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John Dalrymple
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John Dalrymple
2015-05-04 15:47
Thank you very much. I really appreciate being here. I'm here representing Canada's National Ballet School. Our major funder is the Department of Canadian Heritage, so we're very happy to be at this table today.
The ballet school has been around for 55 years. We're basically committed to the idea of demonstrating the relevance of dance to every individual in Canada. Dance improves quality of life, it improves health, it has emotional and cognitive benefits, whether you're watching it or doing it. Our principal role in that process, and it has been this way since the founding of the organization, has been to train Olympic-calibre young people to become the great performers and stars of tomorrow, and that remains a steadfast principle of the school.
Something that has been significant for us as we've been moving forward thinking about the future of our art form and the future of our organization is how do we demonstrate that relevance more broadly? Typically, you have a small population of individuals who have been exposed to dance at a young age, and those are the people we're relying on to become the audiences of tomorrow, so we wonder about the rest of the young people in Canada, and what about the rest of the aging populations in Canada for whom dance can also be a significant benefit?
We started a program called Sharing Dance, and that's really what I want to talk about in my presentation today. Sharing Dance is an umbrella program that has three streams. Stream number one is designed for young people. What it really does is to support school teachers in the public school system across the country, delivering the curriculum that is already in the physical education curriculum, and it's related to dance. When I was a kid—and it's still the same in many schools today—you did lane square dancing for three gym classes, and that was about it for your exposure to dance. The reason is because there are very few dance specialists in your average public school. It is part of a larger physical education curriculum, so we feel we have a role to play in helping teachers bring more dance into the classroom.
Our second stream deals with aging populations. There are brain issues that come with aging that are dramatically impacted by regular activities related to specialized dancing, specifically a Dancing With Parkinson's program that we've been running at the school.
The third stream is something called Sharing Dance Day, which is an opportunity to give a very accessible fun dance routine to the whole community that both of these streams can participate in, and anyone else who is involved. Once a year we have a multi-generational celebration of dance in Canada, and as we build towards 2017 our goal is to have a million Canadians involved in this program over the course of the 150th birthday year.
Sharing Dance addresses major social issues. I think that's an important thing for any art style or any arts sector to look to do. It's not enough to say fund the arts for arts' sake. We really need to look at what some of the broader issues are in society. Childhood obesity and a lack of physical activity are major priorities for most Canadians. There's a lack of resources for arts, dance, and even physical education activities in most public schools. They're all on the decline. The emotional health of our young people is something people are concerned about. Then the issues that come with aging, as we have a baby-boom aging population, is another priority for Canadians. We believe that efforts to get dance in the community can impact all of these things positively.
For the remainder of my presentation, I thought I would tie what I have to say to the points that were given to me in the outline for this appearance.
To start with, you were looking for feedback on how dance can define and express various aspects of Canadian culture. We know from the programs we deliver in the school systems, that some students can't express themselves in English as they would like. The good thing about dance is the way that it's inclusive, so it lets them experience a more level playing field with their classmates. That applies as well to students who have significant physical challenges or mobility issues.
Kids have an interest in dance, often from their cultural background, and giving kids more opportunities to dance in the classroom allows them to tap into that. Dance really celebrates our differences, but also highlights our sameness at the same time, because while the styles of dance may be different from different cultures, we all tell the story the same way.
Another question we wanted to address was how young Canadians, in nurturing and developing their physical and musical skills, can benefit from dance. You were looking for information on the health benefits of dance specifically. Well, dance is an excellent form of physical activity. There probably isn't another art form that has the same level or quality of physical activity connected to it. In fact, there have been studies done at the Arizona State University, as well as the National Cancer Institute in the United States, showing that the metabolic equivalent intensity levels of dance as delivered in a classroom context often exceed the vast majority of any other typical source of classroom activities, including playing hockey, basketball, baseball. So we're looking at an activity that has all the emotional and cognitive benefits that come with an art form but, in fact, have superior physical benefits to those we've been traditionally relying on in the school system. Those mental and emotional benefits are incredibly significant.
We acknowledge that kids today are dealing with a great number of complex stresses, and having the ability to foster social skills and emotional well-being through a creative activity is something that's really important. Also, having that specialty so we can give that back to the community is significant for us as a large arts organization.
The last piece I'd like to say about that is that about 15% of Canadian kids get access to dance through recreational activities their parents pay for. But that means 85% of kids are getting access to formal dance activities only through the school system. So we think this is a huge opportunity to really make an impact.
In terms of the impact on local economies, really, in a nutshell, we're looking at building the audiences of tomorrow. There's no way you can expect somebody to really care about dance performed at the most avant-garde, creative, or high ballet Olympic level if they've never been exposed to it as a child. It's fundamental and there's tons of research to demonstrate that.
So we feel that investments to get dance activities to kids are huge for the future of our art form. We are also looking at programs through which we can identify specific kids with real leadership ability and provide immersion experiences for them.
In terms of how the government supports dance in Canada, as I mentioned, 10% to 15% of Canadian youth are in formal programs. As the largest dance training organization, we recruit from that small slice of actually engaged dancers every year to join our professional ballet program. So, there are really untold numbers of kinesthetically gifted youth, with the potential to have amazing dance careers, who are yet to be discovered because they haven't been exposed to the art form yet. The great thing about it is that while this might help us find more Olympic-calibre amazing dance artists in Canada, this creates an opportunity for all Canadian youth to enjoy these benefits.
In terms of encouraging our dancers to stay in Canada, I think if you go back to the argument of building a really strong audience for tomorrow, then there will be more artists who stay in Canada. Many dancers go to Europe because their work is valued there more often than it is valued here. I think funding in these programs to demonstrate the relevance of dance more broadly will make that value emerge here in Canada.
Finally, we're looking for information on how we can assist dancers who are recareering. Also, as the organization that runs the largest teacher training program for professional ballet teachers as well as recreational teachers in Canada, we know that the opportunity to expose more youth to dance will actually build and support a larger recreational dance community, providing more teaching opportunities and more jobs for dancers as they recareer.
I'm happy to answer any questions, and thank you again for the time.
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