28 August 2023 15:39

Interim National Director Shelley Yacopetti discusses the new Global Strategic Plan

During a recent visit by Tim Arthur, global CEO, he shared the new Five Year Strategic Plan with Australian Staff. Interim National Director Shelley Yacopetti is pleased to reveal some of the key values and strategies with the Australian Stakeholders.


Can you please share with us the highlights of the recent visit by Tim Arthur, global CEO, and the key messages he delivered regarding the new Five-Year Strategic Plan of the Royal Academy of Dance?

Having Tim in Australia is always a wonderful experience, he really does enjoy coming here as RAD Sydney was the first office he visited outside of London. More importantly, Tim believes in RAD Australia and is confident we can achieve great things here.  Personally, it was wonderful to have Tim here as I took over as Interim National Director, we worked closely together for two weeks, and he assisted me immensely in the initial transition period.

The Five-Year Strategic plan is bold, it’s brave and it’s visionary. The plan incorporates five RAD Values, three Key Goals and five Key Enablers that provide a clear and distinct pathway to achieving our vision and our mission which is essentially; Inspiring the world to dance

There are many standout key messages, for me it is the idea of ‘One RAD’ which aims to create a more connected RAD globally, also ‘Leap into Digital’, this is essential to stay relevant and to future proof the RAD. Also putting ‘Customers Centre Stage’, our members and customer are at the heart of what we do, this relates to membership, communication, engagement and building relationships and lastly, harnessing the ‘Power of People’, our best asset, is our people – when we thrive, our members thrive, their businesses thrive, and dance continues to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

Do you believe the new Strategic Plan is relevant to the Australian Market and Membership base? Does the new plan align with the existing goals and values of the RAD?

Yes, I think the new plan is relevant for Australia and provides scope for us to be in sync with RAD globally but also provides space for us to be visionary within the Australian market. This plan builds on our existing values and elevates them to a new level, it’s a bold vision with exciting prospects ensuring the longevity of RAD.

In January this year, the Australian team had the pleasure of working with Tim to help define the values that we can now see in the plan. It was a wonderful opportunity to contribute to this important piece of work that provides a value set that underpins the strategic plan and  clear direction and guidance in how we can take action .

During Tim’s recent visit we brought all RAD staff from around Australia into Sydney for two days and so he was able to share the Five-Year Strategic Plan and his vision for its implementation with all staff together.  We were left buoyed, inspired and motivated to find ways to implement this vision in Australia.

The Strategic Plan emphasizes the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in dance. How do you plan to ensure that these values are integrated into the activities and initiatives undertaken by the RAD in Australia?

Put simply, we need to look at what we do and how we do it through an inclusive lens.

In some areas of our business, we are already doing quite well, our exam guidelines have for some time included provisions to ensure our exams are accessible and inclusive. But, if we want to increase participation in dance, we really need to do that across all our activities.

This means looking at how we can decrease barriers to entry and participation to our current activities but then also looking broader into our community and asking, ‘Who wants to dance but faces barriers to participation?’

In QLD, our Regional Manager, Nadia Parker has developed an innovative model for our student awards in that region. She has reimagined an in-person awards event as a virtual event –this has increased access for many regional students, decreased the costs associated with travelling across the state, and also works to support our sustainability statement around promoting sustainable practices that help to decrease our environmental footprint.

When we embrace technology, we create opportunities and increase accessibility. We have for some time incorporated digital learning across our teacher training and continuing professional development programmes with great success. We intend to ramp this up even more in 2024 and look to increase engagement with our membership and the dance community across the country and beyond.

Our Teachers Scholarship Fund initiative has also provided increased access for those in remote locations and with financial barriers, to date we have supported 12 teachers to participate in onsite, hybrid and digital. We are very grateful to the sponsors including Harlequin, Bloch Australia, Capezio and DanceSurance who’ve shown a particular interest in supporting teachers by contributing to the fund.

One of the goals mentioned in the Strategic Plan is to expand the reach of dance education to all members of the community. Could you outline any specific strategies or partnerships that will help achieve this goal in Australia?

RAD Australia will embrace the new ‘Dance for Life’ initiative wholeheartedly by encouraging dance activities for dancers of all ages, abilities and socio-economic status. We already have a thriving Silver Swans programme, since piloting this in Australia in 2018 our Silver Swans are booming, by sharing their love of dance with each other, they create powerful connections and their vitality shines through and impact positively on their everyday lives.

I think there is more we can do here in Australia to bring dance to all members of the community, I am really interested to learn more about a few successful UK RAD programmes that do this really well, Step into Dance is one of the largest inclusive dance programmes in the UK and partners with  secondary school students across London and Essex to offer regular dance classes, workshops and performances. The programme has reached over fifty thousand young people since its creation in 2007, I think it would be  wonderful to have something like this that made such an impact on young people in Australia.

RADiate is another UK RAD programme we can learn from, it provides subsidised inclusive dance classes with specialised Dance Artists, to children with additional learning needs. RADiate works with children and young people on the autism spectrum, those with behavioural, emotional or social difficulties, and those with learning difficulties.

