Typhani Harris | December 2014

Performing… Is it For Everyone???

My personal philosophy of performance is rooted in “if you can run the lights and the stage then you can perform in the lights on the stage”.  However, with my new change in schools, I’m tasked with placing students on stage after 3 months of training. This is against my personal philosophy, yet is supported by many.  So, is it too soon to perform… or not? When is it too soon to begin performing?

As we prepare for our performing arts revue, I can’t help but wonder… should everyone perform?

I only had to opportunity to work with my students for about 3 months. They barely experienced dance, they have no previous training, and we have only just begun.  As an educator, I am adamantly against spending all of the time I have with them merely preparing a performance.  I value the educational aspect involving teaching students the foundation elements of dance as an art form.  It is important they experience multiple genres, composition, and theory, not to mention it is the bulk of the standards.  But when you have to get them ready for a performance in just 3 months, there is not enough time to do everything.

When I learned the fact that the beginning students would have to perform this month I worked it into the curriculum. But, I refused to spend more than one day a week on the choreography for the performance.  However, as we near the show (this Friday) I resorted to spending the entire week in preparation. Which is completely against my philosophy of dance education, but what choice do I have? Provoking the questions; is performing for everyone, and is this too soon?

I have always believed that performing is a privilege.

In my mind, students who have only 3 months of introductory training have not earned the right to perform.  They don’t understand the meaning of training hard or full out yet. Simply, they are not ready!  Often, artists spend years training before they get a taste of the stage.

When I expressed these concerns to the other performing arts teachers they hesitantly agreed theoretically. But, they told me to just wait because the performing aspect does something magical for these students. Additionally, they figured I would begin to see a change in the students work once they have the opportunity to perform.

Reluctantly, I have prepared one piece for each class, but did my best to maintain the integrity of the educational side of the art form by not devoting the entire semester to preparing a performance.  This past Tuesday we did a mini preview of the show for the school.  The nerves, the butterflies, the anxiety ran through my first time performers, they were excited and wanted to do their best.  I had no idea they even cared but the reality was, they did care and when it came down to it, they did their best to put on a great preview performance.  And just like I was told, they now want to push themselves even harder this week in order to prepare for the full performance this Friday.

Within a brief moment, my entire philosophy changed.

When they have no idea what they are working for, they have no idea how hard they have to work.  But now they do, and what’s even more exciting is watching them get the performance bug.  Now they want to do even more and try even harder for the next performance opportunity.  The stage is addictive, performing is contagious, and my students have now contracted the thrill of the performance.  It has been a wild and crazy ride, one that I thought we would never be prepared for, but these kids have ultimately stepped up for the challenge, and are determined to deliver a great performance.

I have learned quite a bit over these past couple months, and anyone who knows me would agree that I am stubborn when it comes to my personal philosophies and would take any opportunity to hop on my proverbial soapbox to try to persuade others to believe in my thoughts.  But this experience has changed that philosophy (not an easy task to do) and I will now be fighting for students to perform as soon as possible, because once they get the bug they are hooked and their work ethic gains a special characteristic, the attribute of Grit; the courage and resolve; the strength of character, and it is this grit that will take them far.

Next Week: Common Core

Master Class Review: Writing Performance Tasks
If you missed the latest Master Class on writing performance tasks for the arts, don’t fret, it has been archived and is ready to view!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.