SesayArts in Conversation with Lisa Robinson: The National Ballet of Canada’s YOU dance promotes the continued joy of dance



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Lisa Robinson with participants at a YOU dance workshop. Photo by Bruce Zinger, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

Lisa Robinson with participants at a YOU dance workshop. Photo by Bruce Zinger, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

YOU dance. The very name invites participation. YOU dance, the National Ballet of Canada’s educational and outreach program, provides to students in grades 4 to 6 an incomparable, fully- participatory opportunity to explore artistic expression, rhythm and creative movement through dance. Workshops are offered in schools. Students can also attend a live performance by the Apprentices from The National Ballet of Canada and a pianist at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto. The lively experience is further enhanced by pre- and post-performance discussions and interaction with the artists and the dance works. What’s more, in order to integrate dance and movement into various curricular areas, teachers can utilize educational resources for each grade, with all the activities designed to meet curriculum expectations. And the best part? The program is completely free-of-charge. Since its inception in 2007, YOU dance has reached almost 10,000 students across Ontario.

But here’s the catch. The workshops and live performances, offered at select times during the ballet season, are immensely popular and fill up quickly. Only those teachers at schools in the greater Toronto area and who register in a timely fashion can bring their students, which leaves others in faraway schools out of luck.

But YOU dance has thought of this. To provide access to an even greater number of students, YOU dance now offers schools across Canada an opportunity to register for a national video stream of its live performances.

The final streams of the current dance season air on May 5 and 6. In anticipation of next season, and to give our students an anticipatory opportunity to alert their teachers to register early, we spoke with Lisa Robinson, former ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada and the National Ballet’s Education and Outreach Manager to tell us all about this not-to-be missed program.

Lisa Robinson at a YOU dance performance. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

Lisa Robinson at a YOU dance performance. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

How did YOU dance begin and what inspired the programme’s creation?

Established in 2007, YOU dance (Youth, Outreach and Understanding) introduces young people, in grades four to six, to ballet and encourages an appreciation of dance as an art form and as an outlet for self-expression, movement, shape and rhythm.

What inspired you to transition from a professional dancer into dance education?

After dancing with The National Ballet of Canada for 14 years, I retired from the stage so I could join the Education department. I feel grateful that I can contribute to our community in this way and make a lasting impression on a child’s life through the art form I love.

Why does YOU dance target students in grade 4-6?

It is an ideal age to work with children to validate their creativity and imagination and nurture their senses of self-awareness, empathy and expression. Through YOU dance, I encourage students in grades 4 to 6 to explore their emotions or tell a story through movement. In this way, dance becomes an accessible language, one that children from a variety of backgrounds and cultures can adapt for their purposes. Dance unites these students and encourages their cooperation and collaboration. We also seek to promote the continued joy of dance, as all children have an innate desire to move to music.

Why are the streamed performances the best way for students to experience this program?

Accessibility is fundamental to YOU dance’s mandate, so the decision was made early on to make this programme free. The benefit of the live stream is to make these performances even more accessible.

Here are some Live Stream Testimonials from teachers across Canada following the YOU dance live stream on February 20, 2015:

  • “I was very excited to be able to offer my students from a rural Canadian town, who rarely if ever, make it to Toronto, the opportunity to see live dance.”
  • “The performance was well delivered by live stream. I felt like I was almost there in the audience.”
  • “Through the use of technology, this opportunity gives students a chance to connect with professionals, experience live performance and learn about the behind the scenes work that goes into such elaborate performances.”
  • “Most of my students had never seen ballet before this performance. A few have taken dance classes. No one had been to a live performance. This was an eye-opening cultural exposure that they would never have had.”

Do you know if the concepts that are taught during live streams are being integrated into the pre-existing class curriculum (i.e., are teachers taking some of the concepts taught during the live stream and using it in their own physical education classes)?

The teachers receive a study guide prior to the live stream with curriculum connections. From what I have discussed with teachers and the feedback I have received this definitely assists and gives them a stepping stone when class planning and also acts as a good opener for class discussions regarding dance and music as an expressive yet physically demanding art form.

As one teacher said, “Dance clearly has an immeasurable importance to developing a child’s potential both in body and mind. Under the guidance of a knowledgeable mentor, dance could be a very significant help in the development of all skills across the curriculum.”

Have you found that YOU dance helps provide young people a good introduction to ballet? 

Introducing ballet to children and inspiring their creativity and imagination is my greatest pleasure. I feel it is critically important to foster an appreciation for the arts in young people and give them the opportunity to use art as a starting point for learning about themselves and their world. I think YOU dance definitely provides a fantastic introduction to ballet.

A teacher commented, “I can’t thank Lisa [Robinson] and the YOU dance programme enough for such a well-thought, smoothly run and well organized workshop and dance performance. The programme brings so much joy and education to the students, many of whom will never have the opportunity to take a ballet class outside of school. On behalf of my students, I would like to say thank you once again for this amazing opportunity, and please come back to our school next year!” 

What’s next for YOU dance? Can you give us an insight as to how the program will continue to develop based on participant response, feedback and YOU dance’s own goals?

With such positive feedback both from the YOU dance workshops in the schools, live performances at the Betty Oliphant Theatre and the national live streams, YOU dance hopes to continue to develop and reach new audiences and provide opportunities for Canadians to engage with the arts. A key component of the National Ballet’s artistic strategy is engaging the community at all levels to develop cultural literacy in the next generation.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add about YOU dance?

I feel very fortunate to be able to engage with many young students and share my knowledge and passion for the art form and The National Ballet of Canada.

What: Youth Outreach and Understanding dance live performance streams

When: Tuesday, May 5, 2015 and Wednesday, May 6, 2015.

FYI: YOU dance

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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