New kids on the block

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Michelle Dursun examines some of the newer offerings in dance teaching organisations.


Rebecca Veitch, Melissa Stupel, Ellie Robinson and Gabrielle Robinson of Empowerdance. Photo: Matt Edwards
Rebecca Veitch, Melissa Stupel, Ellie Robinson and Gabrielle Robinson of Empowerdance. Photo: Matt Edwards

Australia has an extensive number of syllabus organisations (see our guide). Some syllabus organisations are steeped in traditions that span hundreds of years, such as Vaganova, Cecchetti and the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). Each of these organisations has a proud heritage that goes back to the very earliest days of dance as an artform. They have tapped into the richness and wisdom of these historical origins to shape dance training in Australia. Other syllabus organisations are proudly local, with curriculum that was developed here, such as Australian Dance Vision and Tapatak Oz. 

Over the years, syllabus organisations have evolved and embraced developments in technique, “safe dance” practice and new technology. Never have the benefits of belonging to a syllabus organisation for dance studios, teachers and students been more keenly felt than over the past couple of years when shutdowns required dance teachers and students to embrace new ways of operating. Digital concerts, competitions, exams and resources are just a few examples of the ways syllabus organisations have supported teachers and students.

In recent years a new breed of dance teaching organisation has developed, taking advantage of modern technology to supply tools and advice on-line. Today, syllabus organisations provide a wide range of services and opportunities to both dance teachers and students. Some of the services provided for teachers and studio owners include the provision of collaboration and connection opportunities, professional development training, workshops, accredited courses, business-management support and compliance assistance. For students, the range of benefits include nationally and internationally recognised standards and exams, competitions, summer schools and clear career pathways.

One of the big increases is in early-entry or toddler dance syllabi. Some of the most recent are:

Kinderballet is aimed at preschool level, originally for children between the ages of two and five years. These programs have been extended to children aged from 18 months to 10 years old and are designed by an ex-Royal Academy of Dance examiner to capture the attention of the students through imagination, creative movement and music specifically targeted to this age group. Programs include Cherubs Classes (for students aged between 1.5 and 2.5 years); Mummy and Me Classes (for 2 to 3.5 year olds); Tots Classes (3.5 to 5 years); Next Steps Classes (5 to 7 years); Aspirants Classes (8 to 10 years) and Jumping Jack Classes (4 to 6 years). 

Ready Set Dance is another more recent dance syllabus targeted towards young dancers. The program, developed in 2014, is now taught in over 250 locations around Australia and New Zealand covering jazz, tap, hip hop, singing and music. With a vision to get the world moving one pre-schooler at a time, the team expanded the offering to include Ready Set Ballet in 2017. In partnership with Nickelodeon, the Ready Set Dance Team now has a daily TV show for pre-schoolers and toddlers to dance in their living rooms.

Little Ballet Dancer is another offering in the children’s dance world. Founded by Debbie Shannon, a dance teacher who trained in the Borovansky and Royal Academy of Dance traditions, this on-line program is aimed at providing an inclusive ballet experience for “all little superheroes who love to dance”. Started to ensure that the appeal of ballet was not lost on boys (who may have been outnumbered in girl-dominated ballet classes), and to girls who wanted to use their imaginations in a non-gender-specific way, the program is all about nurturing the love of dance and moving to music.

A fourth offering in this space is babyballet, a ballet and tap syllabus that was introduced in 2005. Founded by Claire O’Connor and Barbara Peters, the program aligns with the Australian Early Years Learning Framework, “Belonging, Being and Becoming”, which provides the opportunity for babies and young children to learn and develop key life skills in a healthy and safe environment. The program has expanded to include 100 franchised schools now teaching over 30,000 children in Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Five different classes are offered, including babyballet tots (for toddlers aged 6 to 18 months); babyballet tinies (for toddlers ager 18 months to 3 years); babyballet movers (for 3 to 4 year olds); babyballet groovers (for 4 to 6 year olds) and babyballet tappers (for children aged 3 years and older).   

Little Ballet Dancer was created to encourage ‘all little superheroes who love to dance’.
Little Ballet Dancer was created to encourage ‘all little superheroes who love to dance’. Photo Matt Edwards.

A range of other newcomers in the dance world are focused on improving practices and safety for dancers.

Keep Kids Safe in Dance, founded by Jackie Scott, was set up to advocate for safe dance practices and raise awareness about safety and regulatory issues in dance. It offers courses and workshops to dance studio owners, teachers, parents, workshop facilitators and event planners to improve safety for dancers, such as  Studio Owner Child Safety Training and Teacher Child Safety Training. In addition to educating and mentoring dance teachers and studio owners, Keep Kids Safe in Dance also works with businesses to become child safe organisations and meet the requirements of Government policy. It has an extensive range of resources, posters and guides.

Empowerdance is a Registered Training Organisation that provides dance studio owners, school teachers and students with nationally recognised dance courses with qualifications from Certificate I in Dance through to a Diploma of Dance (Elite Performance). They have a couple of different models – the ELEVATE program for students – a mix of online theory education and practical training in the students’ studio of choice, or the Partnership Program which provides learning and assessment resources so schools and studios can deliver nationally recognised qualifications without all the start-up and compliance headaches. Empowerdance programs are now taught in over 80 schools and studios Australia-wide. The organisation also supports schools and studios with marketing and business strategies.

There are many benefits of belonging to a syllabus organisation. Most are focused on developing safe and logical progressions in levels of training and no one particular syllabus is required for students to achieve at the highest level. Additionally, the language of dance is universal, so dancers at an advanced level should be able to adapt to and pick up the nuances of a different syllabus fairly easily. The key is to ensure the right fit for your demographic and age of your students.

This article first appeared in the the Dance Australia 2022 Syllabus Guide, published in the Jan/Feb/Mar issue of 'Dance Australia'. Never miss a copy! Subscribe here and have your magazine delivered straight into your letterbox.


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