A Review

by Kim Snider


Book: Riley, J. (2021). Teaching Drama With, Without and About Gender: Resources, Ideas and Lesson Plans for Students 11−18 (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003080800

Gender is a timely topic in today’s classrooms, one whose impact is certainly felt in drama spaces. Jo Riley’s Teaching Drama With, Without and About Gender is a welcome addition to the field, offering ‘new insight into how existing drama units can be redefined to create a space where the exploration of gender identity is not only allowed but something exciting and joyful to focus on.’


In the introduction, Riley acknowledges the need for safety for 2SLGBTQ+ students, providing a succinct overview of gender concepts, including Judith Butler’s notion of ‘gender performativity,’ and a helpful glossary of terms. The author’s understanding of gender is nuanced and inclusive, and she positions drama as a site of inquiry to explore one’s identity, ‘practice at real life,’ and interrogate notions of gender with students.


Each chapter provides background on a range of drama in education and theatre forms, including children’s stories, mask, Elizabethan drama, and Japanese Noh theatre. Jonothan Neelands and Tony Goode’s conventions of role on the wall and still image are woven into practical sections, while more advanced lessons draw from theatre practitioners Augusto Boal and Robert Lepage. The book might feel a bit dense for novice drama teachers, but it offers a wide range of theatre forms that may pique their interest to dig deeper into these traditions.


Chapters are divided into sections: teaching drama with, without, and about gender. Each one provides theoretical considerations and ‘excavations,’ with practical lesson ideas and prompting questions for students. In teaching drama with gender, the story of Peter Rabbit is used to explore emerging identities as students imagine how the story might change if Peter’s gender changes. Other lessons explore ‘shapeshifting’ in Grimms’ fairy tales and gender roles in the ancient epic of the Ramayana. Drama without gender offers techniques for mask work that move students away from gendered roles. Drama about gender examines the tradition of gender fluid casting in Elizabethan theatre and touches on the work of Merce Cunningham and Anne Bogart. Though some teachers might wish for more fully developed lesson ideas, these excavations are useful points of entry for educators who, like me, are rethinking the gender possibilities in the sources we teach.


The book covers Western theatre as well as Asian theatre forms. Riley trained in and has written extensively about Chinese theatre, and her expertise is clear; however, I wanted more discussion of considerations for exploring world theatre forms with students without appropriating. It would also benefit from more explicit mention of 2SLGBTQ+ artists, characters, texts, and themes, as it is vital for 2SLGBTQ+ students to see themselves represented in class materials. Riley’s ideas are an excellent basis for a gender in drama unit, but what about gender in the day to day life of the drama classroom? Apart from a thoughtful discussion of safe vs. brave spaces in the introduction, there is little here on tackling thorny issues of prejudice, misogyny, and transphobia in schools.


Overall, Teaching Drama With, Without and About Gender is an expansive and thoughtful resource for educators. It acknowledges theatre’s heavily gendered traditions while, at the same time, skillfully using them to problematize notions of gender and envision new, more liberatory ways to think about gender in our classrooms.




Kim Snider is a drama, English, and gender studies teacher in Toronto. She is a former CODE President and staff advisor at the Toronto District School Board’s Gender and Sexuality Network.

A Review of a Few Key Dance Resources

by Joanna Perlus


When I was asked to share my thoughts on dance in our elementary schools, my first instinct was to do so through an expressive movement piece. After all, I was a professional dance artist before becoming a teacher. Then I remembered that teachers do not all have to be good at everything. Some of us are experts at languages or math or social studies. But this does not mean we cannot teach subjects outside of our comfort zone. In fact, as core-classroom teachers, many of us do every day. When I started my career in the elementary panel, I was able to provide my Gr. 6 students with dance education informed by years of study and a passion for the art; however, I understand that not all teachers come from a dance background, have an expertise in dance pedagogy, or are even comfortable moving their bodies, and that’s okay! Teaching dance in our elementary classrooms does not require that we become expert dancers, or that our students become performers. Dance education is actually much more than that. Through dance, both teachers and students can gain confidence in movement and demonstrate healthy risk taking as we learn alongside our students. With a little support and some easily accessible resources, we can all teach dance meaningfully. So in place of a phenomenal TikTok video, here are some thoughts on how elementary teachers can strengthen their pedagogy and feel comfortable teaching dance.

