The sharing of knowledge
Meet Rhiannon Newton, from the Australian College of Physical Education (ACPE)
How long have you been teaching?
Teaching has always been an important part of my practice as a professional dancer and choreographer. I enjoy teaching warm-ups for the dancers I work with, professional-level classes, and throughout my career I have regularly taught in tertiary institutions. I began teaching dance at ACPE in 2015.
What drew you to teaching dance?
Teaching helps me to develop and refine what interests me as a choreographer. I love how teaching deepens my understanding of movement and how the body works. I love breaking down movements and finding new ways of communicating what I’m focusing on when I’m dancing. I also find it incredibly gratifying how tangible the learning is that takes place in the dance studio. I love how a simple cue, or image, can radically shift the way a student is approaching a movement.
Do you specialise in a particular age group?
I mainly teach tertiary-level or professional dancers. At ACPE I largely teach contemporary dance technique and creative process units. I enjoy teaching students at this stage in their career because they are beginning to hone their individual interests and pathways as professionals. I enjoy how the experiences that I offer them can help them make these connections to what interests them about dance and to make that leap toward understanding how dancing knowledge is really relevant to different parts of our lives and our culture more broadly.
How do you balance the importance of technique with the importance of artistry?
I enjoy supporting students to find that balance of both. I find it fascinating how some students have such an innate feeling for the overall quality of a phrase or piece, but perhaps need support to find how their alignment, or how their understanding of the initiation points, can support them to be able to fully embody the material. While, equally interestingly, other students may not struggle with having things in the right place at the right time, but need support to find how weight and momentum flows through a phrase – and how different speed, dynamics, gaze and intention can make their dancing come alive.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching dance?
I really enjoy the journey of a semester and observing the sometimes quite radical developments in the students’ approach to moving. There is something about this physical transmission of knowledge that is so rewarding. I also enjoy teaching students a year or two down the track and realising how that information is still available to them – saved in their nervous system and ready to be called upon.
What has changed since you were a student?
I trained at WAAPA and so had incredible teachers that passed on very valuable information that transformed my understanding of contemporary dance and what it meant to have a career in the arts. Teaching in the context of ACPE, I try to keep in mind that my students are potentially going to go down many different career paths in the arts, education and possibly other sectors. As a result, I consider how I teach – the ways I communicate information, and the way I respond to the things my students are doing – because this seems to be one of the key skills I am passing on. I think there is such incredible value in how an awareness of your body helps you to be present in any situation. That awareness, that presence in yourself can be a such a useful tool for making good decisions in whatever situation you might find yourself in.
Advice to students on a teaching career?
Something about this kind of "presence" that teaching requires. The sensation of teaching reminds me of the sensation of performing, where I am paying very close attention to what is happening in my body and in my environment. It is from that sort of attunement to my body and what my students are doing that I feel especially useful (and maybe even inspiring) pieces of information emerge.