me, that initial kind of safe and sound unit, as I call it, is all about, you know, you're safe dance practice and how the actual body is moving in regards to your anatomy. For that to happen, that leads further into that dance technique and performance quality that they then start to learn from with movement on stage and do all of the performance opportunities they get to do it. And towards the end of that unit, I start to kind of incorporate the use of the elements of dance in regards to a bit of bit of compositional work where they don't quite realize that's what they're doing. But they will start to manipulate the movement safely. We started a performance dance.

They start to manipulate that using the elements of dance is space, time and dynamics. Without them even realizing they're manipulating movement already before you have to say to them, Okay, this is composition, and this is why we start here. They're already getting those skills to go into that. So I think that's my favourite place to begin for year nine is just I just love starting from scratch and starting from the very start. Yeah.

Jackie – I was going to ask how you both incorporate things like safe dance practice and the elements of dance, but I feel like you both really covered that there. The syllabus says that dance is obviously to be studied through the practices and the elements of dance and that the units need to be sort of broad and have an overview of each of those practices and dance styles are more considered as a vehicle through which those contents areas through which those content areas are studied. Do you have any particular dance styles, or do you look at different dance styles within your topics that you study, Shea?

Shea – Yeah, yeah, so we look at quite a lot of different dance styles. I think the great thing about dance in schools and the ability for kids to do it here in school is that it can be manipulated and changed to suit their specific style that they might be most comfortable with strong in and that you can start to work with those kids to work out. You know, they may have a greater dynamic quality that they would rather use than someone next to them. The movement gives them the ability to really convey what they want to show through that interpretation of the movement. The dance styles, you know, and I start with kind of like just your modern dance, and your jazz dance point is, we look at about we talk about dance and where that came from and how it got there for those specific styles. It depends on the students that are having a classroom as to what other styles will then go into. For example, this year, I have a student from India, so she's only being in the country for about 12 months. But she was delighted to stand up, and you know she was. She's been doing some Indian dance warm-ups with us and bringing her cultural dance into it as well. And we have quite a high Indigenous intake too if students that are happy to come in and do some movement around their traditional Aboriginal dance, which is really nice. And I think that it's essential to focus on the kids' cultures in the classroom, to help that engagement of them as well. And I just love musical theatre, too. So musical theatre is always thrown in there every time, and the kids enjoy that, too. It gives them a bit more freedom and a bit of fun. So, yeah, try to cover a few. It just depends on what I see in front of me for the year and what class I've got.

Jackie – Fantastic music theatre is my favourite style when I'm talking drama when I'm talking music. Now when I'm talking, dance, love, love, love, music theatre, it's my home away from home. So I'm glad that you've thrown that in. I love how you've spoken about giving the students in your classroom or how it increases engagement when students in your classroom are sort of allowed to be the experts. They are allowed to show people what they're, they're strong at. What styles of dance they're strong at. Amelia, do you have the same sort of abilities as the students in your classes? They're just the expert and show off their various styles of dance that they're stronger?

Amelia – Our student's interests really differ. What I do find is that the students really do love commercial dance. And so when we look at year 10 history of dance, firstly ballet, than contemporary, and then we move into jazz. So I like to look at both ends of, um, contemporary and jazz. So starting with the pioneers of contemporary dance, and exposing then to Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, but then moving into the commercial contemporary that we see today. But I also ensure that I go and take open dance classes so that I'm constantly up-skilling and that the movements I bring to them interest them. But yes, they definitely take in turns teaching skills to the class that we can integrate into our class performances, mainly in contemporary and then commercial jazz.

Jackie – So you've both talked about some of the co-curricular programs you run, particularly in Stage four, as you don't have, like actual dance classes in Stage four. So I'm wondering if you have an opportunity to introduce some of those elements of the syllabus through these programs that you do? Some terminology, like your elements of dance or some safe dance practice ideas in that. Shea, are you able to talk to your programs first?

