Ms. Sarah Spina is a professional ballet dancer with numerous credits to her name that, during her career, performed the demanding role of the Princess in California Contemporary Ballet’s annual Snow Queen Ballet. Now the mother of two beautiful young children, she has created a blog, writing about life with her family and about the joys and responsibilities of raising her daughters.
On the subject of discipline, she writes, “Discipline is not a bad word. One of the most important things you can instill in your child is discipline. When most people hear the word discipline, they think ‘punishment.’ That form of discipline is only the 3rd definition in the dictionary. The first definition is, ‘training to act in accordance with rules,’ and the second is, ‘activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training.’”
When enrolling a child in an activity such as dance or music, many parents forget that these “activities” are also considered “disciplines of the arts”. While dance, drama, music and painting should be fun, there should also be an expectation that the student will eventually make improvements in his or her skills and abilities. In ballet, for instance, there are specific exercises that dance students typically perform at the start of class, and class ends with yet a different set of exercises followed by an articulated “thank you” to the teacher. In addition, there are rules for dress and hair style, the proper stance at the ballet barre and while standing in a line with other students and there are other general but well-established rules of good behavior. Likewise, there are specific methods and techniques for holding a paint brush when executing a piece of artwork, or a musical instrument when attempting to achieve a clear sound.
Good habits are developed by going through the structured routine of each class where students progress from level to increasingly difficult level. In the field of dance, for example, a dancer learns that by diligently and repeatedly executing a particular series of exercises, he or she soon develops the skill necessary to perform more technically demanding moves. They also discover that there are techniques for jumping high into the air, turning gracefully, and holding positions that require physical agility and strength. These students soon discover that by maintaining a disciplined approach to their chosen field of study and by practicing the methods and techniques of the art with dedication, improvements will naturally follow.
As a professional dancer, Ms. Spina knows how important discipline is in the field of the arts. She herself has been trained to understand that the rules matter. She has carried her dance discipline beyond the dance studio to create a successful life. She now builds discipline into the daily structure of her family.
“The word discipline is a positive one in our house. The girls are not scared of it. They don’t associate it with punishment. Discipline to them is following a routine, getting their work done, practicing their ‘disciplines,’ such as dance, cheer, reading, math, etc. Practice is a discipline. By teaching them at a young age that hard work is in fact good for them, that they will be smarter, or better at something with a little discipline each day, I am setting them up for success in every area of their lives.”
Creating discipline in life is a matter of developing good habits. If you simply establish specific times for waking up, doing homework, developing manners at the dinner table, while also initiating rituals such as the recitation of prayers before bed or preparing and getting organized for the next day, one can easily see that a well-organized, thoughtful daily regimen will go a long way in creating and developing good life skills.
Disciplines of the arts are really the building blocks of life. Art allows its participants to build self-esteem, self-discipline and goal-oriented behavior which is important for every aspect of life.
In an address to the Council of Elementary Principals meeting in Boston, MA, Public Schools Chairman Eric Oddleifson made a passionate plea for the arts in education saying, “Children with training in the arts do much better in school than other kids, in many different ways.”
Mr. Oddleifson announced that per the College Entrance Examination Board, students who studied arts and music scored significantly higher than the national average on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Students who had participated in acting/play production, music performance and appreciation, dance, drama appreciation, and art history, scored an average of 31 to 50 points higher for the math and verbal sections. The Board also stated that students with long-term arts study (four years or more) tend to score significantly higher on the SAT than those with less coursework in the arts.
Mr. Oddleifson says, “Additionally, not only do children learn the 3 R's better and faster, but they behave differently. I have been curious to find out why, because training in the arts is seen to be extra-curricular, not related to the serious business of educating our kids, and suitable only for those with talent. Our research indicates that many benefits are derived from study in the arts. The arts develop constructive habits of discipline, and mind.”
Mr. Oddleifson suggests "If we are ever to see the day when high standards in all academic subjects, including the arts, are not only met but exceeded by most, if not all, of our children, the way-and indeed perhaps the only way-to get there is through the arts. The adoption of this suggestion will require a radical shift-a contextual change-not only in how we view children, and our teaching relationship with them, but also in how we learn, and even how we view the arts themselves. Viewing the arts not as finished product but as a search for high quality which is available to all, regardless of talent; by recongnizing that the arts provide necessary 'tools' for thinking which are unavailable elsewhere; and in understanding that a quality education requires bringing heart and hand into balance with head, we quickly conclude that high educational standards simply cannot be met by most of our children without the arts."
As public schools continue to cut funding for the arts, thereby providing little or no serious arts education, there are a limited number of private organizations—music, dance and art schools—that work tirelessly to fill the void created by public education. However, even these private enterprises may be suffering economically and as a result; the focus of some of the programs offered by these establishments has shifted. Rather than being concerned with the idea of offering instruction in a disciplined art form, they are more inclined to promote programs that can provide recreational and social benefits to children.
Parents with a serious commitment to arts education should look for programs run by instructors who offer quality professional experience and who are prepared to instruct their students in the discipline of their chosen art. Does the arts program enforce a dress code? Are students allowed to talk or chew gum during class? Has the school’s Directors instituted a structured curriculum that is followed by instructors in each class? These are some things for which one should look.
While enrolled in a well-established, highly regarded school of art, children learn to understand how important it is to work diligently toward every goal they establish. Study in a good arts program develops a solid foundation, enabling the student to cope with the pressures that he or she faces throughout childhood, thereby imparting the skills necessary to make the successful transition to adulthood.
Parents like Ms. Spina are wise to provide their children with exposure to the disciplines of the arts while also reinforcing the value of discipline at home. Sarah states, “When my girls get older and school gets much harder, and dance (or whatever other discipline they choose to pursue) isn’t so fun anymore because ‘it’s so hard,’ or ‘it hurts,’ they will hopefully be disciplined enough to weather the storm and come out on the other side without quitting. Discipline is setting a goal and reaching it, not giving up when something gets hard, learning the feeling of success and continuing to practice to get better, because while you can never be perfect, you can always get closer to it.”
From the Bible, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The discipline and training you instill in your child now will determine the type of adult they will become.
by Erin Holt
Erin Holt is the Artistic Director of California DanceArts, a career preparatory school which boasts over two hundred students. Her choreography is featured through the works of her company, California Contemporary Ballet.