Transcript of Episode 6

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Julia Brennan:

I'm here today with Rebecca Divine. Now, Rebecca is a dance teacher extraordinaire who has worked in primary schools for a very long time and is now also working in some secondary schools as a dance teacher. And she brings to us a wealth of experience in dance in the classroom, which is fantastic. And we are so lucky to have her here today. Hi, Rebecca. And welcome.

Rebecca Devine:

Hi, Julia. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Julia:

Well, that's a pleasure. And I know you've been in the classroom all day today, so you're absolutely exhausted, but I'm going to make you push through all that pain and answer some fantastic questions. And let's have a great conversation about dance in the classroom so we can really help our teachers across the state out there, So thanks. No pressure, Rebecca. I know you can do it.

Rebecca:

[laughs]

Julia:

So, Rebecca, let's just find out a little bit about you before we talk about the generic dense education question here. But just tell us a little bit about your primary education journey. How did it start? What it looked like? A little bit about that.

Rebecca:

Okay. Well, I was first invited into a primary school as a specialist dance teacher and then fell in love with primary school teaching. So, I migrated into the K-2 classroom and then eventually became permanent. So was able to teach K-6. And it's been a wonderful journey.

Julia:

Thanks, Rebecca. That's exciting. And how did I guess? You're telling us a lot about you as an educator, and that's cool. But how did dance fit into the picture with you?

Rebecca:

Okay, so, um, the school that I started teaching I was very strong in the creative arts. We had myself a specialist dance teacher, and we had a music specialist teacher and a visual arts teacher. So weekly, each class would receive one dance lesson. We also had four ensembles, which was about 100 students, and they performed at regional and state levels such as dance festivals and state dance festivals and School Spectacular. So, we had a very strong dance culture in our school and it wasn't necessarily that the students were trained outside or attending dance lessons outside.

Julia:

That’s interesting

Rebecca:

We actually only had a few of the 100 students that attended. We had a strong… we had a boys’ ensemble and the class… the general class dance lessons. They loved it. They just lived for it each week and they got to compose movement and perform within their classes, but also for the whole school at assemblies and annual events. So, it was just a really creative buzz in this high school… [laughs]... in this primary school.

Julia:

That's amazing. That's really interesting what you just said then, about no dance outside the classroom, because I get people saying to me all the time, “Oh my school is really strong in dance,” but it's all things that the students are doing outside the classroom. So that's inspiring to hear your story that was inside the classroom.

Rebecca:

Yeah, and that's what I believe the dance curriculum is all about. It caters for the general… the general student. It's not for highly trained dancers at all. They actually get more creativity, I feel, out of our lessons that we teach in primary schools because they're not stuck in a box of technique and they get to really explore their creativity.

Julia:

Wow, you are giving me some nice prompts for our next little conversations. It's exciting, Rebecca. So, tell us why dance means so much to you?

Rebecca:

So, dance, I believe it's just vital in education, like I believe arts are. It promotes the 21st Century learning skills to think both creatively and critically. There's so much problem solving that's required in these tasks, especially working in groups. We set composition group tasks and it's really stressful for the kids to work as a team and to get through their task, and they work collaboratively. And it's just a really great interactive subject for them. It's vital for… I believe it's really vital for the growth of the individual student to express themselves. It improves their self-confidence and develops their performance skills. And I also think, just like any other creative arts in education, it engages the students to enhance their learning in all key learning areas. So, I found that they would come to their dance classes and really burn the energy and just really recharge their minds and then they would go back into the classroom more focused and able to achieve their learning goals in the classroom because of the opportunities that they're receiving from the creative arts, especially dance.

Julia:

Interesting. I'm just going to pull out a couple of little things you said there. So, one word you just used was ‘stressful’, working in collaboration. What did you mean by that?

Rebecca:

Because you've got sometimes groups of maybe 5 or 6 students, and they've got to solve the problems together. They're giving movement composition tasks and then there's… they're excited and it's all got to be equal. They've all got to have a voice and they've got… sometimes you can do some really challenging quick task, like give them a minute and then it explodes the class. The learning space explodes with… quickly children trying to communicate and solve the problem and then, all of a sudden, be ready to perform it. So, it can get a bit stressful for the kids. But they get through it and then there's a really great sense of achievement afterwards that they've been able to work through the teamwork.