Shea – Yeah, I definitely do introduce those elements. It's probably a much simpler idea of them. It might more just be about mainly that performance quality that uses projection or that quality of line and extending through the lens and things like that. I do talk about safe dance practice quite a lot. It doesn't matter what year it is, but you know, just as simple as, like, take your socks off the floor's really slippery. You see, they still understand why we make those choices and why we do those things even earlier on. I'm fortunate with my extracurricular. It's just it's the only way that I would get electives up by running extracurricular ensembles in years seven and eight. And unfortunately, it doesn't fit on a timetable. Um, so I'm here every morning at eight o'clock to run those ensembles to try and make sure that this program keeps building it at Orange high school. But I also utilize some senior students to do that, especially the kids coming through Stage six dance or those in Stage five that I know will go through and do Stage six. I think it gives them a more significant opportunity for composition, choreographic movement, and the ability to teach other dancers. It builds those skills and confidence. And I think that those younger students, years seven and eight students actually look up to the senior students. I think, Oh, I want to be that person one day, and that gives me something to build towards for dance. So, yeah, I constantly have those conversations about safe dance practice and technique and performance quality. But it's nice for the kids to be taught by their own peers to give them that confidence and help build those skills.

Jackie – And Amelia, you even have the opportunity to be starting to build that language of dance and that interest in dance with your program for students in Year six. So can you tell us a bit of how that works and how you're able to start building in some of those syllabus ideas into your year six program?

Amelia – Yeah, so when students come to us on a Thursday, I have two hours with them to teach dance to them, which is really great. I usually focus one hour on performance and one hour on composition. Sometimes, if I have the space, I can do a short analysis with the students. I have a set warm-up that I change year to years. So I do that from 7 through to 12 and also with Project High School. So the language that I'm using as I described the movement, I'm really modelling the language of the syllabus. So as I'm explaining extending my arm out, completing the quality of line. So whilst I'm modeling that physically and verbally, they start to get familiar with these terms in High School. We start with performance, and I did work with them recently where they all had pillows. They did a lot of movement based on the floor and floor work in the contemporary style. So I was really able to build that foundation and focus on alignment, transfer of weight, and off-centred movements, which was really great in terms of composition. Move across to year seven. When I see year 7, 3 times of rotation during sport, I'm fortunate because I get to teach visual arts and music and English and dance at East Hills, so I can find many lovely cross-curricular opportunities. So year seven, for example, in English and in visual arts, we look at the symbolism, so visual techniques in English and then in visual arts we look at colour psychology with Matisse and how he uses colour to express emotion. So when I get those students in Year seven for dance, we look at the clip InsideOut, where her emotions are introduced for the first time, and they're associated with colours. And afterwards, we brainstorm.

And I think brainstorming on a whiteboard really visually for students before moving into a composition task is really helpful for them. So we categorize the emotions in colours, and we brainstorm the associated emotions. Then, the students need to create 3 to 4 shapes based on that emotion, and they generally are quite literal. But then, as we move through, I get them to experiment with varying levels, shapes changing the arms' pathways. After that, I get them to connect the movements together, and if I can extend it further, I'll get them to change the dynamic. Then there's a possibility there to partner, up to them up. So they've done that as a solo, we can partner them up and go through complementary and contrasting shapes so we could partner to different emotions and talk about how they can interact together as

Jackie – You must be very busy, Amelia, if you're teaching visual arts, music, English, plus being the dance coordinator and doing all of that extra curricula, plus your dance classes in Stage five and six.

Amelia – Yeah, I'm swamped, but I'm sure you can tell I'm passionate. I absolutely love it. And I think that to be honest, I think this is the life of every dance teacher. It usually is just one of us. So, yeah, I think that's yeah, the reality of choosing this subject at uni.

Jackie – Sometimes I know, I'm going to refer to the drama podcast that we recently released, and they said, It's sometimes a blessing and a curse. As we're talking about before the podcast, it's hard because you're not. You don't have people to bounce off, but I guess you do get to really know your students and because particularly you're giving. Given that you're in Stage four teaching across a range of subjects, you're really getting to know them and be able to integrate their learning. Something that I think is really important in dance is obviously being able to communicate various ideas. You've touched on emotions from the inside out as well. And I love that movie, how it breaks down emotions for people or for Children. Can you talk about how you can get that out of students, how you can use sort of scaffold or give them opportunities to be able to communicate and express themselves through their composition and through their performance in dance.

