Scottish Ballet’s Dancers’ Education Group: Training Dancers as Educators

31 March, 2017

Scottish Ballet’s Dancers’ Education Group (DEG), gives company dancers the opportunity to train as dance educators. Here, they provide us with an extract of a full evaluation report carried out in 2015/2016.

The evaluation of the Dancers’ Education Group (DEG) was carried out with a dual focus: to consider both the mechanisms that have enabled the the initiative, and the impact of DEG on Scottish Ballet’s education department, education participants and the wider Scottish dance landscape.

From the outset, Scottish Ballet had an academic partner on board, allowing both levels of dancers to undertake two accredited modules with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS): ‘Fundamentals of Ballet Teaching module’ (SCQF level 7) and ‘Negotiated Project’ (SCQF level 8); the latter in the form of a work placement. The flexible learning outcomes and delivery patterns complement the workload of a company dancer, but ensure that a rigorous assessment criterion is met, and that the dancers gain a formal qualification.

The below text focuses on one major outcome of the study: how participants feel more inspired, excited and confident through the experience of interacting with a professional dancer.

The DEG dancers worked with a diverse range of settings and groups of participants. Dance specialists provide a more beneficial and high quality experience than non-specialists, and the DEG dancers are not only future educators, but also professional performers.

Dancers as Role Models

A particular benefit for the education participants relates to viewing the DEG dancers as role models. This is especially evident with vocational students. Concerning the RCS Modern Ballet students:

“The real advantage (is) witnessing in a far closer, more personal way, how professional dancers are actually professional.  Our students are doing professional training but what they’re seeing is those dancers who have been really successful, there’s something about their work ethic, their approach, how they are as people. And you can’t teach that. Those professionals are professional, they embody that word, and that’s really exciting for us” Kerry Livingstone, Head of Modern Ballet.

The DEG dancers are also able to empathise in a particular way with the vocational students:

“To have someone of that level come in and say “I find this bit really hard”, but if you see Sophie (Martin) on stage, nothing looks hard, she’s so amazing. But when she’s in the studio, “Girls, I can’t do this bit, but I’ve manage to work it by doing…” The students then go, “oh, there’s a process. You’re not just that finished product” Kerry Livingstone.

Challenging Stereotypes about Professional Ballet

There are numerous additional examples of how the dancers have been viewed as role models. Education participants had the opportunity to hear individual stories and to understand the varying pathways that people have taken to be professional dancers.

There are a number of stereotypes associated with professional ballet dancers and working directly with the DEG dancers has challenged many of them for participants.

“This sounds so silly. But they, the students, can’t believe that they’re so nice (…) And they’re encouraging and Sophie Martin comes in and says to the third years, “Girls, that’s beautiful” and they are just so inspired. She came in and taught them the solo from ‘Swan Lake’ and she did it with her pointe shoes on in front of them, and was so encouraging in the way that she taught it and they were just absolutely delighted” Kerry Livingstone.

Breaking Down Barriers

The education team very much understand the impact that this ‘specialness’ can have and the need to break down perceived barriers:

“The education team always say “they want to talk to you, they want to meet you.” The education team place emphasis on dancers connecting with the audience and the youngsters… and the importance for them to have that one on one with a professional dancer they’ve seen on stage, or they’ve looked up to, or they’ve not necessarily met before” Thomas Edwards.

For a full copy of the DEG evaluation report, or to find out more, please contact Catherine Cassidy, Director of Education, Catherine will be addressing RESEO members at the network’s Spring conference 2017 Through the Lens of Higher Education in Belgrade.