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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Incentive training?
Animated, Spring 1997. Judy Smith urges students to seize the initiative
The only certainty facing students at the end of a course of dance study in higher education is the fact that too many will be chasing too few positions. Job descriptions ask for highly motivated, committed, independent team members, resourceful, rapidly responsive, knowledgeable and frequently experienced people, who are tactful and politically aware yet who also have clearly defined personal values. The big challenge for any course of study is to provide both the opportunity and the incentive for students to develop these skills and personal attributes so that they are best placed for what the industry may offer on leaving the security of the university environment.

This is the task of course designers and it poses dilemmas not only for curriculum content but also for choice of approach taken and for the whole gamut of events which surround the formal content of any aspect of training for the performing arts. Whilst students do need to be knowledgeable about their subject, without the personal attributes that will enable future use this knowledge is in itself meaningless. In a three year course of study in higher education it is inevitable that only limited aspects of dance can be studied in any depth that which is chosen makes each course distinctive. All courses face the dilemma of balancing the need for students' technical awareness against the constraints of time available.

Knowing where and how to search for resources, understanding how to locate information in an appropriate context, being able to apply information to the chosen context, and being able to acquire rapidly the understanding necessary to communicate with colleagues from different backgrounds, must be the hallmarks of any graduate. It is impossible to prepare individuals for everything they will ever need but they must be given access to, and the incentive to use, the resources on which they can build their own future development. Commitment to personal and professional renewal is an essential feature of the successful practitioner and needs to he fostered by encouraging students to make theatre visits, attend workshops, and undertake projects outside formal course requirements. Paradoxically this often requires making such things compulsory in the early stages of the degree course!

Most dance study makes great demands on any one student's ability to interact with others in their, often fairly small, cohort. The resolution of conflicts, and the opportunities provided for leadership and co operation all contribute to the profile students take with them on leaving the course. Such experiences, underpinned by understanding of the relevant theories should help them to cope more effectively in their future roles. Carefully structured preparation for choreography and other practical presentations present the opportunity for the development of time, people, and business management skills all key features of the industry today and for the foreseeable future.

Students need, within their courses, opportunities to work alongside dance artists from outside the institutional setting. The use of artists from a variety of contexts theatre, leisure services and community arts helps students to become aware of the breadth of opportunity that exists and the different kinds of skills each requires. Increasingly work placements outside the institution are used as a source of learning and it is often through these that students gain most insight into the demands that they could face later. In the course at Liverpool, structured observation in year one and administrative involvement in year two help prepare for an independently initiated and implemented project in year three. Progressively developed placements such as these help students to acquire the sense of independence, and the abilities they will need later.

Study on a dance course, like all work in the performing arts, is not confined to regular timetabled slots rehearsals, projects and performances require a commitment that increasingly becomes difficult for all students to give. In an age of decreasing, student grant, there is an increasing need for students to work merely to exist through their three years at university. Provided there is the necessary support and appropriate advice, the additional demands placed on students in terms of their own self management could be an asset in their future roles. Unfortunately this additional pressure does mean that inevitably some students do not succeed.

Individuals who flourish in the industry have the personal energy, enthusiasm, commitment and motivation to make things happen even when everything is apparently against them. Courses need to provide opportunities for the development of necessary attributes but the real onus lies with individual students to seek out, welcome and enter whole heartedly into every experience they encounter.

Judy Smith, Head of Dance, BA (Hons) Community Dance, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001