Within the frame of the Jardin d´Europe project Teaching the Teachers a workshop was arranged by the Cullberg Ballet under the name What does a dancer need to know? The workshop was held in collaboration with the University of Dance and Circus led by Anna Grip, Artistic Director for the Cullberg Ballet, and Cristina Caprioli, Professor in Choreography at the University of Dance and Circus.

The workshop took place at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm, Sweden, between the 1th and the 6th of March 2010. The purpose of the workshop was to exchange ideas and experiences around the theme "What does a dancer need to know?", a question raised by Cristina Caprioli and Anna Grip. The theme was intended to provoke discussion on aspects of what a dancer is, if there should be institutions for dance students, and the essence of knowledge in relation to dance.

The participants were Cristina Caprioli (Sweden), Libby Farr (USA), Anna Grip (Sweden), Benoît Lachambre (Canada), Jeremy Nelson (USA/Denmark), Jan Ritsema (Netherland), Kristine Slettevold (Norway), and Rasmus Ölme (Sweden). The participants was assembled by Anna Grip and Cristina Caprioli based on the idea of bringing people together that share notions regarding the body and choreography, but practice in different areas.

The workshop was organized so that Monday to Thursday was scheduled for discussions. Libby’s and Jan’s respective session was open to teachers and students at the University of Dance and Circus, whereas the other participants’ sessions were closed. On Friday, Libby Farr gave a ballet class, Benoît Lachambre a workshop, and Jan Ritsema presented Performing Arts Forum (PAF) for students and others invited. The week ended with an open presentation moderated by Efva Lilja, Director at the University of Dance and Circus.

Each participant had a three hour slot during which they could choose freely the subject or question to be discussed. The slot's presenter started and moderated the conversation, but the sessions were allowed to evolve freely around the subject at hand.

In the following section, each participant is introduced to give the reader a background as to what their respective fields are. This is followed by an outline of each subject, and the discussions that took place during the sessions. The text concludes with a brief summary of the workshop.


The Participants

The participants are presented by a short biography followed by a summary of how each of them introduced themselves, their work, current research, and interests. Jan’s open presentation of Performing Arts Forum (PAF) and Libby Farr´s Ballet Class is also presented in this section.

Benoît Lachambre

Benoît Lachambre was educated as a dancer at Ballet Jazz de Montreal and Toronto Dance Theatre. He has been part of the international dance scene since 1978 as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, panelist and programmer in many different styles, approaches and ideologies of dance. In 1996 he founded his own company Par B.Leux, based in Montreal. He has participated in several movies and has received multiple rewards for his work. Furthermore, Benoît has been teaching classes and workshops at ImPulsTanz in Vienna, the Festival Internacional, and at the European Dance Development Center (EDDC) in Arnhem in the Netherlands. Benoît is currently in the process of opening a research and creation center in Sutton, near Montreal.

Since the mid 1980s Benoît has been researching on improvisation techniques and exploring movements. His current focus is working with somatic approaches, energy systems, and body sensations. He is working on a weight distribution system, researching how weight is distributed in the body, how one body space creates bridges with other body spaces. By focusing on one part you find sensation in another. For instance, focusing on opening the space around the eyeball opens a cranial spinal fluid movement as weight distribution in the body changes, and it also allows the crown on the head to shine, Benoît explains. Releasing the jaw widens the tongue and that in turn is connected to the tubing system, sternum and lower abdomen. According to Benoît, the energy and weight systems can be redirected by imaging. One way is to imagine the use of a virtual glove to experience and sense inner spaces that are beyond external possibilities. Benoît claims that working with these systems can facilitate, question, and shift your perceptions about the body.

Benoîts’ research has been a natural influence on his choreographic work and teaching. He is not particularly interested in showing the organic body on stage, but feels he can’t escape or deny it. Benoît is interested in the multiplicity of systems in the body, the organization of them, their relationship to the environment, and how communication in itself is a system that engages the body. According to Benoît, the body is not one thing but rather a multiplicity of systems and awareness’s.

For a long time, Benoît viewed the practice of choreographing and teaching as something separate, but for the last couple of years he has felt that there are so much that inspires him in a class situation that he no longer can separate them.

During the seminar, Benoît´s technique was compared with other somatic systems like Body Mind Centering, Feldenkrais, Alexander, Mahler, Klein and Skinner Release Technique. One of the other participants referred to language as being important for the Skinner Releasing Technique, and moved on to asking whether Benoît had developed his own language, his own set of imagery, in order to explain the body sensations and provide stimulus in class. “In a class situation I execute the system while speaking about what part of the body the students should focus on and the sensation of it. I also trust that the tone of the voice while doing the system resonate with the sensation”, Benoît answered. Even though some parts of his system are more or less fixed, he pointed out that his method is still a work in progress. He calls the system “Body Awareness Work”. He also pointed out that his method is merely a suggestion, and it’s up to the students to embrace it or not.

Cristina Caprioli

Since 2008, Cristina Caprioli is Professor of choreography at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm. She has worked as a dancer in the United States, Sweden, Germany, and Austria. She was born in northern Italy and came to Stockholm in 1983 and has worked here ever since. She started choreographing in 1986 and has since then continuously worked as a choreographer, teacher and dancer. She is a well renowned choreographer and artistic director for her own company CCAP. Cristina was Nordic coordinator for danceWeb Europe 2003-2008 forerunner to Jardin d´Europe.

