Photo: Katja Sutela
Who We Are? -performance at FERA Conference on Education at Tampere 16th November 2018.

Dance teacher Suvi Kajaus: Collaborative processes in dance support deep thinking of learners

”It is fruitful to use the collective resources of the whole group in an artistic production”, writes Suvi Kajaus, an alumna of the Master's Degree Programme in Dance Pedagogy. “When more than one person elaborate on the artwork, the work on the themes deepens due to the different points of view and different ideas of reality." 

A year ago Suvi was working on her artistic-pedagogic master's thesis Who We Are?. In the process, 11-to-19-year-old boys pondered, what is dance. A collaboratively created performance was built from the dance amateurs and enthusiasts' ideas. Some of the key themes included uniformity and uniqueness, group roles and peer pressure, and using masks and finally revealing everyone's own faces.

Recently, on the 10th of January, Who We Are? was performed at The Night of the Science 2018, in Helsinki, in the programme of ArtsEqual- and TITA-initiatives. In November 2018, it was featured at the FERA Conference on Education at Tampere.

“The idea to take part in the Conference on Education came from Eeva [Anttila, Professor of Dance Pedagogy]”, mentions Suvi. “The boys and I planned a trimmed, 8-minute version of the performance that would work in a classroom setting."

At the Conference on Education, the performance was part of the lecture-workshop Education to Good – an artistic-pedagogic process and performance expressing adolescents' world of experiences and enforcing their identities. The dancers of the performance — the young non-professionals — got to lecture at the event, and tell about their own experiences. 

“I told about the collaborative practice, social constructivism, and the research findings. But bringing the dancers to a 'theoretical' environment enabled a different lecture experience and brought the performance close to the listeners", finds Suvi. "It was also a new kind of an experience to the dancers, as in a classroom the audience is right there."

Acknowledgements and professional development in dance pedagogy

In addition to all this, Suvi, a long-time teacher and current vice rector of Nurmijärvi Dance Institute, was awarded The Dance Educator of the Year by STOPP ry.

She describes the evolution of herself as a dance teacher thusly:
“For me, Who We Are? -project was a testing site for a new approach to pedagogy. I could dust off my own conceptions of teaching and directing. I've taught for a long time and in a traditional way — with the teacher leading. This affirmed to me that totally group-based collaborative practices do work."

When it comes to deciding on the contents of the performance, the collaboration takes some of the pressure off from the dance teacher. 
“Right in the beginning of the process I had a realisation:

I just realised that working collaboratively liberates me. Beforehand, I don't need to know or stress about, where to start, what material to ask from my learners, what the subject matter is, what music to use. A liberated state of mind, and a belief that everything will fall into place. (Research diary 21.11.2017)”

When the teacher did not make the decisions beforehand, the students could find answers to all the questions posed by the artistic process. While working on the piece, Suvi began immediately with team-building, and the process quickly developed into tightly-knit group process.
”Trust and a feeling of safety created a space, where everyone could be active and motivated. I hope that this project gave the students new points of view to making art and dance performances, and broadened their conceptions of dance."

She asserts that allowing the teacher to be humane and showing her own personality — including the idiosyncracies, the mistakes made, and her excitement — allowed the students to be open about themselves in the process. 

When it comes to education of dance more broadly, Suvi thinks there is plenty of space for collaborative practices:
”When it comes to creating the performances, in the dance school world, it is still very narrow and teacher-led. This different way of working, including its end results, allowed the students' own thought and processes to become deeper."


The written part of Suvi Kajaus's thesis Who We Are?: Teoksen rakentuminen ryhmälähtöisesti (in Finnish) and a recording of the artistic part can be found at the Theatre Academy Library. 



The interview translated from Finnish.

Teksti: Kenneth Siren