Report on the ‘New Approaches to Dance Training’ Atelier

Annette van Zwoll reflects on the European Dancehouse Network Atelier on Dance Training, curated by Dr Jenny Roche and organised at Dance Ireland in Dublin on 29/30 June 2018.

‘The first teacher you encounter is the most important one’

‘The first teacher you encounter is the most important one. It’s the person that brings you love for dance, or destroys it. It’s in those first classes where careers start or not.’ This is said on the second day of the ‘EDN Atelier: New approaches to dance training’, and it seems to be very true. The first teacher, but also all teachers coming after that are crucial in the development and infrastructure of dance, on a recreational as well as on a professional level.

Since September 2017 a wound in the infrastructure in Ireland has healed. Because then, Ireland opened it’s doors to the very first bachelor of dance, avoiding dancers to leave the country to study and inviting international students be part of the Ireland infrastructure. It’s an important momentum, as curator Jenny Roche of this event stats, and of high importance to build a healthy dance ecology again after the sector was that was hit heavenly by the cultural cuts in the first decade of the century. The BA also underlines the talent and potential of the Irish dance community and potentially contributes to the support, accessibility and structure of dance in Ireland.

Dancers and teachers from primary schools to universities have gathered in Dublin to discuss the challenges of education and of creating a healthy dance infrastructure, with healthy participants in it. As a strong reminder of how it should not be, and how vulnerable students can become, is shared by independent dancer Ailish Maher, who, within the context of educational systems, got a lower self-esteem, felt unsafe and grew eating disorders while being cheered upon her thinness. A nightmare no one wants to be responsible for.

‘How to navigate between the longing for self-reflection and critical thinking and at the same time educate versatile, quality dancers?’

A simple structure of remedy is not available to counter all complexities related to the dance field. Individual teachers as well as students deal with institutions, dogmas and a market that is often based on neo-liberal ideologies. How to resist, deal or work with that? How to create a creative space for playfulness and thinking when you need to account for concrete outcomes, grades and diplomas? How to deal with individual questions and talents of students within a systemised organisation? How to assess fairly? How to navigate between the longing for self-reflection and critical thinking and at the same time educate versatile, quality (and what is that?) dancers?

Former dancer and teacher Ursula Robb shares anecdotes on her different experiences as an educator in New Zealand and Denmark. In New Zealand, every attempt of hers to encourage critical thinking, a softening of the body and slowing of time was opposed, while in Denmark self-reflection, body-awareness and critical thinking were highly valued. But here, the students could hardly find a job after their studies because of their bodily limitations. How to navigate between those extremes?

‘Triggering curiosity, stay curious yourself’

Nurturing talent, taking care of students, providing different pathways, giving time and space to play and securing proper dance training. Combining creative practice with intelligent practice (which includes intelligence of the body) with craftsmanship of dancing and making. Triggering curiosity, stay curious yourself. Being aware of the world around you, outside of the educational system but also outside of the dance world, and inflicting this awareness on students. It’s all part of the job.

I was inspired and impressed by the energy, expertise, dedication, intelligence and perseverance of the educators in the room. I am also highly impressed by the current dance students and the broadness of skills that they need to commit to. But how to do all this, how to engage with the above?

You can find inspiration in the methodologies some dance pioneers presented as part of this Atelier:


Annette van Zwoll

Annette van Zwoll is an independent dance dramaturge, text writer and international project developer from the Netherlands, living in Berlin. Among others, she is engaged with Bitter Sweet Dance / Liat Waysbort as artistic associate and works for Uferstudios: a site for contemporary dance. Her interests are broad, but she has a soft spot for topics like gender, age and cultural structures that influence our way of thinking.

Picture: Lucy Dawson