This is how the word “politics” makes me feel:

I’ve never been one to follow politics or express my political views publicly. One, because I honestly don’t understand how governments works, and two, because I am completely ignorant of the views any of the political parties in Canada hold (or anywhere for that matter).

Who. Are. These. People…?

Go ahead, judge me. I take full responsibility for my ignorance.

I told my parents about my political ignorance once:

“I just don’t care about politics. I’m sure one day something will happen and politics will become meaningful to me, but right now, I’m perfectly content to be ignorant and let people make the decisions for me.”

They were not impressed, and my father proceeded into a spiel about liberal vs. conservative vs. NDP party views and why I should care. Sorry pop, I zoned most of that out.

All I know right now is that Justin Trudeau can do peacock better than I can, and that makes me proud to be Canadian #Ivotedliberal

This photo makes me so very happy.

The reason I bring up politics today is that “that something” has happened to make politics start to seem meaningful. It’s about dang time, Monika!

I’ve been thinking about the role the government plays in dancers health, longevity, education, and performance.

KEY CONCEPT #1: A dance student’s education should go beyond technique and performance training to include how to take care of their bodies and minds to support their performance and longevity.

In my reflection, I’ve begun to appreciate how interdependent of a system it is that affects a dancer’s education and their potential, whether “success” means to perform professionally, or just enjoy dancing as long as desired without becoming a cripple.

If we are to truly give dancers a well-rounded education (ie one that goes beyond physical and technical training by also addressing their biopsychosocial needs to attain career longevity, even after they stop dancing) we need to more than just preach at them.

Preaching to dancers to take better care of themselves is like the King preaching to a peasant to be less peasanty:

“You need to eat more food so that you can be stronger and toil more efficiently.  And why can’t you get better tools so that you can farm more effectively? Figure out how on your own. I don’t have time to help.”

Foolish expectation to have, isn’t it?

I am somewhat guilty of preaching to the peasant and expecting it to work.

“You need to take better care of yourself, and I know you don’t have the resources- time and money- to learn how. You need to change what you’re doing if you want to succeed, but I can’t really help if you don’t have money.”

I’ve been a jerk, and I’m sorry.

KEY CONCEPT #2: Dancers are doing the best with what education they are given. It’s up to us to change their education, not them. 

Let me explain where this is coming from.

I was recently asked to write a resource paper for Healthy Dancer Canada, which was meant to be a short, two page document describing some strategies for dancers to unwind from the physical challenges of dance training and performance.

I apparently had a lot to say on the topic, as this document turned into a 13 page monster (which I’m quite happy with, by the way, and I can’t wait to share it with you all should the committee approve of my word-vomitry).

The wonderful thing about being a writer is how the writing itself can take on a life of its own and take you to places you didn’t expect, forcing you to think critically about things you might not have otherwise considered.

And writing this resource for HDC was the thing that finally made me think about starting to care about politics.

How so?

My beast of a resource describes a number of ways dancers require support in their training beyond technique classes and artistic development, such as:

  • How to cope with and unwind from the physical duress of dance training
  • The need for accessible support systems and mentorship
  • Why we should address fundamental movement quality before adding more hours of training
  • Breathing. Just do it.
  • The importance of educating dancers on what proper cross-training is and integrating it into their training.
#traininggoals

#traininggoals

But then I got to the “how” part- How do we fit this information into the current dance training frame-work so that it actually reaches the dancers. I had trouble writing this part.

Who is responsible for implementing these strategies with dancers?

Of course, it’s the dance teachers, isn’t it? Dance teachers have the most influence on the dancers through direct training, education, and mentorship (for better or for worse).

And their ability to do simple geometry…

But many dance teachers only know dance. And while this may be the norm, I think it’s time for that to change. If we want dancers to have the well-rounded training that helps them become their best, dance teachers need continuing education, which is not standard. Yet.

Many teachers have gaps to fill in their knowledge of functional anatomy, biomechanics, and cross-training principles, and should develop an appreciation of the roles the nervous system and movement quality play in their students’ training.