Cristina left teaching because of a personal project to analyze, understand, and provide the tools to perform, practice dancing and choreography. She was interested in questioning the technology of choreographing. "For the longest time I tried to identify or map some constant, some principles, to maintain different stages in the choreographic interest", Cristina says. She found that all kinds of geometrical abstract mapping systems of body and movement no longer can be used, that only the volume of density and speed can be used to map the body that is supposed to be the alphabet of the choreographic order. According to Cristina, this means that in order to work with choreographic ideas or themes, we also have to not only map and enter the physical body, but also to reconstruct and reshape it, and remake it in to another body, which in turn is varying from one choreography to the other. Hence, the dancer needs to practice the complexity, temporarily indulge themselves in a system, so there is no perfect system for the perfect body. The dancer needs to unpractice the practiced, undo their knowledge and always re-choreograph the body, which means to never bring the body to a neutral place, because that doesn’t exist, she says.

Cristina also felt that she could not tell people what they should be expecting, and she was questioning the entire situation of teaching and the role of the teacher within the expectation and the context of an institution. "If I think about teaching as a mediatory situation and as a transmission of information and in the moment you want to transmit the information you have to freeze so it is an instant of fixation just in order to be transposed", Cristina says. If you are not aware of this as a strategy of mediation it might be wrongly interpreted and fall into delivering fixed information as opposed to transforming, she continues. Eventually, it also came in the way of thinking about choreography.

Cristina is very interested in theory and research in relation to the practice of dance, and would like to see theory and practice as two undividable fields of study in a dance education. For the last section of Cristina’s slot she had invited Sven-Olof Wallenstein, lecturer in philosophy and aesthetics at the Department of Culture and Communication at the University College of Södertörn. Sven-Olof presented parts of his paper “Foucault and the Body as a site of resistance” from his work Images of body architecture.

Libby Farr

Libby Farr was educated as classical dancer at The School of American Ballet in New York and has danced with many classical companies in the United States and Europe. She has taught classical ballet and body awareness for many years. She has also headed Die Etage in Berlin for four years and Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar. She is a frequent guest teacher at schools like P.A.R.T.S in Brussels, S.E.A.D. in Salzburg, and at companies as Tanztheater Wuppertal, Ulima Vez, Ballet Preljocaj, and Cullberg Ballet.

Libby Farr presents herself as a teacher, who teach ballet, but in a "healthier" way. Due to an injury she started doing Gyrokinesis. She feels that the injury has become a positive rather than a negative. She now has a certificate in Gyrokineses, and this method is implemented in her ballet classes. Gyrokineses, is concerned with the seven natural elements of spinal movement, joint articulation, and with spherical and spiraling exercise. Since fluidity is very important, postures are not held for long periods of time and are smoothly and harmoniously connected through the use of breath. The principles underlying Farr´s teaching method is mainly about the alignment, the skeleton structure and how the body naturally works. Libby gave an open class for teachers and students from the University of Dance and Circus, to which professional dancers was also invited. The presentation of the class was as follows:

The class continually re-evaluates classical technique focusing on strengthening the dancer´s awareness of their own alignment. Libby Farr´s study of the body technique Gyrokinesis has led her to a warm-up that invites the students to be aware of their bodies more deeply, taking care particularly of the spine and the breathing. As people unfortunately refer often to ballet as if they would wear the wrong size clothes, it is essential for Libby to make ballet easier, more joyful, and more human. The centre challenges the participants to use placement and release discovered at the barre as a source of strength and individual dynamics. Breathing will often be talked about, as to work against the tendency of overpower movement. How much energy is really needed for a movement?

The class started at the barre with exercises to warm-up the body, making the students aware of the body’s natural ability, alignment and function of the movements. She pointed out the importance of keeping the natural curve of the spine instead of with force tucking under the pelvic, allowing the natural rotation, how the standing leg is actually a working leg by holding you up and allowing the natural consequences of movements to happen. For example, she describes plié as to fold and unfold the legs instead of a bend and stretch. Furthermore, the arms are not just used for shape, but as a useful movement. They go down to help you come up. Libby's teaching is about allowing the form to be part of what you are doing. During her class she also stressed the importance of fluidity in movements. Thus, the influence of Gyrokinesis was evident in her ballet class.

Although Libby started teaching 30 years ago, she is still in a constant process of how to develop her classes and herself as a teacher. "Every time I walk into a class I am also the student. If I don’t feel like I am learning something each time, I don’t feel like doing it", she says.

Jeremy Nelson

Jeremy Nelson has trained at The London School of Contemporary Dance. He was a dancer with Stephen Petronio Dance Company in New York 1984-1992. He then worked as an independent choreographer, dancer, and teacher, foremost in New York and London, but also in other parts of the world. Jeremy is a multi-time rewarded choreographer and performer. He is a member of the teaching faculty at Movement Research in New York, and for the last twenty years he has been teaching classes and workshops at various companies, universities and institutions in over 30 countries.