Julia:

I guess once I've done it a few times the stress level would definitely decline. You've also hit on a couple of other words their ‘creativity’, ‘expression’ and ‘self-confidence’. So important! And what a fantastic way to develop those skills in our students. Alright, so I'm going to give you a little bit of a background to me and my first experiences in dance. I mean, I trained as a full-on ballerina as a child, and it wasn't until I was 13, and I realized that this career was just not going to happen for me. And I when I first started teaching, thought that's what dance education in the classroom meant. Now, obviously, I don't think that anymore and that was very swiftly changed by one of my very first school dance concert experiences.

And actually, it was a school very close to you and maybe it was your school, I don't know. But what blew me away was that every student in that school was involved in dance. Every student. It wasn't just an elitist thing for certain children who had learnt outside of school. And you've already talked about that. There was no giggling. There was no, you know, there were no frills. There was no sequins. There were no leotards, that's for sure. There was a story. There was expression. There's that word again. I was absolutely engrossed and so moved by those students and their performances. And we’re talking, this is a K-6 situation here. Why is dance so important for our students?

Rebecca:

I believe, specifically for dance, it is really inclusive for all students. It promotes their physical exercise and their self-expression, as I mentioned, their collaborative teamwork. And really find the challenges of the performing but the sense of achievement they get from performing is really important and it's just a really positive subject for them. I find it’s just so positive, especially because it's music as well, and you can do tasks in silence. But it's just a very high energy with the music. And of course, it's really great to select songs that are relevant for the students. But it's also very educational to use a wide range of genres. So that's why I think it's really important in education to have dance and especially the arts.

But when you're talking about the festival you went to, so I was working in the primary school, and then I mentioned we have the regional festival and I had the opportunity to join the committee there and become part of the production team, and so that was really wonderful. So, we had a lot of primary school and secondary teachers across the Sydney region that came together for an annual dance festival event. And I just was in that for a very long time and really just valued that event that we provided all the schools… and really promoted dance in schools because it had a performance outcome to then go and have all the parents attend and watch. It was great promotions for the school. But then, looking at the dance festivals more specifically, they are an equitable performance platform. And for all the teachers and the students of public schools, they built the capacity of our classroom teachers to step out of their comfort zone and to get ensembles together and to come and perform.

But then we had classroom teachers who have had… they were even studying dance as a student, and they've now found that there's a need for dance in their school, so they were able to start up dance ensembles. And then we even had normal classroom teachers who actually didn't have anything to do with dance but they were the organisers to bring in the external dance tutors to get these performances together. And we had… it fostered the accessibility in the arts for a range of students. So, we also could offer performance outcomes for students with special needs, from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and also refugee students. So, um, these public school dance festivals are fabulous. They're really wonderful.

Julia:

So, I think a lot of teachers out there, however, will still think that dance education is all about leotards and interpretive dance and tap shoes or something else like that, something that has to be done by an external provider or a specialist teacher or is only done in a festival. I want to blow that myth out of the water. I don't agree with that. I think we need to see dance in the classroom. Is it possible for a teacher who has limited experience in the art… will stop limited experience, limited knowledge and limited confidence in dance? Can they do it? And if so, how can they do it? Come on, blow that myth out of the water for me?

Rebecca:

Yes, absolutely. 100% they can. So, dance in education is not ‘eisteddfod dancing’. So, we are all about dance having a meaning and teaching the students to tell the story through movement. So, it is possible for the general classroom teacher with absolutely no training in dance to offer dance lessons. And I believe that everyone can dance. That's the dance teacher. I believe everyone can dance. So, then I therefore believe everyone can teach dance and because it is so inclusive that everyone can enjoy the benefits. And I have encouraged teachers in the past to realise that they can offer dance within their classroom. Just to take on the challenge of integrating dance into their programs. And it can be as simple as class rewards. Starting off just by saying, “Okay, if we get this work done today on the interactive whiteboard we will put on a ‘Just Dance’ video,” and we can all just copy that movement and then from that very simple integration of dance into your classroom, you can then move towards providing more dance lessons, like movement composition tasks in the school hall. You can even do dance in the playground. You know, you leave your socks and shoes on but you can do dance anywhere and you can do it within… safely within the classroom as well. And I have mentored classroom teachers to collaborate with their students in choreographing performance items.

