A Quick Update

It’s been a while since I posted anything. Sorry about that! But I do have a very good reason, several in fact! I’ve been busy dancing, learning about dance, trying new movement techniques and getting lots of awesome new content sorted for DanceWell. On top of that we also had a fabulous photoshoot with a gorgeous young dancer L. Sneak peeks coming soon!

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Pretty much my life these holidays!

Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to over the school holidays dancewise:

  • Photoshoot: Knowing that I needed some great photos for the blog I enlisted the help of two awesome people – my amazing mother Marilyn Jessen to take photos and my friend and gorgeous young dancer L. to model for me. Naturally I got roped in to do more than just direct the photoshoot, so some of the pics are mine and if you’re lucky you may even see a few pictures of me too! Mum and I also had a great time taking spontaneous dance shots on the beach too! (Not as easy as it looks…)
  • British Ballet Organisation Concourse: This definitely deserves it’s own post, but in short I spent 3 days taking and observing classes at the BBO course at the New Zealand School of Dance. This included a stretch class, a teachers’ class for ballet focusing on posture and alignment, learning about how neurodynamics can help you be a happy and healthy dancer with less aches and pains (more coming soon on this), watching senior dancers demonstrate the new Coppelia Theatre in Dance Award and finally an awesome mime and gesture workshop with legendary dancer Sir John Trimmer.
  • Swan Lake: Although I was away for most of the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s 60th Anniversary celebrations, I did make it back in time to see Gillian Murphy in Swan Lake. Those 32 fouettés are even more amazing live!
  • First Aid: While this isn’t really dance – dance is the reason it’s so important to me to have a current first aid certificate, which I now do thanks to my school!
  • MELT Method: Finally, I did an awesome workshop with former dancer and now pilates instructor Cat Eddy of The Mat Class on the MELT Method, which is a self-massage technique to manage pain and discomfort caused by dehydrated connective tissue. It was just an introduction class but I’m hooked. (More coming on this too!)

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So all in all it’s been a busy holidays. I did manage some down time too and catch up with friends and family. I’m looking forward to getting back to school, back into my own dance classes and getting really stuck in to our school production which is on in 4 weeks!

Now it’s your turn! Did you manage to fit any dancing into your school holidays?

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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.

What is DanceWell?

I’ve blogged for a long time and I’ve danced for a long time too, so in many ways DanceWell is the inevitable collision of the two. Having come back to dance as an adult and as a teacher, my sense of dance and understanding of the powerful role it can play in creating wellness has changed the way I view dance.

Having the benefit of seeing dance as a curriculum subject within the New Zealand schooling curriculum and over a decade of traditional syllabus based dance class experience, I wanted to find a way to marry the two. So I decided to tackle my biggest dance challenge yet – getting my teaching Licentiate for Ballet, while developing my school’s co-curricular dance programme.

Both of these have been a huge source of satisfaction for me, but have challenged me immensely to develop my understanding of dance pedagogy (teaching practice), dance theory, ballet and contemporary technique, dance history and, perhaps the most interesting to me, dance wellness.

So what is DanceWell? For now, it’s a creative space – a combination and a culmination of my learning and research. A place to share our stories of what it means to be dancers, and what it means to dance well, as well as advice on how to develop dance wellness.