The Power of Dance

As a dance educator for twenty years I have ample and undeniable evidence that dance is essential in students' lives. The separation of body and mind does not help student learning. It is, therefore, vital that our education system (both elementary and secondary) has a healthy dance curriculum. Dance has the power to maintain and/or increase physical and mental health, establish close relationships with peers and teachers, increase students’ confidence, cultivate inclusivity, and foster expression. Dance is a discipline that instills drive, responsibility, collaboration, and creativity.

In recent years, teachers have been asked during staff meetings and professional development sessions to get to know their students on a more meaningful level and to encourage their students to express their student voice. This is something at which arts educators have always excelled. In arts courses, personal expression is integral to creativity, the core of the arts. The dance class, however, takes the fostering of self expression to an even higher level, involving both the body and the mind. In dance, students feel free to take risks, bond with their classmates, and express themselves both physically and emotionally like nowhere else in school.

Dance is a universal language. International and ESL students can excel, build confidence, and succeed in an institution that can otherwise be very alienating. In dance, they get to be a part of a new community where language is no longer a barrier. For those students that, for cultural or socio-economic reasons, might not have been exposed to dance outside of school, dance can be a place where they discover a new passion, a new way of learning and communicating, and one that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Dance in the Elementary Curriculum

The elementary dance curriculum, particularly JK to Grade 6, focuses almost entirely on learning and developing the elements of movement (Body, Energy, Relationship, Space and Time) and creating movement that communicates thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the focus of the learning which will most often be interdisciplinary. E.g. A unit combining science, dance and literacy expectations.

For those who don’t feel they have the resources or expertise to teach dance and are relying on Youtube videos, one-time visits from guest artists, or a favor from a colleague to fulfill their dance curriculum, I have a few suggestions.

1. CODE

Full disclosure: I am the Dance Liaison for the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators. I recommend becoming a member of this provincial subject association that provides both elementary and secondary teachers with practical, up-to-date resources, in both French and English, to use in Ontario classrooms. CODE supports the teaching and learning of dance and drama. It provides educational resources (lesson plans, unit plans, assessment tools, games/warm ups, etc); it advocates for and promotes dance and drama in our schools; and it builds connections between a growing network of artists, arts organizations, and not-for-profit theatre and dance companies. Resources found on the website are easy to follow and implement in classrooms.

CODE is excited to announce that their 52nd annual conference will return to an in person format. This year the focus will be on The Future of Tomorrow! Continuous Learning, Infinite Possibilities. The conference offers an active weekend packed with guest artists, speakers, workshops, and discussions that focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion. It will show teachers how drama and dance education can provide exciting opportunities to identify, learn about, and seek action to respond to systemic racism, discrimination, and other forms of oppression. Delegates will be supported in their journey to strengthen their skills, build their knowledge and resources, and support the movement to be more culturally responsive and relevant in drama and dance spaces. Please join in the fun at the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel, October 21st- 23rd, 2022.

2. COLLABORATION WITH ARTISTS

A powerful resource to assist with the “how to” is to work collaboratively with a guest artist or dance specialist who can provide teachers with the tools needed to ignite an enriching dance program, as well as the pedagogy needed to continue teaching independently. More than simply bringing in a guest dance instructor, this method involves an in-depth collaboration between the artist and the teacher, and will help the teachers build the expertise and confidence they need to teach dance on their own.

Consider looking to your local community and the larger dance community for more dance artists who are committed to dance education, in partnership with teachers. The Ontario Arts Council funds an artist in the schools initiative that invites project proposals from schools and artists. The value in co-planning a project proposal is that it ensures that your professional learning needs, and the needs of your students, are taken into account from the very beginning. Connect with your provincial and municipal arts councils, wherever you are. Who knows what might be possible!