So back to the dance festival we… I was doing professional learning for teachers, where I went in and with the actual class, not a dance ensemble, their class, we went through the very simple steps of creating a dance by collaborating together with the ideas the students explored. We structured the movement into the choreography. And there's such a rich resource of their creative minds that it can form the foundation of the movement vocabulary that you need for a performance. So, it's very about working with the students as well, not just saying, “Okay, I have to be the dance teacher at the front, and everyone has to follow me.” It's not about that at all.

Julia:

Fantastic. Thank you, absolutely agree. I think so many teachers get caught up in. I've got to demonstrate what this is going to be like and that's where their fear comes in. And they think, “I'm not going to do that!” It's absolutely not about that and I think that's one thing that I learned very early on to is the role of storytelling in all of this. So, speaking of that, and just sort of ways into all of this. What are some examples that you've used with classroom K-6 teachers to build their capacity in dance? Some of the lesson ideas that you perhaps could give to people who are listening to this thinking, “Okay, I wouldn't mind giving this a go.”

Rebecca:

Okay, yes. So, when working with classroom teachers to introduce their dance… to introduce teaching dance, I structured their lessons to start off with a warm up. Now this can be as general as walking around the room in various pathways. And then you can build it up; skipping, running, darting and dodging. So, you don't even, again, have to stand there and teach a dance warm up. The kids are warming up because you have directed them. Movement, direction; this is what it's all about. Then you get into a composition tasks where the students can work independently or in groups to create movement in response to a given stimulus. Again, you're standing there, you're pressing play, you're pressing pause. You're giving them the ideas and you're letting them move. And then each lesson concludes with performance and appreciation sessions. So, the students sit down. Each group performs for each other. You know, everyone has to clap. That's the rules.

And then we discuss, “did they achieve our task?” and “what did you appreciate about your friends’ performances?” So, we're very lucky in the department to have such amazing resources at our fingertips. Some dance teaching and learning online resources. So… which I have access to all the time. Teaching dance myself, as a specialist dance teacher, I've needed these resources myself. So, we've had amazing previous modules that we can access. But then, with the new selection from Move Ease, this has taken it to a whole new level. So, I've always directed the teachers… Just even recently, I was contacted by someone who is new to primary teaching dance and I've said, “go to these resources a starting point and they're going to just send you in the right direction. There's so much variety to work with.”

So, with the Move Ease modules we have Learning Across the Curriculum references so it will allow teachers to integrate other key learning areas, your units of work. So, you can actually start these modules and then build from them to make sure all the other key learning areas are filtering into these units. So, we have five themes with differential content from K-2 classes and 3-6 stages. So, these range from… just a couple of examples. We have the ‘Elements of Gamelan’ module, which responds to the stimulus of water, fire, earth and air elements. And then another module we have is called ‘Cyber Dance’ and that focuses on students designing a dance performance. So, they're really brilliant resources for the general classroom teacher to just tap into and it would be such a simple process to start teaching dance in your classrooms.

Julia:

Excellent. I'm really glad that you brought up Move Ease because it's been an ongoing project and something we've had work specially commissioned for, and we've got teaching and learning videos in there to support any teacher out there who might be feeling a little bit anxious. They can just throw those videos on and either work through them with their students or they can practice and study up on it before they go into the classroom if they'd rather do it that way. So, there's just so many possibilities with that and all those tracks are included as well and fantastic lesson ideas that are linked to the syllabus. So, one stop shop really? So that's exciting. You brought that up. So, a lot of people get confused and think, “okay, well, look, I'm doing dance in PDHPE. How is that different to creative arts?” What's your interpretation on that one?

Rebecca:

So, the PDHPE syllabus content differs to the creative arts syllabus by… it mainly just focuses on movement and performing rather than the creative composition and appreciation components. So, you know, in primary dance it's all about the students exploring movement. Um… the syllabus expectations is for the students to develop knowledge in performing, composing and appreciating dance through the elements of dance. And these are action, which is dynamics and time, space, relationships and structure. So that's what differs from the PDHPE, which is really about movement and the body. We’re like looking at all these other elements of composing dance, performing and appreciating in the dance.

Julia:

And that whole expressive side to tell the story as well.

Rebecca:

Yep, yeah.

Julia:

Thanks for clearing that up for us. Just before we finish up, there's one little thing that you touched on earlier that I think people might be interested in which is, you mentioned that you had the boys were really actively involved in one of your schools in dance. How do you… how do you get the boys involved?

