What does being educated mean?
The practical role performing arts plays in a well-rounded educational experience has endured much debate over the years. It's refreshing to see that it is receiving more attention than it has in the past.
Educators are more aware of its intrinsic value in curriculums across the world. It's more than just role-playing or doing a little dance; it's about learning versatile and transferable life skills that matter.
Besides the fact that it's fun and challenging, performing arts builds habits of mind that are essential to living well and weathering the adversities of life. It hones our creativity and intelligence, fosters our compassion, and brings a higher understanding of humanity to our awareness. Performers have to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and good listeners.
Performing arts is a physical, mental, and emotional journey about personal betterment and the vitality of human connection.
In this article, we'll talk about 6 life skills developed by performing arts when students are willing to apply themselves to its enriching experiences. First, however, let's hear from some advocates on why this subject deserves attention in our students' education.
Voices on Performing Arts
This one posted on the Scots College website talks about the holistic benefits of performing arts:
"The performing arts in education provides students with the opportunity to engage the mind, the body and the emotions into a collaborative and communal expression of all that it means to be human—They discover their own voice, they grow in confidence ... they develop empathy and ethical insight into the contradictions and paradoxes of the human condition."
These are some of educator Matt Buchanan's insights on the real-world applications and collaborative nature of performing arts:
"A student can, if only for a few moments, become another, explore a new role, try out and experiment with various personal choices and solutions to very real problems ... this can happen in a safe atmosphere where actions and consequences can be examined, discussed, and in a very real sense experienced without the dangers and pitfalls that such experimentation would obviously lead to in the "real" world.
Although these articles talk about different things, the overall message is clear: performing arts contributes to the proactive development of an individual on many different levels.
1. Creative Self-Expression
The pursuit of any art form becomes an expression of a person's individuality and creative nature. Expressing ourselves creatively adds to our ability to express ourselves in other situations. This includes professional and personal relationships of all kinds.
Performing arts demands a level of self-expression that is deeply personal and unique to the individual. Those who practice it, be it in dance or theatrical arts, find themselves exploring the richness of their expressive abilities. In many cases, those who have been unable to express themselves in other ways find their outlet in performing arts.
Therefore we must ensure that the environments our students express their creativity in remain safe and free of judgment, as Matt Buchanan instructs above.
In as much as performing arts inspires our creative natures, it is also a confidence builder. After all, once we've created an expressive project we must still perform it or present it to an audience. This takes the courage to accept whatever reactions come from sharing this part of ourselves without sacrificing our integrity.
Essentially we're nervous because we don't know what the response will be to our efforts. However, somewhere deep down we want it to be validating to us. As a result, we find ourselves imagining the horrific feelings we would experience if it was any less than that.
Expressing ourselves creatively adds to our ability to express ourselves in other situations. This includes professional and personal relationships of all kinds.
Part of building confidence in performing arts is being able to let go of such expectations. We carry forward with our vision knowing it is the best representation of our inner creativity we can give in that moment. It is not wrong or right, perfect or imperfect—it simply is.
In performing arts settings, people will have varied opinions about someone else's expressions. Some of it will be positive and some negative. Confidence is the result of our knowing that those opinions of us don't need to become our reality. This is a mindset we can apply to many areas of our lives.
By their very nature, the performing arts are deeply collaborative. They are about forging connections through sharing common interests and goals with others. They are also about building trust with those we choose to work with on projects that are meaningful to us. With such experiences, we learn to weather challenges and disagreements constructively and proactively.
Producing anything in the field of performing arts, whether academically or professionally, usually requires us to call on the help of others. Very rarely can we do it all on our own, and it's not just a case of "many hands making light work." It also has to do with enhancing our results with the expertise and insights of others to achieve beneficial engagement and mutual success. This can be true of any kind of team project.
In a group of like-minded individuals, each person may have something they can bring to the table that no one else can. For example, Henry Ford claimed he surrounded himself with people he knew were smarter and more capable than he was. That kind of collaborative willingness allowed him to invent something that eventually transformed the world.
Creative endeavours take willpower and determination because we tend to zero in when we are engrossed in something imaginative and experimental. Often we work backward from the end to achieve our desired results. On the other hand, we also center on a specific process as we visualize our end goal. All of this takes focus and concentration. The fact is, anything worth doing takes focus and the performing arts are no different.
Sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said this about art: "Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence." How then do the arts contribute to the skills of problem-solving we want for our students? Simply put, by understanding the creative process we learn the process of problem-solving by default.
In a group of like-minded individuals, each person may have something they can bring to the table that no one else can.
This is why we have developed the Essential Fluencies that are now being used in classrooms across the world. Our flagship process of problem-solving is Solution Fluency. It's a foolproof system that will solve any problem no matter how big or small. All the other Fluencies are mirrored in the phases of Solution Fluency, which makes them problem-solving processes in their own right. This is also true of the third Essential Fluency, Creativity Fluency.
Creativity Fluency was also developed as a problem-solving approach to teaching the fact that creativity is not something only a few are born with. It is a skill that can be taught and learned like any other. Once we learn creativity we realize we become a unique kind of problem solver that deals in abstract and artistic concepts as well as technical and linear ones.
6. Leveraging Feedback
During their school years, students will be assessed and graded constantly, and part of any mindful assessment is providing constructive and actionable feedback students can grow from. Performing arts work always involves feedback. Students can learn through artistic practices that feedback can be empowering if both given and received the right way.
Whether feedback is positive or negative, students must learn how to use it to their advantage. Performing arts is one of the best avenues for them to learn this since such projects are so deeply personal and unique to each student. If the feedback is constructive, they must be guided towards how to use the best of it to improve. If it's largely negative, they must learn to turn it around into something that can serve them rather than break them down.
Now obviously this depends largely on the people involved because feedback is not always as positive an experience as it could be. But that can change, and change starts with you, the educator. It's in your power to ensure that the feedback you give, even in a creative setting like performing arts, is both useful and enabling. In this way, students learn about useful failure. Instead of losing patience with themselves and giving up, they return to the task determined to put an even better effort forward to achieve their goals. Outside of performing arts, this skill can serve them well.
Taking the Stage of Life
We'll leave you with a quote from David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:
"The world is a complicated place, and there's a lot of division between people. The performing arts tend to unify people in a way nothing else does."
As we continue to bring a performing arts presence to our curriculums worldwide, we benefit not only students on a personal level, but our whole society on a global level. Through its practices, we say what mere words cannot and can touch lives to transform the world through our expression.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Nov 1, 2018, updated Nov 3, 2021