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Jolt Dance school raises the bar

It’s not just the bodies that move in the Jolt Dance programme for primary school children. The dance company is shifting people’s thinking about who can dance and who can teach.

The integrated dance company is running a programme in Christchurch primary schools taught by Jolt Move trainees, all of whom have disabilities.

Jolt Diversity Dance Project is a new initiative as part of its Move Tutor Training Scheme. The project offers dance sessions for Years 3–7 students in mainstream primary schools. Up to 35 students are taught exclusively by the Jolt Move trainees in each session.

Jolt Artistic Director Lyn Cotton says the project was piloted in Christchurch primary schools last year and was a success with teachers reporting that the visits had a big impact on their students. The pilot was funded by the IHC Foundation in 2017 and the programme received further funding this year.

“It won't be the math strategies or how to paragraph that stand out for the children this year. It will be most definitely this experience,” said teacher Mandy O’Sullivan after a session at Somerfield School last year. “Diversity Dance is about movement but I also believe that it is a movement – it is a mind-set shift that all of society should be exposed to. It starts with the children.”

Last year the programme ran for four weeks of each term, this year it has increased to seven weeks a term and the programme is in demand. The Move trainees lead a 45-minute dance session that encourages students to express their individual dance moves and to work with others. There is also a 15-minute discussion time when the students can ask the tutors questions about their lives and gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with a disability.

Before the sessions, schools are sent an information sheet introducing the Move trainees. Each school can then decide if they want to prepare questions and discuss issues around disability or to leave the students to experience the session spontaneously.

The aim of Diversity Dance Project is to encourage young students to think about disability and difference in a new way. The trainees lead the sessions independently and the dance activities encourage students to watch others and be confident in expressing their own unique ideas. The hope is that students will gain an understanding that everybody is valuable and deserves to feel like they belong.

Lyn says she is committed to career progression for the trainees as dance teachers. “There is a whole assumption around it – that they can only be assistants or volunteers. “I don’t believe that. I think the only thing that is holding people back is opportunity and time,” she says. Lyn started with five trainee tutors in 2013 and has boosted their numbers to seven. She is still working with the same core group. They start as assistants in the community classes run by Jolt, then progress to teaching part of these activities, then finally to plan their own classes. The Diversity Dance Project was the most recent progression.

“What I love about my work is that I continued to be amazed at what’s possible and to think where can we go next. I have got to work out the ways that bring out the best in my guys.”

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra violinist Sarah McCracken and Zac explore music and movement.