Stay up to date with key news regarding Dance Education in NSW

A Lesson in Composition

Did you know that … celebrated American Music Theatre Composer/Lyricist, Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods – among many) at the beginning of his career asked his mentor, the equally celebrated lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, and Carousel – among many), to critique a show he had just written. Sondheim says that he never forgot the advice that he was given at that time, and this advice formed the basis of a set of principles that underpinned his work:

  • A song should be like a play.
  • It should have a beginning a middle and an end.
  • It should have an idea, state the idea, and then build the idea, develop it, and finish.
  • At the end it should be at a place different from where it began …

(Sondheim, S. 2013. Six by Sondheim, HBO, Foxtel Arts).

The point, Sondheim says is to further things, to take what you’ve got and to make more, and to go in different directions … You can only learn by writing and doing and writing and doing. (Sondheim, S. 2013. Six by Sondheim, HBO, Foxtel Arts).

Sondheim also says that composers should be aware that:

Lyric writing has to exist in time.  The audience, the listener, cannot do what the reader of poetry does: you cannot go at your own speed, you cannot go back over a sentence, and therefore it must be crystal clear as it goes on.  That means you have to under-write it. You have to lay the sentences out so that there is enough air for the ear to take them in.

Also what has to be considered, and not what people who write dense lyrics consider, is that beside the lyric there is music, and costume, and lighting.  A lot of things to listen to and to look at. And therefore the lyric must be in that sense simple. It can be full of complex thought and it can certainly have resonance, but it must be easy to follow.

(Sondheim, S. 2013. Six by Sondheim, HBO, Foxtel Arts).

You could argue that if song writers had followed the principles enunciated by Hammerstein and Sondheim there should be more Sondheims than there are. What really matters here however is the acknowledgement that at whatever level of creative endeavour you aspire to, your work can be improved by the knowledge and experience of those who have demonstrated excellence.  The better the song the more likely there is of evidence of this advice in practice.

Hammerstein and Sondheim were of course speaking about song writing, but you don’t have to draw too long a bow to see that their principles have relevance to the practice of choreography. Of the 3 practices associated with the study of dance as an art form (Performance, Composition and Appreciation), you could argue that composition is central in that there must be works to perform and works to appreciate. Consequently there is an emphasis on the teacher of dance being able to understand and engage with choreographic principles in the works that they choreograph for their students.

It is not surprising that at the initial DEPA Conference the most requested area for follow-up was Dance Composition. In response DEPA is offering Compose Yourself, a two-day Conference (March 15-16, 2019), which through lectures, panel discussions and workshops will address the many areas related to dance composition/choreography that face teachers of dance in schools.  It is not often that the opportunity arises to spend time on what can be a difficult and contentious area of the syllabus. Make the most of this opportunity. Visit the DEPA website and sign-up now.

Our Dance History

Dance in Education in NSW as we know it was the outcome of a series of conferences held at the then Mount Eymard Conference Centre in Bowral in the early 1980s. The conferences were attended by a range of stakeholders including representatives from Education, Dance Education, Studio Practitioners, and Professional Dance Companies (including Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon). The conferences led to the K-12 Dance Statement being released in 1985, the Dance Years 7-10 Syllabus in 1988, the 2 Unit Years 11-12 Classical Ballet Syllabus in 1991, and the 2 Unit Years 11-12 Dance Syllabus in 1992. The Stage 6 Dance Syllabus was reviewed in 1999 (which included subsuming the 2 Unit Years 11-12 Classical Ballet Syllabus), and the Years 7-10 Dance Syllabus in 2003.

The preliminary discussions leading up to the Dance 7-10 Syllabus (1988) were very intense with strongly held and often conflicting views. The issues at the heart of these discussions were not dissimilar to those occurring in Great Britain between the late 1940s and the early 1970s as described by Jacqueline Smith-Autard (The Art of Dance in Education, 2002: 5-39). Fundamentally advocates of a Laban orientated “Educational” Model’ with its emphasis on experiential process, were opposed to advocates of a ‘”Professional” Model’ with its emphasis on training, skill and product. The shift in educational thinking to a more assessable outcomes based philosophy led to the development of the ‘”Midway”, Dance as Art Model’ (which contains aspects of both Models) proposed by Smith-Autard in 1976 (The Art of Dance in Education, 2002:3). It is the Dance as Art, Midway Model, which underpins all of the Dance Syllabuses in NSW and remains best practice in dance education.