I’m not saying they need to be experts at everything because that is unrealistic, but having a general appreciation is the minimum. A weekend course, or a few books is a good place to start.

So not only do we need to educate and support dancers, we need to educate dance teachers to support the formation of more successful dancers.

KEY CONCEPT #3: Dance teachers need accessible continuing education on how to provide a more well-rounded experience for their dance students, beyond technique.

To educate dance teachers, we need to make teacher training programs accessible to them that go beyond conveying technique.

Not only that, we need to deliberately make space for this in their lives, because a dance teacher rarely makes enough money to take this type of training, or has the time in their curriculum to fit supplemental training into their already packed rehearsal and class schedule, or is even aware that this type of training will be an asset for their dancers.

They don’t see the value, and they don’t see it as a priority. How do we get dance teachers to value their education? To see that they can make a difference in their students’ lives if they did something different?

And hell if RAD has room in it’s syllabus to include “unwinding strategies” as part of their ballet education. Prove me wrong, RAD. Prove me wrong.

So the teacher him/herself lacks the power to elicit change in the system, because teachers can’t teach what they’ve never experienced. I suppose this will be up to the next generation of teachers. Teachers-to-be reading this blog post…

And while it’s great to put the onus on the dance teachers to teach all the things we want them to teach, they need support as much as the dancers do! And I don’t think it’s just as simple as needing better educated dance teachers, but a team of support staff with the requisite expertise.

Kind of like GJUUM is doing for professional ballet in Europe.

KEY CONCEPT #4: Dance teachers can’t be and know everything for their students. A support staff with multiple expertise, or a trusted network working together, would provide the best experience for a dance school/program.

And I kept thinking like this: Going further and further back to find, if not the dance teacherswho could most influence the current dance training paradigm?

Who do we need to speak with who can help teachers see the value in continuing education, and make it accessible to them so they can provide a better experience for their students?

I thought in terms of a university dance program, because that’s the system I have the most experience with.

Got my bike helmet and my BFA, what more could a girl need?

The hierarchy I came up with went something like this.

  • Teaching staff (directly providing education)–> dancers
  • Dance program director (scheduling and influencing what is taught)–>Teaching staff
  • Faculty of arts chair (makes decisions on what can be included in the curriculum)–> dance program director
  • University chair (in charge of budget distribution for all faculties)–> faculty of arts chair
  • Government (decides how much funding universities receive)–> University chair
  • Voting citizens (decide who will make the decisions on university funding)–> Government
  • Advocates for arts education (parents, dancers, dance educators, etc)–>Voting citizens
  • Scientists/evidence (who study the importance of support for dancers and arts education) –> advocates for arts education
  • Bodies who fund research–> Scientists

And that’s as far as I got, but I’m sure it could go on, and I’m sure I’ve missed some important people in between, like where do the parents fit in?

But we can see that to reach the dancer we must look farther back, to a government level to identify the point at which, in this hierarchy, we can make the most impact on the content of a dancer’s education.

And the government level is where the money is.

Dolla dolla bill y’all

Yes, unfortunately it comes down partially to dat ca$h money…

Question: Why do professional ballet dancers have such a short off-season?

Answer: Money.

Ballet dancers don’t make mad money, and so they can’t afford to take that much time off working. If the companies were to receive more funding it would allow the dancers take more time off without worrying about losing money while not performing.

For example,The National Ballet in Toronto gets only 5 weeks off per year. They are left to their own devices to cross-train or hire a personal trainer, and the only time of day they have to cross-train is lunch hour. Compare that to other professional athletes who often get 3 or 4 months off and have an integrated training/medical staff working closely with them. Their strength training is considered crucial and is built into their schedules.

Dance may not be a sport, but dancers are athletes who need a similar, integrated system to support them.

KEY CONCEPT #5: Dancers deserve the care, appreciation, and funding other elite professional athletes receive.

Dance science to the rescue.

