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Why getting your pupils dancing could be more important than you think

05.09.18

What images cross your mind when you think of dance?

As the two young women in the video below describe, dance is simply a form of movement that helps people to “sense and understand the world around them, communicate …, experience, and just be.”

And if all that sounds a bit ‘woo woo’, in more practical terms dance in education can help pupils in a number of ways. They can develop self and body awareness, build confidence and self-esteem, manage stress, develop acceptance of themselves and their bodies, and learn to work with others. So learning those skills and behaviours as a child could be transformative for many pupils.

Tip: watch the video at 5.45 minutes in, 11 mins in, and 19.11 minutes in, for movement exercises you could try with your class

Rubicon Dance, based in Nora Street, Cardiff, are specialists in enabling all young people to dance. Their ‘secret weapon’ is that they are not ‘dance teachers’ as such – but are community artists, bringing out, and building on people’s creative ideas, and giving equal priority to social/personal outcomes, alongside learning artform skills.

We spoke to Kathryn Williams, Director of Rubicon, to find out how they can help teachers and schools:

What’s so great about dance?

Dance is the only artform that’s made up of people, and needs nothing else. My ‘tweenage’ son believes that everyone is dancing all the time and people don’t realise it!

That’s a good thing to remember – we all have our own body language, and so anybody can dance. We have to leave aside our set ideas about who does dance, where it happens, how it happens.

Dance is on the national curriculum, as part of PE, but I think a lot of schools may not do it because perhaps they don’t feel confident – and that’s where we come in.

For pupils, a dance session is a point in the week when they can use their imagination. They can also learn important life skills – solving problems, creative thinking, and working co-operatively with their peers. There’s also a wellbeing element – not just physical, but also confidence, self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.

And it’s particularly useful when you need something to transcend barriers like language – for example, if there are lots of different home languages or if pupils have additional needs, or just diverse learning styles.

If a school is interested in introducing dance to their pupils, how can you help?

We can offer either regular curriculum time or after school dance sessions, as well as one-off special projects and workshops.

We always start with a meeting with the school to find out what they need, what their ideas and challenges are, and then work out together what would work best and what outcomes we want to achieve. So each programme tends to be bespoke.

What sort of programmes might a school expect you to develop for them?

We can develop something around the school’s and pupils’ interests, devise programmes around a particular theme from the curriculum, or create something to address specific challenges or situations – for example, if the school has a problem with bullying or co-operation between children; or if the pupils speak a range of languages or have additional needs. Dance is very inclusive and is a fantastic medium for overcoming many barriers.

What does a typical first dance session in a school involve?

Well what we don’t do is rock up and start trying to teach particular dance styles! We work creatively with the young people.

So we’ll start with a warm up, and then get people moving. That might involve creative games … people almost don’t realise they’re dancing! If there’s a theme we might theme the games. Then they get to offer creative moves of their own, we might stand in a circle and then go around passing moves around and these can be very simple. Then there may be a theme we want to explore, like Bonfire Night or Romans or another aspect of the curriculum.

Then gradually pupils get to create own material individually or in small groups, to practice it, work out the dances, then at end of class get to share and give each other feedback, then the class finishes with a cool down.

We always ask that teachers and TAs are present in our sessions. Sometimes they’ll join in, but they don’t have to. We can run CPD if that’s of interest.

How long are the programmes?

We can come in for a one-off workshop, for weekly sessions for a term or an academic year, or even longer. We’ve run weekly sessions at Adamsdown Primary for 38 years! We think it’s the longest continuous provision of dance in a school in the UK – but we’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows different!

We also hold an annual schools dance festival at St David’s Hall. This year it involved 64 schools and all three nights sold out! We love it, because it’s about young people inspiring young people.

What is unique about what you do?

Firstly, we come from a community arts perspective and therefore are all about facilitating pupils’ creativity rather than teaching them particular styles of dance or dances.

Secondly, our practice never stands still. We’re really good at innovation and that rubs off on the schools we work with, and the pupils. Creative thinking runs through what we do, and the way we think and work.

Currently we’re working on how we’re going to work in the new curriculum in Wales, integrating dance across the whole curriculum. So in September, we’re working with one school to look at how we can use dance outside of a dance lesson – and we’ll have the freedom to experiment, before we roll it out to more schools.

The other thing that’s quite unique is that we offer pupils other ways to get involved outside school. We offer a range of young people’s classes across the week at our base. And then we also have classes in other locations like The Riverfront, Newport and Penarth Pavilion. In time, following a big fundraising campaign, we’ll be offering classes on the site of Roath Library, Newport Road, which we’ve just taken over.

If they’re really keen, we offer further progression routes such as our youth performance groups, and then our full-time BTEC dance course.

Photographer: Sian Trenberth.

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