(Thank you to our friends at the Alameda County Office of Education for sharing this amazing opportunity with us!)
Why are the arts such a vital part of education? Well, for students at Loma Alta in Marin County, art helps them to express their feelings and think about the world in a way that eases their hearts. Here are two students description of art in their own words. These poems and others appear in this year’s Marin Poetry Anthology.
Art is a way to express
my thoughts and feelings
without using words. Sometimes
it’s helpful to use art
or just draw in order
to get some frustration out.
Art is you and me
Art is her and him
Art is the trees in the
Art is your mother and father
Art is the walls that surround
Art is the air
Art is all around us
Art is our world
Art is everyone and everything
For we were all created by someone
When Shireen Rahimi, AKA Shea Boogie, first heard about Performing Arts Workshop, she thought we sounded too good to be true. But we feel like the lucky ones. The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into her classrooms is how much she’s loved by her students. It’s easy to see why.
Why did you become a teaching artist?
I’ve always enjoyed working with youth. And I’ve been working with youth since I was a kindergarten class teaching assistant in 7th or 8th grade. And I got my first teaching job when I was 16 years old to kids younger than me. I just love working with people. It’s always something I’ve enjoyed doing. And with dancing…I kind of just fell into it. And I realized how much I loved it. I’m sharing what I love to do.
“Babies dance before they can speak.”
“I find it an escape.”
“I have No anxiety when dancing.”
These are a few of the essential reasons that our Teaching Artists, regardless of art form that they teach, find creative expression through dance, vital. In honor of National Dance Week, during our most recent cohort meetings we asked our teaching artist what they felt when they danced, and that most honest of revelations, what moves embarrass them the most. Even, in embarrassment they found areas to creatively express themselves.
For most people a sense of freedom overcomes them when dancing (“Something inside of me is released”). Inhibitions that they might carry in normal life are cast aside and they get in touch with their bodies and express their whole selves (“When I dance I feel my spirit”). For some it can be a communal experience of expressing their passions (“It is a reason to come together”) or a reason to strut their stuff in an expressive theatrical show (“I need space to dance”).
No matter how you do it, or when you do it, expression through movement can’t help but bring the emotions and thoughts in your mind at the moment. And sometimes those actions can be a source of amusement. Dances that were once all the rage that have gone the way of the legwarmer or current dances that challenge older joints and muscle memory, we’ve all had our own embarrassing moments on the dance floor.
Sometimes our need to freely express might get in the way of our community experience (“I cannot partner dance”) or bring us back together (“when the air is right, my husband and I have been known to attempt the Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey lift from Dirty Dancing. We’re also available for parties and bar mitzvahs”). Sometimes those moments don’t strike us anywhere near the dance floor and are used as Ice Breakers (“In the middle of teaching I might just ‘Drop it like it’s hot and then bring it back real slow’”). Sometimes those moments are used as comic relief (“The Muppet” “The Soulja Boy” “The Tootsie Roll” “The Running Man”) to make us seem more human and accessible to our peers.
The conclusion that most of us came to was that dance is a universal language that we all use to communicate our true selves to the outside world. The opportunities and spaces that The Workshop provides through our Creative Movement and World Dance residencies insures another generation of people are able to feel free to express their thoughts and emotions through the most direct aspect of themselves. Here’s hoping that you take a few moments to bust a move and express yourself.
Teaching children can be a volatile experience, especially when the subject is art. And since art can be almost anything, it pays for a teaching artist to be ready for almost anything when teaching kids. One of many occupational nightmares a teacher has to face is the suddenly eruption of class chaos and anarchy. And it doesn’t take much to trigger it. It can be a bird flying in class via open window, or a class comedian making the sound of a muffled fart. What ever it is, the explosion is swift and loud.
Odd as it may sound, a teaching artist can take advantage of chaos especially if the cause is clear and specific. “Seizing the moment” becomes a reality, and not a workshop abstraction. It all boils down to timing, taking specific actions and having a clear idea of where to take the energy of shouts, cries and thundering feet.
I once taught a bizarre “drama” lesson to 35 loud, engaged 4th graders in an echoing auditorium. In the span of 1 hour I wanted to give the kids an experience of what a fully committed action looks and feels like. One of several “exercises” during the lesson had kids demonstrate a strong decisive action in front of their classmates.
To add a little tension and suspense, I tried a gimmick in one of the exercises – I brought in several large plastic packing bubbles, the size of small pillows. The idea was to have a kid leap and land with a pop on the air bag as they made an implosive or explosive frozen body shape. We would study and reflect on the dynamics – tension and suspense – as if we had captured in a photographic image the release of high energy. Fortunately, just the combination of pausing before the action, the leap, the landing with a loud shot of sound, engaged the kids.
This routine went on for some time before a short dumpy kid stood by the bag. On my cue, he paused, coiled his legs and leapt. I remember thinking: for his size and body weight it was a high leap. Wham he hit the bag full force and got the loudest echoing shot of the day. He instantly became the implosive shape, bent over like a tight spring. Before we could applaud and appreciate the beauty of his performance- bright red blood gushed from his nose, splashing on to the gym floor. Seconds passed before the teacher rushed the kid out of the gym, leaving a trail of drops behind. The rush from the room had a conic effect and caught the kids off balance.
I had to say something to try to contain the growing chaotic response that would soon erupt. As teacher and child fled, I called out, “Hey, what’s your name? That was fantastic!”
There were waves of exaggerated groans, grunts, shouts, utterances of disgust that filled the gym. Most of the kids leapt from their benches to get close ups of the sticky red mess of living liquid. A few boys remained near the benches play-acting retching and vomiting. A crowd of curious girls and boys gathered around the point of impact and stared at the pool of splatter with twisted faces, a few of the brighter girls had broken off and seemed to methodically trace the pattern of drops that lead to the gym door.
At some point during the creative anarchy, I regained control of the mob by bellowing over the shrill voices of kids to sit on the benches! I told them that by sitting we could better study the spattered pool of blood and fleeing drops. My ensuing improvised lesson drew much of its information and critical thinking approach from having watched episodes of Dexter on television. Thanks to Dexter we focused on using deductive reasoning to recreate what had happened based on the blood pattern on the floor. We even played with likely scenarios of what may have happened when the lunch bell rang out.
Gary Draper is a former teaching artist and currently the Artistic Director at Performing Arts Workshop. When Gary’s not at the Workshop, he can be found indulging in books and French cuisine. Read his full bio here.
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Carol Kocivar visits Performing Arts Workshop to discuss the ARISE project and PACT 21. In both these rigorous studies, the Workshop looks at how the performing arts help students prepare for school work and life in the 21 century. The ARISE project found that students who participated in the performing arts became more confident, did better on Math tests and actually wanted to come to school! In PACT 21, the Workshop plans to look at specific areas in 21 Century Learning through authentic assessment developed with teaching artists and classroom teachers in partnership.