Shea – I think composition. When you look at the elective itself, I'd say that most kids mostly struggle with composition. This is probably a broad statement, but especially for those kids with incredible technique and performance quality and who have been dancing their whole lives. It's tough for them to personalize an abstract movement, and I think that's probably the first struggle they face. It was having to be about something they had to create a concept, intent, and motif that movements manipulated. So I focus on that use of stimulus, and even though you may visually see something, that gives you an idea. If we delve a little bit deeper and what else can we get out of that idea? Um, and the stimulus is purely only that, just a stimulus. How else can we convey through what we want to show the audience and those just really simple or not straightforward? But you know, those tasks with just working with space. So I could really be saying, with the use of a shape, typical weeds. And then we're going to extend through that and then extend through that, and I like to kind of give them a whole heap of different ideas, to begin with. You know what? We might start with brainstorm things that people want to dance about or how they're feeling, or what the thing today or what they've heard.

Auditory is always an exciting one, too. Suppose you're all laid down, and you're close your eyes and listen. In that case, the amount of different answers you get from that and what people are actually tuning into is quite interesting. To see what the kids are hearing and what they're focusing on. That ability, then for them to convey what they're feeling and what they're listening to or what they're seeing into movement, I think, is where they start to struggle a little bit. That kind of simple shapes into that transition of moving that movement through a phrase or a sequence gets them moving. And I think sometimes the roadblock is what you know. They get to a certain point, and then they kind of get this roadblock, and they get stuck. So I think having them work as pairs, so you need nine. For example, we do a compositional task where it's as a group task, and we may. It's around the stimulus of a fairy tale. So everyone knows fairytales. Everyone has their favourite. Everyone can then piece together from a character they like and want to convey all the storyline - the underlying storyline coming. There's so much to look at regarding what's happening within the fairy tale that they can pull enough from. Then when it gets to year 10, we do like art as a stimulus creating, looking at artwork, finding a painting or a photograph or a statue or a sculpture that they discover that they're really connecting with. And then we look at that in the depth of what can we convey through that? What does that say? What do we want the audience to see? And once they can move past that, well, I don't know what I'm dancing about. Like once, they kind of get that concept intent. They can move past that the movement becomes more accessible and more personalized if they can. They can connect with that concept or that intent they're trying to convey, so that makes it easier for them to do that.

Jackie – Fantastic. Amelia, do you have any go to activities to get students to really communicate through their dance composition?

Amelia – Yeah, I agree with Shea that composition definitely is something that students struggle with. Most notably, I find students exposed to dance as the studio culture, which is really just showcasing technical strengths. When students come in year seven, if they are involved in the extracurricular dance opportunities, I'm constantly modelling composition. I get them involved in that choreographic process, showing them my starting point and my stimulus. I show them how I arrive at a motif. Then I give them choreographic tasks they need to complete either in groups or as a solo. They're constantly feeding back and sharing this movement. After weeks of generating that movement as a class, we then start to pick and select and refine that movement. First in the extracurricular program is really good for students because when they hit my class in year nine, they already know what a motif is. And they already know a bit of how to manipulate movement. Exploration and improvisation for students can be really scary, primarily if you use the word 'improvisation'. When I started at East Hills in 2018, the students were absolutely terrified to improvise. If I said that word back if looks could kill honestly like they just they really dislike it. So I got to the point where I have to turn the lights off, shut the curtains, get them to spread out as much as possible. So I started to think, how can I change and shift this culture around improvisation. So I have an incursion that happens in term four of every year. Um, students who choose dance in year eight who are about to do it in year nine of the following year are invited and all of the students in elective dance. So I usually get a youth dance company to come, and they go through composition, basics and tasking. And that's a pleasant, safe and supportive environment for students to experiment and know that it's not attached to a grade or an outcome. But they just get to play and explore. So when they come in year nine that they're asking me, can we do what we did last year? They're really keen to do improvisation.

Jackie – One last question on what you teach in Stage five is: 'Could you tell us about a task you have designed for your Stage five students that really starts to prepare them for the Stage six course?' Either in terms of performance, composition or appreciation? And how you bring out the elements of dance and safe dance practice with them.

Shea – My probably favourite topic or unit that I do in your term is actually dance for film. So I've only started doing this perhaps in a bit more in the last couple of years. Dancer film was becoming more prominent in a major study choice for students in Stage six. It has so many elements in it that the students have worked towards already. It allows them to just have a little snapshot or a little bit of a blanket at what another opportunity could be for them into Stage six with a major study. So obviously, it incorporates all of your dance technique safety. It's practice and performance quality.