These types of programmes genuinely make dance more accessible and also harness the qualities of dance as a builder of self-esteem, self -expression and joy.

We look forward to hearing and learning from AllPlay Move: Dance, presenters at our upcoming conference in January in Sydney. AllPlay Move: Dance aims to increase opportunities for children with developmental challenges and disabilities to be included in dance.

With the focus on increasing diversity and representation in dance, how do you envision supporting aspiring dancers from all backgrounds, especially those who may face barriers to pursuing RAD dance?

In 2020, a self-nominated group of RAD Australia staff were motivated to review how we supported and promoted diversity and anti-racism at RAD Australia. A working group was formed of which I was Chair and we created a  Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan subsequently endorsed by Reconciliation Australia.

I am extremely proud of the work that was achieved by our staff in creating this RAP but it is only the beginning, it is the building block of awareness we needed in order to make a start on increasing diversity and promoting anti-racism. As an organisation, we are committed to developing relationships and partnerships with First Nations peoples to learn more - so we can do more. We would love to see this grow into providing more opportunities for First Nations dancers to be trained in multiple dance genres and undertake teacher training with RAD and have a positive impact on the lives of other First Nations dancers and all students.

One of RAD values mentioned in the Strategic plan is ‘Open to All’, it reflects our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusivity in all aspects of our activities. I believe dance is for ‘every-body’ and it can be open to all, we just  need to open the figurative door and hold it open a while, we know dance is an activity that brings all people together and everyone has something to offer.

Collaboration and partnerships appear to be key priorities in the Strategic Plan. Are there any existing or upcoming collaborations with other organizations or institutions in Australia that you are particularly excited about?

The obvious answer here is Rambert Grades, this is a partnership I have been involved with from the very beginning. It was an easy ‘Yes!’ from me when Gerard first suggested Australia offered this as a pilot as I understood immediately the value of the Rambert Grades syllabus.

I danced professionally as a contemporary dancer, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be trained by and work with some of the very best teachers and dancers with direct linage to dance greats from overseas and here in Australia. I understand the importance of laying a strong foundation for contemporary dance training and believe it is a balance between developing a strong technique and giving young dancers the skills to find their voice and instinctive movement style and individuality.

The Rambert Grades syllabus does this very well, born out of the historic Rambert School and Rambert Company, the work supports the training and development of dance students and I think can also give RAD teachers the edge by providing a guiding framework to teaching contemporary dance in their schools.

We are also in the final stages of a wonderful collaboration with OneMusic for our MadeBy project. The project has provided a truly unique and innovative opportunity for creative collaboration across artforms which will see a dance film created with choreography by Monique Mangano and music composed by Emma Greenhill.  Both Emma and Monique were the successful applicants chosen by a panel of artists to work together to create a new performance piece and receive mentoring from industry professionals, the incredible Alice Topp in dance and Rachael Dease in  music.

We also enjoy a long-standing relationship with Ausdance NSW and support their Dance Artist in Residence (DAIR) programme, we love having practising artists in our space and connecting with the industry. I look forward to RAD Australia developing more collaborations and partnerships, as I truly believe collaboration is the key to strengthening the RAD and our links to the industry.

How does the new Five Year Strategic Plan aim to address the evolving needs and aspirations of dance educators and dance teachers in training in Australia?

The vision for a re-imagined dance education with the Faculty of Education (FoE) in the strategic plan is exceptional.  The focus on pedagogical excellence and studio-based practice will enliven our teacher training and prepare the next generation of dance teachers to excel in their field. The newly revised Certificate in Dance Teaching (Ballet) and the Professional Dancers’ Graduate Teaching Diploma are our main programmes of study by distance learning in Australia.

I will continue to work closely with the UK FoE team to ensure Australian students will be supported throughout their studies, will receive the very best tutoring by local industry experts and will be welcomed immediately into RAD Australia community.

In a recent RAD Dance Matters podcast, graduate Mitchell Rayner, said that studying on the Professional Dancers’ courses has made him ‘…more responsive to the individual needs of each student and how to cater to each person and take the time to understand their needs and goals…’ This is a wonderful testament to his time as an RAD FoE student and his values and aspirations as a teacher.

The Strategic Plan highlights the importance of fostering creativity and artistic excellence. Can you please elaborate on the RAD's plans to provide innovative opportunities for dancers in Australia to explore new movements, styles, and artistic expressions?

The global strategic plan emphasises ‘Creative Innovation’, in Australia, we aim to practice and encourage creativity in an innovative way. We do have some exciting and innovative projects currently underway, and we continue to seek out new projects and partners to provide opportunities for our members.

RAD Australia is very excited with the news that RAD will be expanding its examinations into dance genres other than ballet. Whilst ballet will remain an integral part of the RAD, we are excited that students will receive training and be examined in other dance genres but remain part of the RAD community.

The Strategic Plan emphasizes the significance of international collaboration and cultural exchange within the dance community. Could you share any upcoming initiatives or partnerships that will enable Australian dancers to connect and learn from their counterparts around the world, and likewise influence other countries?

