When you talk with Maddie Kish about dance, you can hear the passion in her voice.
“The thing I love the most about dance is the bonds that I have with all of my friends, and especially with my teachers,” says 13-year-old Maddie. “They taught me a lot this year about how to be well rounded and respectful. It’s so much more than just dancing; it’s really a life lesson.”
Maddie started as a dance student at Fine Arts Association in Willoughby as a small child. Now, she’s a teenager and an incoming freshman at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin High School in Chardon.
Kish has taken classes in jazz, ballet, tap, hip-hop and contemporary dance, and she’s involved in several teen performance groups. Pre-COVID-19, she spent five days a week, and more than three hours a day in the studio at Fine Arts Association. Her mom says she’s been in ballet since she was 3, and she’s performed with the Moscow Ballet. Even during the quarantine, she has continued to take virtual classes online.
“For us, it’s always been an artistic outlet for her to be able to be creative and she explored every aspect of the fine arts,” says Maddie’s mother, Marcia Kish, who also serves as a special projects coordinator at Fine Arts Association. “For me, it’s important for my daughter to be well rounded and engaged. There are a lot of pressures in life on kids in general, and for her to be able to have that creative outlet is vital.”
Children and adults learn differently, obtain information differently and communicate differently, says Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, executive director, Fairmount Center for the Arts. The arts can help people bridge those communication gaps.
“We know the arts are the gateway that open the door that will allow us to communicate with each other,” she says. “The other thing is we know that the arts simply provide opportunities for children to learn academic skills. If we’re in theater, we learn things about expression, building confidence, characterization and reading comprehension. All of those things are skills you learn.”
The arts also help children understand and express themselves better, Fleming-Gifford says.
“The arts are another tool in our lives that we can help people, and specifically children, grow and become the best selves that they can be,” she says. “Plus, there’s that connection with each other, the connection to work as a group to accomplish a common goal, whether we are working on a dance piece collaboratively, or whether we are creating a mural.”
Josh Vasko, 11, is a dancer at Fairmount Center for the Arts. He’s been taking dance classes for two years. He’s taken hip-hop, ballet, contemporary and jazz. Going into the sixth grade this year in Chagrin Falls, he became interested in dance when his sister, Lauren, 13, started taking hip-hop classes and encouraged him to try them.
“I know not a lot of boys do dance, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that even if people make fun of you, it’s OK to do what you like,” Josh Vasko says.
He says more girls than boys take dance, but he knows some boys like him really enjoy doing dance and they want to keep doing it.
Miriam Vasko, Josh’s mom, says dance is a good discipline for her son. It allows him to practice following instructions and fosters a love of learning.
“The kids always want to perfect their art, so they are always striving to do better,” says Miriam Vasko.
She says that could apply to painting, music or any of the other arts the Fairmount Center offers. Josh’s sister, Lauren has also taken hip-hop, ballet and contemporary at Fairmount Center for the Arts. Josh also has a twin brother Jacob, 11, who loves sports.
“The arts definitely allow them to express their creativity. If you watch one of their performances, for instance, they all express it just a little bit differently, even though they all are doing the same dance, and they’re all in unison, but you can see little personal touches about each of them, which I think is nice to see,” says Miriam Vasko, “It’s nice to see a little bit of their personality in their dance.”
With the Beck Center’s Creative Arts Therapies program, for example, students, parents and teachers have experienced various benefits as a result of being involved in the arts. Students learn the art skill as well as other daily living skills.
“They are using the art form to improve their quality of life, and it’s an outlet for that, or it’s teaching them a skill,” says Ed Gallagher, director of education, at Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood. Beck Center offers classes in dance, Creative Arts Therapies, music, theater, visual arts as well as early childhood arts education courses.
Students learn communication, academic, motor, emotional and social skills, which often complement their in-school curriculum. Other benefits include building confidence, allowing for self-expression and providing a sense of belonging.
“The thing that I’m excited about with the arts and proud of in the arts is it’s a place for so many people with so many interest levels that come together and be themselves,” Gallagher says.