In reflecting on the 30 years since the development and implementation of the Dance Years 7-10 Syllabus it is appropriate to recognise the following positive outcomes:

  • the increase in the number of students studying HSC Dance from 27 in 1993 to over a thousand in 2018;
  • the growth of district, regional and State performance opportunities for dance students;
  • the Bachelor of Arts (Dance), Bachelor of Education Combined Degree at UNSW (1994-2014), developed by David Spurgeon, that led to highly qualified dance specialist teachers in high schools;
  • the establishment of Creative and Performing Arts High Schools providing additional opportunities for gifted and talented dance students; and
  • the model on which Dance in Education in NSW is based remaining best practice

What hasn’t changed in those 30 years, is that the struggle to cement the place of dance in education is ongoing and that its integrity and indeed its future remains tenuous at best and subject to ever changing political influences. These political influences include those of various governments, education entities, and even State and National Arts Organisations. You only have to look at the compromises to the study of Dance in National Curriculum in the Arts (F-10), and the proposed changes to the dance component of NESA’s Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus to see that these concerns are real. In addition we see the strong push for a greater emphasis on the so-called STEM subjects as opposed to STEAM model, with its recognition of the essential role of the Arts in education. The current review into all aspects of Education in NSW has the potential to have a significant impact on the future of education and teaching in the Arts.

You are all very busy focusing on keeping dance surviving in your school and so these issues can seem very time consuming and distant. However, we strongly appeal to you to support the efforts of DEPA NSW, which advocates on your behalf. Don’t accept any softening or weakening of our subject. Please consider the full implications when responding to curriculum reviews and surveys and do not be deceived by any perceived superficial ‘benefits’ that may appeal as an easy option. It can be very daunting being the sole voice in a school so where possible seek the support of DEPA NSW or your network of dance colleagues, and as specialist dance educators please remember to provide support and guidance in these matters for K-6 Teachers. If DEPA NSW be of any assistance please contact us on

John Mullins

Reminder: Assessment and Reporting in Stage 6 Dance

This document was published in July 2017 and has been effective for Year 11 since the start of 2018. It comes into effect for Year 12 in Term 4 2018. The document can be found here: 

A few key factors to consider as you begin assessment schedules for the 2018 – 2019 cohort:

  • There can be a maximum of four assessment tasks
  • The minimum weighting for an individual task is 10%
  • The maximum weighting for an individual task is 40%
  • Only one task may be a formal written examination with a maximum weighting of 30%
  • Schools may choose to replicate the timing and structure of the HSC examination
  • A task may have two parts spread apart for example: Trial examination Part A – Practical might take place in Term 2 while Part B – Appreciation might take place in Term 3 during trial examination blocks
  • There is an emphasis on assessment for learning (not just end – products, take a “work in progress” approach) and integrating the areas of study within tasks

The Truth About Getting Fit

Of course, we dance professionals know that we’re pretty smart but – how many people know that dancing helps you become even smarter?

Dr Michael Mosley, the UK doctor who co-hosts the BBC’s ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor’ and who became a household name with his books on effectlve dieting (The Fast Diet by Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. 2013. Short Books), recently presented a BBC Documentary called ‘The Truth About Getting Fit.’ (ABC TV Sunday 22nd July 2018.)

This one hour documentary sought to dispel some commonly held misconceptions about the relationship between fitness and exercise and it made recommendations for optimum fitness via specific exercise regimes.

The last segment of this program focussed on the relationship between exercise and cognition and looked at the effect of a dance class on participants’ brain functions. Prof. Michael Duncan from Coventry University in the UK, explained that whilst most types of exercise can have beneficial effects on cognition, dance is unusual in that participants also have to actually use cognitive skills whilst exercising.

The program featured a group of dance enthusiasts who volunteered to undertake a range of cognitive skill tests both before and after their regular Salsa class. The results should come as no surprise to dance teachers. A demonstrated improvement across a range of cognitive skills was evident and proven.

Dr. Michael Mosley concluded, ‘current research suggests that dancing could be the best exercise of all to get maximum brain benefit.’

We already know that a well structured dance class is one of the finest and most efficient ways to improve fitness but we now know that it improves brain effectiveness as well.