In 2009, Jeremy became Head of the Dance Department at Skolen for Moderne Dans (The school for contemporary Dance) in Copenhagen. For Jeremy, this has brought a lot of new processes and thoughts about education. During the week's discussions a metaphor of the teacher being a book, and the library being the institution or school, was used. "Up until now", Jeremy says, "the focus has been what is in my book". Now he is concerned with what is in the library and the logistic and organization of it is part of that picture too. Jeremy thought that he could extrapolate his experience as a freelance teacher into a four year program, but this proved difficult. The difference in responsibilities compared to being a freelance teacher centered around the fact that as a freelance teacher, you meet the students for a couple of weeks and then leave, as opposed to being responsible of their entire education. "The student enters the school with a dream, and their dream is in my hand", he says. 


Jeremy had a formal ballet and Graham training, were the attitude was to force the body into creating the correct shape. This was an environment where statements like “he is a nice mover but he doesn´t have feet”, were commonplace. Jeremy’s journey radically changed when the what-it-is-supposed-to-look-like was taken out of the equation. When encounter somatic approaches like Klein technique, he started working with the body, instead of treating it as an enemy.

"I would like to produce dancers who surprise me and don’t reaffirm what I know and just see my style of movement reproduced", Jeremy says. Even when working with in some somatic techniques, dancers are seduced by what it is supposed look like, and that need to be changed according to Jeremy. The "copy me"-teaching can encourage distortions in the body. Jeremy is instead interested in methods of transmission information, to produce healthy bodies that can move in the most incredible ways.

Jan Ritsema

Jan Ritsema is one of Holland’s most prominent theatre directors. He has staged a wide span of musical dramas, worked with classical text, and experimented with forms that have become genre defining. He has acted as theatre director for both large and small repertory companies as well as working as director for the largest theatre company in Holland. For a long time he was also connected to Kaaitheatre in Brussels. Furthermore, he started the International Theatre & Film Bookshop in Amsterdam.

Jan also defines himself as a dancer, but as a “tourist in the art of dance”. He started dancing when he began teaching at P.A.R.T.S in 1995. He made his first dance solo, Pour la fin du temps, at the age of 50, after which he was asked to perform by choreographs like Meg Stuart, Jonathan Burrows, Boris Charmatz, and Jerome Bell. Since 2006, he is running PAF Performing Arts Forum in France.

Jan presented Performing Arts Forum for students from the University of Dance and Circus, and others invited. PAF is located in a large building in St. Erme in France, and is a place for both the professional and not-yet professional practitioners in the fields of performing arts, visual art, literature, music, new media and internet, and cultural production who want to research and work according to their own terms. Jan claims that there are more artists produced today than there are venues and opportunities for them to perform. He therefore wanted to create a platform for artists to meet, expand possibilities and interests, and find other ways of producing, and thereby giving the power and independence back to the artist. Today, power lies with the institutions and government, Jan claims. The schools offer the same kind of education, which standardizes the artists. In this way, the government decides who are able to make art. Therefore, a place where the artists are empowered might change what they produce. Jan also envisions creating a place affordable for as many as possible, with as little rules as possible, were people share space and time. At PAF people are free to arrange workshops or lectures. Jan advocates an economy of sharing, which is why he shares all of his books in PAFs library, and encourages the artists that visit PAF to leave films, documentaries, and other items of information to be shared with others.

Jan takes a clear stance regarding education, and the role of the teachers and institutions. He has written several articles in the subject, and strives to change the current systems in institution in a non-teaching quest. "People are much smarter and nicer than they allow themselves to be treated", he says. "In schools and educational systems we allow ourselves to be treated as quite stupid and not to be trusted. There is no answer to the question what does a dancer need to know, because you can’t generalize, and different dancers need different things", Jan concludes.


Rasmus Ölme

Rasmus Ölme was educated as a dancer at The Royal Swedish Ballet School and University of Dance in Stockholm. He worked as a dancer with Ultima Vez in Brussels and started doing his own work in 2001. Rasmus also founded his own company REFUG. Since 2008 he is doing a PhD in artistic research at the University of Dance and Circus.

Rasmus started teaching when he left Ultima Vez in 1998. He started giving morning classes for the new dancers in the company and continued with morning classes for other companies like Damage Goods, Meg Stuart and Rosas. He teaches classes and workshops as a guest teacher in institutions like Academy of Dramatic Arts, University of Dance and Circus, P.A.R.T.S and Impulz Tanz.

During his session Rasmus gave examples of how he in class works with movement, spatially, shifting weight, releasing into space rather than releasing within the body, among other things. He is inspired by martial arts, not as a scholar but through meetings during his career.

For the past sixth months Rasmus has tried to break a feeling of respecting the class structure too much, and the fear of not having content students. When asked to teach more than irregularly he felt that teaching would interfere with artistic process as a choreographer, since he saw the two as separate entities. In his dissertation One Practice he examines the relationship between process and product, and the artistic process in relation to teaching. Rasmus examines how the choreographic quest and pedagogical quest can become one practice. His goal now is to create an education that is closer to an artistic process. His goal is now to bring his teaching closer to his artistic process.  