The kids need to move; they need to be dancing. You need to see movement. But then they're also incorporating those compositional skills into creating this work. You know, they're choosing a concept intent. They're looking at motif. They're driving all of their phrases from that motif, manipulating those elements of dance for that to happen. Then they have put all of their film elements and components into that as well. I start with teaching those simple camera angles. We look at other dance works, professional works, or prescribed all prescribed works that we'll break down and look at why those angles have been used and what they're conveying to the audience. We discuss how we would use that angle or that shot that we're choosing to do while the lighting or setting they've decided to do. And we kind of incorporate their dance analysis and all of those performance and composition elements into that. The kids love it. They love being in front of the camera. Most of their life these days is what their phone in their hand and filming each other. So I feel like it brings us back from the tik toks and actually brings us back into that engagement of movement that they need to be creating from my teeth and from concept intent. And it also allows them to kind of show off a bit of their technique, and they're safe dance practice as well.

Jackie – And Amelia, have you got a go-to task or a favourite task that you'd like to share with us? That sort of starts to prepare your students in Stage five for Stage six?

Amelia– As we move towards the end of year 10 dance in terms before, I like to teach students the core performance dance that the HSC students have just finished performing. So the girls have seen the HSC class perform their work at Virtuoso. So when I tell them that they're going to learn if they get really excited and then from there, I really like to model the interview process through the Journal. So the Journal is backwards mapped from Stage six all the way through Stage five, really modelling what kind of interview response is expected of them in court performance. We discuss three or four body skills within the dance that they have learned, and then write into a shared Google document, analyzing the use of safe dance, dance technique and performance quality. This helps them understand the links across the syllabus with dance technique and performance quality and how alive and affects the quality of line, strength, flexibility, control, that kind of thing,

Jackie – I love that they're going to learn something that they've seen the other students doing. I'm sure they would get very excited about that. My final question for you both today is why dance is important to your students in your school?

Shea – I think it is essential to the students because I believe it allows them to have a creative outlet. It will enable them to have something that they love doing. They're passionate about that they can move their bodies every day, mainly depending on timetabling. But mostly, you see them every day, and it just gives them that opportunity to have that creative outlet and express themselves through dance. And I think that really helps when it comes to the stresses of other subjects or just teenage life in general. I think it gives them that out.

Jackie – I love that it gives them that creative outlet, and it's a de-stress as well. We all know that movement produces endorphins, and that's happy people. And so I really love that dance allows them to do that. Amelia, why is Dance Important to your students at East Hills girls?

Amelia – The girls are very passionate about dance. A lot of them come already with a dance background. Even the students who don't have a dance background will love it as soon as they are exposed. They come back to the studio again and again. They love getting up on stage and performing for their parents, and I also feel like students. They build their resilience in dance. In other subjects, like in English, for example, they write their essay they go, I'm done and getting them to work at something it can be really challenging. Whereas when they come into the dance classroom, they know that it's an ongoing process, and they want to do better than what they did yesterday. And I don't have to say that to them. That's something that they want. And so, yeah, that passion and that drive really radiate through them. And I really believe that this course really fosters that resilience. It promotes a hardworking mindset that you can then take into the rest of your life. This HSC course built the person I am today and me. It's so beautiful, and you can see those kids touched by this course, and you know that they're on that path and that journey within their life; they're going to continue to work hard because of dance.

Jackie – That is beautiful. I really love how you've connected with your own study of dance there. It is clear how important that was to you and clearly that passion drives through and overflows to your students. Shea and Amelia, thank you so much for joining us today and taking some time to share what you do in your schools and the tasks you do with your students in your schools. I know you're both very busy being the sole dance teacher in your schools, running all of these extra programs. But I'm sure your students really appreciate what you do. And hopefully, our listeners today will also appreciate the time you've taken to share a bit of what you do with us today. So thank you very much for joining the creative cast podcast.

Shea and Amelia – Thank you so much for having us.

Jackie – This podcast was brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team of Secondary Learners Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales. Department of Education. Get involved in the conversation by joining our statewide staff room through the link in the show notes or email our Creative Arts Curriculum Advisor Cathryn Horvat at The music for this podcast was composed by Alex Manton and audio production by Jason King.


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