Attending public school throughout my middle and high school years was truly a challenge that tested my faith daily. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my afternoons at Arts Alive Fine Arts Studio, where I was able to study my passion of dance while fellowshipping with other believers. That studio was my place of solace and my escape from the daily battle to defend my faith at school. It was also an environment vastly different from those of other studios I had attended in the past. I did not have to worry about the other girls gossiping about one another or competing for spots in solos. And I knew that each one of my peers and instructors had such amazing hearts for the Lord which encouraged me in my own personal faithwalk. Their love of Him shone through their contagious smiles and hugs and made Arts Alive a place I looked forward to entering and hated to leave.
This is the environment that I try and foster for my students here at Alamance Fine Arts Academy: one free of judgement and expectations of perfection; a place where they can find peace and contentment from whatever they may be experiencing outside of the studio walls. The use of uplifting music, the inclusion of scripture, the worshipful movement and modest costumes are used to create a safe environment for our students to not only grow in their abilities, but also their faith. I feel as though for many young dancers, the studio can be an intimidating place and the mirror a reflection of self doubt and disapproval. It can be increasingly difficult for students at this age to do their best in the studio when they feel pressures to be perfect, whether that be from their peers, parents or instructors. That is why it is so important for me to center my classes around Christ, so that all the worries of self image and doubt are nowhere to be found and we can have a much clearer focus on what is truly important; developing their skills for the glory of God.
Creating a Godly environment in the classroom is not only important for the students, but for myself as well. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your students use their bodies and the dance skills you have taught them in a worshipful way or to see them bring scripture to life through their movement. I like to incorporate lots of improvisational movement prompts and ideas into class so that the students can explore Christian ideas through their own movement. For example, in my liturgical classes we like to find an issue that is going on in the world right now, a prayer request, or simply a biblical story and use the fabric and flags to tell that story or lift up that prayer through movement. This is such a great way for students to break out of their shells, practice movement we have worked on in class, and create their own choreography.
Another improvisational activity we love in my liturgical class is to choose a scripture, usually AFAA’s verse of the month, and divide it up so that each group has a small section of the scripture. I then read it aloud while the students perform their movement when they hear their section. This not only stimulates their creativity and their ability to work well in groups, it helps them to learn scripture and think about what the words mean. Clearly this level of engagement to the Christian ideals, core to AFAA’s philosophy, can be more difficult to achieve in a ballet technique class. However, I strongly believe that the environment created in the classroom, no matter what the technique, can reflect those Christian ideals without having to do explicit movement activities.
Creating a space where prayer and scripture are the first things your students hear when they walk through the door; where it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them; where the love of God and of each other drive the movement and attitudes of everyone involved. This is what I aim to create in each one of my classrooms, whether we are dancing to Hillsong or Beethoven, whether we are learning a dance to scripture or a grand allegro. Of course this is all for the students, but it means something to me as well. When I run into class after rushing through traffic, after a long day of classes myself, and am struggling to find the strength and motivation; I find it there in that space. Maybe it is because I can channel that feeling I had myself when I was a student in that same building just a few years ago. However, I truly think that it is my students and their eagerness and willingness to learn more about Him and that Godly atmosphere we have worked so hard to establish that motivate and excite me about the work we are doing each and every week.
-Anna Grooms, Dance Instructor at Alamance Fine Arts Academy