Kristine Slettevold

Kristine Slettevold is a dancer, teacher and choreographer. She has worked as a freelance dancer since 2001 and made her debut as a choreographer in 2008. In the fall of 2010, Kristine will assume the role of Head of the Department of Dance and Performance at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm. She was educated as a dancer at Skolen for Samtidsdans (School for modern dance) and as a modern dance teacher at a three year pedagogical program at Statens Baletthogskole in Oslo. She was educated in a traditional way both according to styles, how to behave as a teacher, and how to approach the students. The styles she was taught was not something she wanted to pursue. Instead she went outside the school to learn other techniques and styles.

Upon completing her education she started to work as a dancer, and also began teaching after a couple of years. Her teaching was influenced by what she was currently working with as a dancer. In retrospect she feels guilty because she didn´t fully take responsibility for the students. She felt like she was just doing what they was expected of her in the role as a teacher. During the past years she has been deconstructing her education and teaching in the sense of changing the preconceived expectation and how to create an environment where the students are not so dependent on the instructions given by the teacher. "How can I avoid making 15 copies of myself", she asks. "Why is it at that the teacher’s word is paramount?" The student should be able to question what it means to be educated as a dancer. The dancers need to know how to develop their own process, how to trust their own body and rely upon themselves, Kristine claims. This is what awaits them after school. Therefore, Kristine finds that as a dancer, it is helpful to reflect upon one's movement and observe ourselves when we work. Hence, she gave her students the assignment to reflect upon their movement and how they work with their bodies. When, where, and how was up to them, but they needed to write down their reflections about a segment given to them by Kristine. She was worried that the words she used when describing the movements would resurface in the students’ reflections, but instead found that they had so many ways to approach and describe the movements.

The exercise was a reflection on her education where pedagogical and dance students were not separated, except for a single pedagogical class for the teacher students and a repertory class for the dance students. She found that the teacher students developed faster than the dance students. She attributed this fact to the teacher students reflecting more upon the movements in their bodies since they had to learn to explain and transmit the movements to others. Reflecting upon her own education, teaching, and teaching methods is of interest for Kristine when assuming the role as Head of the Department of Dance and Performance at the University of Dance and Circus. The new position includes a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of questions about the impact and power that actually comes with the role and how that will affect the students. "What does it mean to educate contemporary dancers? What kind of body do I want to leave the school?". Can we still develop as artists when assuming the role as head of the dance department? These are central questions for Kristine.

Anna Grip

Anna Grip participated in the week's discussions, but didn´t have her own slot. Since 2008, she is the artistic director of the Cullberg Ballet. Anna was educated as a dancer at the Ballet Academy in Stockholm and studied further in New York. She has since her education been active as repetiteur and pedagogue with several companies and educational institutions, and has been active with Cristina Caprioli’s dance company CCAP in Stockholm, Rosas in Brussels, Nya Carte Blanche in Bergen, and at Helsinki City Theater. She was ballet master of Östgötabaletten and head of the School for Modern Dance in Denmark. Anna is also active on several boards of directors in the field.


The Discussions

Here follows an outline of the main subjects and discussions that took place during the sessions.

Body Awareness

On Friday, Benoît gave a workshop for students from the University of Dance and Circus, as well as for other invited dancers. His workshop, named Extending the comfort zone was outlined in the following way:

Benoît Lachambre will bring extended exercises of awakening methods to the body. This leaves the individuals free to pursue their own aesthetics as they deepen their alignment and sensorial awareness.  The goal is to pursue an awakened spirit, shifting places in connection with the self encouraging self reflections on one‘s experience of awareness. Benoît Lachambre is interested in performance abilities. However, what matters to him is to aim towards the opening of boundaries within an awakeness and the necessary applications of accurate and non superfluous efforts. As this process simultaneously offers the opening and recognition of inner and outer movement dynamics, a holistic embrace of movement patterns permits multiple variations in reorganizing the body in its own creative definition.

Benoît made clear that the workshop was to be process oriented, aimed at finding spaces in the body, release inner spaces, and observing one's sensations. The workshop started with all participants lying comfortable on their backs, positioned with a natural curve of the neck with a rolled-up mat for pillow, and knees bent. Benoît proceeded with an active relaxation, focused on relaxing the sacrum and the areas below the hip bones. The participants remained on the floor for most of the workshop's duration, but exercised movements to feel how different body parts were connected to each other. For instance, participants would wobble their head and were then told to yawn while tilting the head from one side to the other to feel how the movement changed to create a figure of an eight. They then started to move legs and arms along the floor to acknowledge the shifting of the zones in the body and sense the space around them. Participants were told to continue to move while changing position to stomach, then standing on their knees, and at last standing upright.

To the observer, it was clear that most participants got deeply engaged in the exercises and were focused on the inner workings of their bodies. During the workshop, the mood became very intimate, and as an observer one felt almost uncomfortable watching the participants, like we were intruders in someone’s personal space. At the end of the workshop it appeared as if the participants were more aware of the esthetic of the movements. The movements became more “danced” than during the earlier exercises. As an observer, the feeling of intruding gradually vanished.

Benoît claims that working with this system opens the possibility of body dreams and encourages the empathic body. "Dreaming the body" is an interesting way to rediscover the body’s possibilities and discover space, and how the body is organized. According to Benoît, a dancer needs to know how to dream his or her own body to the infinite, to open the scheme of possibilities, what they wish to dream and how. The dancers must be able to dream their bodies in ways free of restriction. They need to know what they are and what the individual dancer is about. This, claims Benoît, can be achieved by being aware of your own body.

