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Dancer

A Penny for you Thoughts

The story of stuff is a story we know all too well. Consumerism is the foundation of a capitalist society. Our society, our relationships with one another, our jobs, the economy and our traditions all encompass the need to make, purchase and have physical things.

However, this constant need to have is in the midst of a philosophical makeover, with many people carving new paths of innovation on the journey. Still, our society has pushed the planet to the limits and we, for the most part, are demonstrating we are nowhere near ready to comprehend what needs to change in order to save our own skin.

Unless you are actively reading and listening to environmentalists, you could easily assume there is nothing wrong. After all, every day appears to be the same. Although we have heard the term global warming, it does not seem to take root as a real threat to some people. There is a dominant and alluring view that it’s going to just go away. Or that we will slowly solve the problem with a quick techno fix, or by buying more “green” washed products – as if we can buy our way out of the problem when buying is the problem.

Our obsession with stuff affects our carbon levels and emissions. When we buy food, gifts, drive our cars, and use “one time use” plastics, we are enhancing our sickness. Before the neoliberal era and the free market mentalities of the Friedmanites, emission growth had actually been slowing. But in the 1980’s with the creation of NAFTA and the WTO, we have seen only increases, from 3.4% a year to an alarming 5.9% in 2010.

Many people have no idea what this means because it’s too hard to comprehend our individual impact, especially within a growing population. So listen to the experts: we need countries, especially developed countries, to cut emissions drastically. Our carbon emissions are now 61% higher than in 1990 when all the while we should have been decreasing gas emitted from the burning of fossil fuels. We are definitely at our tipping point, yet for most people it’s business as usual.

In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein points out that the optimistic scenario (in which warming is more or less stabilized) is at 4 degrees Celsius. She enlightens us further with the fact that “In 2011 the usually staid International Energy Agency (IEA), issued a report projecting that we are on track for a 6 degrees Celsius – 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit – of warming.” The IEA’s chief economist puts it: “Everybody, even the school children, knows that this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”

So why aren’t we freaking out? Why are we still continuing down this road to disaster? It’s not like it’s been all love and roses either. The WTO and the International Monetary Fund locked countries into debts impossible to overcome and trade laws that inhibit and make necessary changes illegal.

It’s easy to point fingers at countries still running on coal energy like China, but where do you think most of the “stuff” comes from? Naomi is right on when she says: “so while our clothes, electronics and furniture may be made in China, the economic model was primarily made in the U.S.A.” Thus, this is most certainly a global issue that affects all of us. Our stuff connects us to the slavery of the poor, to wars in the Middle East, to genocide in Africa and every act of terror, whether delivered by the U.S military or ISIS. Our consumerism is a major problem; a problem we are not only passing on to our children to deal with but we are further indoctrinating and teaching them the behaviour of wanting stuff.

I see lots of cheaply made stuff – I have kids. Toys that break after a few uses, electronics and ridiculous plastic trinkets – everything that just ends up in a trash heap somewhere. A simple solution could be, instead of buying a physical item, buy an activity, an excursion, a ticket to the theatre or an event. The outcome is not less living – it’s actually better living and living more.

Instead of a culture based on buying and giving physical things, we can buy and give experiences. We can teach our children to value activities like a dance class, a day at the beach, a bike ride, horseback riding lessons and so on. Giving a gift that will enhance our culture is productive in more ways than I can mention.

Dancer

I have noticed how indoctrinated my kids are already. Even with my attempts, there is still a heightened desire to acquire things and I still battle with the feeling that I am cruel if I don’t give them things. How will they feel next Christmas if inside each box is a description of an activity, a lesson or a trip to the ice cream store? It’s not easy to walk away from these traditions. But, after reading about our present situation and understanding how dire the outcome is, moving off grid and changing the way we live and think is the best solution. I cannot think of a better option for my family.

However, I am a shop owner. I sell things made by local artists, designers and jewellers in Costa Rica. What future does my shop and the artists have if consumption decreases? It would certainly mean systematic changes – from how we operate to the value of the space we rent. But then again, we may value products like I have more. The handmade items, a one of a kind piece of jewellery that has been created with love can offer you more than something you picked up at Target becasue it was only 5.99.

