This series is a part of the Creating With Kids Interview Project! I have set out to interview 52 dance teachers working with young children everyday. By doing this project, I have learned that you are all amazing, hard working, creative and inspiring! I hope you enjoy the interviews and can take something special away from each one. A look inside a dance teachers class, is a look inside a dance teachers heart. -Maria
Introducing Jacqui Davidson…
Jacqui lives and teaches in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where summers and short and winters are long! A dance teacher who teaches ages 3 through 62 she teaches dance classes, dance pedagogy classes, and future classroom and physical educators. Her teaching has expanded to include her freelance teaching specifically for youth and adults living with disabilities. Her ‘home base’ is teaching in a studio, but in the freelance area of her work she goes to various organizations in the city of Winnipeg and bring dance programs into existing programs. Currently she teaches at the Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, The University of Winnipeg, and Access Dance for Life! (her own company!)
Jacqui’s training as a teacher was through the Teacher Training program with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. She says this training was crucial to her development as a teacher, as it served as a strong jumping off point for many areas of teaching. Recently Jacqui received her B.A. in Kinesiology.
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day?
Jacqui: Every teaching day seems to be different! One day its just ballet in the evening or afternoon, and the next its teaching at the university, then off to teach children’s work to student teachers at RWB, then ExplorAbility (for adults with disabilities), and wrapping it up with an evening teaching ballet and beginner students. Every day is different – and it also changes with every school term.
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Jacqui: Every-body and every- age can learn and grow through dance. Whether the goal is to become a dancer or not – dance is an excellent way to develop and hone the skills of problem solving, body, space, and relationship awareness. Its wonderful when our students go on to professional careers in performance and teaching, but it is equally as wonderful to see my students dance simply because they love it – they have always done it and cannot imagine their lives without it.
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Jacqui: Well, I’m tall and very patient! With my children’s classes and Dance-Ability I think you’d see flexibility in the way the class unfolds. Most of all, I hope, is laughter! My students (of all ages) make me laugh – we laugh together, at ourselves, and sometimes at what we are doing.
Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all.
Jacqui: What I love most about teaching is passing along my passion for what I do to my students (of all ages), at this point in my career I have been able to watch children grow up through dance and it gives me great joy to see them develop into wonderful young adults. Its an added bonus when they go on to careers that connect them to dance – whether its a career in performance, choreography, science, or medicine. I guess what I dislike the most about teaching is the hours — as long as I teach dance I will have to teach in the evenings and sometimes on weekends too. It would be nice to have my weekends and evenings free.
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Jacqui: Just when I think I’ve got them figured out — they come up with something new and surprise me!
Maria: Can you tell us a little more about the wonderful work you do through Access Dance For Life?
Jacqui: When I began teaching in the late 80’s there was a child in the school who had Down’s Syndrome – over the years I taught her at various stages and observed that although in the early years it was fairly easy to adapt the classwork for her, as she matured this became more and more difficult to do effectively. I knew that she could achieve more in dance, and gain more physical and developmental strength through dance, in a more adaptive setting. This thought has always stayed with me, yet I never really had the opportunity to develop the idea.
When I went back to school I took a class called Adapted Physical Activity. This course focused on taking activity and adapting it for individuals with specific disabilities. As we worked through the assignments and projects I realized that dance could have an impact on this population. The following year UNESCO had put a call out to dance organizations around the world to create accessible dance opportunities on International Dance Day ( April 29th) – the RWBS contacted me to do a workshop to celebrate this day. From this event ExplorAbility was born – a 10 week class for adults living with disability, a 10 week session which is offered in 2 or 3 consecutive sessions throughout the year. Seeing a need in the community for youth living with disability to have a similar opportunity I began to reach out to the community….and three years later I now bring this programming to our community on a regular basis.
The programs are based on the concepts of creative dance (Laban’s work) incorporating ballet and modern techniques for older students, and are adapted to the abilities of the group. My vision is to create an environment where all obstacles are removed – literally and figuratively – and students can move and have fun together (while learning something new!) within the framework of the dance class. Once students enter the studio there are no physical obstacles such as doors/doorways, ramps and no social obstacles such as expectations be limited to the diagnosis of the disability. At first it is an exploration for both the student and myself – the students are exploring a new setting and structure, and I am exploring how to best interact with each student and how much I can challenge them physically and cognitively.
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Jacqui: Teaching dance is an opportunity for you to share what you are passionate about, and to affect students lives in ways that you will never truly appreciate until years later.
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
Jacqui: Wow, there have been many moments to remember! The moments I love are those moments when my students have an ‘aha!’ moment. When you can see their imagination click on and they begin to visualize the story we are telling or the imagery we are using in class. As they get older its those moments when they are suddenly able to perform a step or movement and they catch themselves by surprise – love that! That look of surprise when they accomplish that pirouette or that step they’ve been struggling with. With my little ones I love to see those moments when they are beaming with pride at their achievements!
Maria: Teachers of young children need a pocket full of management techniques and tricks to keep things on track. What is one trick in your pocket that almost never fails?
Jacqui: Talking really, really, quietly. Its beautiful. There are always those days when there is so much energy emanating from the kids that they can hardly control their actions – and some times they can get a bit out of hand! I’ll stop – physically stop in the space – pause for a moment – and then give the next direction as quietly as possible (which usually involves doing something slow so they have to really concentrate) . The response is almost always the same – a hush comes over the class and then they begin to move ever so slowly. And there is always that one child who can only control their energy for so long – and they have a moment when they simply burst and start moving fast and I catch their eyes and give them a quick reminder… its fantastic (and entertaining!).
I also recommend being flexible. Sometimes the class takes you in a completely different direction than you expected, or you are inspired to try something different than the usual with the class – I say let go of having to follow strict tradition and go with the moment.
Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Jacqui: Attending more professional development summer offerings throughout North America, and furthering my academic studies in graduate studies in the area of motor learning & control. Love the concept of the plasticity of the brain and our ability to create/retrain motor pathways, particularly in relationship to dance.
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Jacqui: One of my current favorites is creating snow sculptures. Moving with a drum or music (usually exploring space and motor skills) when the music stops the dancers make a snow sculpture shape with their body. The first time is on their own, second time connecting with one other person, third time with two other people, and so on. The final result is one BIG snow sculpture with the entire class. Students are required to use different levels and connect with different body parts – challenging them to think beyond their personal comfort zone.
p.s. you can connect with Jacqui on her website and on twitter. Thank you Jacqui for being a part of the project! “When I think I have them all figured out, they come up with something new and surprise me.” Isn’t that the truth! 🙂