Benoît, Jeremy and Libby all use different types of somatic approaches in their teaching. They were all trained in an environment where form was more important than function. They have also gone through the experience of remaking a dysfunctional body function by working not against the body, but with it. Thus, the importance of the awareness of the body and why dancers need somatic approaches were discussed during the week. Benoît also claims that to work with inner space is also very reversible and can lead to an awareness of relations in space. Sensing other dancers and being influenced by other bodies relates to the knowledge of where we are in our bodies. Responding to people’s movements affects the kinesphere and spatial intention of the body. This also decentralizes the performer as the ultimate presence. Also of importance, and experienced by the participants, is that imagery and the awareness of the inner body leads to new and different movements. Working with structures of imagery and improvisational movement, which often is the case in these systems, is also intimately involved with creativity.

The problem with the approach is that in institutions, people are considered to be too young for somatic information, one participant claimed. The participants more or less agreed on that somatic principle should underlie the work from the beginning in the preparatory moment, and that it is fundamental to start early on with the awareness of the body. Working with somatic approaches creates individuality and an awareness of that there is no perfect body use, or an ideal body.

The Ideal Body

The ambition of having an ideal body and the idea about perfection does not just exist in the world of dance, but in everyday society. Therefore, students have a preconceived notion about what the body, and the dancing body in particular, should look like. "Especially ballet is fraught with these ideals of how it should look like compared to the contemporary", says Jeremy. This was also something that Libby and the other participants could relate to, and if even it weren’t the students themselves who strived for the perfect ballet body, this ideal was implied by teachers and the general surroundings.

Libby’s ballet class has been called a hybrid, because she uses the vocabulary and the steps of ballet, but she does not aim for the esthetical ideal ballet body. "It is a huge problem when forms become more important than function, or the use of the movements", Libby says. One way to get rid of these ideas is to close the drapes on the mirror. By not dancing in front of the mirror, students will not try to achieve the perfect image and so rid themselves of tensions, bad habits, and judging themselves. During Libby's slot, one participant claimed that by not emphasizing the ideal form, and instead approach ballet as just an experience of dancing, we make the students dance. This was also underlined by one of the students at the University of Dance and Circus, who during the Saturday's open presentation said that she felt that ballet created bodily tensions when trying to implement the ballet body. "Whenever I refer to ballet I use the word training instead of dancing", she said. “With all the technique and terminology, the whole ballet package, when can I dance all of this?”, she continued. If students feel like they don't get to dance in ballet class, this raises an important question, and one that Libby asked during her session: Do contemporary dancers need ballet?

Do contemporary dancers need ballet?

Is ballet a necessary part of a contemporary dance program? What are the positive and negative sides of taking ballet? The stiffness in the postures is not good for contemporary dancers. But on the other hand, what are they going to lose and shouldn’t contemporary dancers at least have the opportunity to try it?, Libby asks. One participant claimed that it's necessary depending on how the body should be represented on stage. Ballet has architectural and exposing features, so by taking ballet exposure becomes a natural thing. Rasmus means that it is neither necessary nor unnecessary, but it should not be treated as an absolute technique. However, many regard ballet as a way for dancers to gain technique. Cristina continued to claim that technique does not belong to ballet anymore, and wondered why ballet is reintroduced for contemporary dancers to acquire technique. "If there is a lack of technique in the contemporary field, why should the technique be found in ballet, or a hybrid ballet class?", she wonders. When did ballet become the vehicle to serve contemporary dance with technique? We're not creating hybrids of African dance to serve the contemporary dancers with technique, but we do so with ballet. Hybridization is just a way of trying to free it from the label of ballet. If ballet is to be taught it shouldn´t be hybridized, it should be taught for what it is, Cristina continues. One reaction to that opinion was that the idea is that one style supports the other. "Can’t we just see ballet as a body of knowledge, or a component of training, not as the technique that will save the contemporary dancers from their lack of technique? ", wondered another participant.

What We Teach And How?

To examine which techniques we teach and how we teach them, it is important that we also evaluate what we mean by technique. Technique is the efficient and functional use of the body. It is being aware of the body and the body in space. Technique is not an absolute. It is evaluated in the eye of the beholder.

Do we teach style or technique? Is there a technique that is not a style? One viewpoint during the discussions was that we teach neither. We teach ideology, since every style represents a socio-political ideology. Some regard style as pointless, unless it is viewed as a vessel for transmitting information. If style is about informing oneself, maybe it doesn’t matter what style is taught, but how it is taught. The important thing is how the styles are approached and transformed, the methods and methodology. How do the what and the how relate to one another? Are they inseparable? These were recurrent questions during the week.

For some participants it is more important how people are taught, than what. For others, methods are merely a tool or instrument to achieve the dream. The how is very important, but some voiced that the what is even more so, because of the ideological implications of what we teach. What we teach makes a difference, specifically in a teaching situation, because what is a container to practice the how, and therefore it is also important to question what is being taught. These two cannot be disconnected from each other. What we are teaching and how should be in the mindset of the teacher. 

The Role of the Institution

According to Jan, the institutions should function as a facility for the students. An institute should be a physical building with facilities like machines, a library, studios, and so on where the students, or “participants”, work on their own after being given some influence or instruction. The facilities or resources should be provided according to the student’s individual needs. Hence, the institute should be there for the student and not vice versa, which often is the case today.