Governments have become vacant entities, lost on arguing about their own policies and not acting in our collective interest. They seem concerned only at the time of elections – but in this race the tortuous most certainly does not win. So it is left to us – the revolution starts within. What happens to our economy if we can’t buy and seek new customers? What changes does that mean for the rest of society? How can we empower ourselves and not just lay in wait?

In the coming cultural uprising, the shift in human consciousness and the evolution of society, we shall dance.

Yes, that’s right – dance is where I am going with all of this because, in a way, it is part of the solution. And it’s not just about dance. It’s all performing arts; sports, events and activities we can consume, creating experiences, education and exercise. We can generate a working economy that is not based on having stuff but on fun activities that contribute to healthy and happy lives and gives us the experiences needed to be a more evolved and functioning civilization – celebrating people, culture and the individual.

In a society where there is lack of enthusiasm for the arts, funding for projects is not even made available. Many are of the opinion that when a person graduates from university with a performing arts degree, this isn’t a real education. You might find it astonishing that 90% of these graduates do not get paid. That’s right – no pay! Many cannot even find free work. So, as a dancer, you can see why I am excited that society must change – giving dance, education and philosophy a more important role in our communities. So I urge you, in a time when we are seeing huge cuts to these important institutions that celebrate arts and education, put your money into the economy that will provide the most positive and exciting future.

Change is good, vive la danse.

Student Workshops

Dancing Days-Guide for New Professionals

So you’re just starting your career in dance and you’re having trouble visualizing how you will make enough money to make a living and still have the flexibility to perform, choreograph or produce your own work?

Many performers choose to teach dance at a dance establishment. From my experience, teaching in dance studios is certainly rewarding. It helps to move your dance career forward and provides a steady income; however, I found I could make a lot more money teaching outside the dance community, while maintaining a flexible schedule.

workshop-schoolsI had several teaching positions at dance studios but these positions prevented me from performing in dance productions and touring opportunities. Since I was dedicated to the establishment’s program, leaving town for extensive periods of time meant finding a replacement in my absence. If I was granted a leave, I sometimes ran into problems with my substitutes because they were unreliable, which caused conflicts with my employers.

So I found another solution, or rather, a solution found me. I just happened to be asked to join a program called Learning Through the Arts in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This program required artists to work with a class and teacher for four sessions, focussing on using dance to teach curriculum.

Around the same time, another dance company I worked with asked me to lead an outreach program that brought dance to public school students.

These opportunities proved to be a perfect fit for me. I was able to plan sessions with teachers around my rehearsal and touring schedule. Contracts were often short term, so this allowed me the freedom as well (a week or more). But most importantly, it paid more.
At that time, the average pay for a dance teacher was $30/hour per class. I could fit about four classes in an evening, making $120 a night. Not bad for my first teaching job; however, once I started producing my own shows, I needed more flexibility and money to support myself. While teaching in schools I earned, on average, about $80 to $120/hour per lesson. I could fit in four lessons in a school day so my daily income increased to as much as $480 – a significant difference for the same number of dance classes. Because I used dance to teach the Ontario school curriculum, I was given the fancy title of education specialist and consultant, providing something unique to my community.

Teaching dance in the school system taught me a lot about myself. I learned why I excelled in school and why I found some subjects easier than others. My dance training also had provided me with special awareness, problem solving skills, and mathematical skills at a younger age than most students.

Let’s face it – extracurricular opportunities are not available or affordable for everyone. By teaching in the school system, dance teachers are helping many young people understand the art form. At the same time, they are inspiring students and helping them learn important skills.

I used ‘train the trainer’ professional development by providing workshops to teachers. Once they learned the various methods of teaching the curriculum through dance, they were able to teach the exercises to their students, saving valuable time and money.
I encourage dance teachers to get into schools in your community. You might be able to work in established, well-funded programs or seek funding for your own special programs. You could begin by teaching the basics of dance but I believe it’s even more beneficial to students, teachers and the educational system on the whole to use curriculum-based themes.