Happy Thinking/Dancing!

David Spurgeon

NESA K-6 Draft Creative Arts Syllabus – Update

Dear DEPA Member

You are no doubt aware that NESA has released the Draft Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus for consultation. The consultation period ends on May 13, 2018. Given that this Draft Syllabus sits within the K-10 framework, the implications of its approach and content have the potential to impact on the study of dance beyond Year 6.  The DEPA NSW Committee strongly urges all members to respond.

Perhaps the most contentious issue in the draft document is that despite statements supporting and valuing the discrete nature of each of the art forms, there are only two learning domains ‘Making’ and ‘Responding’ across all of the art forms. Dance ‘Performance’ has been removed as a discrete learning domain and forced merged with ‘Making’.  This outcome is a significant retreat from our current dance syllabuses, which are recognised as ‘best practice’ in dance education. 

We must make a strong stand and respond in numbers, if we as a professional association wish to be taken seriously and to be considered as a force for arts advocacy.

Here is a briefing document which may help you in formulating your response. 

Links to the syllabus consultation process appear below.

Please make your voice heard on this matter.


Have your say by:

To register for an upcoming K-6 Draft Syllabus Consultation Meeting Click Here


NESA K-6 Draft Creative Arts Syllabus

DEPA NSW submitted a comprehensive response to the NSW Education and Standards Authority’s (NESA) call to NSW Professional Teachers’ Associations to comment on the review of ‘the Creative Arts K–6 Syllabus to include Australian curriculum content’ (NESA, 2017:4)? The review was seen by NESA as an opportunity to evaluate existing curriculum content, and to strengthen the continuum of learning in the Creative Arts K-12.

The NESA position paper presented three options for comment:

Options 1 and 3 employed generic organising strands across the teaching of each of the Arts K-6, namely ‘Making’ and ‘Investigating’ (Option 1), or ‘Making’ and ‘Responding’ (Option 3);

Option 2 retained discrete learning experiences for each discipline area: ‘Performing, Organising Sound and Listening in Music; Making and Appreciating in Visual Arts; Performing, Composing and Appreciating in Dance; and Making, Performing and Appreciating in Drama’.

Option 2 is consistent with the current NSW Creative Arts K–6 Syllabus.

DEPA’s response cited research from well-known philosophers and dance educators (Abbs, Adshead, Arnold, Best, McFee, Osmotherly, Redfern and Smith-Autard) to argue strongly for Option 2. Our response pointed out that a generic approach to the teaching of the Arts in Education is flawed in that it fails to acknowledge the unique knowledge, understanding and skills inherent in each of the art forms. We argued that education in the arts should be based on artistic as well as aesthetic principles and that the exclusion of ‘performance’ as a discrete but related practice is inconsistent with the general aim underpinning the study of dance in education: the study of dance as an art form.

DEPA’s position is that any diminution or compromise made to the integrity of the study of dance as an art form to accommodate the National Curriculum or a generalist approach will disadvantage ALL dance students from K-12.

At the time of writing DEPA NSW has not received a response from NESA to its submission. However it is likely that NESA will seek further comment before a final position is taken. We urge our membership to become involved in this vital issue if further comment is called for. If implemented, options 1 and 3 have the potential to radically and adversely impact upon the Teaching of Dance in NSW.

Click Here to read the full DEPA response document.


‘Panpapanpalya’ the 2nd joint congress of daCi (dance and the Child international), and WDA (World Dance Alliance) Global Education and Training Network, will be held in Adelaide from 8-13 July 2018?

The press release states:

The congress will be a creative contribution to international 21st century knowledge networks generating new thoughts and ideas for dance learning and teaching. Connecting with UNESCO to advocate for the rights of a child to quality dance teaching, it will bring together international dance students, educators, artists and researchers in a program of intercultural scholarly and performance gatherings. Core themes of dance, gathering, generations and learning – embodied by the Kaurna language Aboriginal word Panpapanpalya – will be explored alongside sub themes of community, sustainability, diversity and inclusion. 

daCi previously held a very successful conference in Sydney in 1994. Performances at the Seymour Centre, by dance groups from NSW’ public schools were very highly regarded by the delegates.

‘Panpapanpalya’ presents a very exciting opportunity for dance educators in NSW to participate in a wonderful learning opportunity.