Putting the “A” in STEAM: Shad Alum shares how she builds community and belonging through dance education
For Bronwyn Roberts, representing the “A” in STEAM is something she feels passionately about. As a Dance Educator studying the ways in which dance can be used in the classroom and the community to enrich the learning experience and quality of life for both young and old, she understands the value of the Arts in supporting other disciplines.
“Interdisciplinary education is so important; everything works together to support the other. Math supports Art, Art supports Science, it’s all related and important. And being able to work in multiple disciplines is going to become increasingly important as things continue to change with new technologies.”
When Bronwyn attended Shad at the University of Saskatchewan in the summer of 2016, she wasn’t sure which academic path she wanted to pursue. She had always loved Math and Science, but also had a deep love of the Arts. She had been dancing since early childhood and had seen the amazing impact it can have on people.
“I had seen across the board the amazing effect dance has on people, both young and old. It helps them think creatively, express themselves in different ways, and allows people to interact with others and relearn their own body in a world that requires more digital ways of communicating. It’s both beautiful and inspiring.”
Shad helped her to see that she could have the kind of community impact she wanted by pursuing her passion. In the program, she was surrounded by people from different backgrounds and was exposed to a broad range of potential professional and academic possibilities.
“Shad showed me that there are so many different paths open to me. We had PAs from all different backgrounds who were involved in a bunch of different things, and it allowed me to see that there are so many different professions available to explore.”
And so after graduating from high school, Bronwyn left her hometown of Kinkora, Prince Edward Island (PEI) and attended a program at Canada’s prestigious National Ballet School (NBS) in Toronto to train as a Dance Educator. She learned how to guide the development of students’ technique and how to help them hone their professional skills. As an educator, she feels she is also responsible for helping students to learn important life lessons and coping skills, in addition to helping them explore who they are as creative individuals.
“Performing was never really for me. I always loved being behind the scenes supporting another artist’s vision come to life. I started teaching and leading a dance club at a local elementary school when I was in high school, and I fell in love with the way that dance can bring about creativity and confidence in youth. I loved breaking down how to teach something, how to relay that information. Being an educator was just the right path for me.”
Bronwyn spent some time during her program at the NBS teaching part-time at the school, which helped to further solidify her love of dance education. Her appreciation of the benefits of dance grew and she decided she wanted to continue sharing those benefits outside of a professional dance setting. She enrolled at Concordia University to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts and plans to complete a Master of Arts Education with a focus on dance and movement in the community.
Her experience growing up in a small town in PEI has shaped her desire to create pathways to dance education within communities. Though she loved many of the benefits of her childhood in a small community, she had to go to the larger city of Charlottetown to attend dance classes and engage with others who shared her passion. She also acknowledges the cost of dance, which can create barriers for some who simply can’t afford the cost of classes and costumes. She wants to see more dance opportunities in after school programs and community centers, where people can attend without the restrictions of cost or the feeling that they don’t match the stereotypical idea of who can be a “dancer”.
“Dance is for everyone. It gets streamlined to a certain body type or socioeconomic demographic, but movement is for all of us. I encourage all my students to be themselves and express themselves in ways that feel authentic to them.”
Bronwyn has even brought dance to Shad, working as a Program Assistant (PA) at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) and sharing how dance can be used to improve cognitive function and foster the kind of problem-solving skills needed for other academic courses and professions.
“Dance requires problem solving, it requires people to use their brains in different ways as they learn a choreography and try to perfect a particularly tricky move, discovering new ways of moving their body. There are so many cognitive benefits of dance movement, and I love being able to teach that to people and see how they grow and learn.”
As she explores different roles in the education space, Bronwyn hopes to continue to create more inclusive and accessible spaces in the dance world for people to come together simply for the joy of movement. She’s grateful every day that she took a chance and chose to follow her passion, and she encourages her students to explore opportunities that are meaningful to them.
“Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or changing your mind about what you want to do. Try new things, and if something isn’t working, change it and do something new. Life is about exploration and you never know what you might discover and learn.”