Following are some examples of curriculum that I found could easily be taught with dance:

  • Symmetry: exploring movement with a partner
  • Mathematical patterns: creating dances that follow numerical patterns such as: 8, 4, 2 and 1
  • Rotations: directing students using mathematical terminology instead of asking them to face the right, turn 90 degrees, etc.
  • Vocabulary: using words that describe movement and dance them out
  • Science: using shadows, liquids and solids, snowflakes or animals, create dances based on students’ observations
  • Story telling or poetry: re-enacting the story or describing the words in gestures
    Technology: building structures based on important principles while using contact dance
  • Force: using tension and compression to create shapes or movement between partners

Using the curriculum helped me to avoid cultural issues around dance. Unfortunately, some boys are embarrassed to dance. In order to encourage boys to participate, I called my lessons Kinaesthetic Learning with Numbers. Curriculum-based dance gives students the opportunity to explore creative movement without learning complicated steps.

If teaching curriculum with dance is something you could see yourself doing, please visit my website: www.danceequations.com or tune into my YouTube channel.

Wishing you nothing but the best in your dance career!

Education

Unrest and Policy – Then and Now

The recent labour unrest in the education sector of Ontario has caused me to reflect upon why this now seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Many pundits lay blame on the Conservative government of the mid-1990s led by Mike Harris. You might legitimately ask: Why does government policy twenty years ago have anything to do with today’s current reality?

The seeds of teacher unrest have spread exponentially over the years. Pick any one of these factors:

  • an overcrowded and largely irrelevant provincial curriculum that focuses more on rote learning than problem solving, leaving little room for teacher choice/student interest;
  • an undue emphasis on standardized testing that doesn’t really measure student learning, nor take into account differences in children or their learning styles;
  • reducing the powers of duly-elected school board trustees, which limited local initiatives;
  • the amalgamation of small boards into super large ones that was supposed to increase efficiency but mostly created chaos and duplication of services;
  • the ‘slash and burn’ approach to additional supports, such as special education classes and teacher assistants, have made the job of classroom teachers more difficult; and
  • the continuous public whipping of teachers by Mike Harris and Ministers of Education, such as John Snobelen, to destroy morale and humiliate teachers.

Another major factor that few have acknowledged was the government policy to take school administrators out of the teachers’ union. This too has had a divisive affect on the interpersonal relationships among school staff. From a viewpoint of ‘we’, a team with the best interests of children at heart, the focus turned to ‘us’ (teachers) against ‘them’ (principals as management representatives). Much of the collegial spirit that once existed had been eroded.

School principals are no longer seen as being on the same team and decisions made by school administrators have become more closely scrutinized and motives are questioned. All of a sudden, teaching has become a ‘job’ and not a profession to many. The cohesiveness of a school staff have become even more strained as some teachers refuse to do anything extra beyond classroom teaching (i.e., extra-curricular) while others still want to provide additional experiences for children before and after school.

The unions lost a great deal of experience and wisdom when administrators were banned from being a part of the bargaining unit. Many school principals held leadership positions within the union. Principals by and large had a wider perspective, having served on many school board committees or holding other leadership positions, such as consultants. Having a broader perspective often assisted in making better sense of what was in the best interests of children and implementing policies that affected them. Current school union leaders typically have only had the experience of being a classroom teacher and often do not bring that broad perspective to the table.

The vast majority of teachers are caring, dedicated professionals who truly care about the children they teach. It is unfortunate that their union leadership makes them act differently during times of labour unrest.

It has been difficult for current teachers who have lived through the past twenty years of upheaval. Hopefully, labour peace can be achieved and the job actions that detract from the educational experiences of children can come to an end. Next time there is job action, perhaps some teachers will show the courage to stand up for students and defy their union bosses. If not, one can only hope that a new generation of teachers will be able to get back to a focus on students and provide meaningful experiences in the classroom and beyond.

-Craig Simpson

Retired Teacher, Consultant, Principal, and Superintendent of Schools