Last Wednesday I got an idea. After weeks of teaching kids dance classes, I noticed a standout dancer who became a natural leader amongst her peers (catching on quickly to each taught and then immediately helping her peers.) It seemed pretty natural, then, to give her a bit of terrain on which to develop as a creative leader. I pulled her aside on Wednesday evening and asked if she’d like to help me choreograph a dance to one of her favorite songs. She was giddy about the idea and immediately said yes. We agreed on the song and I asked her to prepare a few ideas by the weekend. I was surprised (and delighted!) when I showed up on Thursday afternoon to find a group of students at the center already dancing! She’d planned the entire song in one evening and had already begun teaching it to her friends at the center.
Thursday night we had to peel the students away from the Eli Africa backyard theater, where they were dancing to the new choreography. (Girls were dancing, boys were dancing, even the teaching fellows were dancing!) The music was loud and the laughs were louder. I was especially giddy about three students who have been rather shy to dance in regular classes. Under the direction of their peer, they danced like champs.
Current patterns like this at the Eli Africa Center thrill me (and they are happening on many fronts.) An indicator of success: at the end of any given day at the center, the kids don’t seem to want to leave. (First we have to shut off the light and lock the doors… “Kids, it’s time to go!”) They are invested in the work we’re doing, and in the positive company they are finding in one another. They’re smiling. They’re laughing. They’re talking. They’re moving. And they are being challenged in some intensely exciting ways.
Yesterday I abandoned all of my lesson plans for the day. The kids arrived and were ecstatic to keep working on their friend’s dance. I set aside the choreography I had prepared and the kids picked up where they’d left off the previous day. My lessons can take a momentary backseat, because watching kids blossom on their own and slowly evolve into happy, confident, autonomous artists is something to which I have zero objections.