Working with Young People and Dance
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
One of the best bits of advice I received as a dance student was that you won’t realise the journey you are on until you are in it. It is not until you have tried new things and gained experience throughout the years that you will see how it all links together.
Sometimes we feel as if we need to know what path we are on or want to go on. In reality, our path is shaped for us by the experiences we have and the things we do/learn. Each experience shapes you as a dancer/dance artist and with each bit of new knowledge you will be able to look back and see how it all weaves together, what you are drawn towards and where your interests/passions lie. I was so excited to speak to Molly as her experience mapped a pathway in dance education even though it wasn’t part of a ‘plan’.
I met Molly Watson when we were training together in a youth dance academy in Leeds and have been frequent collaborators and friends since. Molly is a teacher for a variety of dance organisations in Leeds and Yorkshire and has a passion for encouraging young people to dance. She is inspired by the people around her from peers, tutors and students and strongly believes in continuing the accessibility of dance that That Dance Talk is advocating for.
Molly leads classes which are full of creativity and that encourage participants to develop autonomy over their movement. This is so important especially for young dancers as having the ability to make their own choices on a dance move or having the confidence to ‘freestyle’ or ‘improvise’, is something that feeds into their life outside of the studio.
I asked Molly the following questions.
Questions with Molly Watson
ES: How is it for you to be teaching such a physical practice in this time of crisis (Covid-19)?
MW: Dance is an art form which is built on the foundation of being able to do it any time, any place, anywhere. Therefore, to enter a time where we need to rely on technology to teach and relay information to do with our bodies has been different to say the least. It has become clear to me that a big part of my passion for teaching dance is embedded in its physical engagement with others and the intimacy created by actually being and learning from peers and tutors. However, the crisis has shone a light on how adaptable we can be when sharing our dance practice and even though we are not able to be brought together to learn physically, there is something special about knowing your students are still actively learning.
As someone who facilitates dance for people of all ages, why do you think dance is so important for young people to be involved in?
Not every child learns best by sitting at a desk and learning the ‘conventional’ way. Therefore involving dance in the school day can really allow other pupils to excel and explore their physical and creative capabilities. It is a well known fact that dance has positive impacts on social, mental and physical health, so why is more not being done by the education system to integrate and prioritise this in every school and not just burying it deep within the PE curriculum? As a dance practitioner working with young children from 3 upwards, the creativity they have will forever continue to wow me. I often teach groups that have never taken part in a dance class before yet when given the opportunity to be creative in this setting, they can thrive and produce a movement/shape or piece of choreography that is completely innovative and that I have never seen before, even by some professionals! It is this which makes me so certain that dance should be accessible to all.
Dance classes outside of education are also incredibly highly valuable! They allow young people to challenge themselves by learning in a different environment where they are encouraged to learn in such a varied way. They learn from their tutors, their peers and most importantly themselves. Dance allows you to engage students to learn a discipline but at the same time encourages and allows the opportunity for freedom of their own thoughts and ideas which to me is invaluable and one of the many reasons I love what I do.
How did you make steps to starting your career in dance?
The dance industry is vast and continues to expand, integrating and weaving within other art forms. And it is important to note, the people within that dance industry are continuing to expand, integrate and weave between not only art forms but many different career paths and specialities. What is brushed over so casually in educational settings, is the possibility of what a career in dance can offer. As you make decisions on what you may study at higher/further education or even what you do in your spare time, you should be able to know all the avenues in which you can be involved in the dance industry. However, what has become clear to me during my dance training and freelance journey is that the way to know all of this is to be involved!
Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!
It is a brilliant way to make connections with companies and people but most importantly, it is a way to gain experience in how dance events/classes/shows are put together and run. Join Youth clubs, take part in workshops, go to events you really want to go to and really use the opportunity to dive into every aspect of the dance industry. The industry is small (too small!) and therefore not always every opportunity that is around is advertised or shared widely. It values its community and therefore extends its hand to individuals they know and connect with, therefore to be in the know and to connect with companies you admire is vital. For example, I joined a Youth Academy at the age of 17 and trained with them for 2 years. Whilst studying for my dance degree, I began to volunteer for them in the running of their shows/assisting with classes. This then evolved into freelancing for them, gaining the opportunity to support amazing teachers and being exposed to their way of teaching and engaging others in dance, which has shaped the way I approach teaching to this day. The connection I built with those teachers then opened me up to more freelance work for other companies. I am currently working as an Access & Education Officer which allows me to teach, engage and share my passion for dance with individuals from the age of 3 up to 80!
The journey you take in your dance career will depend on the experiences and opportunities that you take and recieve throughout your training. Each bit of experience will enrich your learning and help you become an individual capable of many different things.
How do you know if a career in dance is for you?
As young dancers, we can often be quick to judge ourselves and compare ourselves and our abilities to others. However, what is often forgotten is the heart of dance - enjoyment! We dance when we are happy, we dance when we are sad, we dance in everyday life to express ourselves and sometimes when making decisions about a career in dance, this extremely important factor of why we dance is forgotten? I believe this is its greatest strength. If you enjoy what you do, the people around you are more likely to enjoy it too; whether that being a performer, maker, teacher, facilitator, producer, marketer, admin, tech support and many many more.
Molly Watson has helped to compile a list of places to explore if you are looking to engage with children and youth opportunities as well as chances to volunteer to gain experience as a youth dance teacher.
Check out the great Children & Youth Opportunities that Leeds has to offer (Please note, class offerings may not be available due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis)
Phoenix Dance Theatre: https://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/get_involved/
Northern School of Contemporary Dance: https://www.nscd.ac.uk/take-part/classes/
Yorkshire Dance: https://yorkshiredance.com/coursesclasses/
Dance Action Zone Leeds: https://dazl.org.uk
Don't forget to check out U.Dance Digital 2020 - an online celebration of the UK's youth dance: https://udancedigital.org
If you are looking to gain experience in teaching and facilitating dance, be sure to look on organisations webpages for specific opportunities. (Please note, volunteering opportunities might not be available at this time due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. For tips on next steps for graduating dance in a pandemic, check out the blog post: Graduating Dance in Covid-19).
If you can’t find volunteer opportunities available online, don’t be afraid to reach out to the relevant member of staff to enquire about gaining experience. Be sure when you get in touch that your email is personalised to you and states what kind of experience you are looking for as well as time frames and your current work experience. We appreciate that it is not always a financially viable option to give up your time in order to volunteer however even a one-off event or a few hours here and there is a perfect start in gaining experience. Don’t forget that any non-dance related work has transferable skills therefore bear that in mind when applying for work - look for how you have worked with people in the past, highlight your training and commitment to teaching/sharing/facilitating dance.