CODE has created a resource supported by Prologue, for teachers and artists working together entitled Best Practices: The Arts in Ontario Classrooms. This resource details why teachers and artists should work together, and provides suggestions for effective collaboration between artists and teachers. “Just Dance” is good fun but cannot replace teacher-led thoughtful integrated practice in our elementary schools.

3. WORKSHOPS

Action Pak D’Action is a creative movement resource manual for elementary teachers. In the workshop, attendees are given a movement vocabulary that enables them, and their students, to meet the expectations of the Ontario Dance curriculum. Action Words propel exploration of the body moving through space, in time, with different energies and relationships.

Action Pak d'Action co-creators, Debra Kapp, Allison Gamble and Susan Bailey also offer workshops to both teachers and students both in and outside the classroom.

I recently hosted Debra’s workshop, and found it to be an invaluable experience. Imagine a room filled with excited and nervous Prep teachers, Phys Ed teachers, Arts teachers and classroom teachers, ready to participate in their first in-person workshop in over two years. Nerves quickly turned to exhilaration as the participants collaborated, laughed, and most importantly, surprised themselves with the work they created. They did not learn any dance “steps”. Instead, they came away with lessons, activities, and exercises that focus on dance curriculum expectations without requiring a demonstration of dance technique or performance skills. Teachers felt empowered and prepared to take these ideas back to the classroom. They clearly felt confident in their ability to provide Dance in Education to their students across the curriculum.

Describing the workshop, Debra Kapp reflects:

It was an awesome experience to finally be together as educators, working in collaboration in the same room. As the workshop leader, it was gratifying to see teachers creating together… sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings… The power of dance was felt and spread throughout the room. debbiekapp@gmail.com

Final Thoughts

The benefits of dance are varied and plenty for both teachers and students. Kinesthetic learners that have difficulty learning from books or lectures can learn more effectively through movement. Students can succeed in ways they never have before, and teachers can find new ways to communicate with their students. Strong dance in our elementary schools supports dance in our secondary schools for students of all levels and abilities and including those who may wish to continue their study of dance at the post secondary level. Various organizations such as OSSDF (Ontario Secondary School Dancefest) provide opportunities for secondary dance students from across the province to connect and share their work outside the competitive environment that often surrounds dance events.

With the support and resources available, and by collaborating with artists, elementary teachers of all backgrounds and levels of experience can teach dance and teach it well because dance is for every BODY. Whether or not our teachers have ever “flossed”, or can tell the difference between the “stanky leg” or a “pirouette,” every elementary teacher can learn along with their students how to communicate meaning through movement and to share what they are feeling, thinking and learning through their bodies and their minds in a powerful way. Dance can be an active, and memorable part of every elementary classroom. All they have to do is count to eight!

Joanna Perlus, BFArts (Concordia) and BEd (York), continues with more than 20 years in the classroom to bring her enthusiasm, creativity, leadership and love of dance and visual art to students. Her past experiences as a professional dancer and commissioned artist have fueled her passion to advocate actively for the arts in education. Joanna is the Teacher’s Council Coordinator for the Ontario Secondary School Dance Festival (OSSDF), the newly elected Dance Liaison for the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators (CODE), and a long-term member of the Newtonbrook Secondary School family where she teachers dance, drama and visual arts and is both the assistant lead of the Arts & Culture SHSM, and the Head Coach for the competitive dance team. Joanna's practice is deeply embedded with a "dance for all students" educational approach emphasizing the creative process, critical thinking, safely strong technique, and the embodiment of thoughts, feelings, and insights in student compositions.

A Review of the National Ballet Schools Tools for Educators

by Megan Schroeder


Finding reliable resources that meet the needs of the various learners in our classroom can sometimes be a struggle. While there are so many wonderful Arts resources available online, it can be difficult to navigate the waters and find resources that are adaptable and accessible for educators with varying levels of experience in dance.


As a dance educator who has been involved in a number of dance resource writing initiatives over the course of my career, I appreciate the value of carefully curated resources that provide enriching opportunities for students to engage in dance in creative and critical ways. Quality resources can also provide growth opportunities for educators looking for new ways to infuse meaningful dance experiences into their classroom practice


The National Ballet School’s Tools for Educators website serves both of these purposes.


