Dr Stephanie Burridge (Australia/Singapore)
DANCING PROUD AND STRONG: The Phenomena Of
Youth Dance And Dancing Youth In
Throughout the world youth arts continues to inspire, impact and ignite our consciousness. Creative expressions by young people portray messages of hope, optimism and empowerment that are juxtaposed with fear, pessimism and hopelessness set against the backdrop of world events, chaos and confusion. There is resilience, a quest for truth and accountability in much of the work – often a plea to be listened to, for the world to change, for a peaceful tomorrow in a just, fair and humane society. However, despite an established lexicon of such impassioned, extraordinary, high quality work created by young artists their messages largely go unstudied, reviewed critically or taken seriously in terms of radical change in any forum, be it governments, educational institutions or communities. Arts advocates believe that through participation in arts education students embrace civic values, cultural understanding and attitudes that ultimately contribute to a humane, peaceful society.
This paper look behind the scenes of some these productions citing examples of youth arts praxis from Australia and Singapore – the backdrop will be the education policies, government funding agency support and directions for such projects and community issues that inspire creativity. A study of participation in youth performing arts can trace the links between the school, community, national and inter-national networks that may optimize creativity and opportunities for expression. These synergies necessitate quality mentorship and pedagogy, co-operation across and within structures and organizations, and forums to promote creativity, performance and reflection.
her Keynote address titled ‘Fluid
Culture: Frozen Art Education’ Kapila Vatsyayan, (Founder and Former Academic
Director, Indira Gandhi National Centre of the Arts in
…The possibility of ‘community ritual’ through involvement in the arts whereby shared beliefs, commitments and social vision can result in a ‘mental map of peace’…
Examples of engagement through the arts via youth presentations and performances persist giving voice to political, social and cultural concerns. Many such dance/theatre performances occur in school co-curricular activities, electives, youth festivals, community groups and professionally directed youth dance and youth theatre organizations. Artifacts may include a mix of both ephemeral and permanent media – performance, photography, video clips, film, Internet performance, interactive multi-media, installations and so on. Presentations, exhibitions and events may take a wide variety of forms, timings and venues from traditional theatres, to nightclubs, cafes, art galleries, the street, cyberspace and/or a mix of all or some of these forms.
Although there are incidents of imaginative youth projects led by committed and skilled teachers, curriculum changes and a pro-active commitment to arts education, is not yet reflected in national curricula. Education policies, and the strategies to underpin such endeavors lag behind student interest in the arts. For example, over 6,000 students participated in the 2005 Singapore Youth Dance Festival (SYF) for High School students in Chinese, Malay, Indian and contemporary dance categories. All were members of dance clubs and many rehearsed out of school hours for most of the year. Typically a professional choreographer is commissioned to create a dance for this event and there is little student creative input to the item. These performances become highly politicized and driven by a focus to succeed for the glory of the school. Although there are many positives resulting from student participation the basic tenets of a quality dance experience that include creating, presenting and reflecting, are not present.
In this situation, authoritarian pedagogy is common resulting in suppressing student opinion, creativity, ownership and responsibility. Quality pedagogy and mentorship of youth dance remains an issue that needs to be continuously monitored and assisted through professional development programs. Some strategies on this area are included below in the section ‘Supporting Youth Dance’.
Perhaps the best
known school based national event in
this, on a much smaller scale, is the
…The 2004 Croc Festival tour has come to an end. 17, 317 students have participated, 422 schools have attended and 1986 dedicated teachers and supervisors have joined in the fun and celebration. From the traditional to the contemporary, students have choreographed moves to the desert sounds of the Lajamanu Teenage Band to the urban sounds of Local Knowledge. … They’ve dressed in grass skirts, ripped jeans and overalls. They’ve been painted in ochre and covered in leaves. They’ve dazzled audiences with themes as diverse as camel journeys across the desert to the glitz and glam that is the Rocky Horror Show. 
