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APATA Member Spotlight: Paula Nicoletto – Dance Educator

Posted by Jennifer Hampstead | Oct 14, 2021

Meet APATA member Paula Nicoletto, Dance Educator extraordinaire!

Attending St Norbert College, WA as a student Paula’s Drama teacher was none other than the winner of the 2020 APATA Awards for Outstanding Mentor and Contribution to the Arts, Kerrie Hilton. Funny how small the world can seem when we reach out to our APATA community.

Kerrie was very much an influence during Nicoletto’s senior years in high school, convincing Paula to try out drama in year eleven where she would become the narrator for many of their plays and slowly recognised that there just might be something in this performing business.

JOURNEY IN EDUCATION

Dance Co-Ordinator at Trinity College, a Catholic Days School for boys, Year 4 – Year 12 ATAR. Nicoletto also teaches at Trinity’s sister school, Mercedes College, which this year offered ATAR dance for Year 11. She is also a dance teacher and choreographer with the Valerie Heston School of Dance, a sessional lecture at WAAPA, and if her dance card isn’t full enough, she is also currently completing a Master’s in Dance Education

“Back when I graduated dance wasn’t an option. You couldn’t go and do a diploma of education in dance. So, I studied externally through my dance studio. I have a great rapport with my current dance principal whom I’ve been with since I was three. I still work alongside her.”

Completing teaching diplomas in dance, an opportunity came up at Trinity Boys College for Paula to teach an external, fun, dance class.

“The Deputy Principal, my former English teacher and colleague of Kerrie Hilton, said, ‘There’s an opportunity here, what can we do about it?’ At the time I didn’t have a diploma of education, so we explored all avenues. I’m now completing my Masters of Dance Education, through RAD, with the University of Bath.”

It is thanks to Paula’s dedication and the boys themselves that Trinity College now runs a full program of dance from Year 4 all the way through to Year 12 ATAR. WAToday ran a story on the program in 2019 featuring Declan Allen, the first student to graduate the ATAR dance program. Click the image below to read the article.

With the incorporation of dance at the all-boys school and the program’s subsequent success, Paula has now installed dance at Trinity’s sister school, Mercedes College with Year 11 ATAR dance and influenced the commencement of Year 7 Dance. Paula is our very own dance pioneer!

“A lot of the boys had sisters attending Mercedes, and parents were becoming aware that the boys had more opportunities to experience all aspects of performing arts while the girls didn’t. Together with Mercedes College we worked out a way to incorporate dance. Now we have the first group of Year 11 doing ATAR Dance. With an additional teacher, classes have been installed from Year 7.”

According to the Trinity College website: “Dance has flourished since it was introduced to the boys at Trinity – most likely because it provides an avenue for our young men to be energetic and creative. Students in Years 7–12 can continue to dance in the College’s co-curricular dance groups GIG and Imperium. They can also learn dance as an educational resource through electives aiming for WACE/ATAR level. ”

Trinity College is the only PSA school to offer dance, which is an incredible achievement! Here’s hoping more boys schools follow Nicoletto’s lead.

MAKE DANCE AVAILABLE FOR KIDS

Paula’s pioneering efforts have one simple ethos – Make dance available for kids.

“For a lot of the Secondary school-based teachers I talk to, dance is secondary. They don’t have the time to dedicate to their students and give them that foundation. as they often teach other subjects. I’m probably one of the few who can solely focus on the arts because I teach part time at each school, which allows me to go out and help others.”

As a sessional lecturer at WAAPA Paula also runs choreography for the musical theatre program. Through the Smith Family Foundation, the university often takes students through the arts program pathways on offer, the only downside though is that if you want to attend WAAPA as a dance student you can only choose between ballet or contemporary. If you don’t fit into either of those categories, you can feel left out.

“There needs to be more available for those students who want to be a commercial dancer or want to work in music videos or hip hop. Something that can give them that foundation at a tertiary level other than leaving WA and heading interstate to attend a commercial tertiary organisation. There’s got to be more for them here. In WA we have a few full-time dance schools but they’re for high school age. What’s here for them when they leave school?”

This gap is an ongoing concern when it comes to dance education in her state. With over a hundred boys in the dance program at Trinity, where do they go afterwards if they want to take dance further? That is something Paula and former student, Declan, are investigating. The possibility to create performance opportunities for WA youth by starting a youth contemporary company.

“We’re not looking after them here. Its all still very much in the pipeline, but it’s something that we’re looking at.”