The NBS Tools for Educators is a comprehensive resource made up of interactive, self-serve lessons, and unit plans for emerging and experienced dance educators alike. It includes lesson and unit plans for grades 2-12, with the bulk of the content geared towards junior grades (3-6.)


The distinguishing trait of this resource is the use of video lessons, led by experienced and diverse dance educators from across the country. The NBS Tools for Educators resource breaks down the material into carefully curated chunks, allowing educators to see the full picture, and how it might play out in their classroom before starting.


This resource provides a foundation for dance educators of varying experience. For those who are new to dance education, the resources offer a pressure-free window into the world of dance. The pre-recorded videos, along with the fulsome teaching guides, allow new dance educators to explore the artform and its benefits alongside their students. For the more experienced dance educator, it provides enrichment opportunities and jumping off points to help them engage their students in new ways.


Curriculum Connections:


It is clear that the content of the resource kit was developed with a commitment to meeting the expectations of the Ontario Arts curriculum for Dance.


The very first tool that educators are provided with is the Educator’s Roadmap. This engaging infographic lays out a pathway for educators to be able to touch on the three overall expectations of the Ontario Arts Curriculum. (A1. Creating and Presenting, A2. Reflecting Responding and Analyzing, A3. Exploring Forms and Cultural Contexts)


Students have the opportunity to engage with lesson and unit plans that ask them to create, present, watch, and analyze using the creative and critical process. They are also invited to engage in the exploration of dance forms, and cultural contexts through lessons that are specifically developed for broadening cultural understanding of how dance might present itself in various cultures.

There are also reflective opportunities built into the lesson plans, inviting students to make personal connections; especially in the Sharing Dance resource which is updated annually and culminates in the NBS Sharing Dance Day event in early June.


Pedagogical Approaches:


It is critically important that resources bear in mind the diverse backgrounds of the various learners in schools. In reviewing the content of the resource, there is a visible commitment to presenting diverse content and an effort to create culturally relevant pedagogy. While the resource is curated by a ballet-based organization, the content is not ballet-centred. They have made a strong connection to Indigenous dance forms, hip-hop culture, and organic student-centred creative movement. Of particular note, is the secondary resource Beyond Moving Educational Kit which focuses on the life journey of Siphesihle November, South African born Principal Dancer for the National Ballet of Canada. This documentary and accompanying educators guide is a demonstration of a strong commitment to opening up conversations about accessibility and equity in the field of dance, and ballet in particular.


Conclusion:

The quest to find a resource that not only covers curriculum and program needs, but also speaks to educators can be a challenging one. The developers of the National Ballet School’s Tools for Educators resource have created a resource that strives toward this goal. They have created a site that is comprehensive, has a natural flow, and establishes strong connections to the Ontario Arts curriculum. The resource is a great launching point for educators who are looking for ways to enhance their understanding of the Ontario Dance curriculum, explore Dance as a form of expression, and use dance as a pathway towards creative and critical thinking.


For access to other resources rooted in similar practice, please also consider joining the Council of Drama and Dance Educators, or visit their website at www.code.on.ca in order to view an array of resources developed to facilitate the delivery of meaningful Drama and Dance learning opportunities.

Megan Schroeder is a Dance Educator with the Toronto District School Board. For the last 16 years, she has been employed by Claude Watson School for the Arts where she teaches Dance to grade 4 – 8 students. In addition to receiving her undergraduate degree in Dance from York, she also received her Junior/Intermediate teaching qualifications from YU’s Faculty of Ed. in the specialized Fine Arts division. After completing her Honors Specialist in Dance at York University in 2007, Megan has gone on to take an active role in Professional Dance, and Dance Education initiatives across the province.

She currently sits on the Board of Directors for Little Pear Garden Collective, as well as the Executive committee for the Pulse Ontario Youth Dance Conference. She has also

been involved in curriculum reform, and has taken the lead on various writing projects for the Ministry of Education. These experiences have ignited her passion for providing professional development opportunities to Ontario Certified Teachers in order to help increase the presence of quality dance education in our province’s schools.