A Volkmar original masterpiece

#1 from the “Dancing test tube” series. A Volkmar original.

I now see much more clearly the role the dance-sciences play in supporting dancers.

I am not an academic. I think research and evidence is great, but I prefer the real-life “doing”.  Academics sometimes (not always!) have a poor grasp on how their work fits into real life and, as important as their findings are, they mean little if they can’t be applied.

We all have a role to play, and I’d be remiss not to appreciate that scientific evidence has huge potential to shape the future of how dancers are trained. And it is the government who ultimately decides who gets funding to research what.

How much funding does dance science research get?

My guess is not much. Funding the arts in general is often under appreciated because we don’t see how it helps give us more scientific evidence: The facts and stuff that drive us to make important decisions and “advance” as a species towards enlightenment.

Why did the world decide fat-free food was good? Science told us so (and science was wrong about that).

Science is great and all, but what if I told you that…

…arts education makes the world a better, more compassionate place to live, and helps people innovate better

Read: The arts help people do science better.

This leads me to share my recent fascination with George Lakoff and his teachings in cognitive linguistics and neuroscience. Please watch this video:

Arts education is a big deal:

“Need more innovation? Big ideas come from neural simulation: Reading, thinking, putting things together. Not just doing math and science. These don’t train the imagination in that way. Training people to innovate requires reading and learning about the arts”

What does this mean?

Lakoff explains that to understand why arts education is important, we need to understand how the brain works.

The same part of the brain is used when you imagine something as when you are actually doing it, which can be explained by mirror neurons.

This is called simulation: Engaging mirror neurons to understand and connect with other people and the world and becoming a part of those things. Imagining things that don’t exist in the world but that you could experience through reading poetry, understanding language, seeing a play, visual art, or dance, for example.

Simulation is how we innovate by putting ideas together (ideas being physical circuits in our brain). And innovation is only possible by engaging mirror neurons allowing us to connect with other people and the world around us empathetically, through exposure to the arts.

Boom. 

KEY CONCEPT #6: Exposure to the arts helps us become better at innovation and allows us to connect with other people and world around us- Things we don’t learn from math and science. 

Innovation, new ideas, collaboration and getting along with other people, requires exposure to the arts, and it is sad to see things being cut from schools that provide this experience of simulation: Recess, arts, gym class, things that allow us to embody information and empathize with each other.

Politicians need to understand this.

Some schools want to cut recess, because BEARS!

And maybe dance scientists are so badass because they have the killer combination of arts and science together. Dance scientists may be the innovators we need to change the dance educational paradigm.

I wasn’t expecting to come to these conclusions.

Sometimes I surprise myself.

It appears that to make space in a dancer’s training for supplemental strategies to support their well-being, we need to speak with the governing bodies who dictate who can research and provide evidence on these matters.

This information then needs to be distributed to parents, and advocates of dancers and the arts, who need to express themselves effectively to their communities, convincing the government to allot more funds to allow dance schools and programs the space within their budget and schedule to educate and train dance teachers on how to convey these important ideas, who will then be able to reach the dancers.

And the resources can finally reach the peasants.

To support the dancer is a mission requiring the interdependent cooperation of many, all of whom have an important role to play.

I’m caught in a paradox, and I don’t know how to get out.

I believe that dancers must understand how to take care of themselves and be self-efficacious. No one can fix them and care for them but themselves.

I learned this the hard way.

But self-efficacy must be learned, as with any other skill, and unless we create a pathway to get the information to dancers and teach them how to care and advocate for themselves, it will be impossible for them to learn unless through injury.

Case in point: My life. And the reason this blog exists.

KEY CONCEPT #7: Self-efficacy, self-care, and self-advocacy are skills dancers should be able to learn with the proper educational paradigm, before injury, which is often too late. 

So I guess to wrap this up, please, if you are voting age, let’s support dancers and their needs, and arts education in general, by electing a government that funds the arts, and the sciences that support the arts.

We can start by doing something about this guy: