Return to school gives Poulsen new outlet for passion

Whether we laugh uproariously or shudder in abhorrence, it is probably safe to say that the mind-numbing monotony of Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off does not inspire an interest in learning. With her passion and enthusiasm for dance, however, Betty Poulsen (BEd '02), dance teacher at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, has inspired students for many years.

"Although I taught dance for many years, I graduated with my bachelor of education from the University of Lethbridge in 2002 so I still feel that I am a new teacher as far as the school system goes," explains Poulsen. "I considered going into education years ago but I was too scared of the responsibility of teaching young people."

Instead, Poulsen completed a bachelor of arts, majoring in anthropology and drama at the University of Calgary, while teaching dance and performing with the Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede.

"I had been dancing since I was a little girl but my first love was competitive gymnastics. At 15, I auditioned for the Young Canadians and was one of only four who were accepted. It changed the course of my life," says Poulsen. "Dance became my serious passion and it is something that has obviously stayed with me."

At the U of C, Poulsen also met two people who would greatly affect her life, Keith Johnstone, professor emeritus U of C and founder of the Loose Moose Theatre Company (LMTC) and Dr. John Poulsen, her husband and assistant dean, student program services in the University of Lethbridge's Faculty of Education.

Graduating with a bachelor of arts in 1980, Poulsen worked with Johnstone's LMTC. (She was one of the original "Moosers" and continues to teach in their summer program each year). She also worked as a freelance artist with various children's theatre troupes, including M&M for Kids.

From 1988 to 1996 Poulsen taught dance at the U of C and in 1993 she and John were invited to team teach fine arts in Gaza. She was completely immersed in the conflict as students brought the events from the streets into the class.

Inspired by her travels, Poulsen completed her master's in 1996 from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and moved to Lethbridge where both she and John began teaching at the University. It was while teaching at the U of L that Poulsen felt the opportunity to re-tool was too good to pass up.

"I decided to go back to school as a student at the University because the education program is known as one of the best in the country, and I love the liberal arts philosophy," explains Poulsen. "There were very inspiring teachers in my program and having three practicum opportunities was invaluable. When you get through your third practicum you are stepping into the classroom with real hands-on, practical learning."

Becoming a peer with some of her former students was pleasantly surprising for Poulsen, who says that working with young people was one of the highlights of her after-degree studies.

"I enjoyed meeting young people with incredible integrity and vision who wanted to step into the role of educators. We had a blast together. Once, we were to present the ninth aspect of the knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA's) of a good teacher. We used a Beatles song with the number 9 and the students thought it was cool even though it was not from their era."

In her third practicum, Poulsen was teaching at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute when she was approached by then principal Carol Steen and asked to start a dance program at the high school.

"I taught dance for many years and was planning on teaching elementary," says Poulsen. "I thought long and hard about her proposal but I have had great experiences in my life, great opportunities, great teachers, a professional career, taught post-secondary and danced professionally. What else was left to do but give back?"

Poulsen has certainly given back. She is proud of her students and their dance program and says that her greatest successes are her two children and wonderful marriage.


• Recently invited to be on the 2009 City of Lethbridge Performing Arts Centre Steering Committee

• Recipient of over 20 awards, grants and scholarships totaling $80,000

• Artist in residence at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery

• Guest instructor at the Institut Senian Indonesia (ISI) and the Indonesian Institute of the Arts

• In 1993, she spent three months in Java, Indonesia with her husband, John, and their children making masks and performing with masQuirx (a company of masks and mask performance)

• Taught children's dance at Mount Royal College and the University of Guildford, England