Sharing Stories

Hey guys,

I’m looking for stories. Your stories to be specific. See, one of the things I love about dance is that it’s different for everyone but there’s no right or wrong way to be a dancer. So I’m interested in your stories of being a dancer.

I’m looking for people who might like to be interviewed, but also people who might like to write about their experiences, or write articles themselves. I’d also love to feature bloggers too, so f you’re interested leave a comment on the bottom of the page, or email me – briejessenvaughan @ icloud.com (just take out the spaces).

Exciting News

So, it is with much excitement that I write this blog post. Because, guess what? Classes have started at The Dance Well Centre. That’s right! This super-exciting BIG dream I’ve had for ages has finally become a reality. I only have two classes running at the moment, but it’s a start and it’s awesome. My students are fantastic, and I’m loving having the freedom to teach my own curriculum.

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With all the lesson planning, accounts doing and admin required, blogging has gone out the window a bit, so I’m hoping to get back into this more soon. I’ve got some more playlists lined up (what can I say, I love music!), plus some product reviews and articles. I’m also looking to profile some awesome dancers too – so if you think you might interested let me know.

 

Choosing how to Dance

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post, so I though it was time for an update. One of the things I’ve missed most is just writing from a personal point of view – and this is at least part of what I always intended this blog to be – so here we go!

To say life has been busy lately would be an understatement, but it’s a wonderful, full kind of busy, the kind that makes you really happy, rather than stressed or worked up. My darling son is growing well, and already loves dancing. At 14 weeks it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of dancing, but if I were to hazard a guess I’d have to say it looks like he’s got the Irish jig pretty well down pat!

Of course having a wee one has meant a lot of changes for me as a dancer. At the moment it isn’t really viable for me to take a regular technique class in the evenings, having been at work all day. It’s really difficult to commit to a fixed time and day every week, so instead I’m going to take local drop in classes when I can – ideally once a week. Luckily I live in a city full of awesome classes, and I’m actually pretty excited about the variety this will give me. Classes I’m planning on taking include: advanced open ballet with Raise (led by some of the RNZB dancers!), senior open ballet at The New Zealand School of Dance, advanced jazz at the Whitireia Theatre, Xtend Barre (ballet meets pilates) and Melt Method (pilates meets myfascial release) classes at The Mat Class, and possibly even some aerial yoga at JoYogAerial. All in all I think it’s going to work out really well being able to have so much diversity.

Of course I’m still dancing at school – this term we’re working on our Stage Challenge entry assisted by 5 lovely year 9s who have just left us for college, and I have to say I’m looking forward to working with them again. I’ll also be coaching aerobics too which is always fun. I’ve still got big plans for The Dance Well Centre and classes will hopefully start soon, once we have the numbers. So there’ll definitely be plenty of teaching going on!

Combine this with some independent practice and stretching and I think I should have enough dancing to keep me happily occupied without taking me away from my family too much.

Developing Leadership through Dance

Just last week I took a couple of my students – 2 year sevens and 1 year eight mentor to see Stage Challenge. (If you don’t know what Stage Challenge is check out their website here – it’s an awesome student-led design, dance and drama performance for teens). Although it was an awesome opportunity to see some fantastic dancing, the bit I loved the most was seeing young people develop their leadership through dance. Those on stage certainly, but also my own students who were watching.

At my school we have students for two years before they head off to college (high school), so our time is pretty limited. As part of our developing performing arts programme we offer Stage Challenge and a Production in alternating years. Last year we did Stage Challenge for the first time (mine, as well as the school’s). This year it’s production’s turn.

We did extremely well in Stage Challenge, especially considering we were competing against colleges and scored high marks in several distinguished categories. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that we did well, but I was much more interested in what the students took away from Stage Challenge than any awards we had won. So what was it the kids took away? Well, the biggest thing I noticed was confidence. Confidence in themselves for the participating students, and confidence in their leadership skills for the student leaders, which is what I want to focus on today. It’s also the very reason I took students to see Stage Challenge this year.

Those of us who have grown up in the traditional model of dance classes outside school hours, working towards and passing exams in a set syllabus, might find the idea of developing leadership through dance a little odd. Many of us have never really had the opportunity or occasion to do so. But I have found that the reality is dance is the perfect place to develop leadership skills, if only we broaden our understanding of what teaching dance is about. Fortunately for me, New Zealand has a fantastic dance curriculum that does just that!

Opportunities for students to develop, share and teach their own choreography enable dance students to take ownership of their dancing. This is so important and moves dance beyond the traditional transmission model of teaching. Creating a dialogue between teacher and students has let me help my dancers develop the confidence in their own ideas. I love it when my students suggest better ways of doing things, easier footwork or more creative choreography. It’s awesome that they feel they can say actually this step doesn’t flow into the next as well as if you put it the other way around or went left instead of right. This dialogue and confidence my students have that their own ideas are both valid and valued is building their leadership skills, not to mention their self-confidence.

Whether they realise it or not, I sure have. I already knew my year 8s were great choreographers and most of them pretty good leaders (I’ve got two stand-outs though who I’ve asked to co-choreograph the production dances with me) since I’ve already taught them for a year and a half. What I didn’t expect was how quickly my year 7s would be ready for a leadership challenge. Having taken the two girls to see Stage Challenge, and discussing with them and their year 8 mentor what worked and was/wasn’t effective in the performances we saw, I could see they were rapidly growing in the capacity and desire to step into those choreographic leadership roles. What I didn’t expect was that they would just totally embody that the following day at rehearsal for production, jumping on every suggestion and building on it from there. And it was contagious, once one started they all got going and half a dance built itself just like that!

These year sevens will go on to be our Stage Challenge choreographers and student leaders next year. This will see them standing alongside year 12 and 13 students at the big competition and I small though they are I know they’ll hold their own. Because being a leader in dance is not about how much dance you know, it’s about how hard you’re willing to work, how creative and critical-thinking you are, how patient you are, being willing to continue learning (all the time!) and most of all how much you believe in yourself.

By valuing my students’ contributions right from the get-go, I can see their peers start to follow my lead and value them too, and I know that this helps students see that their own ideas have value, in turn building confidence.

Why Dance?

It took me many years to grow into myself as a dancer. Part of that was physically growing into the grace of my own body as a teenager, part  was finding a style that was truly me, and part was finding my own ‘voice’ so that I could communicate my stories and ideas to others. Of course, I’m really still growing into myself as a dancer and don’t expect I’ll ever actually stop.
As a teenager, my dancing was a case of you-name-it-I-did-it, except for hiphop. That just never seemed to work. It wasn’t until I was at university and took a contemporary class that I found a style I could really get on well with. I never held any high aspirations of being a dancer professionally or teacher. I just loved to dance.
But even when you love something, you can be exhausted by it. So I quit dancing and it took me 5 years to go back. That was almost two years ago. And I have my students to thank for it. They reminded me what it is to love dancing for the pure joy of it, and now I wonder how I did without it for those 5 years.
Since getting back into dance and doing more of it with my own students, I have found myself beginning to make plans and set goals. Never having aspired to be a professional dancer, it has taken me a while to find my niche in dance. But if the last few years have taught my anything, it’s that teaching dance is something I’m passionate about and want to do more of.

I’m a big believer in the power of dance to inspire us and give us something to aspire to; and this is what I love about working with my students at school. Some aspire to be professional dancers one day, but most dance simply because they love it, because they can’t imagine not dancing. I’m constantly in awe of my students, and their passion has reinvigorated my own.

I don’t know where my dance-teaching journey will lead, but, after all, it’s the journey not the destination that really counts isn’t it?