place-based education, democracy education, community

Learning in Dancing – What the Body Can Teach Us

October 17, 2022

Bio: Originally from Italy, Dr. Carolina Bergonzoni holds a Ph.D. in Education, a BA and MA in Philosophy, and an MA in Comparative Media Arts. Carolina’s practice spans dancing, writing, philosophizing, and teaching from the body. She is challenging the labels of “professional” and “community-engaged” artmaking and facilitating. Her work has been published, performed, and presented internationally. Carolina is also Artistic Associate of All Bodies Dance Project and a proud board member of Vines Arts Festival and The Biting School. When she is not making things happen, she can be found hiking or competing in dog sports with her goofy golden retriever, Avon Barksdale.

First, congratulations on defending your dissertation! In it, you describe your research into dance as “an investigation of what it means to bring the body into pedagogical practices.” What would that mean for teaching, or for teachers, in art education or in associated disciplines?

I perceive my dissertation as an invitation for each individual to follow their desires, breath, and body needs. I think connecting with the body and recognizing that we don’t just have a body, we are our body, is essential not just for art education but for all educators.

Our society and educational system have not included the body in pedagogical and epistemological discourses; the body has often been dismissed or left at the door. You don’t often see a teacher walking into a K-12 classroom and acknowledging how their body is feeling that day—how the tension in their neck might be impacting their mood or ability to engage in certain topics. We are not really taught how to listen to our bodies. Any body-based activity should not be seen as a sort of reward but rather as a way of learning, being, and engaging with the material.

What sparked your interest in researching relationships of dance to pedagogy?

I grew up as a dancer; I started when I was 4 years old. Being in dance school for most of my life has certainly shaped who I am, how I perceive, how I navigate the world, how I think, and even how I write. Dance taught me to get in touch with my body, and my body keeps teaching me who I am.

For this reason, I want to bring the body and the dancing into everything that I do. This means inviting the audience (whether in a conference setting, a classroom, a park, or in an article, etc.) to connect to their body first and foremost. Even now, notice your neck and chest as you read this – do you feel any tension? Can you take a deep breath and shake your body off?

By reclaiming the wholeness of the body as part of scholarship, I challenge the idea that sensual, intuitive, carnal knowledge is less significant than so-called scientific knowledge: the body is simultaneously the researcher and the subject of the research. Arts-based researchers such as Celeste Snowber (my supervisor) and Mary Beth Cancienne opened the path for the idea that “dance is not only an expression of our research but a form of inquiry into our research process” (Cancienne & Snowber, 2003, p. 237).

You’ve expressed a commitment to making dance accessible to “all bodies.” Can you describe one or two instances when you felt you were able to accomplish that?

I became more aware of accessibility and disability justice through my work with “All Bodies Dance Project,” an inclusive dance company based in so-called Vancouver. I am always aware of spaces in which events, conferences, or dance shows take place: are they physically accessible? Does the venue have an accessible washroom?

In my doctoral research, and in my work as a dancer and educator, I looked at expanding the notion of aesthetic to include an “aesthetic of access.” This means considering access as an entering point rather than an add-on or an after-thought. As a concrete example, in my dissertation I included a graphic recording, and I proposed movement activities to provide different ways into my work. All my visuals had image and/or audio descriptions.

What experiences during this research journey have been highlights for you?

I was very fortunate to receive funding from the Dean’s Graduate Entrance Scholarship, a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, and smaller awards and scholarships in the Faculty of Education, which allowed me to focus on disseminating my work much more than I could have done without that support. I have attended many conferences and met some incredible people along the way. However, I think the biggest highlight is the relationship I have with my supervisor, Dr. Celeste Snowber. She has been my greatest supporter from the moment I met her in 2016.

Did you face any challenges in your research? How did you handle them?

As for everyone else, Covid-19 was a huge challenge! But by staying honest and true to my desires, I found the challenge became an opportunity to discover and re-discover practices, such as outdoor dance explorations. I was also able to experiment with developing and creating dance work online, which became a major part of my dissertation.

What insights or findings do you see your research contributing?

I hope my research changes our perceptions of bodies—in the plural form. Each body is unique, and the role of the body in teaching is key! My goal is to encourage pedagogical and artistic practices to be more inclusive—more cognizant of the body and each individual’s experience of their body. It is my hope that by promoting different ways of learning, knowing, and disseminating information, the idea of doing research from the body will no longer be an exception.

What happens next? Do you have a new project in mind?

I am currently in the middle of writing a SSHRC and a Banting post-doctoral application to continue doing research on audio description, education, and dance at the University of Ottawa. The day before my defense(!), I submitted applications for a Canada Council for the Arts grant and a BC Arts Council grant to develop a new dance solo that explores the history of Italians sent to internment camps during the Second World War.

While I wait to find out what’s next, I will keep working with All Bodies Dance Project and attending a few conferences to share my research.


Cancienne, M. B., & Snowber, C. (2003). Writing rhythm: Movement as method. Qualitative Inquiry, 9(2), 237–253.