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Nicole Scatchell: Movement is a Much Bigger Part of Who We Are as Humans

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Nicole is small but mighty. She inspires me daily and I can't get enough of her calming, fearless and kind nature. She teaches dance education in Chicago, the place where she calls home though I am starting to believe her home means something much bigger than any of us could imagine. Her quest to find peace and understanding of herself and the world we live in has given me a new sense of belief that things like nature can and will root us down to our most essential being. Anytime I get to spend a day with her, means I learn a bit more of how to reach for meaning within myself versus looking for it anywhere else.

Where do you teach and what is your method of instruction?

I work in public schools and the Chicago High School for the Arts. I am also the Artistic Director of Chicago Dance Institute, and on faculty at Joffrey Academy and Harold Washington College. When I have the time, I work on contract and consulting work with several non profit organizations. My methods are curriculum based instruction, including ballet, contemporary, jazz, musical theater - while blending and integrating social/emotional learning and executive functioning skills for youth. 

How did you get into teaching and what is your favorite part about it?

I taught my first ballet class in an under-served community when I was 16 something just clicked for me. Then, with plans of touring and performing, I became introduced to Arts Integration my junior year of college. Knowing I could use dance as a vehicle to teach tangible skills, advocating for the arts, and giving equal access to the arts, my plan shifted.  I immediately stalked one of the most highly admired organizations who has a national model of arts integration work. I began my path as a teaching artist in 2007 immediately following graduation. 

How does what you teach connect to health and wellness?

Movement is such a large part of who we are as humans. We move before we do anything else. We carry trauma in our bodies, emotions, past experiences. Dance accesses parts of the brain that is responsible for decision making, organizational skills, problem solving, creativity, expression, critical thinking. In a classroom setting, this promotes learning and inclusivity for all types of processors. Giving a variety of windows/accessible content for a child to learn immediately has an impact on their levels of stress, anxiety, views of self, self efficacy, confidence. Dance is also heavily impacted on the nervous system. It requires mental coordination, activates sensory, muscle memory, and motor skills. It fosters impulse control, ability to pay attention, perseverance, emotional regulation. here is a creative outlet where expression can happen. And then obvious outcomes, it is physical exercise which promotes a more healthy mental state. Nutrition is also heavily discussed in my classes. 

What is the one thing you consistently say to your students every year that is a piece of your life and learning philosophy?

Oh boy, so many to recall! I will name a few....

Recovery is the most important part of mistakes.  

I talk a lot about compassion, and making sure ourselves is included in that.

You are not defined by the one thing that did not go well. 

Two opposing things can be true at the same time "I did not perform that step well, AND I am a good dancer." 

Take care of your own learning.

Always be a student - you can learn from every single teacher you encounter.

Vulnerability is key. 

For those that are into the creative arts like dance, how do you set yourself apart or create a life career from it?

Well, my career is concert dance. Which is stage based performances in technical styles (modern, ballet, jazz) performed for an audience. This is also what most don't have access to, so this is what I teach as well. I am a professional modern dancer, and to be honest, it is a super collaborative art form. I don't really think about how to set myself apart. I mostly think about who I want to work with, who inspires me, and what I can bring to their process. My career is divided into my performance career, and my teaching and choreographing. Teaching is where I make my income. I furthered my credentials and got certified to teach dance K-12 as well. I am lucky because not only is that where I sustain myself, it's truly what I want to do with my dance background. Others go into companies right away, dance movement therapy, small businesses, non-profits, choreographing. There are a lot of different avenues for dancers. 

What is your view on creativity in the classroom and how can other teachers incorporate creative methods? My view is that creativity should be a common core value in a classroom. I feel it is the teachers job to hold space and give structure for creativity to exist. I think often times creativity gets confused with no structure, and just off the wall ideas. Yes, those are important, but I tell my students creativity exists in everything we do. You can make a creative decision to deal with an emotion, to navigate content, to do a project, or to solve any sort of problem. Creativity is NOT just for artists and the labeled creatives. Everyone can be creative. I also think that often times, "out there" ideas or thoughts get thrown out there, and more often than not, we find about 5 reasons it immediately cannot work, or shouldn't work. I say, let's see how far we can Yes, And ;) this crazy idea and see where we land. Empowering students to be creative is important.  

What do you want people to get from watching a dance performance? Whatever they get : ). Honestly that's the truth. With modern dance, often times people are trying to "get it" and know what it is about. I think that is a symptom of our culture of always needing to know the answer, have clarity. But I like when people allow themselves to be in the uncertain. One person may create their own narrative from a piece, while another has a totally different interpretation. Literally, that is the point of art. It is for the people and should reflect the people. In addition, being provocative is a goal for sure. 

How do you best learn and what do you do in your life that allows you to get inspired and gain knowledge about the world you live in? I am an auditory/kinesthetic learner, so I need that in my process. I have triggers as well, so my need is to be with smaller groups or one on one. Large groups of people are not comfortable for me. I need a safe and trusted environment. If there is a feeling of being judged, it is really hard for me to focus on learning and being vulnerable. 

To get inspired: I have a large network of people in my life ranging from artists, dancers, circus performers, chefs and mechanics. I find it important to keep all types of people around me, especially the ones that you feel inspired around. I like to learn from people, but I also learn by teaching people. My work inspires me daily. Students who have no homes to sleep in but putting everything into my class inspires me. I take class a lot still. I teach and practice yoga. I journal daily. I write down crazy dreams and work in that direction. About the world? I was always uncomfortable just "sitting there" and not contributing to my community in some way. So I feel I learn about the people in my community by being in it, especially places that are uncomfortable. I try not to just surround myself with people that are similar to me. I create. I choreography. I read.  

Tell me about a recent travel experience you just had :) I went to Japan recently. I am in a constant state of feeling unsafe, just my make-up. And it amazed me how that changed there. Everything in design feels human centered. I felt really taken care of in that way. I never got lost, I never felt unsafe, I always felt clear. I spend 60% of my trip in nature, and that alone was healing in itself. I traveled to 5 different cities by bullet trained, hiked to the top of a mountain, sat with sacred deer, laughed with wild monkeys, and stood at ground zero at the Atomic Bomb site. It was amazing to stand in shines and temples built in the year 500. There was so much beauty and simplicity. I was grateful to be there. 

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