Rebecca:

Yeah, well, it's just about games. You play a lot of games and, you know, they would still do their dance technique. But it was just a lot of fun for them. And I would… you know… what I'll choreograph, their dances would be obviously less feminine than… we had a senior girls’ ensemble, then we had a mixed junior and a mixed intermediate. And yeah, as I mentioned before, a lot of the teamwork, they really love that. But I think we're very spoiled at this school, in particular, because it was just a huge part of the dance culture there. And they… none of the boys trained really. We had like one boy who actually was very dedicated to his dancing and he's now a professional ballerina overseas. But that's one out of many, many hundreds of students that went through our dance program and still there now. So, it's more just about the element of fun and games and that's what a lot of the resources I mentioned get the kids to interact. And again, when you're not standing there as the dance teacher, “follow me and point your toes”. And the creative dancing is all about doing what your body is capable of and making shapes and just exploring different movement dynamics. So, it's not about a dance technique so much, and that's what I think really gets the boys involved and passionate about it.

Julia:

Yeah, that shapes and stories idea is really important. I think, actually catering to them in terms of the stories that they're telling through the dance as well. Something is interesting to them is really important. Just in wrapping up, you just spoke about a boy who obviously was so inspired by dance that ended up doing that as a career. And you know, that's fantastic. But I think a lot of people think, “I'm not going to do that as a career, so there's no point in doing it.” We all know that the arts is so important just for our functioning as humans in society and the way that we see and view and feel in our world. Why is the… why are the arts? I mean obviously, it’s dance, specifically for you. But why are the arts so important in your life both personally and professionally?

Rebecca:

Well, my mum got me into dance lessons because I was bouncing off the walls at home and I was just really hyperactive and had some pending behaviour issues. If she didn't get me burning my energy at dance classes, she was not going to get to control me. So that started with behaviour management, really, for me, but and also because I wouldn't stop dancing around the house and she put me into dance classes. As I grew up, I just got obsessed with performing. It's just quite a good adrenaline rush, and it was really great outlet for me. So, I was doing the eisteddfod dancing. There was the, you know, the bush dancing, partner dancing at primary school. I went to a high school that I was the only dance student there at all. And I was still training and my teachers were like, “well, we need you… you can't study dance here, but you can go to the local performing arts high school and you can do sport there and you can join their ensemble and you can go to the dance festivals and you can go to School Spectacular.” So, I was the one… my high school would be on the program, but I was the one student who's representing them.

And then I went to in Year 10, I heard about this contemporary dance student workshop, and I was I was going through a period where I was dancing on stages, all the eisteddfods and just going, “Why am I smiling? What am I doing on stage? I'm just smiling. I don't know why.” And then I went to this student workshop with the Contemporary Dance Company and they had the whole day was composing a dance to this audio track of a drama play. Just people talking, no music. And we had to create a dance to that and it blew my mind. And I was like, “What? Dance can actually mean something!” And then I was obsessed with that, and I immediately had my eyes on going to university and spent, I believe, the best three years of my life training full time in dance. And then I was yeah, just went… couldn't wait to get teaching dance, and just… it's so infectious. You just see the students and how free and how happy and how expressive they are. And it's such a positive learning environment. So, I just you do receive so much back from your students as well. And the benefits that you see that gives them for them their mental wellbeing and their health and their learning. So, it does become quite addictive, teaching dance. And you can really start to see the benefits for them.

Julia:

Fantastic. Thank you. Gosh, if that doesn't inspire people, I don't know what will. That was an amazing story. All right, just before we finish up, Rebecca. What's your advice for any teachers out there who might be struggling to make a start in their creative journeys, particularly in dance?

Rebecca:

Well, just give it a go and trust yourself and allow your students, their creativity, to lead your lessons. So even if you just mentioned, we're going to do a dance class today, I think the excitement from them… especially I think they all can. They're all really knowledgeable on the ‘Just Dance’ videos now. So even just start with that, just pop that on as a reward and go from there. So, you know, tap into those brilliant department resources. They will give you the confidence and the support that you need to get outside of your comfort zone and good luck.

Julia:

All right. Well, look, thank you so much for your time today. Fantastic talking to you. And we hope we can chat again soon and I'm hoping all the teachers out there listening will be inspired to start their dance journey in the classroom. And look at all those resources on the website that are available. So really nice spending time with you again, the wonderful Rebecca Divine. And everybody out there listening, if you’ve loved listening to this podcast, make sure that you subscribe. And we'll talk again very soon. Thanks again, the magnificent Rebecca Divine.

Rebecca:

Thanks. Julia.

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