Sufficient for art is to create an individual and allow the existence of complexity, doubting and not knowing. To know what you don’t know is also to know. The consequence of this is that we have to think about the information exchange in institutes in a different way. There should not be teaching in a classical sense, with labels on the subject being taught. "We think that class form is the most effective way, but in art we would like to develop individuals, and teaching in class is teaching the common", Jan says. You can give a class, but if the students participate is up to them. We should trust the dancer to find out his or her needs. On the other hand, the institution should not be a cultural venue where students can do what they please. There should not be too much freedom, there has to be a clear curriculum, since the students cannot design their own program. Still, the mindset of the school should be that the students are in charge of their own body and make their own decisions. We should acknowledge the ability of self learning also in institutions. The student’s responsibilities should be enhanced in the institutions.

Society changes but the institutions and school systems are still based on 19th century views, where the students are to do as they are told. But the dance world and the students themselves are completely different today. There is no longer the clear hierarchy between the choreographer and dancer. The dancer is no longer seen as merely a tool. Today, more artists are self motivated, crafting art and function within networks. Hence, it is the facilities of the institutions that should be provided and not the information. Outside the school students need to find knowledge themselves. Knowledge shouldn’t just be handed over to them by the institutions, Jan claims.

All participants agreed upon the role of the institution as being a facility that embraces the students’ individuality, and enhance their ability to find knowledge by themselves. Suggesting access to outside classes and be part of the curriculum guide students to use their personal interest do develop, but framed in a certain way. If students need something the school can’t facilitate, they should have the possibility to take some classes outside the school, but within the frames of the education. The participants also addressed the problems with making choices, and were concerned with the fact that the students enter the institutions at a certain age and are expecting to become dancers. The students, like the teacher, bring their history, their past, and the idea about what it means to become a dancer. Young students often have preconceived notions and a fixated opinions and ideas about different styles. Therefore, it’s important to offer different kinds of viewpoints and esthetics. How and when do we get to that point where we know what to study? At what age do you have the self-motivation to choose? When and where do we give them this freedom? Is it before we give them any tools to work with, before they have the chance to try different styles and techniques? These were questions raised by the participants. Making a choice can also be an imposition, claimed one participant. Hence, there are both positive and negative sides to an institution, in the way that you don´t have to make any decisions, they are all made for you.  

Furthermore, the participants agreed that the institutions also need to be in sync with the outside world and the contemporary dance scene. This is important for producing the kind of dancers that is needed today. On the other hand, the role of the institutions could also be to challenge the dance scene by questioning who and what is accepted.

The Profile of the School

Is it possible to try one system and different kinds of teachings for a while and then reconsider? What is the profile of this school? These were the two main questions brought up during Kristina’s session in relation to what it means to be head of a program. One viewpoint was that as head of a program, like students, we change preferences and priorities over time. This fact makes it difficult to plan a three or four year curriculum since it puts restraint on flexibility and adaptation. If the students’ learning process is to move sequentially from one thing to the next, this is true for the director as well. This in turn will have consequences for the program. But, claimed another participant, it is not possible to try one system and one set of teachers for a while and then reconsider, unless that is made clear to the students. The students have the right to know what is exercised on them. It is one thing to question your own agenda but you cannot make it an experiment that affects the students. There has to be transparency in the school system and changes have to be explained. In leading a school, you have to have a dream, much in the same was as an artist. "What is lacking in schools is the dream of what kind of dancers they want to produce", one participant claimed. A school or institution should have the same kind of dreams of the result as when performing.

Furthermore, the content of the school and curriculum should be presentable to the students. To keep an open study plan benefits the school more than the students, and reverses who is important. Therefore, the participants agreed, the auditions need to be in coherence with the study plan and what the school is about. What a dancer needs to know is what kind of school he or she is applying for. What the dancer needs are different schools with different profiles for students to choose from. But the problem is that there is increased conformity and less diversity in dance education today. This should be countered by being open and clear about the profile of the school.

The Role of the Teacher

Jan is an extreme non-teacher and opposes teaching as a form of instructing and the teacher as someone who owns the knowledge, knows better, and imposes their own history and experience on the student. According to Jan, the teacher should instead be the facilitator. The teacher can present or share his or her ideas, but not as an absolute truth. A teacher should not even imply a certain technique or system, Jan claims. As a teacher we can create a space for students to enter or not, and it is up to the student embrace or reject it. The difference between a library and a teacher is that in a library a book is a potential invitation to be used or not, but what is being taught by the teacher is often more forcibly imposed on the students. The body in the form of the teacher is physical space the students can go to or not. We should trust that there are motivation and ambition coming into school. Applying a non-teaching approach is for instance to present students with an idea or instruction, and then leave the room literarily or mentally.

