Moved by Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt

Moved by Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt 2
Niagara Falls
Summer in Canada has been amazing. And hot. Very hot. On another, what seems to be typical hot and humid day, I take the subway and bus towards York University, where I will have my very first interview for my Moving Educators research. I’ve already been exploring Toronto, Canada, and I have to confess I kind of fell in love with the city (and area) already. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Canada is a beautiful country with very warm and welcoming people. Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt is certainly one of those people. When I arrive at her spacious office she greets me with a hug and a smile and I immediately feel very welcome.
Fisher-Stitt is the Associate Dean (Academic) of the School of the Arts at York University. With a background as a ballet dancer for the National Ballet of Canada, a technique teacher and dance researcher, she has great knowledge of dance and education. At York she has, among other positions, also served as Chair of the Department of Dance and as the director of the MA/PhD Program in Dance. That makes her the perfect person to talk to about how to move educators.

Arts in Ontario education
After we exchange memories of the Dance and the Child International conference of last year (in Copenhagen, Denmark), I tell her my story and she immediately starts searching for articles that could help me with my research. First, she brings me up to speed on the Canadian educational system. In Canada, every province has its own curriculum. I’m surprised, but it also makes sense. Compared to where I’m from, this country is huge, which means it must be very hard to have just one system. The Ontario K-12 (Kindergarten – 12 grade) curriculum states:
Education in the arts is essential to students’ intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth and well-being. Experiences in the arts – in dance, drama, music, and visual arts – play a valuable role in helping students to achieve their potential as learners and to participate fully in their community and in society as a whole.

In this introduction it becomes clear that according to the curriculum, all four art subjects should be integrated in education. It also describes the subjects separately, so there’s a full section on dance:

Through exploring dance and movement, students will develop an understanding of the art form, themselves, and others, and will learn about the lives of people in different times, places, and cultures. They will develop practical artistic skills, critical analysis skills, and a variety of communication skills.

Moved by Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt 3

Teaching dance
The curriculum also describes what the government expects from teachers:

Teaching is key to student success. Teachers are responsible for developing appropriate instructional strategies to help students achieve the arts curriculum expectations, as well as appropriate methods for assessing and evaluating student learning.

It’s possible for a school to hire a dance teacher, but Fisher-Stitt tells me that the subjects are primarily given by generalist teachers. Which means that, even though it’s in the curriculum, dance is not taught in every school. “Usually the generalist teachers refuse to teach dance, because they don’t feel comfortable working with their bodies”. She makes a point there, I’ve worked with many school teachers and the first thing they always tell me is: I don’t know how to move. When I ask what they’re afraid of, they tell me that they don’t know if they’re able to learn and teach dance technique. Fisher-Stitt explains: “Dance in elementary schools is about creating, improvisation, expression and looking at dance, it is not about specific skills. Dance technique won’t be taught until secondary school”. I especially liked this paragraph from the curriculum:

Dance is expressive movement with purpose and form. All dance communication is transmitted through movement – that is, through the body movements and gestures of the dancer. A dancer is, therefore, both the performer and the instrument through which dance is expressed. It is not recommended that students at the elementary level be given instruction in formal dance techniques (e.g., ballet, Graham, Límon techniques). Instead, students will develop their own movement vocabularies that they will use to create dance pieces that communicate their feelings, ideas, and understandings. This approach to dance, as outlined in this curriculum, is based on dance pedagogies (e.g., Laban), and focuses on the use of movement and the elements of dance instead of rote repetition of dance steps.

Mentoring system
So in that way, the generalist teachers won’t have to learn specific dance skills. But how do we change their perspective on dance? “Recently, we started a project at YU, where we taught elementary school teachers how to teach dance. It was a mentoring system; every teacher gets a mentor. Somebody to coach them throughout the process.” By giving the teachers a mentor (dance teacher), they won’t have to immediately start teaching dance; first the teacher can be a teaching assistant in the dance class and then gradually he or she can take over the class. That way, they have access to ongoing feedback and advice.

