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King of the dance

Rebecca Curtis, Head of Dance at Ipswich High School, looks at how dance can help pupils find their feet in the working world

Posted by Alice Savage | June 05, 2017 | Sports & Leisure

The Duchess of Cambridge hit the headlines this month by announcing that Prince George will take ballet classes when he starts school. The Duchess of Cambridge recognises the value that dance brings not only to the cultural and educational needs of a child; but also that it teaches us about discipline and empathy. Above all, she wants George to be more than a set of academic results or inevitably an heir to the throne.

Unfortunately, the main academic artery that is severed, when making options, is the Arts subjects. 

I also read an article this week about Akram Khan and how dance shaped his youth, education and his view on its place in society. It was a really fascinating read and a quote which stood out to me the most was: “In my mind, dance sits somewhere between athletics and art. It’s not just about physical capabilities, you’ve got to have technique, you have to be poetic. You have to be violent and aggressive, you’ve got to be able to tell a story. Athletes and artists are constantly at the edge, and that is where life exists. Everything other than that is just pretending to live.” 

Despite all the research that proves that an Arts subject improves overall academic performance; the part people underestimate is that it also gives you the ‘real-world’ skills like communicating and problem-solving. There is also the ‘blue sky thinking’ that corporate companies expect their employees to have. How are they supposed to innovate, sell or present if they have not had an opportunity to work creatively?  

What will become of the world we live in if we keep bashing the Arts and trying to eradicate them from our children’s education and eventually their lives? Where will our next generation of dancers, singers, writers or artists come from if we continue to prevent them from studying these subjects? How will, what is currently, one of the largest revenue industries in the country survive if the next generation believes the only way you can be deemed successful is to have a set of A and A* STEM subjects? 

No amount of robots or technology will be able to provoke a reaction, interact or feel as we humans can, especially when it comes to stimulating our senses through media, art, design, music and dance. 

When it comes to starting a career, many employers will be interested in applicants’ characteristics, skills and personalities. They will be asking: will you fit into the team? Can you think on your feet? How will you cope in the boardroom? Are you going to promote your business and make it thrive? Are you going to convince the judge your client is innocent? In my opinion, those with a creative background will stand a great chance; it will open more doors than it is ever going to close. A broad and balanced curriculum is always going to allow a child to be the most successful version of themselves. I am also confident this is why Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge have chosen a school, which embraces all subjects for George. We are also fortunate here at Ipswich High School for Girls to have a broad and balanced curriculum from ballet to Latin, GCSE Dance to A-level Geology is on offer to every girl from the age of three to 18. 

We have just had the first cohort of GCSE and A-level dancers take their practical elements of their exams just before Easter. I am immensely proud of what they have achieved, in view of the work expected from them. The GCSE dancers have four practical assessments before they even make it to the exam hall. Our dancers were required to accurately replicate and perform a set piece of work as a solo, to research and create a dance based on a stimulus, to use existing material from a professional dance to then create a brand new solo and finally perform as part of a group using key features of a professional work. This does not even include the hours of evidence recording, noting down and then demonstrating the ways they have used feedback to improve their work, written programme notes or deconstructed motifs. All of this, and they still have to sit a written paper based on their knowledge and understanding of choreography, performance and their ability to analyse professional dance works; commenting on the effectiveness of how not only the movement content is important in helping to convey the choreographer’s intent, but also all of the other features of production too. It is exhausting listing it all and I have not even touched on the A-level yet! 

The point I guess I’m trying to make is to look at all the skills they are developing: real, transferable, useful skills that will set them apart in university applications, job interviews, sales pitches, speeches and life or death situations in an operating theatre. Yet, it is deemed by some to be a ‘soft option’, however, ask any of the girls that have just taken their exams if they feel they took the soft option, I’m sure they would put you straight! 

As the dance department here at Ipswich High School continues to grow, I am proud to know I am helping young girls grow more confident, have fun, learn more about themselves and the world around them. 

I also know that by them continuing to study the subject of dance, it is helping them to ‘future-proof’ their skills set. 

We never know what may be round the corner, and whilst it is unlikely to be sitting on the throne, it could be running the country. Whatever comes our way, at least our dancers can improvise their way around it.  

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