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Dancing to a new tune: unconventional MEd thesis sets stage for new career

November 13, 2018
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By Allen M. Quinn

Finding your life’s passion often happens when you least expect it. And sometimes, that passion can take you in directions you never considered.

Edmond Kilpatrick, who graduated this October with an SFU master of education, discovered his passion for dance during theatre classes in high school.

“I developed my acting skills, but it was dance that held my interest,” says Kilpatrick.

That experience marked the beginning of a professional dance career spanning more than two decades, first as a featured dancer with Ballet BC and then as an independent contemporary dancer. He also choreographed more than 20 dances for stage and film.

After two decades of dancing, however, including nine years as a sessional dance instructor with SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Kilpatrick began contemplating new career options.

“I had a wonderful 24-year dance career that was more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined,” he says. “But when I stopped dancing I needed to reinvent myself.”

In his ’40s, and with a family to support, he had never considered returning to school as a mature student. But his work at SFU inspired him to pursue a bachelor of fine arts that he hoped might lead to a more permanent position.

Yet in the back of his mind, he says, “I was hoping my studies would plant the seed of a new dream.

“I knew I didn’t want to abandon all I had learned and become over 20 intensely focused years of exploring how to communicate with the body. But I couldn’t see where that knowledge would be relevant moving forward after my dance career ended.”

He graduated in 2016 with a bachelor of fine arts (first-class honours)—and the confidence to enrol in the Faculty of Education’s master’s program, where he slowly developed a new vision for his future.

“I realized I wanted to use my talents in the arts to give voice to people’s complex and nuanced stories by providing an embodied emotional experience that invites empathy and understanding,” he says.

To bring that idea to life, he re-imagined the thesis process. Instead of a traditional written thesis, he created two videos as a site of research to investigate and try out his ideas. Combining his artistry and dancing talent, Kilpatrick set out to tell the story of Shelly, a woman living with HIV, and her everyday struggles with the people around her and the laws that perpetuate the stigma attached to her diagnosis.

“I have people in my life who have been touched by discrimination due to their HIV status, and I wanted to see if I could use my experience and skill with telling stories through movement to inspire an emotional experience that could introduce a more positive narrative,” he says.

Kilpatrick successfully defended his thesis and submitted the videos to the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam over the summer, where they received international accolades. He has plans to submit the videos to further exhibitions, and hopes they will open doors to new storytelling possibilities that use his dance talent and artistry to create socially engaged art that gives a voice to others.

“I went back to school in my ’40s because I was struggling in a career transition and was looking for answers,” he says now. “Graduate school provided more questions than answers, but it helped me to see new possibilities, gain new skills and gave me the ability to dream a little bigger.”

You can watch the videos at www.edmondkilpatrick.com.