"What is being asked of dance when it is used in schools for ‘creativity’?"

Dr Kerry Chappell 

"Before coming to the Graduate School of Education I worked in lots of different roles in arts education; I was a dance artist, including education work in schools and community projects, and I was also an arts education project manager.  Before that, I’d done my undergraduate degree in psychology at Oxford, and while I loved dancing professionally, I wanted to bring these interests together.  So I shaped my ideas into a PhD in creativity in dance education at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London.  This was triggered by a niggling question in all my professional work: what was being asked of dance when it was used in schools for ‘creativity’?

In answering this question and carrying on exploring it when I was the Research Fellow on the Dance Partners for Creativity project at UoE I started to draw out a couple of ideas that I’m now passionate about exploring practically and theoretically.  One of the most exciting parts in all of this was being able to collaborate with great colleagues, especially Anna Craft and Linda Rolfe in GSE, and Veronica Jobbins, at Trinity Laban.

Firstly, working with the team, I developed the idea of humanising creativity which, especially working with Anna grew into the idea of wise humanising creativity (WHC).  For us, this idea challenges marketised notions of creativity in education; we argue that creativity can and should be ethically driven from an embodied position.  Humanising creativity is an active process of change with dialogue at its heart, guided by compassion and shared values. It comes from people engaging in collaborative thinking and joint action to imaginatively develop new ideas which are valuable to them and their community.

Secondly, I’ve argued that this kind of creativity in the arts provides a really powerful way to generate ideas about what education in the future might be like.  I think it can also offer the right kind of form and content to help children to learn in the 21 century.  What might an education system generated by and fully featuring the arts actually look and feel like? What kind of experience would it offer children and young people? How different might it be from what they currently experience?

Thirdly, WHC is driven by a two way relationship between identity and creativity.  So when anyone creates they are ‘making and being made’.  I’ve been really inspired by Michael Fielding and Peter Moss’ work, and with DPC colleagues, I’ve argued that together small changes from creative activity can incrementally, cumulatively and reactively lead to what I’ve called ‘quiet revolutions’ – we can make changes to create futures that take into account what we think is possible and preferable.

What I would really stress too is that everyone who’s interested can research and develop these ideas.  Since 2008, I’ve worked to develop creative learning conversations practice with Anna.  They offer a way to flatten what we might call ‘traditional’ research hierarchies.  They can be used to open up research practice to educational professionals (including arts practitioners) and students.  These conversations create what we call ‘Living Dialogic Spaces’ in which University researchers can work alongside partner researchers - teachers, artists and students to research areas that we’re all curious about.  Within our team we also try to include M-level and Phd CREATE research students in project research assistant roles too.

One part of all of this that I’m really excited about at the moment is trying to find ways to represent research outcomes for different audiences and in different forms that are still academically rigorous.  So, our AHRC publication Close Encounters included chapters lead authored by partner practitioner researchers as well as by University researchers.    But, as well as writing traditional peer-reviewed articles, book chapters etc, I’m also getting into different forms of arts-based research representation.  In 2013 I made a research film with The Devon Carousel Research Project Playing with Circles and in May 2014 performed the theoretical principles from our EU-funded CREAT-IT project.  This was the biggest step in this direction I’ve taken so far.  It felt quite risky – it was an improvised piece for pianist, flautist and dancer structured to capture connections between science and arts education at the 1st International Conference on New Developments in Science and Technology Education in Corfu. We performed to a group of mainly science educators but the reaction was great, and I’d like to keep honing this way of working.

For the future, I’m keen to explore more how the arts can help to educate our children.  How can we get them ready for the fast changing 21st century world that they are growing up in?  To try and figure this out at the moment, I’m focusing on WHC and the arts in interdisciplinary contexts: 

  • Round and round you turn me  – supported by the Arts Council, we’re looking at WHC within the Devon Carousel Project’s early years interdisciplinary arts practice – how do we lay flexible arts-inspired educational foundations in the Early Years?
  • CREAT-IT  – investigating WHC and LDS with European colleagues from Norway, Greece, Serbia and Italy.  Funded by the EU, we’re asking how the arts can enhance Enquiry Based Science Education (working with CREATE Research group staff: Anna Craft, Sarah Hennessy, Charlotte Slade, Margo Greenwood & Alison Black).  
  • Next Choreography  – an exciting project just beginning with Siobhan Davies Dance – working with Charlotte Slade and Amy Phillips and the SDD education team on a three year Paul Hamlyn Funded project to look at how stretching choreography into conversation with other art forms can inspire our current generation of teenage dance artists. 

I’m also currently involved in as many initiatives as possible to bring the LDS principles alive in extended research contexts: developing the research strand within the annual UK National Dance Teachers’ Association conference; and facilitating the UoE Dance Network Active Action Research bursaries. I enjoy the real mix that my job in GSE involves and I’m always happy to hear from people with interesting collaborative research ideas”.