It is interesting to make some comparative studies between Australian and Singaporean participation in youth community-based arts projects. Different educational experiences combined with the cultural, social and political frameworks all contribute to diverse artistic directions. Both countries have highly organized festivals for youth performance and various agencies that support and fund these. The examples listed below, including festival events open to students, have the possibility for youth creativity, ownership and organization at all levels. By way of definition, in Singapore youth artists, (as defined by the National Arts Council), can be up to 30 years of age, while in Australia, it is 25 years of age. For this reason much of the more complex, highly developed creative dance/theatre is produced by young people in their late teens and early 20’s. This group also has a significant role in mentoring younger participants and youth performance companies rely on the experience and commitment of such older members, as newer ones are ‘grown’ within the group. Hence quality pedagogy practices must be prioritized in youth performing arts organizations as they work through a master/apprenticeship approach that is self-sustaining but can also reinforce poor practice.
In both countries there are performance opportunities for students attending private dance studios – many provide avenues for creative participation by dancers as well as the chance to showcase their talent to parents and friends. The structures within such schools are usually restricted to a particular genre (Indian, Chinese, classical ballet and so on) and the focus is predominately skill acquisition from beginner to professional level.
festivals occurring annually in
…To inspire young people to create outstanding new dance theatre that is informed by cultures of disability and is universally recognized for its artistic excellence and inclusive collaborative processes…
dancers from around
From the 2004 festival Ausdance report:
…the Easter Australian Youth Dance Festival (AYDF) held in Armidale NSW was an opportunity for young people who love to dance to use their skills to create some fascinating stories of the Armidale region. The welcome to country by local Indigenous elder Steve Widders was a special invitation for everyone to participate in this unique opportunity to tell their own stories through dance.
Indigenous youth dance
Looking and learning about plants, nuts, roots, trees, flowers and leaves. We learnt about seasons, shapes, colors, sizes, what they used for, how to taste and which moiety they belong to. They also relate to song and dance and also the painting.
Professional Youth Dance Companies
A recent move in
…Backbone is a non-profit youth arts organization in Brisbane ….It develops, creates and presents multi-art form performance work by, for and about people aged five to 25…The company runs an annual workshop program, 'which is the springboard for all our creative work...
In addition to supporting youth companies with a professional artistic and administrative core, the Australia Council funds collectives of individual artists, and may also provide development grants to assist talented youth to travel to attend workshops and conferences for professional development. State governments also to support this strategy and give further opportunities to local residents; for example by funding a residency with a similar professional organization in another state.
fastest new direction developing in both countries is the creation of dance and
theatre by young people who are recent graduates of performing arts tertiary
arts courses. Groups of graduating students often form a loose collective to
create and perform their choreography – some are successful in receiving
government start up funding, development grants and so on. Forums for such work include
performances at outdoor venues, art galleries and public spaces creating ‘site
specific’ work – other groups use technology to make works for the internet,
short film festivals and the like. In Australia dance collectives are well
established, and in Singapore this avenue is beginning to open up as graduates
from the two tertiary dance programs, (
Professional performance companies often receive additional arts funding allocations to partly subsidize a ‘youth arm’ to their activities – in Singapore several dance groups, including The Arts Fission and Odyssey Dance Theatre, provide mentorship and performance platforms for committed young artists. Although this situation appears healthy, arts for young people in Singapore occurs in small pockets and is yet to become part of the curriculum in schools. Possibilities for time given freely for youth creativity through dance are rare. Australia, by contrast, provides this at many levels in the education system and community supported by a national infrastructure.
Pedagogy, partnerships, artist-in residence programs, mentorship
One research project currently underway at the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP) at the National Institute of Education in Singapore is the Multiliteracy group project titled, ‘Creativity: Representational Practices in Artistic Domains’. (Wright.S.; Matthews,J; Tan, A G; Burridge, S, 2004). Although the project is in a pilot stage the team has formulated a methodology and a trial coding system to collect data from observations in Singapore schools. The aim of the study is to observe student creativity and teacher pedagogy through incorporating a multi-modal approach to data collection. Case studies that include student, teacher and parent interviews also record the relationships occurring between representational practices in the school, community and home. The essence of the coding system, underpinned by its philosophical and pedagogy frameworks, can serve as a useful methodology for analyzing creative projects in youth dance in both community and educational settings.
