Supporting Health in Dance

9th Annual Healthy Dancer Conference in Saskatoon By Caelia Gardiner
  • Connie Moker Wernikowski, Katrina Currie, Evelyn Currie and Elle Wenikowski in multigenerational dance performance Loops and Crinkles / Photo courtesy of Healthy Dancer Canada
  • Karine Rathle leads participants in Somatic Principles in Dance: Exploring the Integration of Somatics in Dance and Movement Education / Photo courtesy of Healthy Dancer Canada

“Dance should be for the body – not the body for dance.”

Panelist Ashley Johnson shared this quote from her teacher Amelia Itcush during a session discussing “What is Important to Know About Dance Health?” It speaks to a common theme throughout the conference despite the range of topics addressed. Dance consists of any form of artistic movement, and anyone, regardless of their age, experience or physical ability, can not only partake in but also benefit greatly from its practice. Speakers throughout the ninth annual Healthy Dancer Conference September 24-25 emphasized this repeatedly.

This year’s event took place in the Prairies of Western Canada for the first time, in Saskatoon, SK. The conference was hosted by Dance Saskatchewan Inc., a not-for-profit organization committed to the advancement of dance of all forms in the province. It was a weekend event with more formal presentations and more informal movement and art workshops.

The focus of the conference is on safe and healthy dance education. Topics ranged from dance in the curriculum for school children to teaching ballroom dance to elderly people.

Speakers included well-recognized and established experts in their fields, such as Ashley Johnson (local teacher of Mitzvah Technique and Itcush Method) and Sherron Burns (arts education consultant for Living Sky School Division in North Battleford, SK) who both shared their collaborative work on introducing movement into early years curricula Karine Rathle (Montréal-based dance researcher and teacher of somatic practices) shared her research on somatic principles such as using breath and imagery in movement to promote efficiency and longevity in rehearsals while Jo-Anne La Flèche (clinical psychologist completing a Master’s degree in dance at the Université du Québec à Montréal) shared her research on how somatic practices can improve the mental well-being and self-perspective of dancers.

Each of the professionals spoke about a unique and recently developing facet of the dance community, but with the common goals of increasing self-esteem and psychological well-being in dancers, improving physical wellness and introducing the benefits of dance to demographics who may not necessarily be exposed to it.

The publisher Human Kinetics was on-site with their collection of books relating to injury prevention, imagery techniques and general wellness practices for teachers. Dance equipment distributor En Pointe and Saskatoon pilates centre Lead Pilates also had booths with fares for purchase and information on their products and services. The resources provided and connections created throughout the conference indicate steps are being made toward real change in how we regard dance in North American culture, if not the world. 

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