Well the big show opens on Thursday. I'm so excited!
This year, I hired a professional to choreograph our show. She makes her living acting and singing and doing some choreography on the side, so she knows her stuff. It has been fun to work together to translate her professional experience and approach into middle school realities. It's been good for me, too, because it's required me to think through my approach, articulate some ideas, and question my assumptions.
This process has led me to three new insights about working with adolescents to help them perform at a high level. While I've been thinking about these insights in a theatrical context, I think that there are principle that are generally applicable to other non-theatrical areas as well.
The first thing I've come to appreciate more is flexibility. I've always thought this important and I realize it's always informed my work, but I'm starting to think about it more consciously in terms of my practice and work with students. I'm also beginning to be more conscious about this and use it as a tool.
The choreographer came up with a brilliant dance for a huge group number. I loved it. But for some reason they just couldn't get it. We'd teach it and they'd do it correctly, then we'd run the number and they'd be off again. This happened over and over. I finally watched closely and I realized that the problem was that something about the rhythm of the song was making them want to kick/step at a different time than we had taught them. Our way was cool--but it felt counter-intuitive and awkward to them. They just felt it a certain way. Had they been adults or professionals, they could have adapted and disciplined themselves to make it work.
But they are adolescents. They can't do those things. They just aren't designed that way.
I tweaked what they were doing and aligned it more with what their natural inclinations were. With a very slight alteration, we were able to keep the essence of the choreographer's vision but tweak it so that it felt right to the kids. Once we did that, they nailed it every time.
It's important that the kids feel it. At this age, it's difficult to get them to do well anything that doesn't feel natural, comfortable, and right to them. That's true on-stage and off.
There are times when you can't compromise with kids and you need to hold the line and stand your ground. But there are other times--I think many other times, actually--where you can find a way to accomplish your objectives in a way that feels right to them and that comes more naturally.
I've learned if I define the objectives, but am flexible on the methods employed to get the objectives, the objectives are much more likely to be reached. I think that's true with most people, but I find it especially true with adolescents. If I can accomodate my vision to their realities and what they feel, then I think there is a much greater chance of success.
This principle can be adapted, I think, to all kinds of things: cleaning rooms, doing homework, and so on.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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