Burridge (2005) has developed a system called ‘narrative mapping’ that can track episodes of creativity and the flow between these episodes in terms of teacher/student exchange, teacher/artist-in-residence exchange to view the total picture of a creative project. The Narrative Map principle can assist in ensuring a high quality dance experience that is realistically based on the resources and level of teacher/mentors training and skill. An exciting part of this process is recognizing the important relationships between the teacher/mentor, visiting specialist, artist-in-resident or single session master teacher. More than this, the project map tracks a series of ‘episodes’ that can be followed and the format is flexible enough to incorporate expertise from diverse areas that relate to the theme of the project, thereby enriching the experience of all. By following common aims and objectives via a Narrative Map, everyone can work together utilizing their individual strengths and abilities, to see an arts project come to fruition. Typically the left side of the map will be the student’s domain and the right the teacher/mentor/ parents and community.
REPRESENTATIONAL FORMS PRESENT
Descriptive, iconic, stylized, mimetic, metonymic, symbolic, metaphoric.
The flow is the pivotal connection for empowering youth creativity. In recognizing the partnership youth creativity is sustained while it is underpinned with knowledge, logistic support and creative strategies.
Creativity encompasses individual and community cultures where participation occurs in the context of personal and community habitus. The body is a powerful means of dialogue that, through embodiment, encapsulates signs and symbols of place and belief. When culturally specific iconography and narratives emerge, creators either overtly or subliminally embody these influences to generate new forms of expression.
Youth performing arts has not gone unnoticed by various agencies in both countries. Recently the Australia Council developed a platform for youth funding and a panel to facilitate this. The objectives of the Australia Council's Young People and the Arts Policy are:
Singapore is currently embracing rapid changes in education policy and is in the process of promoting creative and critical thinking across subject areas. This is largely in response to the Renaissance City Report (2000) and the Creative Industry Development Strategy Report (2000). Although on one hand the impetus is economic rather than altruistic, the spin offs include among many, opportunities to promote citizenship, racial and religious harmony, the ability to work within diversity and agency for personal creativity and expression.
Singapore’s National Arts Council gives funds to schools for them to spend this on arts activities. To date, this has taken the form of for example; bringing in professionals for a performance, school-based workshops or taking a group to the theatre to view a performance – it is not intended for use by students to be creative themselves. Recently (2004) the Ministry of Education announced sweeping changes to the curriculum in Singapore and allocated considerable funds to use at their discretion to develop a ‘niche’ profile - in this scenario, several schools now focus on the arts.
A range of events that are sponsored by organizations that want to target the youth market exist in both countries – these include agencies to promote health issues such Anti-Smoking and Drug Abuse (Rock Eisteddfod Challenge), Health Promotion Board (ACT Ausdance Festival) as well as McDonalds, various banks and commercial agencies on a wide scale. For many years the ACT Festival was sponsored by a particular milk company and known as the ‘Moove Milk Dance Festival’. Branding, however, is thus far carefully monitored.
‘In-Kind’ support, parents and the community
Much of the support for youth endeavors is non cash and includes donations of services, free publicity, organizational support through groups like Ausdance, Dance Association of Singapore, church and service groups and the like. A strategy for all to have a rewarding experience from a creative project is vital in sustaining these relationships. One model is ‘Seemless Learning’, a phrase applied by educator Professor Shirley Brice Heath to a process whereby a ‘community of learners’ works together. All parties (children and adults) participate in the process and outcome of a shared creative project. This approach not only enhances the channels of communication between different age groups, genders and roles, it broadens the learning experience and contributes to social cohesion in the community and understanding of diversity and multiple perspectives.
Demand and Supply
The arts are often called upon to respond positively in times of trauma and crisis. For example, the arts are used in therapy, to engage peoples displaced by natural disasters, in refugee camps and for ‘at-risk’ youth communities. In this scenario it is recognized that the arts have the capacity to re-build and re-focus individuals, groups and the wider community in ways that reflect the democratic structures within society.
