The performing arts can have huge benefits for children and young adults, acting as a release from the stresses of class and homework, as well as all the other pressures of school and home life young people face growing up. Singing, acting, dancing or playing an instrument can also help build confidence in a young person and act as a healthy channel for self-expression and creativity. For international schools, performing arts can also be an ideal way to demonstrate the importance of both local traditions and culture as well as the more international influences we all know today in our increasingly globalized world.
Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA) has taken all of these factors into account to create a thriving performing arts program the takes center stage in many aspects of school life. Highlights of the school year include the annual talent shows, the grade 10 musical, and the regular BWYA Evening of Arts, which take place every semester. In the classroom, even subjects such as Chinese Literature benefit from a performance aspect with students showing a deep understanding of the texts they are studying by adapting them for the stage or, in some cases, writing their own dramas. The young learners at BWYA’s Primary School also make sure they get in on the act with their Winter and Summer Festival concerts as well as the weekly Drama Club.
BWYA has also found that its performing arts program is a fantastic way to make sure that students of all ages are benefiting from exposure to both traditional local culture and more international performing arts, in line with BWYA’s school motto, ‘locally grounded, globally aware,’ with regular music and drama classes exposing students to performances in a wide array of styles and genres.
Ruby Yang and Simba Tang are two students that have a passion for traditional Chinese performing arts. Still only in grade 2, Ruby and Simba both have a passion for Peking Opera that they love to share with their classmates. Both of them performed at the BWYA Primary School Winter Festival at The Beijing Theatre recently, wearing fantastic traditional costumes and make-up.
“I love to wear the costumes and to do my hair and make-up,” explains Ruby, who has been performing Peking Opera since she was 5 years old. “At my first class the teacher taught me how to use my voice and sing properly and it was lots of fun. I asked my mum if I could keep going and she said yes. Performing on the big stage for the Winter Festival was amazing!” “I love the make-up as well,” agrees Simba. “And I really enjoy doing the voices for different characters. I have been learning Peking Opera since I was 5 too and it’s really cool and amazing. I wasn’t nervous at all for the Winter Festival. I went backstage and it was really exciting and then the curtains opened and I was really happy!”
Many of BWYA’s regular classes include an element of performing arts and public speaking. Students are regularly asked to produce plays or performances based on the books they are reading or the Unit of Inquiry they are studying. This not only helps increase understanding of the topic but helps to build confidence and adds an element of fun to the classroom.
One student who isn’t short of confidence is Sean Chai, who could likely be the youngest stand-up comedian in Beijing. Still only in grade 3, Sean loves to mix up the traditional and the modern to write his own spoken-word performances. He performed at this year’s Winter Festival.
“Last year I performed a traditional Chinese poem,” said Sean. “But this year I wanted to write something myself so I wrote a comedy routine. I love Chinese cross-talk on TV and comedians who make jokes so I thought I would try. My routine was called ‘Crazy Mum, Wonderful Dad, and Teacher Who Loves Rules.’ It took me one week to write it and then I practiced it two times a day every day.”
“The big stage was a little bit scary but with the light on me I couldn’t see the audience and that was good for me. I have done Winter Festival three times and the whole school Talent Show two times but it’s still a little bit scary. I think it’s nice to share your talent though.”
The School orchestra regularly provide the soundtrack to school events, and are frequently invited to perform in the wider community, acting as ambassadors for the School. BWYA’s music program also encourages students to pursue their own style and express themselves.
Mia Zhang is a grade 7 student at BWYA’s Lido Campus. Mia is interested in both traditional and modern music and recently performed some traditional Chinese music on her pipa, a string instrument that resembles a lute or guitar that dates back to the 1st century AD.
“I’ve been playing the pipa for six years now,” says Mia. “My sister also plays the pipa and when I use to hear her practice I thought the sound was beautiful so I wanted to learn to play it myself. It’s a little difficult to play the pipa but the feeling I get inside when I play makes me want to play more and more. I decided to play in the talent show because I wanted more people to get to know about the pipa and how it sounds.”
As well as respecting local culture and traditions, some students take their inspiration from more international sources.
Alex Zhou and Shawn Guo, both in grade 10, haven’t been performing together for very long, but already they have used their talents to bring together influences from all over the world to create a very special act.
“I play the piano and sing,” explains Shawn, “and I beat-box” adds Alex. They came up for the idea behind their act when they were playing around on a piano one day and improvising. This led to them creating their own version of the famous pop song Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, by the French dance music duo, Daft Punk.
“Our biggest challenge was making it all fit,” said Alex. “Trying to get the beatbox, singing and piano to all line up took a lot of practice but it was also a lot of fun to do.
“Shawn and I are good friends so it was not a problem to spend the time together, although it was difficult to balance the time practicing with all our school work. We are both in grade 10 and we’ve had lots of assessments recently. But we were determined to put together a good performance and make it to this year’s talent show. We must have put in over 40 hours of practice.”
“Every time we practiced it came out a little different,” adds Shawn. “We were both performing for the first time at the recent Wolves Talent Show and we were a little nervous beforehand, but really excited as well. We didn’t have any expectations, we just wanted to do our best and hopefully, people would enjoy it.”
Dancer, Sophia Strelnikova, is another performer who takes inspiration from around the world to express herself with her talent. “I have been a dancer for a long time. I started out doing ballet but moved on to other styles that I enjoyed a lot more,” said Sophia who is in grade 8 at BWYA’s Wangjing Campus. “I started hip hop dance three years ago and I love it. The ballet really helps though. It has been a great foundation to my dancing and some of the skills required, and things like stretching exercises that you need to do, have all helped me as a hip-hop dancer. I love to choreograph my own routines and shows like the BWYA talent show give me the opportunity to dance in front of my friends and may inspire other students to start dancing as well. The audition for the show was great. It was judged by some of our teachers and they gave me some really useful feedback on how I could improve my performance even more.”
Whatever a student’s talent or passion, and wherever they take their inspiration from, international schools like BWYA are providing platforms for young performers to express themselves, and entertain the wider school community at the same time. And if all the world is indeed a stage, BWYA’s performing arts program is helping their students grow in confidence as that stage gets bigger. It helps them develop valuable skills, such as public speaking, which will be with them for life, and last, but by no means least, it ties in with BWYA’s school motto ensuring that our students remain ‘locally grounded’ and ‘globally aware’.
This post is provided by Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA)
Photos courtesy of Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA), with thanks to BWYA parents Mr. Chi Hong, Ms. Jenny Zhao, and Ms. Jessica Wang, as well as students Jason Chen and Amanda Zhang