Graeme Ogilvy, 8, has been a part of the Creative Arts Therapies program for three years and looks forward to his weekly lessons with Music Therapist Michael Simile.
He enjoys music and has played the guitar, ukulele, drums and keyboard. Ogilvy was also recently featured in a YouTube video that promotes the Beck Center’s Creative Arts Therapies program.
“Music has become a big part of our family, helping Graeme regulate his emotions, and it has also been a big help with his confidence, too,” says Dan Ogilvy, Graeme’s dad.
Graeme is a rising third grader. Three years ago, his parents were looking for ways to meet his sensory needs and manage his anxiety as he transitioned out of occupational therapy.
Since he was an infant, Graeme has connected with music. He started taking lessons at the Beck Center when he was 5, and now music has become an important part of his daily routine.
“We were thinking this is something he can do all through his adult life, whether he’s on a stage or not,” says his mother, Emily Ogilvy. “If he has the instrument and the tools, it creates access for him no matter what age he is. It’s something he can take with him forever.”
The Ogilvys have three children: Graeme, Annabelle, 5, and Rory, 1. Annabelle takes ballet classes at Beck Center and started taking classes when she was three.
Writing as Art
Creative writing and expression are the focus at Lake Erie Ink: A Writing Space for Youth, which typically offers on-site after school writing programs, where kids can also work on and get support with their homework.
“We try to take writing and put it in a playful zone, so kids are having fun while they are becoming better communicators,” says Cynthia Larsen, education director at Lake Erie Ink, which also offers weekend programs, in-person summer camps, evening programs for teens and college essay programs. It also hosts an annual Kids’ Comic Con.
“One of the best ways to engage kids who don’t think they want to be involved in creative writing is to start with comics,” she says.
Much of what kids do at Lake Erie Ink is about choice and diverse types of writing that are not offered during the school day, such as creating comics, writing a play, acting in a play, creating puppets and telling their stories.
“What we do, whether it’s in school or outside of school, is we try to give kids as many choices as we can in terms of what they say and how they say it,” Larsen says, “If you have a kid that loves science-fiction and fantasy, they are not going to get to write that very often, because it’s not on the (standardized) test. If you have kids who like to draw comics, they may be respected as an artist by all their peers, but it’s very hard for anyone to ever see their work published, unless they are involved in a program like ours, where we can get their work into anthologies and post their work on our website, social media channels and things like that,” says Larsen.
As part of the art therapy program of the Arts & Medicine Institute at Cleveland Clinic, kids also have experienced benefits by engaging with the arts.
“We found a need for art therapy services in our children’s hospital because art is such a universal way that children communicate,” says Meredith McCulloch, art therapist at Cleveland Clinic. “We do see patients from both within the community and around the world, so language and cultural barriers that otherwise might make it difficult to help children aren’t as much of an impediment when you are using art and music. Those are ways kids express themselves around the world.”
In addition to helping children express themselves and self regulate, art helps them develop a positive association to being in the hospital and receiving medical treatment, McCulloch says. They don’t associate the hospital only with a place that they’re experiencing fear and pain, so it’s helpful for them to be more cooperative with their care when they are relaxed and trust their caregivers.
Virtual and In-Person Class Options
Options abound in the age of COVID-19. Most arts organizations are offering both in-person and virtual class options.
“We’re going to do a hybrid mix between in-person and online classes, and depending on which program, that might look a little differently,” says Jackie DiFrangia, education coordinator, Fine Arts Association.
For example, music lessons are typically one-on-one with an instructor and a student.
“Each student will have the option,” says DiFrangia. “If they are comfortable coming into the building and their teacher is also comfortable coming into the building, they are welcome to come in, but then again, if somebody wants to stay online and stay home, they also can do that.”
For in-person offerings, arts centers are following state guidelines for social distancing and increasing cleaning.
“In all of our classrooms, we have measured out how many students can be in each class, while still keeping social distancing, so maybe, the in-person classes will be much smaller, but we’re still going to open it up for students,” DiFrangia says.
Parents should check with each arts facility to find out more about class schedules and options for virtual and in-person offerings. Most arts centers have expanded their reach and engaged new audiences with the addition of the virtual programming.