by Jane Ledwell
As a human race, we dance. It’s an impulse—a basic, natural impulse to move,” says Peggy Reddin. It has been several years since the dance umbrella co-founder’s role at Confederation Centre of the Arts flowered into a role as Director of Arts Education, also working with Holland College-Confederation Centre partnership School for Performing Arts (SOPA). Dance and movement are still the metaphors that impel her.
“Dance is about the essence,” she says. “You take away all the extraneous stuff, and it’s just about pure impulse. Dance has the smallest audience perhaps, because in some ways it is difficult to read. You have to take a leap of faith… You’re trusting yourself that you’re getting what you’re supposed to get out of it.”
Our stories are what allow that leap of faith. “Organic, truthful storytelling is the focus in dance. It has to be coming from within. You can have a smiling, happy face, sure… but what your impetus for the movement is—that’s very internal. You have to draw on personal experience, but not put it out there as psychotherapy… It’s imagination and empathy as well. And awareness.”
How can a dance instructor—or any arts instructor—build awareness and teach empathy in our texting-while-walking culture? Peggy says, “What I learned working with dance umbrella is that first, you let them play. You start with creative movement and incorporate play and imagination.”
She says, practically, “I’m a better teacher than performer. I was always interested in other people and how the arts affected other people… My creativity goes into developing students. And as I get older, that is more and more the case.”
In addition to being a SOPA instructor, Peggy casts herself as a “den mother,” too. “It’s too bad their parents miss all this!” she says. “Three-quarters of students are from off-Island, many of them away from home for the first time. It’s a time of huge growth for them.”
She feels a sense of fulfillment that her life as a teacher has led to her role with SOPA. Teaching the arts, she says appreciatively, is “a tradition that goes back centuries. Now we have and will continue to pass on the tradition of theatre and dance.”
As a teacher and director of arts education, she says, “My challenges are balance and flexibility—which are the same challenges I had when I was dancing more! Balancing individual needs with the needs in the larger group, and the needs of instructors; flexibility so that when challenges arise you can respond… I just have a whole lot of faith that people will be here when I need them to be here.”
She says with pride, “It’s okay to make your own rules, and SOPA is doing that, consciously avoiding a cookie-cutter approach.” Like “Anne with an ‘e,’” she likes to think of “SOPA with an ‘e’”—“and the ‘e’ is room for eccentrics and for the individuality of students. I like to think when they finish they’ve not been shaped into anything but who they are—but moreso.”
One question Peggy imagines people might ask about SOPA is, “Why this program here? If most theatrical productions happen in the big cities, shouldn’t I go to the big cities?” Her response is passionate: “We’re not irrelevant here. We have a culture and stories that are just as important as those told in a three-million person city. If we’re constantly telling people to go away, go away, go away, and they don’t come back, what does that leave us? We need artists to tell our stories.
“Choosing to stay here shouldn’t close any doors. The training here as good as they’ll get anywhere else, in a class of eight, not 28.”
She continues, “We do more, not less, because of where we are. It’s more of a struggle, but more of a reward.” The reward for Peggy Reddin is to dance, fully human; to teach, fully communicating; to be herself, fully embracing new opportunities to make herself “moreso.”