As the dancer/teaching artist finished her demonstration with the small group of fellow dancers, she stretched her arm out, palm skyward, gesturing to one specific individual standing across the room from her. “I always give thanks to one of my most influential mentors, MC.” MC, a gracious and well-loved local teaching artist responded with, “It’s a joy to become the student of the student. I always learn so much when I have the opportunity to participate with you.” The small group punctuated the brief dialog with satisfied sighs and applause.
This small gathering of Hawaii dance teaching artists happened as a part of our 2013 Teaching Artist Institute; the largest gathering of island teaching artists ever staged. Although only ten of us experienced the above described moment, the tone of that dancer exchange permeated the entire Institute gathering. As one of the conveners, program designers, hosts and presenters (which was why I was in the room with dancers—checking out how our various sessions were going), I was especially pleased by the camaraderie of the two and a half day event, but essentially unsurprised.
This gathering, just 60 people in total, proved to be a microcosm of Hawaii. The island state, with no one demographic exceeding 50% of the population, is a cultural crossroads with a deeply embedded Pacific/Asian sense of extended family. Our own teaching artist ohana (‘family’ in Hawaiian) has a rich collection of varied artists, educators, teaching artists, art forms and experience: from a few years to more than 40.
Those differences matter only in how they inspire and enrich us in gatherings, such as the institute, that we too rarely experience. While we don’t always agree and there is certainly plenty of debate over varied topics the discussions are respectful, authentic and supportive, for the very reason that there is disagreement; few wish to come off judgmental of others. The differing ideas are rarely along art form lines but rather reflective of individual thoughts and opinions. In what seems very rare to me, when I compare this to my experiences outside of Hawaii, our local teaching artists don’t stake out territory by differences in their art forms, but instead look to how other art forms can be inspirational to improving one’s own. Teaching artists of all media often comment on how they’ve incorporated ideas, approaches and strategies from other art forms within their own work.
Nick Jaffe, Chief Editor of the Teaching Artist Journal and our guest speaker and presenter at this Institute, said it best when he noted that the rest of the country could benefit from the intensely supportive atmosphere we create and how we keep ourselves so tightly focused on our practice and our constituents.
As a long-time island teaching artist, I willingly share the challenge of finding funding to put these gatherings together because I gain so much from both listening to the others and presenting for them. It’s a treasure to have such friends and colleagues in a field that struggles to simply survive. Facing the daily challenges of keeping arts education vibrant, accessible and current is not so great a task when I know that I will meet with these folks to receive and offer the kinds of support that make our work stronger, give us new insights into our accomplishments and inspire us to continue to fight the good fight on behalf of the children of Hawaii and each other. As MC suggested, “It’s a joy to become the student of my colleagues.”
An ardent teaching artist, Daniel A. Kelin II is Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education and President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE). He is on the Teaching Artist roster of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and was Director of Theatre Training for both Crossroads Theatre for Youth in American Samoa and a Marshall Islands youth organization. A 2009 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in India, he has also had fellowships with Montalvo Arts Center, TYA/USA and the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Dan is co-authoringThe Reflective Teaching Artist: Collected Wisdom from the Drama/Theatre Field for Intellect Books. More atwww.DanielAKelin.com