Another concern is the hierarchy within dance itself. Paula has had to overcome some hurdles, especially when it comes to assessing boys in dance. In WA if you have less than six students in a class you must moderate with another school to make up the numbers and finding a school to moderate with proved difficult, though ultimately, not impossible.

Determined her students be recognised as dancers first and foremost Paula was at hand to guide others through the assessment of ‘boy’ dancers.

“Yes, they’re a boy, but they’re still a dancer. They’ve got to hit the same marks as everybody else. Yes, their lines are different, but are they still conveying the same intent? Are they showing the nuances throughout the dance? The way they move might be different and the way they express themselves might be different but they’re still a dancer. We need to nurture that.”

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT WHAT I DO

“What I love about what I do is the diversity. I am very blessed to be able to work between so many different schools from primary, secondary to tertiary & private studio. I teach such a wide range of students; it really keeps me grounded. When I work with the boys, I’ll say, ‘Try this,‘ and they won’t ever hesitate. With the girls I’ll ask them to try the same thing and they immediately judge themselves.”

“Whereas, when I walk into a tertiary situation, they just want to be the best, they want to be there. Their determination and motivation are so different. Then, when I step into a studio situation those students are there because they love it. Dance is a hobby. I must completely change the way I teach between classrooms to make sure I achieve the same outcomes. Each class is different, and I love it!”

GRATEFUL FOR PERFORMANCE

We have been very lucky this year. We had our Trinity showcase in June where the seniors got to show their solo and group work. Our senior boys dance group, Imperium XXI won four awards at Wakakirri 2021, including the coveted Outstanding Raising Awareness Story Award.

Judging panel member Sarah Harmony had this to say about Imperium’s performance: “A brave, powerful story to choose to tell that was engaging to watch and well supported by interesting and varied choreography, great screen visuals, and an effective soundtrack that used both spoken word and music equally effectively. well-done to all involved and thanks for sharing your story. I loved it.”

“I had four groups perform in one evening at the Catholic Performing Arts Festival, three of which were boys’ groups. A grandmother called the school the following morning to express how good it was and that her grandson wanted to become a part of it. That’s what we get out of it! By having the boys involved in dance they are inspiring others to give it a go. Next up we have a tap number for presentation night incorporating body percussion and hip hop and ordinarily every two years we do a production, so we’re waiting to see if or when that will proceed. Its exam mode now and graduation. Then we start getting ready for next year.”

“Dance is no longer taboo. The whole mindset has changed at our school. We’re still the only boys’ school to offer dance as part of the curriculum which is awesome.”

Paula’s Year11 ATAR dancers from Mercedes College won an ‘Excellence’ award for their performance at the Catholic Performing Arts Festival and the school had this to say about the evening:

The dance titled “Beyond Intractability”, was a hard hitting, mixed genre performance piece designed to depict how social status is seen as the degree of honour attached to someone’s position in society. The adjudicators were impressed by how the girls were able to portray the narrative of the story with conviction and attack and presented their piece with outstanding commitment! – Mercedes College

MENTORS

“People have this preconceived idea that because we’re an all-boys school that it’s all about sport and it’s so not. Our performing arts department is phenomenal. The department nurtures and instils the importance of rehearsals and putting in the work to achieve something great. My mentor at school is Dr Robert Braham OAM, (Director of Music at Trinity College since 1988, Musical Director of the Perth Oratorio Choir 1991-2004; founding conductor of the WA Youth Chorale; and Musical Director of Voyces – Western Australian Choir since 2011.) To hear the boys sing under his leadership is just amazing. He’s a great influence and everyone aspires to work with, or alongside him in some capacity trying to learn as much as they can from him.”

PAULA’S TOP TIPS FOR EMERGING ARTISTS

“Never be afraid to relearn what you already know. I might start a class by saying, ‘I know we might already know this, but...’, because there might be something that you’d forgotten about, or you’ve built this habit that no longer works so, never be afraid to go back and try again, never give up.”

“There is no such thing as perfection, we should just always want to strive to be our best. To achieve the absolute maximum that we can and never being afraid to give it a go.”

“Never stop pushing. Just when you think you’ve got this, there will always be someone one step ahead, so never rest on your laurels. Keep working for what you want!”

“Kids need to find the confidence to give it a go. Performing arts gives you that self-discipline and self-pride that lets you do anything. The arts give you life skills that you don’t necessarily get from maths and English. Just to be able to go up and address someone and talk to them confidently, I believe that’s really vital.”

 


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