The Dance to Know: Transition in an Elite Educational Sector
HBO Netherlands Association of Universities of Professional Education
Faculty of Education and Arts
Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications
This paper raising issues involved a project to bridge the gap between learning and the workplace in an elite discipline relies on a crucial belief that ‘knowledge’ emerges and abounds in many forms. Dance learning needs, alike any other discipline, to keep pace with all the advantages, challenges and contradictions of globalisation and the new technologies and, at the same time, remain true to the potential and limits of its fundamental physicality. Consequently, the education of dancers involves the development of individual adaptability and resourcefulness alongside immersion in high degrees of specialisation. The experiment which prompted this paper began with a simple premise, a recognised problem in the Australian dance community of ‘a gap’ between the knowledge attained by graduates from a three year dance diploma or degree and that required by the competitive profession, whether that be in a company or an independent artist situation. Professionally, the graduates were seen as ‘inexperienced,’ an idiomatic term covering a multitude of hidden assumptions and straightforward facts around the notion that they were not yet knowledgeable enough for the demands of the work environment. In 2002, certain fortuitous factors came together to enable the Dance Department of the WA Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University to tackle this problem through work-place research. The experiment involved the setting up of a fourth year for specially selected students as the core of a transition contemporary dance company, Link, under the direction and mentorship of the nationally acclaimed choreographer, Chrissie Parrott. Designed to productively engage with the range of activities and responsibilities of a small company working in a less-than-ideal financially resourced environment, the programme aimed to expose the student-dancers to a diverse array of choreographers and their processes---the production of specialised knowledge---and test their commitment and endurance through performance tours, community arts projects, teaching, promotional events and living and working in a tight social structure---the development of self-initiative and adaptability.