The opinions regarding non-teaching differ. To leave the students in such a way is irresponsible, Libby argues. Jeremy in turn means that the role of the teacher is to be a fellow artist and not a policeman, because we cannot force someone into becoming motivated. There is a social communal aspect to dance, and the role of the teacher in a dance class is to provide a safe environment and a framework for this physical interaction to happen. We should trust that a framework can come from anybody and not just the teacher, Jan continued. "I don´t think that just one person is providing the information, everybody in class is providing information to each other", says Jeremy. Benoît offered a slightly different viewpoint, meaning he as a student was not repressed by following the teachers lead in class. "There are things I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t gone through a class system and had access to the teacher's knowledge", he continues. According to Benoît experience, if he had researched on his own after just a short introduction there are things he wouldn’t have accessed. Although not claiming a non-teaching approach impossible, Benoît wondered what is wrong with sharing experience with students in the class form. "By being there, teacher think that they are indispensible", Jan answers, claiming that by being present, conscious or non-conscious, the teachers are judging, even if they just would like to help. Instead, we should trust the students in that they understand the tools and directions given to them, and then let them work alone. This was clearly a question with room for debate. The audience at the open presentation could not fully embrace Jan’s viewpoint, feeling that the dancer needs practice and can't practice on their own. The moderator at the open presentation, Efva Lilja, wondered if this disagreement didn’t pertain to the fact that all participants except Jan have undergone physical dance training.

What needs to change?

During the discussions, it became clear that the participants agree that the institutions and educational system need to change in some way. Apart from the topics summarized in the previous sections, additional points of discussion are outlined below.

In institutions, attendance is very important. But, in a Feldenkrais class for instance, the most important moment is lying down and doing nothing, in order for the body to absorb the exercise. The time when we are not performing exercises may easily be as important as when performing them. In relation to attendance, perhaps students need a digestion time in between periods of information. Perhaps there is too much focus on the transmitting of information in an institution. The reaction to and reflecting upon it may be equally important. The participants also discussed whether it is the role of the institution and the teacher to physically take care of the dancer to avoid shorting the span of their careers. The dancer needs to know how to take care of their body. "Why is it that so many people can´t move after so much dance training?", Jeremy wondered. Perhaps the institutions need to move away from evaluating performance based on class attendance. Perhaps less is more? To schedule an open period where information can be digested is not a logistically difficult change to make. Rasmus pointed out that with three or four classes per day for three or four years, the students must find an intensity level that will make them survive the education. Perhaps the schedules are too intense? Another change to be made is perhaps the structure and scheduling.                 

In relation to curriculums the question about progression was raised. Is there such a thing as progression? What is progression and what do teachers and institutions mean with progress? With progression we want to see result, but what defines result? Traditionally, a curriculum is based on the idea of a linear progression. But progression is not linear, it doesn’t go from here to there, one participant pointed out. Hence, four years education is somewhat arbitrary in relation to progression. Could this be taken into account in the schooling system? Should students start working with the body resource, and then move to choreographic work, or is it better to work simultaneously with both? To progress you need to move away from a subject and then return. 

Real change requires political work and new structures. Since statistics and measurability are important factors in the political sphere it is very difficult to change a dance institution that has accreditation and funding.

Another approach could be to change the mindset of the institution. Institutions should give up the idea about educating and instead focusing on providing information about different singular and temporarily adapted situations. The schools should be about offering variables and not varieties. This is true also for teachers; instead of focusing on the teacher teaching the focus should be on the student learning.

How do we prepare dancers for the future?

Rasmus thinks that the students who will manage best after having undergone education are not the ones who excelled in the program, but the ones who are independent and find new connections. How can we teach or awaken that? The contemporary dance world is changing. The institutional companies and repertory companies are more or less vanishing. The hierarchy between a choreographer and dancer is no longer there. Instead, a lot of creativity is asked of the dancer. "Perhaps by using a more process-based teaching approach we can create the dancers that the future needs", Rasmus suggests.

Like several other participants, Rasmus feel that he does not in his profession use experiences from his preparatory time. Rasmus wonders to what extent we can influence students in ways that will have a permanent and defining effect on their professional life, and feels that there is almost an over-belief in what we as teachers can do. "What a dancer needs to know is to revolt against and react upon their education, how to submit to training and yet resist it. Perhaps the best thing as teacher is to push for our own beliefs, give them information about our views and artistic processes, which they then can bounce off from or go against", Rasmus concludes. Here, the opinions differ. Other participants wondered if perhaps the best way to prepare students for the future is by being interested in them rather than your own process and history.

Perhaps what the dancer need and ought to be taught in the preparatory moment is the social-economical structure around the field of interest, Cristina argues. The participants agreed that students, upon completing their education, sometimes become somewhat lost in regard to how the dance "business" functions, and that this is a part that is missing from their training. The students have dreams and preconceived notions of how the dance business works, but the reality is often very different. They therefore need to learn tactics, to learn to be part of the system, and the reality of work situations. Students also need to be made aware of the fact that there is no market for the huge amount of students leaving the school.

The group felt that students often know very little about the world they are entering and that the schools are disconnected from the dance community. Institutions also have a responsibility to connect to producers and the market, but at the same keep the schools integrity. One approach to ease the transition is the graduate companies, but they still constitute a protected environment. Clearly, students need performance practice in the preparatory period since the reality of a dancer is to perform. We are educating performers, so they need to get used to the situation of performing, the group concluded. Even though practicing performance doesn't need to reflect the full stage experience, it should include audience, since the dancer must be put in a situation of full intensity.