Unfortunately, the project is not active now. “We need the government’s support. Without it, there is no project.” And until governments realize how important dance in education is, it will be difficult to get funding. “Dance is an essential part of educating human beings. It should simply be part of children’s education.” She concludes the talk by saying she is “very optimistic” and sees a lot of possibilities. That makes me very hopeful for the future of education.

Moved by Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt 4
Niagara Whirlpool
I leave York University with a smile on my face. My first talk was so amazingly inspiring. And it’s so good to know there are more people that think the same about the integration of dance in education. And this is just the beginning!
So please don’t hesitate to comment on my blogs. What do you think; should generalist teachers also teach dance? And what do you think of a mentoring system? Will that work? And why?
For more reading material, you can check out these links:

12 thoughts on “Moved by Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt

  1. Hi Laura, inspiring story again! And interesting as well, I don’t think I got ever educated in dance in primary school. As you can see on my movements on the dance floor now 🙂

    1 very general, but important question from my side: Why is teaching dance to children important? You stated this below, but do you have examples/studies? What happens if we don’t? Just curious!
    Education in the arts is essential to students’ intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth and well-being. Experiences in the arts – in dance, drama, music, and visual arts – play a valuable role in helping students to achieve their potential as learners and to participate fully in their community and in society as a whole.

    Good luck! X


    1. 🙂 Thanks for your lovely message. First of all, I think I’ve seen your moves many times, they are awesome!:) That is a very good question, which is not difficult to answer, but it will take some time to write all the reasons in just one comment. Hopefully it will get more clear in the next few months, where I will talk with amazing teachers, but also use quotes and sections from different studies. For now, I will state my personal opinion: movement is something we do every day, and there are people that need to move to be able to think. Still, we sit still in school all day. Which I find very strange. With dance, you are not only moving, but you are also expressing yourself. Your thoughts, emotions, feelings. For example: I’ve worked with kids who had language disabilities. To see these kids light up when they are able to express themselves in a different way, to be able to be themselves and not worry about their disabilities, that is one of the reasons I do what I do. There is a TED talk by Ken Robinson (a hero, if you ask me), which explains perfectly what I feel and know: (Do Schools Kill Creativity) Your question is actually the reason I’m on this journey. To be able to explain in words why dance should be integrated in schools. Hopefully it will become more clear in the near future. Thanks for asking it!


  2. A comparison. In Holland every child learns to ride a bike, even before primary school. Every parent considers him-/herself as a good teacher for their children to learn them how to write a bike. No one expects from the child that he has to win the Tour de France. Perhaps we should develop a similar attitude towards art teaching: it’s a blessing to develop your capability to express.


    1. What a great comparison! And yes, the attitude is often that we learn art to become great artists. While actually, we should focus more on the process of working on art than the product. With making and doing art, you are able to express yourself. Having a great painting or giving a beautiful dance performance is not what education is about. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  3. Dear laura I love to read your blog and adventures. Keep enjoying all the new talks you have, people you meet, places you go and experiences you have! I come back to you about all your research when I am home and love to share my foundations of Australia with you. Curious about your Australian stories when you will be there. Enjoy writing and reading! X


    1. Hi sweet Nele! What a lovely comment, thank you so much. I would love to talk when you’re back and hear all about your amazing adventures in Australia! So nice of you to want to share your insights. Enjoy your time there and hopefully we’ll speak soon! xx


      1. I have been teaching in Adelaide in a school with kids with lots of traumas and behaviour problems. Really hard, but such a wonderfull experience to see what dance could do with them. I’ve spoken a lot with the teachers and learned so much about the brains and what traumas does with the brain. With my knowledge about brain in relationship with dance, this was such a great exchange!
        Furthermore, are you going to the University of dance when you are in Melbourne? If so, please say hi to Jenny Kinder from me :-). I’ve observed dance classes at the university, had a tour around the school and have spoken hours and hours with the head of dance about dance in Australia. Maybe I should send you an email… My story becomes maybe to long here. ^^
        Let’s meet each other also when you are back in the Netherlands. We still have to eat our pizza together 😉 … X


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