WHY THE ARTS
We have been asked by people, "why the arts?” or "what can the arts do for kids when they are so poor and hungry"? Both are quite honestly good questions, and we would love to share just what we do and why we are so passionate about the arts. The first answer to that question is that the arts is where God has gifted us, so we use what we have. Dance and music made such a difference in our lives and so we try to share with others who have the same needs we did. Another reason is that until we came to this community, there were no after school activities of any kind and there are no arts in the schools. The Arts are an great way to reach people for Christ and to have an effect on the children (and adults) that come in contact with us. The arts can cross cultural and socioeconomic boundaries like no other medium as a universal platform. Here are just a few of the ways we empower children to change their lives and impact the Mexican culture.
Commitment – Our classes often start with upwards of 10 to 20 children. After the first few weeks, it has often dwindled to half, and often by the end there are no more than a handful of kids left. Not showing up or taking long breaks are part of the culture. In dance classes, we have a strict “miss three classes and you’re out” rule. It has led to some heartbreaking conversations with parents and their children. It is often a new idea to stick with something and follow it through to the end. When children do this they practice developing healthy work habits by being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting others, and putting effort into the success of a performance.
Self-confidence – Dance and music training teaches children to step outside what is comfortable and allows them to make mistakes in a safe environment. Transitioning from rehearsal to performance is achieved only though mistakes. In many cases, the girls we teach will be married and/or pregnant by 16. The arts will give them the confidence to imagine better lives for themselves.
Responsibility – When children practice creating something in a class, they get used to the idea that their actions affect others. Not showing up, putting in little effort, and bad attitudes all affect not just them anymore, but their classmates as well. They learn when they make mistakes that often other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it.
Ingenuity – With the arts, children learn to think fast and make quick, appropriate decisions and think outside the box. If they learn how to think creatively, it will become a natural way of thinking and help them not only in school, but also in future employment. In a country where not having a job can mean starvation, giving kids the ability to think outside the box can make all the difference.
Diligence – We live in a culture where children are not taught to stick with things or are not asked to do the hard things in life. The path is prepared for them, rather than preparing them for the path. When a child picks up a guitar for the first time, they know that playing a full rock song immediately is not going to happen; but when that child practices, learns the skills needed, and doesn’t give up, that song they want to play so badly is just a bit closer each time.
Self Esteem - Self esteem has gotten a bad rap lately in Christian circles. As with anything if it is made ultimate it can be a bad thing. However these are young children who have no self esteem at all or very little. Preforming in particular creates a sense of self worth and the knowledge that you are good at something and have something to be proud of.
Concentration – Children are kept young here and are not taught the proper skills needed to succeed in things like school or other classes. Most always we are a child's first real experience with having to concentrate and pay attention. Research shows that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in many other aspects of their lives.
Problem-Solving – The children in our classes don’t even realize it, but they are constantly being challenged to find solutions to their problems. Practice at problem-solving helps kids develop skills of reasoning and understanding.
Communication – Through experiences in music and dance classes, our students will learn some French, English, musical notations, nonverbal communication, and body movement. They experience ways of moving or speaking or making music and how those things can communicate different emotions.
Constructive Criticism – On the whole there is very little guidance for children at home or in school here. By receiving constructive criticism, children learn that feedback is part of learning, and it is not something they need to be hurt by or angry about, but rather something to learn from.
Teamwork – Music and dance classes are collaborative in nature. In class, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. Through these experiences, children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value no matter what their part in the song or dance.
Beauty - Some of these kids are more than at-risk; they are already living very difficult lives of poverty and pain. Art shows them beauty and gives them a chance to break out of themselves and move and learn in a way that is beautiful. When dancing or playing music or painting a picture, everyone is the same.
Community - We brought together over 100 students and 10 different ministries during our Christmas Nutcracker program. The community has never come together in such a way before. This opens up the world to the kids that are a part of it and lets them know the world is a bigger place than just their home town.
Fruit - We all need to learn the fruits of the Spirit. One way to not only demonstrate those but to teach them is with a discipline like dance and music. Children are learning, love for their fellow students and to know they are loved by their teacher, they find joy in what they are doing, we create a safe space for peacefulness. You can go down the list and see where lessons from the Bible are being taught and shown to the children we come in contact with.
Spirituality - We pray before classes and all the children know we do this because of the love of Christ. We use about 50/50 songs about faith and secular and it is often many children's first introduction to music or dance as a form of worship.
FUN - The arts are fun! Dancing is fun! Playing guitar is fun! We are often a bright spot for children in, say, a shut-in orphanage type of situation, or a break from a hard life. We laugh and sing and dance, and for a short time, lives are lifted and easy.