Playful Expressions: Cross-cultural Examinations of Creativity

In a loud voice, say your name and make a movement!” my voice rang in that camp counselor sort of way. “I’m Lian”, I proclaimed, with a grand shake of my arms and legs. I fully expected the following rush of giggles. However, I also anticipated that as we made our way around the circle, some budding creativity would bubble up through the inevitable ten year old shyness. Instead, I stood waiting for the cringing girl next to me to utter her name. We slowly got around the circle with whispers of names and dainty, mimicked movements punctuated by the aberrant self-confident child. With a few exceptions, everyone was trying to draw the least amount of attention to themselves as possible.

After the introduction acti

vity, the kids all seemed to loosen up. As we sang our way through different harmonies and dynamics, I could see glimmers of enjoyment and playfulness in their eyes. Self-expression and rhythmic leadership activities shook up what is typically a rote and copy curriculum, and many of them were far more engaged than they would otherwise be at school. Why then the reticent trepidation?

Circle up kids

Here in Yarinacocha, many parents didn’t have access to an education or the opportunities it yields. Consequently they prioritize their children’s formal education so that they can get jobs that pay above minimum wage. Diversity of classes, access to arts, and interactive teaching is not what’s important.

Similarly, where I grew up–and for many middle class communities in the US–when we think about the importance of education, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t typically art class or the wacky music teacher who makes the kids shake and giggle. The difference however, is that many middle class American children have access to these spaces where people encourage them to create, express, and develop their own unique ideas.

As we sang, clapped, and danced, I realized that in the US, we often assume that children want to and more importantly, know how, to play creatively. But this harnessing of creative potential to sing and move our bodies in new ways not only takes self-confidence but also practice and encouragement. And in a school system where kids spend more time copying lines than they do using their creative problem solving skills or opinions, there has been very little of either.

Lian dance

During “musical papers”–musical “chairs” (papers) with an emphasis on dancing–the children would really dance when I grabbed their hands, twirled them, and gave them personal attention. But the moment I left, their dancing would subside into a bouncing trot. While totally doable and appropriate with an adult, dancing became a daunting task when left alone. Especially with the older kids, I noticed that peer pressure seemed to get in the way of free expression, which I’ve seen many times working with teens in other countries as well.

Perhaps we are all guilty of crediting the quality of an education to the subject matter and how well we regurgitate it on to an exam rather than the realizations and epiphanies that come with meaningful personal attention and creative expression. Cultivating the potential of the individual student through artistic expression is something that would benefit children of all backgrounds. With the value of education deeply ingrained in Yarinacocha, hopefully the next step can be an incorporation of spaces and leaders that promote creative and personal development.

It was a pleasure working with Alianza Arkana. Special thanks to Lily, Rebeca, and Rebecca who helped coordinate, lead, and translate the workshop. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and this warm community!!

Lian Caspi is a Watson Fellow who volunteered with Alianza Arkana.

(Posted by, Lian Caspi, Friday, 25 July 2014)

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