Saturday, November 28, 2015

From the Stage to the Classroom: Lessons Learned from Sugar Plums

A very big part of my growing up was centered around the dance studio. Ten of my Christmas seasons were spent preparing for my ballet company's production of The Nutcracker. This year that dance company is celebrating it's 30th anniversary of it's annual Nutcracker celebration, I have found myself being a bit reflective lately and making parallels between those childhood moments and the moments in my classroom today.

The Work Leading Up Is Better Than The Performance Itself
Rehearsals for annual ballet begin in September, then ramped up intensity in November, and then finally the week of the show rehearsals till midnight weren't uncommon. Then came performance day and your scene may have only been about three minutes. For some they might find that all of that work for three to eight minutes of performance time, not worth it, but it couldn't be far from the truth. Those long and sometimes painful rehearsals prepared me for my job today. This upcoming week my students have a concert and we started preparing for this concert in September, and some of those rehearsals were long and sometimes painful. What people don't see from artists, performers, and musicians is the weeks and hours that went into prepareing their art, many just see the finished product. Even for the young musicians that I get to work with everyday, this is something hard for them to wrap their minds around. Many times my students will point out how much work we put into performances and then explain how they can't believe that it is over. What I try to point out to my students is cherish and make the most of every rehearsal time, because when we make the most of each moment of music making in rehearsal we just make that performance better. Sure this sounds easy, but when you are working with middle school students that are all about instant gratification it can be a bit difficult. Sometimes I even have to remind myself this, that all the work will be worth it in the end. But I don't stop. I keep trying. By the end of the year and the last performance they get it.

Bring Your Best All The Time
My ballet teacher is an amazing teacher. As a look at my own teaching these days, I find that I do many of the same things she does in my classroom. My students poke fun at my phrase "do it again" but I want my students to know what it is like to do it right. Music is creative and beautiful, but there is some technical skill involved as well. Either you sing the note right or you sing it wrong, there is no in between. The same can be said of ballet, either the move is right or it is wrong. I remember being in rehearsals, going through it once, sitting down and getting notes over our rehearsal and doing it again. We were given the opportunity to do it right. I want to do that for my students every day. I want them to know what it is like to do it right. When I tell them to do it again, it is because I want them not only be successful one time, I want them to feel successful every time. Looking back on those ballet days, those moments of doing it again led to those amazing performances. Not only do I expect my students to bring their best everyday, that also means that I have to bring my best everyday. Some days are hard. Some days I feel completely inadequate to know, love, and teach these children. Some days are a crash and burn moments. But beautiful thing is each day is new and I get to another chance to bring my best.

Art No Matter What Form Is Life Alternating 
Did I turn out to be a prima ballerina? No. But it was when I studied and danced those Nutcracker performances that fell in love with music. I fell in love with art. My art. I'm so overprotective of what I do in my classroom simply because I'm protective of my art. Choral music changed my life, and it is my job to show children how beautiful and transforming it can be in their lives. Being in the Nutcracker taught me how to appreciate all art forms visual and performing. I just love it. Fine Arts gives so much meaning to the world around us. It saddens me when I hear stories about Fine Arts programs being removed from schools, because for many students the Fine Arts are all they have, the Fine Arts are why they come to school. Many students are creative souls stuck in desk chairs with cinder block walls and they just need creativity. They need art. Children need art.

I'm so blessed that I had a chance to dance in ten productions of The Nutcracker. Looking back that time was preparing me for the job that I never even imagined having. Oh and here is a picture of middle school Nutcracker production Meghan.

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