Research

explore and participate in research

So… what’s this PhD about?

If reading 283 pages of academic writing isn’t your jam (I wouldn’t hold it against you) here’s a quick rundown.

 

Lots of people learn dance but there’s little to no research that looks at how dance is taught and learned in private dance studio settings…which boggles the mind because you and I both know that dance studios are where the majority of people learn to dance.

 

So I observed and analysed children’s Royal Academy of Dance ballet lessons, because it’s highly codified and internationally used, so it makes a better case for generalisation (which means it’s more likely to be that what is happening in one studio is probably happening elsewhere).

 

And let’s remember ballet doesn’t just teach movement, it also trains dancers, and it happens over many years. With the help of a theory called LCT, I explain how teachers build complex and precise ballet movement as well as develop particular behaviours and attitudes that are desirable in ballet. I also show how they’re developed over time (Grade 1 and Intermediate Foundation). I created some pretty awesome tools that I used to analyse and explain what teachers are doing when they teach, but they can also be used to model how to be a really effective teacher. I can teach you how to use these tools in the Disrupt Dance Laboratory.

For the academically-inclined…

Building ballet: developing dance and dancers in ballet

This thesis unpacks a commonly expressed phrase in the dance industry – ‘Teaching dance beyond the steps’ – by exploring teaching practices that develop dance and dancers in children’s ballet lessons. Exploring an area that is commonly practiced and often talked about, but rarely studied, this study shows how ballet education builds particular ways of moving as well as particular behaviours and dispositions deemed desirable in ballet.

 

Enacting Legitimation Code Theory, this thesis undertakes a qualitative case study of children’s Royal Academy of Dance ballet classes through analysis of non-participant, video recorded observations of five consecutive classes at Grade 1 and Intermediate Foundation levels, teacher interviews, follow up observations, and curriculum documents.

 

The LCT dimension of Specialization is used as an organizing framework and distinguishes between teaching that develops dance as epistemic relations, or what is being danced, and teaching that develops dancers as social relations, or who is dancing. The dimension of Semantics is used as an explanatory framework to explore change in both the dance and the dancer at different levels of expertise.

 

Ballet dance is both precise, or highly detailed, and transferable, where steps, technique, musicality and artistry taught in specific exercises manifest in other danced contexts. Tools for analysing epistemological condensation and epistemic-semantic gravity are used to explicate how the teachers build complex, principled, durable ballet movement. When looking at the dancer, axiological-semantic density and axiological-semantic gravity are enacted to elaborate how teachers develop particular valorised actions and behaviours, or externalized ways of acting as a ballet dancer, and how these are subsumed by dispositions, or internalized ways of thinking, feeling and being.

 

The findings in this thesis examine different teaching practices that build knowledge and knowers, dance and dancers, in ballet and how they change at different levels of expertise.

…an utterly engaging and ground-breaking piece of scholarship that is likely to have a major impact both within the field of ballet education and well beyond it.

 

– Assoc. Prof Lee Rusznyak, WITS University

Projects, collaborations & advocacy

Here’s a snapshot of the projects that are keeping me busy right now. I’m always excited to engage in new ways to explore, think about and do dance. At the moment I’m in the research design stage of a new study exploring resource use in dance, and developing curriculum and training for Leap ‘N Learn.

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Studio Specialization Study - currently collecting data

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Experiences in Dance Education Survey - circulating now

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Leap 'N Learn curriculum development and licensed member training

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My research interests

My background is in sociology, cultural studies and gender studies. These perspectives frame how I think about, view, and practice dance. Some of my specific interests include:

Teaching and learning

I’m a teacher at heart. I believe it is one of the most important roles in society. I’m interested in what we’re teaching and how we’re doing it. In particular, I love looking at the things we don’t even realise we’re teaching – the implicit or covert stuff that is often taken for granted.

 

I love experimenting with new methods because there’s nothing better than adding a new strategy to your teaching toolkit.

Inclusive education

Dance is for everyone. But, typically, dance education is not. I’m interested in how we can break down barriers to dance education. Race, ability, sex, gender, class, appearance – these things can impact who has access to dance, and who can succeed in dance. This shouldn’t be the case. I’m motivated to do things differently – sometimes you have to break it to rebuild it.

 

At the moment I’m currently learning Key Word Sign to help me communicate better with all my students. I get excited when I find ways to integrate a student’s therapy goals into the dance classroom.

Body positivity and dance

Learning to dance can be an absolutely incredible experience… and it can also be harmful. There’s lots of research that explores eating disorders and mental health issues in professional dancers. In the studio setting I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced it.

 

I’ve been told I’m too fat, my thighs are too large, my muscles are too big, “tuck your butt under” (… yeah, that isn’t going anywhere). I am interested in making dance education a more body positive experience for all students. Because all bodies are dancing bodies.

Feminist dance education

I thank my mum and Nonna for how I was raised and my Gender Studies degree for giving me the literacy to think and talk about a different way to teach dance. I’m always trying to break with traditional teaching methods that subjugate students and create docile bodies.

 

My teaching practice is informed by consent, power, patriarchy, identity, and intersectionality. Dance should provide opportunities for students to practice their power and to express themselves with more than just their bodies.