By Professor James Young
I don’t think of myself as an artsy person. I rarely go to museums, subscribe to art magazines, or read a lot of classical literature. And unlike the stereotype for Asians, I don’t play the violin nor have much knowledge of the martial arts. I don’t have a trained ear for music or sharp eye for paintings. In fact, I don’t think I could spot the difference between a Picasso and a Pollock without the assistance of Google. So, under that narrow definition, I am far from being artsy.
Yet, I do possess characteristics of an artist. I consider myself a creative thinker. I work on building community here at the college as I work in “concert” with faculty and staff to make the school safer and more efficient for students. And I do that using a keen sense of perception, identifying patterns and problems, then finding creative solutions.
For example, a few years ago, I noticed students sometimes were more concerned about charging their devices than on the lesson for the day. So I bought a locked crate to keep extension cords in the classroom for students to charge their phones or laptops while in class. I also encouraged the use of these devises in class by asking students to take notes, look up information, and shared various apps to increase learning. I did all this by noticing a pattern of distraction in the classroom, and then used that as an opportunity to connect with students using their digital devices.
So how is this all related to art? Well, I think my ability to recognize patterns, think creatively, and go with the flow has to do with my love of dancing. When I first learned how to partner dance (Salsa, Huslte, Cha Cha, Merengue, Waltz, etc.), I realized it was all about connection. I had to be connected with my body and develop a keen sense of myself in order to move correctly. Along with my body, I learned how to use gravity to work speed up or slow down my steps. Combining my sense of self and gravity with music added a third dimension to movement, which was incorporating timing and rhythm. All of this worked nicely when dancing by myself, but as I stated earlier, I learned to partner dance, so that was only half of the practice.
When I learned how to carefully keep time, move my body and use gravity to my advantage, I then started to find a new connection – another person. When dancing with someone else, everything I knew changed depending on how skilled my partner was. This taught me to be flexible and to adapt quickly. If my partner was new, I would only lead simple steps. If they were too stiff, I would add a little muscle to lead them in a turn. In some dances, I would change my footing to match theirs even though I was leading so that they could simply have fun dancing without being too concerned with their foot patterns.
I have spent over 20 years taking dance lessons, dancing for fun, and teaching dance. I suppose in hindsight, I do participate in the arts, and have found it quite beneficial. Students in my classroom tend to appreciate the abilities I have cultivated all of those years on the dancefloor when they tell me that they like how I seem to make the lessons match them individually, yet still complete the work listed in the syllabus. Personally, I have learned not just to lead, but to follow my students, as exampled earlier in following their need to have digital devices as part of their learning experience.
I still don’t think of myself as an artsy person, but that identity doesn’t mean that I haven’t benefitted from the arts. To that point, my students at the college may have unknowingly benefitted from my participation in the arts as well. Have you?