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APATA Member Spotlight: Say Hello to Niki Whitaker!

Posted by Team APATA | Jul 28, 2021

Meet APATA member Niki Whitaker:  Performing Arts Specialist for Camira State School, Queensand.

Hi Niki, please tell us about your role as a primary school Performing Arts Specialist.

I teach the drama, music, and dance subjects across Prep to Year six. In Term 1 & 3, I teach the Australian Curriculum unit and in Term 2 and 4 students are given the opportunity to put into practice the skills they have been taught culminating into a end of semester concert, which is performed in front of the entire school and their parents/caregivers and family members. These concert performances directly relate to the unit of work that the students have engaged in and learnt about.

So, you are everything performing arts to the students. Are there other educators that assist you?

We have an Instrumental Music teacher who conducts the School Band and teaches Instrumental Music lessons to students once a week.

Niki, we’d love to know more about you, where did your grow up and where did you go to school?

I grew up in Brisbane’s Western suburbs. I went to Mt Crosby Primary School and St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School. I then went to Kelvin Grove College where I was accepted into the QDSE program in Year 10. [The QDSE Program, now the Queensland Ballet Academy, offers an elite ballet training program for talented students to pursue intensive training while completing face-to-face Senior academic studies in Years 7 to 12 at Kelvin Grove State College.]

In Year 11 and 12 I attended a fulltime Dance school, ADPI, but I developed nodules, shin splints and a bone growth in my leg. I wasn’t able to dance professionally anymore and had to cease attending.

I went into regular work, then went back to ADPI and finished the last year of my degree when unfortunately, a short time later I was diagnosed with Cancer. I spent some time fighting that and shortly after had my first child. I then went back to University to study a BA in Fine Arts majoring in Dance and Drama, during which I had my second child. I successfully completed my Masters in Teaching and then began my teaching, here at Camira State School.

Who or what, inspired you on your dance journey Niki?

I had a teacher who was just horrible. They used fear to get something out of their students and that sparked a real fire in me. I wanted to become a teacher and teach kids to love dance, not be fearful of it.

Outside of school hours I teach the joy of dance to kids in the Western Suburbs. There’s no, “You must do it this way”. It’s hey, go have fun kids!  That is what inspires me to teach. I just want kids to know the joy of the arts.

How do you bring joy to your teaching?

I try to say hello to each student every day and use their name as I pass. We have own greetings when students enter my room. If they need a cuddle, they can have a cuddle, if they want a high five, they can have a high five. I work in what would be defined as a low socio-economic area and students strive with structure and routine. When they come into my space, as long as they bring me effort, enthusiasm and are on task, we’re going to have a good time. I aim to make sure that when they come to me, they’re learning, but they’re also having fun.

 Niki’s big dream

I would love, when big shows return to the theatre and a musical is coming to town, for the entire school to be studying that musical. For everything we then do in drama, music, dance and the concert, to be related to that musical.

As a treat we could go and watch it or even attend the dress rehearsal and have a Q&A session with the cast and crew. I remember going to Q&A sessions as a kid and watching a scene or a first act and it was just amazing! I would love that for the kids. That’s my big dream!

Obviously, that’s a massive long-term goal for the school but I would love to immerse my students in the theatre. With the theatre you can change your world.

Why do you teach?

What drives me is the fact that at one point in my life, before nodules and shin splints and all of that, I had everything handed to me on a silver platter. Then everything went pear-shaped pretty quickly, and my biggest struggle was that my love for dance, music, drama and musical theatre was still so present.

If there are opportunities at my school at the end of the year for the teachers to do a dance on stage I am there. I love getting up and dancing with everybody. That’s what drives me, my passion to continue to perform. It’s like that old saying, “Those that can’t do, teach.”

I’ve had lots of fantastic instruction, from the likes of Harold Collins (founding member of QLD Ballet, Principal Dancer and eventual Artistic Director until 1997) to Shane Weatherby (former Principal Dancer with QLD Ballet 1987-2001), Barbra Everson (ADPI Director and Founder) and all these amazing people, who’ve taught me amazing things. I just want to pass that on to the next generation.

A critical part of our conversation with Niki was our agreeance that children learn the arts as part of the curriculum. Primary and Secondary school curriculum-based educators are crucial to the future of performing arts and arts education in Australia.

Ensuring that our Performing Arts Educators receive outstanding career development opportunities and support, on par with teachers of STEM subjects is paramount to their success as key players in our schools.

Thank-you Niki for being an inspirational educator!

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