Denny does dance

26th September 2008 at 01:00
A new specialist academy at the Falkirk secondary aspires to rival the Dance School of Scotland in Glasgow

The curtain has been raised on a new specialist dance academy - at Denny High near Falkirk, where a School of Excellence in Dance has been launched this term for 15 selected S1 pupils.

The initiative is being funded through the Determined to Succeed programme and both headteacher Stephen Miller and head of the dance academy, Anne McEwan, are determined that it will suceed. They hope their students will eventually rival those attending Scotland's only specialist School of Dance at Knightswood Secondary in Glasgow.

Mr Miller goes further and believes the Dance Academy could be the driver for higher attainment throughout the school. "Through this initiative, we are building up a culture for excellence which we didn't always see in our kids' attitudes to other subjects," he says. "Historically, there has been a culture of low expectation, but that is slowly turning and I think the Dance Academy will be a major catalyst in turning that around."

The Denny High dance classes are taken by Mrs McEwan, who is the head of PE, and Susan Millar, a PE teacher, both of whom are dance specialists; visiting specialists are also involved. They take classes during school, afterwards and on in-service days when the pupils would otherwise be absent.

By the time they leave Denny High in five or six years, the Dance Academy students should have reached Advanced Higher standard or achieved a Higher National Certificate in dance - a passport potentially to the next stage in dance training in Scotland or further afield. Pupils will have the option of withdrawing from the academy at the end of S2 and S4; teachers can also say at that juncture if they feel a pupil should leave.

Mr Miller, who became headteacher at Denny High a year ago, sees the initiative as "A Curriculum for Excellence in action".

He said: "It builds on the existing strengths of the school; it provides flexibility within the curriculum; it delivers enhanced attainment and achievement; it allows pupils to develop in each of the four capacities in a natural and enjoyable way; it achieves excellent outcomes; and it promotes health and well-being."

Yet, five years ago, when Mrs McEwan joined Denny High, there was virtually no dance provision at the school. Since her arrival, she has developed dance as an option in the curriculum, as well as an extra- curricular activity. The "Do It Dance" club's popularity meant that 150 pupils took part in the annual show at Easter, including some of the more disengaged boys, who performed hip hop and gymnastics.

Dance has proved the catalyst for increasing the uptake of PE from a very low base - particularly among girls. A new creative and aesthetics course, covering dance, gymnastics and trampolining, has proved popular, and SQA results for PE have "gone through the roof", Mrs McEwan says.

Dance activities have boosted pupils' confidence, while, for some with challenging behaviour, inclusion in the dance club has been used as a "carrot".

"If you can give kids confidence through something in school, everything else reaps benefits," Mrs McEwan said.

The new Dance Academy builds on the passion for dance that has been nurtured in recent years, but differs in that pupils must apply and be selected via an audition.

In this, its first year, 15 S1 pupils - all girls - have been chosen from Denny High's cluster primaries. They have all had some experience of dance, but "potential" was Mrs McEwan's main criterion for selection.

Next year, she hopes to recruit some boys into the Dance Academy by sending some of her senior boys from the dance club to local primaries.

In February, staff and pupils move from their current school to a new- build secondary which will have a state-of-the-art dance studio, two modern gymnasiums, games hall and social area.

Nicola Thomson, 11, who has been doing tap, ballet, modern and majorettes since she was three, and wants to be a primary teacher specialising in dance, describes the Dance Academy as "brilliant", although "you have to put in a lot of work".

Her friend, Rachel Laird, 11, says: "If you didn't have this, you would be doing running and stuff in PE. It's really good that we get to do something we love for Standard grade and Higher."



One period of PE per week and one period of dance when students will explore technique, conditioning, jazz, tap, hip hop and creative movement;

One classical ballet class after school;

Three days of intensive training in contemporaryjazzballet on in-service days;

By the end of S1, all pupils should achieve an Intermediate 1 pass in dance practice units in at least three techniques.


Same allocation to dance within PE curriculum as above;

Two after-school sessions, one in classical ballet, a second in jazz;

By end of S2, some pupils will be presented for Intermediate 2 units in up to four techniques, and possibly one unit in choreography.


Pupils will study seven Standard grades or national qualifications, with their eighth column devoted to a Higher in dance practice, to be sat in either S3 or S4;

Three after-school classes;

Three days of intensive training during staff in-service days.


Advanced Higher units in a variety of techniques or Higher National units in jazz, ballet, contemporary and alternative techniques;

Three periods per week within PE department, doing dance and fitness units;

Three after-school classes and three in-service days' training.

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