Furthermore, technical skills and performance skills should not be viewed as separate. When educating performers, we must move away from classifications such as “that dancer has a good technique but is not a god performer”, and strive not to treat the two as separate skills.

Benoît pointed out that performance arts resituate the body into a more subjective body without a specific form. If students are given knowledge of performance art, it gives them another kind of knowledge about the body and develops personal viewpoints. Performance studies for dancers also bring out creativity in the students. One challenge is to get the students to hold onto this creativity and bring it into all classes, claimed one participant. Hence, teachers need to know how to sustain the knowledge of creativity.

Dancers need different perspectives

One important question is why different educations like choreographic and dance educations are separated. Cristina means that to technically prepare the body for choreography is a choreography in itself, and it needs to be approach that way. This means that the particular ways of dealing with the body is a specific approach that the dancer needs to submit to in order to be able to participate in the work. "Why separate the dance and choreography departments?", Cristina asks. She also believes in the possibility to temporarily choose the role of producer or dancer, and argues that all roles deal with the same questions, with the same science discourses. This also means that the dancer is not bound only to the current project at hand but can also put it into the context of other creations.

Institutions prepare the dancer for dancing, as one kind of body knowledge. The preparatory moment should not only be about preparing the dancer physically, it also has to be about how we work with the outside, Cristina claims. The dance training easily becomes too inward-focused, excluding the outside. "Is another knowledge of the body found in theory?", Cristina asks. What will happen if the dancer becomes engrossed in a certain theory like Foucault? Theory is something that informs, disinforms, and challenges the body practice and vice versa, but they are two different languages and two different traditions. What happens if theory and practice are approaches as two undividable fields of study? What kind of body would that produce?


This text has outlined questions posed and subjects discussed during the workshop “What does a dancer need to know?”. The main focal point was the preparatory period of a dancer. During the week’s discussions, it became clear that the participants agreed that institutions and the educational system need to change in some way. Real change requires political work and new structures. However, since statistics and measurability are important factors in the political sphere it is very difficult to change a dance institution that has accreditation and funding. Improvements must therefore also be sought by changing the mentality of institutions, teachers and students.

One of the week’s first subjects was the importance of body awareness and why dancers need somatic approaches. The participants stressed the importance of implementing somatic approaches early in the preparatory moment. Working with somatic approaches promotes individuality and an awareness of that there is no perfect body use, or ideal body. The participants felt that the institutes’ strive to create the ideal body is a main concern since it leads to form becoming more important than function. Especially ballet was considered to be fraught with these ideals. Some participants claimed that contemporary dancers don’t need ballet, but if it is taught it shouldn´t be hybridized, it should be taught for what it is. The subject led the participants into a discussion of whether we teach style or technique, and if how we teach is more important than what we teach.

All participants agreed upon the role of the institution as being a facility that embraces the students’ individuality, and enhance their ability to find knowledge by themselves. The lack of diversity in today’s dance education was presented as a problem, and something that needs to change. Furthermore, the participants claimed that the contemporary dance world has undergone many changes, but the institutions and school systems haven’t followed that evolution. The hierarchy between the choreographer and the dancer is no longer there. The dancer is no longer seen as a mere tool. Hence, the institutions need to be synchronized with the outside world and the contemporary dance scene. This is important for producing the kind of dancers that is needed today.  The participants also discussed why different educations like choreographic and dance educations are separated. In the new dance world order, the dancer needs to assume the role of choreographer, producer and creator.  These different roles need to be viewed as being part of dancer’s life.

Regarding the role of the teacher the opinions differed. Jan Ritsema opposes teaching as a form of instructing and the teacher as someone who owns the knowledge, and instead proposed a non-teaching approach where the teacher is a mere facilitator. However, the other participants and the audience at the open presentation could not fully embrace Jan’s viewpoint, feeling that the dancer needs practice and cannot practice on their own.

Furthermore, the participants argued that in relation to dance educations it needs to be evaluated how the terms technique, progression and knowledge relate to what kind of dancers the school produces. Much like an artist, the schools need to have a dream of what they want to achieve, what kind of dancers they want to produce.

The main question, “What does a dancer need to know?”, was dealt with both implicitly and explicitly during the week’s discussion. Explicitly, the participants stated that a dancer needs to know what kind of school he or she is applying for. Hence, it is important for the institutions to have a clear agenda and to be able to present and explain a curriculum and a study plan. An open study plan benefits the school more than the students, and reverses who is important. Therefore, the participants agreed that even auditions need to be in coherence with the study plan and what the school is about.

 Dancers also need to know how to take care of their bodies, and to have an awareness of the body. Therefore, somatic principles are an important part in the beginning of the preparatory moment. The dancer needs to know the function, rather than the form, of the movement and understand that there is no perfect body use, or an ideal body. A dancer also needs to know how to digest, embrace, react to, and revolt against the information given to them. The institutes and schools need to rethink intense schedules that forces students to portion their energy to survive a four year education.

 A dancer needs to know how to find and discover knowledge themselves and use the teachers, instead of teachers using students. The participants argued that the reality outside the school demands dancers to be resourceful, and so this needs to be taught in the preparatory period. Aspiring dancers also needs to know the world they are entering, the reality of the “business”, and the political, economical and social structure that surrounds the field of dance. Hence, institutions must align with the outside world and the contemporary dance scene. 

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