Thursday, February 9, 2012

Education of Maren Cummings, Assistant Operations Director at Urban Artistry

I have always loved learning; from staying late to sharpen pencils in fourth grade to drawing mental maps to connect texts in grad school (I’m dorky, I know).

… yes, that’s me on the far right with my 4th grade Urkel glasses

So, it was a particularly hard decision for me to leave grad school in 2008 to dance. It was an emotional decision to leave the ivory tower, but as much as I tried to infuse dance into my studies (I did learn a lot from those Performance Studies books) and my schedule, I couldn’t do both and keep my sanity. And I knew that I needed dance in my life.

… my first year of college… minus the Urkel glasses

The tipping point for my decision – what made my choice stick was truly thinking about how Urban Artistry teaches. I was used to dance classes, but Urban Artistry’s teaching goes above and beyond classroom teaching. It’s not about teaching choreography, although that does happen; it’s about learning the history of the movements and the music, learning to apply concepts in your own way, learning from everyone in the class, and creating a space that’s safe enough to freely explore movement, but directed enough to make that movement dynamic.

Some of the most important lessons I have learned from Urban Artistry have happened outside of the dance studio. Urban Artistry encouraged me to get into my first cypher after 10 years of studio dancing and lurking on the sidelines (Thanks House!) Urban Artistry showed me how to build deeper friendships and how to truly push through character flaws to become the person I want to be (I’m still working on this .. but thanks for the guidance, Em).

Urban Artistry teaches me every day to be a student who is ready to learn. Those all-nighters from college turn into almost-all nighters in cyphers… riding the fumes of that inspiration to work a few hours later.

The research and thesis papers I wrote have paved the way for me to contribute to art grant proposals. My desire to learn to teach has been enhanced by being a student to such giving and patient artistic and operations directors.

I realize that I have surrounded myself with a dream team of educators to learn from and give back with- from music teachers, to SPED teachers, to life coaches and cultural ambassadors. Most recently, I realized how many layers of learning I was able to touch when I asked Urban Artistry to teach dance in my after-school program. I am used to doing homework help, art projects, and science projects with our youth, but to see them dance brings out a whole new side of them. Where they may hesitate to raise their hand to give an answer, they will raise it in a second to start a body wave. While they have down pat the dougie and the jerk, they had to learn to push themselves to learn old school hip hop moves. While they trust and test each other in the classroom, they had to re-explore that trust to get down with each other in cypher.

I am thankful everyday for having so many positive teaching role models and for being able to always be a student. Embrace all of who you are!

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