Academic identity within the conservatoire

Rambert School is currently conducting a research project to identify the nature and perception of academic identity amongst dance conservatoire teachers.

Project Aims

  • The ultimate aim will be to develop our understanding how dance conservatoire teachers view themselves and are perceived by others (immediate peers and line managers) within their ‘academic’ (professional) context. Of particular interest will be any emerging issues or themes that emerge related to academic identity within the dance conservatoire.
  • Through actively engaging conservatoire teachers in the processes of a participatory action research we will be able to raise awareness of what form research may also take and thereby encourage colleagues to engage in their own practice-based enquiries in the future.
  • The data collected in connection with this project in combination with the activities on the research days will enable us to develop practical strategies and specific initiatives to develop a stronger research community and thus create a sense of belonging to a research community amongst existing staff members of the conservatoire.

Although dance scholarship is well established and the role of the practitioner/researcher is developing and coming to the forefront of research practice, there are still perceived divisions and dichotomies between practical teaching in dance and academic enquiry. Also, it is very easy to assign fixed identity on self and others within a particular profession or job – the idea of ‘this is what I do’ (and nothing else), although identity is non-fixed, but a dynamic, social construct that is in constant flux (Arvaja, 2018; Billot, 2010; Stets and Burke, 2000; Stryker and Burke, 2000; Tajfel, 2010). Therefore, practice and identity merge (Gini, 1998). In the context of professional development within Rambert School we have been looking at identifying our practice/pedagogic values and reflecting on the ways in which our personal identities my form a relationship with our professional ones. Furthermore, we are working on establishing a robust research culture and in framing our pedagogic practices with theoretical discourse. The first barrier identified in this process is self-perception and issues of competence within academia. Unpacking this would give us the tools and processes to expand the notion of professional identity at Rambert School to encompass the practitioner/researcher idea. 

The focus on academic identity within HE is not new – however the link to the self-perceptions of conservatoire teachers in relation to scholarly ability is very poignant, particularly in relation of the fact that conservatoire education is situated within the Higher Education framework. Uncovering the process of construction of academic identities within a conservatoire environment is a matter of recognising and promoting the validity of embodied experiences and practices as research paradigms (Budgeon, 2003). Although a lot of work has been done to alleviate the potential dichotomies in identity, we have observed that within our School, dance teachers/practitioners do not see themselves as academics or as active agents in pedagogic research. Instead, their embodied expertise is perceived as an end in itself, and not as a rich source of extended discourse and inquiry. We feel it is significant to work towards subverting this norm within our conservatoire environment, or at least pave the way in understanding the complexities of these apparent identity dichotomies. 


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