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Forget Your Ears, Move Your Feet:

An Artists in Schools project with hearing impaired and hearing students proves that the power of dance comes from within.

A joyful dance performance at St Albans East Primary School was the end result of an exciting collaborative project between deaf choreographer Jo Dunbar and Years 3 – 5 students.  The project, funded by Arts Victoria’s Artists in Schools program, drew on both traditional and contemporary dance styles for inspiration, uniting hearing and hearing impaired students across cultural boundaries.

St Albans East Primary School is a culturally diverse school with students from many Islander, Asian and African backgrounds. The children come from approximately thirty-five different language groups and a small percentage of the students are also hearing impaired. As a deaf dancer, Jo Dunbar was uniquely positioned to bring the students together. Jo is an established performer who has worked with a range of dance companies from the UK and Australia including Strange Fruit, Deaf Can Dance and The Delta Project, a Melbourne company of deaf and hearing performers. At St Albans, she connected both hearing and hearing-impaired students in a culturally rich exploration of dance.

During weekly workshops that ran across two school terms in 2014, Jo and the students explored physical movement from gymnastics to street dance to Bollywood, opening the student’s minds to the possibility that any move could be “dance” if you applied space, timing, rhythm and form. Using visual cues to communicate with the class, Jo provided a strong role model for the hearing impaired children, giving them the opportunity to take leadership roles within the workshop.

The school secured further funds for Ghanaian drummer Kofi Kunkpe to work with Jo and the students to provide the music for their workshops and final performance, an important cue for hearing impaired students and also for those students connecting with African culture. The teachers at St Albans also gave their enthusiastic support, acknowledging the broad educational outcomes of the project. Jo’s dance project provided an effective and engaging method to embed health and physical education, the arts and communication into the curriculum, while supporting the school’s newly established performing arts program.

‘The students were brilliantly creative and engaged in the program with such positive attitudes and support of each other,’ Jo says. ‘It has inspired me to continue this program in other mainstream schools who have Deaf Support units, (where) I can continue to be a role model for the deaf students and offer creative tools to build bridges with their peers.’

Year 5 student Calvin summed up the experience of many of the students in saying that the project, ‘taught us the importance of teamwork, movement, music, confidence, expression and how to believe in ourselves.’

With Jo’s guidance and encouragement many of the students overcame their initial shyness and embarrassment, gaining confidence in their ability to join in and express themselves through dance.  This was evident in the final dance performance which was attended by the whole school community, including parents. According to one observer, the increased confidence of both the deaf and hearing students as a result of this project was palpable. 

A Prep student who watched the final performance said, ‘It made my heart move.’

Good to Know

Research by Melbourne University on Arts Victoria’s Artists in Schools and Extended Schools Residencies programs (Partnerships Between Schools and the Professional Arts Sector: Evaluation of Impact on Student Outcomes, 2011) revealed that arts partnerships have an overall positive impact on the following student outcomes:  

  • Student engagement (involvement in learning, persistence and pride in work, willingness to accept challenges, display of positive attitudes to learning)
  • Student voice (directing own styles of learning, having impact on courses of study, having impact on school learning policies)
  • Social Learning (working in teams, building social relationships, seeking contact with and mirroring behaviours of adult role models and/or capable peers)
  • Creative skills (being innovative and inventive, utilising divergent thinking, originality, problem solving skills)
  • Arts related knowledge and skills (applying art forms’ conventions, developing and using arts skills techniques and processes, reflecting on art works, critiquing and evaluation own and others works)

The St Albans’ Dance Project noted improvements that correlate with the findings of other Artists in Schools projects such as: 

  • More active student participation/increased student pride in their work
  • Improved attention span, persistence and rising to a challenge
  • Greater participation in discussions and the offering of opinions


‘The students were brilliantly creative and engaged in the program with such positive attitudes and support of each other,’


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