Numerous studies have shown that for young people, the arts are essential to learning. In Australia, indigenous communities have embedded the arts into their lessons in many subjects and this is occurring slowly in some schools in both Singapore and Australia.
As countless teenagers in a global world dance along to MTV, participate in all sorts of dance from hip hop to funk, this should not be dismissed simply as ‘popular culture’. The voices of youth in music, dance, film, graffiti and poetry are a powerful and predominant force in contemporary society. The level of interest is high and such groundswell support should impel authorities to extend opportunities and implement a variety of strategies to foster youth arts in schools and the general community.
While the arts are essential in their own right and should not be constantly required to have a ‘transfer’ value to other subjects, evidence of learning through and by the arts often assists in its positioning within education systems and government policy. Fundamentally, this is not a bad thing if it means ensuring rich arts experiences – nevertheless, the arts should not have the responsibility of reforming delinquents or making sudden improvements to levels of reading and so on where other methods have failed.
Changes in school curriculum, pedagogy, partnerships and a focus on creativity and expression rather than competition can support youth arts practice. Parents, community groups, schools and government agencies can work in partnerships that facilitate, and contribute to quality youth arts experiences and outcomes. The arts have the ability to positively engage young people and enable them to work creatively in processes and productions that respond to society voicing their issues and concerns in their own languages. This freedom to work with their own realities is an empowering experience that fosters high levels of self-motivation and belief, discipline, responsibility and group co-ordination. It contributes to a humane world and a civil society. As Elliot Eisner states;
…The problems of life are much more like the problems encountered in the arts. They are problems that seldom have a single correct solution; they are problems that are often subtle, occasionally ambiguous, and sometimes dilemma-like. One would think that schools wanted to prepare students for life would employ tasks and problems similar to those found outside of schools…Life outside of schools is seldom like school assignments…and hardly ever like a multiple-choice test.
Burridge, Stephanie. ‘An Argument for Integrated Arts Education’
(InSEA World Arts Educators Congress, New York, CD-ROM. 2002.)
Burridge, Stephanie. ‘Narrative Mapping: A Methodology for teaching and Learning (Dance)’, (Redesigning Pedagogy; Research, Policy, Practice, CDR Rom, 2005).
Elliot Eisner, The Kind of School We Need: Personal Essays (Heinemann, NH, 1998),
Parviainen, Jaana. ‘Bodily Knowledge: Epistemological Reflections on Dance’, (Dance Research Journal Summer ed. 2002.)
Yutana Dhawa, (Yirrkala Literature Production Centre, Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory, Australia, February 1991.)
Julie Dyson – Australian Youth Dance Festival (2001) National Executive Officer report; Diane Lehto – Arid Zone Youth Dance Theatre – participant report;
(Dance Forum – Journal of the Australian Dance Council, Volume 11, No.4, 2001)
Vivienne O’Connell, ACT ‘Your Body, Your Beat Youth Dance Festival’ report;
(Dance Forum – Journal of the Australian Dance Council, Volume 14, No.4, 2004.)
Ministry of Information and the Arts, (Renaissance City Report: Strategic Directions and Recommendations, Singapore, 2000.)
Vatsyayan, Kapila. ‘Fluid Culture: Frozen Art Education’, (InSEA World
InSEA World Arts Educators Congress, New York, 2002.)
Shirley Brice Heath, (2005), ‘Artful Talk’, (Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, November 2005.)
Ausdance Youth Dance Festival (Youth Dance) – http://www.ausdance.og.au/
Australia Council Youth Arts – http://www.ozco.gov.au.council/-priorities/young-people
Backbone – http://www.backbone.org.au/
Crocfest – http://www.crocfestivals.org.au/
Restless Dance Company – http://www.restlessdance.org/
 Kapila Vatsyayan (2002)
 Crocfest report, www.crocfestivals.org.au
 Restless Dance Company, www.restlessdance.org.au
 Yutana Dhawa, (February 1991.
 Backbone, www.backbone.org.au
 Shirley Brice Heath, (2005), CRPP seminar.
 Elliot Eisner, (1998), p.84