I have been the director of the Devon Youth Dance Company for the last six years, and I’m always interested in how we could be making our programme better and what constitutes a quality experience for young people.  A question which has cropped up several times recently is one of creativity.  How do we provide a creative experience?

To me, being in the Devon Youth Dance Company should be a dialogue between the person leading responding to the needs and desires of the group but also offering new ways of thinking and doing things.  At an age where most people feel self conscious I see in them an obvious enjoyment in learning and mastering material as it gives them a sense of their ability and a tangible idea about how they are improving and what they are able to achieve, for instance ‘I couldn’t do this at the beginning of the year and now I can’.  Within this there is also an element of collective versus individual experience i.e. ‘we all do this in unison’ rather than ‘I’ve made this movement up on my own, I’m not sure whether it’s any good and I’m afraid you might judge me’, which could feel a lot more vulnerable.

The flip side of this is that often young people end up copying the way their teacher moves and their style rather than finding what is natural and best for their own body.  The ability to devise their own work, to improvise, to play with lots of options, to be creative, versatile and self reflective about what they’re doing is something they don’t know so well and something they don’t necessarily recognise as a skill.  For those who wish to pursue a career in dance these skills are increasingly important as dancers are often an integral part of the creative process.  In my experience what you offer as a whole person, your thoughts, ideas and emotions are much more important than being able to execute particular movements perfectly.  Whether or not they go on to dance, are not these qualities we would wish to instil in our young people?

Youth dance agencies and organisations advocate that young people should have their own voice but more often than not this means fitting themselves into a way of being which someone else has taught them.  This is probably to do with the fact that assisting a young person in finding their own way of moving to the best of their ability is a skill, one which most dance teachers aren’t taught.  We’re taught how to dance in a particular way and we pass on that particular way and so on.  In order to create a generation of dancers who are creative, innovative and skilled in exploring their own ideas begs the question ‘How do we teach young dancers to dance like themselves?’

Related article:

School Rules: the 10 elements of successful arts education.

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