16 March, 2009

Where Does Individuality Fall in US Culture?

Last weekend I saw the documentary Ballerina with friends.  Two of us thought the movie was well done and the dancing… breath taking.  The third of us – Eastern European man – took a very different thought away from the movie.  He believes that it was not about dancing but about encouraging and building individual talent. 

The movie is about 5 dancers at different points of their ballet careers with the Kirov in St Petersburg, Russia.  These girls are the cream of the crop.  They competed with over a hundred girls for 30 spots in the school.  Out of a class of 30, only 15 graduate (approximately).  At that point, the girls (now women) are encouraged to find their own fire and bring their personal touch to the ballet. 

The personal touch is a feature of the arts.  The creative world often encourages and allows each to stray from the norm.  Convention is not as highly respected as is individualism.  A work of art reflects the soul of the artist – whether that be written art, visual art, or the performing art.  Art involves the individual.

I have seen this perspective throughout parts of Europe and in some aspects of Russian history.  I wonder though if we hold the same perspective in the United States?  Did we once?  Is this something that has changed?

Do we value individuality and creativity to the extent that we reward and encourage people to strive to leave their mark on the world?  Do we ask people to strive to use their passions and dreams to be all that they can be?


Do we ask people to color within the lines or to follow a drafted convention?  Do we teach our children to want to be like everyone else or do we encourage them to follow their own path?  Do we as adults strive to listen to the music that everyone else hears? 

My daughter dances with a boy who is now in 4th grade.  He loves ballet and is, in general, a sensitive and emotional child.  This year the boys have been picking on him due to his love of ballet.  They have picked on him to the point that he doesn’t want to go to class; he doesn’t want to do something he loves. 

It leaves me feeling sad.  This is a sweet kid with a true love of a beautiful art that has transcended centuries.  Rather than this being appreciated by his peers, it is being used against him as a means of teasing and perhaps bullying. 

I remember the more artistic boys being picked on in high school.  They have gone on to enjoy amazing careers in the arts, but it wasn’t due to any support they received from their peers.  They weren’t hurt as much as they were thought to be “odd” and ostracized. 

I find myself questioning the United States quite often of late.  Is there a place in our culture for the artistes?  Is there a place where this boy can be nurtured with his talent and passion fostered?  Is there room to teach our kids to appreciate individuality? 

As I question our culture and what we, as a society, are teaching our kids, my mom, a nationally certified teacher librarian may loose her job due to budget cuts.  She is the only librarian in her school district.  She teaches research, use of technology, and prepares, in her own way, kids for the world outside rural small town America.  Her job is at greater risk than that of the football coach. 

Right now, I am just not sure what to think… *sigh*



Anonymous said...

My mom was an art teacher, and still runs a summer art camp for kids, and a year-round program for elementary teachers to learn how to work art lessons into social studies curriculum (arts of Japan, arts of Mexico, etc.)

So - I've been taught all my life that creativity and uniqueness is to be valued. The value isn't usually monetary, but it's something deeper that resonates from within us, and resonates other people. Art touches the soul. And you can't put a price on that.

Does our society value it? In some forms, yes. Movies, music, dancing with the stars. In other forms, not so much any more.

L said...

I sure hope we don't let it slip away. I take comfort in the fact that most people I know believe this, too.