St Columba – Dance Program with Ms Shelly Baker

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Ms Shelly Baker, Dance Teacher at the St Columba Anglican School, highlights their exciting dance program.

Tell us a little about your background …

I started dance at the age of 5. I undertook my HSC in dance as an accelerated student and loved the course, attaining top mark in the state in 1999. At 16-years-old, I started teaching dance at a private studio in Newcastle. I kept teaching right through university, where I got a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Teaching with a Major in English and History. I then travelled to London, where I undertook my Master of Arts at King’s College London, while teaching English and Dance in London.

Upon return to Australia, I chose to move to Port Macquarie to work at St Columba – a school in the heart of a strong regional dance area, yet still young enough to have a pioneering role in developing school dance in the area. I also write a regular educational column for DANCEtrain Magazine, as I keep my love of English and writing close too.

What inspired your interest in dance?

I can’t remember! I just know that it has been a thread through my entire life. And even though I’ve gone and done different things and studied other disciplines, it has always remained.

I also come from a dance ‘family’; my younger brother is a professional dancer with San Francisco Ballet Company, and my younger sister is a commercial dancer in Sydney. I have been drawn back into dance teaching like a force field.

Tell us about the St Columba Anglican School Dance Program …

We have three strands of Dance at SCAS. Firstly, it is offered as an elective in Years 9 & 10 and a Preliminary and HSC Course for Years 11 & 12. We are the only school in the area to offer an in-house dance teacher for the curriculum. Secondly, we run a rigorous Co-Curricular Program for which students audition, targeting performance at Eisteddfods and Festivals etc. Thirdly, we run an Ensemble Program, for any student aged Kindergarten to Year 12 who wishes to be involved in skills-based dance lessons, school performances, musicals etc.

Why did SCAS become involved in the Sydney Eisteddfod?

I was looking for opportunities to extend our students beyond the classroom and studio space and increase the opportunities they have to perform – especially being from a semi-rural area.

We have always competed in Port Macquarie Eisteddfod, but over the last few years, I have tried to supplement this with trips to Sydney and other areas, such as the Taree and District Eisteddfod. Sydney Eisteddfod is one of the largest of its kind in the world and it maintains an excellent standard, which we strive toward.

The kids enjoyed performing Avatar last year in Sydney so much, that this year we decided to go back, with more routines and a larger group. For continued growth in the Arts, it is important that our students see other schools, dance works and engage with choreography and dancers of all types. It is so rewarding for them to share their talent with the wider dance community as well and to travel and experience fresh dance activities with each other.

Describe the performances and the outstanding results …

In 2011, our contemporary group, called The Artist, features a painter that manipulates the movement of the dancers on her blank ‘canvas’, sculpting them into a work of art. Our Jazz, Michael Jackson vs. The Paparazzi, shows the battle over the police line for a glimpse of a celebrity. And our piece Mourning is a subtle modern dance work that explores togetherness, loss and individuality. The first two won their sections and the latter gained 2nd place.

We have incredibly supportive parents and staff, who helped with costuming and make-up, which made the kids look so professional in their dance roles.

Our students in these routines were a mix of ages and abilities, including students who do not learn dance outside of school and only have access to the performing arts through their school education.

This is indeed such a special attribute and just one of the reasons why the School Dance sections of the Eisteddfod contribute so much to the community and our students.

What did the Sydney Eisteddfod committee say about SCAS?

“Three cheers for St Columba! Students from St Columba Anglican School, Port Macquarie, are celebrating their success in the Sydney Eisteddfod Secondary School Dance Program. The forty dancers competed in three events and winning two and finishing second in the third, they could not be happier. Sydney Eisteddfod appreciates the extra effort regional entrants have to make to enter the competition and congratulates the students and their dance teacher Shelly Baker on their outstanding achievement.”~ Sydney Eisteddfod.

What is next for this talented young group of performers?

I WISH I KNEW! That’s the best part about the children I work with … they continue to inspire me and at some stage, I will just be invigorated with a new idea that I want to try out with them. I just work with them, experiment, improvise, throw ideas around and then … there’s an epiphany and the group gets excited.

They are so talented, and as we continue to grow, I know they will be on the up and up! Many of them will now start to focus on their HSC, so my attention turns to helping them attain the best mark they possibly can for this.

What are you goals for the SCAS Dance Program?

New studio (coming this year!) … More groups … More boys … Travel … Integrated work with other Performing Arts (e.g. live music) … Shows at the Glasshouse … Eisteddfods … Top HSC results … Fun … Excursions … Workshops … New Choreography … DANCE, DANCE, DANCE!

Thanks Shelly.


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