The strategic plan outlines the goal of creating ‘One RAD’, whereby we can work in a more collaborative way with our global headquarters. In my previous roles in the Faculty of Education, I received significant direction and advice from the Director of Education, this proved invaluable and enabled me to make decisions that were effective for the Australian market but with the RAD global strategy in mind. I will be encouraging all staff to continue to create links with their counterparts at our global headquarters and also with RAD communities a little closer to home.

The RAD is committed to expanding globally and will transition to a ‘hub and spoke’ model, we look forward to working more closely with our neighbouring countries in this exciting shift of direction into new and expanding markets. As part of this expansion, I would love to create opportunities for student and teacher exchange programmes so we can share and learn from each other.

The Strategic Plan places significant emphasis on the role of dance in promoting well-being and mental health. How will the Academy support dancers, educators, and the broader dance community in Australia in this regard?

I absolutely agree with a focus on promoting well-being and mental health through dance, as we see it every day - through our members experiences, by facilitating classes, workshops and events and by being emersed in the world of dance as part of our daily work.  I have seen and felt first-hand the power of dance as a transformative experience, as a participant, dance has lifted me up to soaring heights and helped me back down as an enduring presence in my life. As a viewer and facilitator, dance continues to have a profound effect on my health and mental well-being and continues to be an avenue for self-discovery.

For our teaching members, teachers in training and student members, we will foster a culture of care by forging partner relationships with organisations that provide support, information, resources and links to services.

As part of the global membership strategy, we are united in the decision to introduce new mandatory safeguarding requirements for RAD members. This includes the requirement to have a current Working with Children Check and the requirement to declare any criminal convictions to the RAD. This necessary step is part of our commitment to safeguarding our colleagues, members and students from abuse, harassment or harm.

To help us achieve our safeguarding goals, we have recently employed a Safeguarding Coordinator, Kassie Bromley. Kassie brings with her a wealth of experience and is already adding significant value to the team.

How do you envision engaging and involving the RAD members and stakeholders in the shaping and implementation of the Strategic Plan, to truly make it a collective effort and ensure its success?

As I mentioned earlier, collaboration is key. This happens across the Academy at Regional Advisory Panel meetings or by us sharing our ideas more widely for consultation or and can be as simple as coming together with our membership and listening, I see a lot of benefits to this and will continue to pursue these avenues to gather information and feedback from our members.

I am also keen to explore options for broader stakeholder engagement across the dance industry and also looking at what we can learn from other industries, such as business, sport and customer focused service industries. Fundraising initiatives are also part of the broader plan so we can generate additional support for our programmes and services.

Lastly, as the Interim National Director, what are your personal goals and aspirations in supporting the implementation of the Strategic Plan and its vision for the Royal Academy of Dance in Australia?

Personally, I intend to use the strategic plan as a road map to see RAD Australia thrive, to be current and relevant and to be responsive to the needs of our members, in the immediate term in my capacity as Interim National Director and long into the future. I think this is about embracing growth, new ideas, technology and innovation but remaining connected to our member’s needs.

Having spent the last 10 years with the Academy, I have seen how the digital transformation in the past few years has had an enormous effect on our business. David Leventhal, founder of Dance for Parkinsons spoke at our 2022 digital conference and said, “Dance has been pushed forward 10 years in terms of tech – and there’s no going back”. It was a definitive statement, but David was right and look at us now. He made this statement when we were all just about coming to terms with teaching and dancing online, once seen as just a stop-gap, digital and hybrid learning  is now moving us forward in ways we could not have imagined a few years ago.

This is particularly significant in Australia where location often presents as a barrier to participation. Not only can we now learn dance online, but we can also take exams, we can share ideas and resources, attend professional development and undertake dance teacher training.  The key to a successful digital strategy is to be regularly reviewing our methods and practices, so we will be checking in with our members, students and Tutors and asking, is this working for you and what can we be doing better.

Aside from embedding the strategic plan,  I have set three focus areas over the next six months;

  1. Growth in our core business areas

More specifically, we will focus on delivering exceptional Exams and our newly revised Faculty of Education programmes, we will implement  an invigorated CPD programme and improve the Membership experience and strengthen our revenue growth goals and Finances.

  1. Integration across business areas

I think our core business areas can perform better by working better together, we need to focus on integration and drawing out knowledge and data to inform the decision making around our activities and ensure we are working in sync to produce the best results for our members in all the ways they interact with us.

  1. Developing our people and systems

Our people at RAD Australia are at the heart of our operations, they are integral to the successful inner workings of the RAD. My hope is that our members will know when we are working successfully together as they will be reaping the benefits and rewards this brings. We have recently experienced some restless times, but past and current RAD Australia staff have always been wonderful, collectively we are a bunch of ‘dance nerds’, we are dancers, teachers and dance lovers (and pretty good at the admin stuff in between).

I hope that my direction and focus on these three areas, will be evidenced in how we service our members and what we are able to contribute to the wider dance community.