As an inspirational educator, Anne Flynn has made a lasting impression on hundreds of students in her academic dance career. Her stories reinforce the many connections that draw together the learning experiences of community dancers, dance professionals and those of students and teachers in post-secondary institutions. - D.D.D.
The practices involved in concert dancing are really potent and powerful but are experienced by few people and participants. They can have many applications that haven't been fully explored. There are recreational or community dancers, such as folk dancers, square dancers or ballroom dancers, people who take an evening class, perhaps with a professional company. The idea of non-professional artists making fantastic artistic work is a whole area that is open for exploration.
The University of Calgary has a community dance project called "Dance Montage," that started in the Phys. Ed. department with Sylvia J. Shaw, who was teaching modern dance, volleyball, and basketball. The University of Alberta also had a similar program but had so few dancers that they transported the Calgary dancers to Edmonton for a weekend to make up a show, and then drove the Edmonton dancers to Calgary to perform the next weekend. On average, there are about 100 people in the cast ranging in age from 17 to 70, with community-based, university choreographers, and student choreographers. We've had recreational tap dancers from Decidedly Jazz Danceworks come and perform, and dancers from Siberia. For many years, John Pool had a men's group who were audience favourites.
I was the artistic director of Dance Montage for many years. I've seen its value for people, working 9 to 5 jobs, coming to rehearse three times a week for perhaps six or seven weeks, and then performing in the show. That dance experience, the experience of making work together, sharing it with an audience and being involved in production and fussing over details is fantastic for anybody, whether you're a professional or not.
For many years at the university I taught a required "Introduction to Dance" course to kinesiology majors. These students had no choice, and the classes were always split evenly between men and women. We wanted 20 men and 20 women in each class so that we could do ballroom dancing, and square dancing. Every year, people made the same two comments, especially the men. The first comment was, "This is the first time I've ever danced without being drunk." The experience was really astonishing to them, because their entire experience of dancing had been something they only ever did while drinking, in a dark place where no one could really see them. This was really quite profound.
The other thing was their appreciation of the difficulty of what dancers do, because they had to make their own dances as part of this course. They uniformly loved the course. On the course evaluations they would write, "I never had any idea of how hard it was to be a good dancer." Because dancing just looked so effortless, they always thought that anyone could do it and that it was easy. It was very humbling for them, especially as athletes who considered themselves to be motor skilled to realize that it was extremely challenging to do these dances, to co-ordinate a group, have everybody show up on time for rehearsal, ensure the sound system worked, make sure someone remembered the music, not to mention the steps. Then there was the incredible exhilaration when they got to perform their pieces.
I still meet people in the city or even on back country trails who say, "Hey! You're Anne Flynn. I took a dance class with you." I was in the playground with my daughter a while ago and started talking with another mom. We were pushing our kids on the swings. I was wearing a hat and sunglasses because I had run out of the house without washing my face or brushing my hair, but it was getting hot and so I said to this woman, "I probably look terrible, but I'm going to take my hat off anyway." And she looked at me and said, "You're Anne Flynn! I took your dance class. I'll never forget it."
Because of the multi-sensory learning that goes on in dance, people never forget their dance classes. I ran into a park interpreter who started doing his modern dance routine on the trail. He said he'll never forget it for the rest of his life. I know that dance really makes a deep and lasting impact. I sometimes wonder if those students remember much from their university experience, but I am sure that they will remember "Introduction to Dance." Whether they loved it or hated it, I know they have a clear visceral memory of being in that room with their teachers. This helps to remind me that this is really powerful. It speaks to so many people, and watching that opening of people's desire for learning is very rewarding.
If you come into my office at the university you'll see my bulletin board filled with cards from people, grateful for the opportunity, and saying what an amazing experience it was. These people then become loyal audience members and supporters. They encourage their children to dance because it's been such a meaningful experience. We've had people who have come back for years, people who have done this 20 times.