Hailing from the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, Jodie Vandekerkhove began her love affair with dance in the studios of her hometown as both a dancer and later a teacher. After completing her BFA at Simon Fraser University and a year-long trip abroad, Jodie found herself at the doorstep of the University of Alberta.
The Orchesis Dance Program and long-standing director Tamara Bliss opened the door for Jodie to what has become a successful and fulfilling career to-date. What started as a teaching, choreographing and performing role with Orchesis eventually led to a master’s degree in dance — something Jodie credits to inspiring influences.
“Through my involvement with Orchesis, I was introduced to Pirkko Markula, a professor with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and who would later become my academic supervisor. Many conversations with both Pirkko and Tamara over the next while involved me considering the academic side of dance. I thought to myself, this is it! This is the next step in my career.”
Not wanting to be a studio instructor forever, Jodie entered the Master of Arts course-based program with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation with a focus on dance. Shortly into her MA program she became a teacher’s assistant for an undergraduate dance course, Dance 200. It was during her time as a teacher’s assistant where she realized her true passion — teaching adults to move, to be excited to move and to express themselves through dance.
This newly-discovered passion prompted Jodie to look at the way traditional ballet classes were taught, which she then based her capping project on exploring more ethical teaching practices in the discipline. Her MA research project ‘At the Barre’ examined four beginner ballet dancers and their instructor’s views of their class.
“Ballet is a very obedient dance and is often critiqued as a disciplinary form that creates docile, oppressed bodies. By examining four beginner ballet dancers and their instructor’s view of their classes I found that although the dancers and teachers were aware of pre-conceived notions of ballet, they did not challenge the traditional practices of ballet.”
Taking the findings from her capping project, Jodie and Pirkko decided to create a dance class, Ballet Barre for the University of Alberta Campus & Community Recreation programming. Incorporating aspects of a traditional ballet class while lessening the disciplinary techniques, Ballet Barre flows between floor and barre work throughout the 50 minute class.
“I was interested in Ballet Barre as I was looking for a different workout that would improve my posture and increase my body awareness,” says Leah Antoniuk, a current Ballet Barre participant who has been taking the class for the past year. “Jodie applies her extensive knowledge of dance to create a fun and challenging class. I look forward to her class each week and will continue to go for as long as it’s offered!”
The class, which is still currently taught by Jodie, precisely demonstrates her teaching philosophy: to Create and sustain a welcoming, safe space that creates thinking bodies and allows the participants to move freely, within the capabilities of the ballet movement.
Since graduating with her MA with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, Jodie has gone on to influence the academic dancing community within Edmonton. As a dance sessional instructor at Concordia College, she teaches two academic classes — Dance 340-Intro to Modern Dance and Dance 250-Intro to Ballet. The latter was developed by Jodie at the request of Concordia’s dean of education to help promote physical literacy education with undergraduate students. She also still assists Tamara Bliss with Dance 200 at the University of Alberta, not to mention teaching Ballet Barre for Campus & Community Recreation every semester. Off-campus, Jodie is also the outreach coordinator for Mile Zero Dance where she does teaching and education coordination.
Jodie attributes much of her career success to the opportunities and mentorship she received during her time at the University of Alberta.
“During my master’s program I was able to find out what my passion and philosophy within the dance spectrum is. This was something my supervisor Pirkko really worked with me on and inspired me to pursue those passions.”
“I don’t think anyone would ever think of going to the University of Alberta for dance and getting your masters with a specific focus in the field. Well, it can happen and it’s pretty amazing.”