'Teaching is a calling'

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Jane Inglis-Keen is Associate Director at the National Ballet School, Melbourne

Photo by Ron Fung.
Photo by Ron Fung.

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 27 years at various dance schools in Victoria including the Australian Ballet School. I have also been tutoring and examining for the Royal Academy of Dance throughout Australia.

What drew you to teaching dance?

Ballet was my first love; however, teaching was not a natural progression for me. After travelling and dancing overseas, I worked in the travel industry for a few years. It was my husband who encouraged me to go back to the Australian Ballet School to complete my Advanced Diploma in Dance Teaching (Elite Dance). It was like going home!

My experience working in the “real” world gave me additional communication skills and married with my past professional ballet experience and the year of intense dance teacher training gave me the confidence to start teaching.

The dance studio is my happy place where magic can happen. I love to discover how I can unlock a dancer’s potential. To understand how they best learn. To develop their body awareness and their expression through music and movement.

All the aspects of my life just fell into place when I started teaching dance. I feel so fortunate to do what I love every day.

Do you specialise in a particular age group?

Not really. I love the challenge of teaching all age groups from primary to pre-professional students. Each age group has its own challenges to master. Little ones bring a natural joy of dance to the room, juniors are so eager to learn with lots of possibilities and the teen years are where I feel I can unlock a dancer’s potential.

Teaching for me is about understanding how each student learns, understanding what motivates them and developing their full physical expression through dance and music. 

How do you balance the importance of technique with the importance of artistry in your students?

First, I start building body and mind awareness through proprioception with my students at all levels and ages. We must master our body and focus our minds to dance to our full potential.

Then, the intention of the steps and music links technique and artistry. What are you saying in the movement? How does the music feel? Choreography is what, technique is how. Artistry is why.

Artistry to me is when the dancer is communicating a story or expressing sincere emotions with effortless movement and pure line. Therefore, artistry and technique are one.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching dance?

Everything about teaching is rewarding for me.
Sharing my passion of dance with my students;
Supporting a dancer to reach their full potential in private coaching sessions;
Seeing their confidence grow after they have had a positive experience with completing an examination or performance;
In the classroom – those “ah ha!” moments of truly understanding a concept in dance or achieving a personal goal;
Seeing the joy in the faces of students during a performance on stage.

What has changed since you were a student?

Many things have changed in dance education:

Ballet conditioning is more incorporated into dance training programs though in my day I learnt Lucette’s [Aldous’s] floor barre.

Introduction of organisations, like IADMS and Ausdance, which have championed dance medicine research and the introduction of safe dance practices and anatomical education.

Feedback is delivered in a far more positive and respectful way with a focus on the outcome not the individual.
Dance psychology – greater emphasis on positive mindset.
Technology – sharing of information and use of video and social media to improve technique. 

What advice would you give your students if they decide on a teaching career?

Being a dance teacher is a calling – it is not for everyone!

I believe you must be passionate about dance, really care for your students, love to learn/problem solve and enjoy being highly organised and creative all at the same time.

Teachers have a huge influence on a part of a student’s life – it’s a gift and a huge responsibility! You need to be prepared to embrace this and be excited by the victories along the way.

If you had to choose one main line of advice to pass on to your pupils, what would it be?

I can’t restrict it to one, how about two?
“Be kind, be diligent, be passionate about whatever you do in life.”
“Dance with passion, focus and gratitude in every moment.”

This is an extract from our Future Makers special in the current print issue of Dance Australia. Buy your copy at your favourite retailer or online here or here.

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