Mime Helps (2)
Mime Helps Students Unlock Inner Treasure


By SCOTT MITCHELL JOHSON,
Staff Writer, The Star-Herald,

May 2, 2007

Photocredit:
Scott Mitchell Johnson, The Star-Herald


Karen showing Faith Greer and Tara Brown of Zippel Elementary School "The Fixed Point," a mime routine used to help illustrate the importance of focusing.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - Last week, Karen Montanaro helped fifth-graders at Zippel Elementary School unlock their inner treasure. A professional solo performer who combines ballet, dance and mime, Montanaro spent Monday through Wednesday working with the students. Her visit to Presque Isle culminated with a school performance Thursday.

"It is my personal belief that every student I see has infinite potential and a treasure inside of them, and there are techniques for unlocking that treasure, and reasons why they don't unlock it," she said. "We talk about obstacles like fear... fear of making mistakes, fear of embarrassment, and I say that I have a few things that I've learned that have helped me at least approach my treasure that I'd like to share with them."

"It's been good," Montanaro said Wednesday of her experiences at Zippel. "The kids always leave my class energized. I keep re-emphasizing the point that this is about focusing. As long as you're focused on an idea - an idea that you choose - your body is going to do the right thing. The students don't need to worry about pass or fail as much as they notice what they're focusing on and follow through." Montanaro works out of Casco, but travels all over the world.
Mime Helps (4)
Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

(Right) HALE CUSHMAN, a fifth-grader at Zippel Elementary School, stretches his hands as much as possible during a workshop last Wednesday with Karen Montanaro, a professional solo performer who combines ballet, dance and mime. Montanaro used the techniques of mime and dance as tools for helping the students learn how to focus.

"I've done similar workshops with children in Taiwan, Japan, Israel and Europe," she said. "Movement is a universal language... that's one of the things I love about it, so the techniques are the same no matter where I go. I'm here to teach kids the simple techniques of mime and dance as tools for helping them focus," Montanaro said. "Focusing is something they can use no matter what they do. If they're sitting in math class and start feeling blurry, tired or confused, one thing they can do is sit up straight, take a deep breath, and actually turn on their focusing mechanism... like imagining you're in a cold shower, which will mobilize you and spark you up. They can do that in a math class."

Montanaro grew up in western Massachusetts and started her career as a ballet dancer. "By the time I was 12," Montanaro said, "I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. I made a lot of money, traveled all over the world, got lead roles, and then I started to get depressed and injured because I was overdoing the discipline. That's when I met my late husband, Tony Montanaro, who was a very famous mime artist. That was the beginning of my coming back to life," she said. "I've seen Baryshnikov dance and other people who can stun the world, but when I saw Tony, who was 60 years old and out of shape, and going through a divorce, move, it was absolutely pure magic. I thought, 'I have to know what this guy is doing." Through Tony's training, Montanaro said she learned how to "recapture my own impulses that had become so suppressed from the fear of making mistakes."

"It's energizing to stand up in front of a group," she said. "The students might be afraid of doing it, but as soon as they do, they feel great. It's a paradox... the very thing that they're afraid of is the thing that's going to liberate them. I see students make breakthroughs all the time, and that's what keeps me going."

Montanaro taught the children various mime routines including "The Fixed Point," "The Ladder Climb," "The Wall," and "The Illusionary Walk," which she described as the "granddaddy of the moonwalk." Student Bianca McGirt said Montanaro's workshop was very rewarding. "I enjoyed all of it," she said. "She told us to really focus and if we focused enough, we could do anything. Since the workshop, I've been practicing mime at home and I think that's helping me focus on the Terra Nova tests we're doing this week," said McGirt. "It was a lot of fun."
Mime
Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

(Right) KAREN MONTANARO, who travels all over the world teaching children how to focus by using the techniques of dance and mime, shows fifth-graders at Zippel Elementary School how to do the "Illusionary Walk," which she describes as the "granddaddy of the moonwalk."
Jeremy Shaw said he learned the importance of being able to focus on one thing at a time. "She wanted us to concentrate on one thing like a laser beam instead of being a light bulb that shines all around," he said. "We made a fist and put it out in front of us, and then we pulled away without moving our fist. That taught us to focus on just one thing, which is something we can do in math class." Shaw said the exercises were "harder than he thought they'd be."

"I still don't get how to do 'The Ladder Climb,'" he said, "but it was fun trying. I was a little bit shaky about doing it, but it was easier knowing that almost everyone else was trying it, too."

Josh Gordon learned that trying your best is what matters most. "If you try your hardest - 100 percent - there are no obstacles in academics or in life," he said. "I like to perform so it wasn't too awkward. It was fun doing the different exercises. I went home and showed my family what I learned. I had fun." Bonnie Corey agreed. "You have to focus on whatever you're doing," she said. "If you don't focus in school, you might get bad grades. She [Montanaro] also talked a lot about coordination. The exercises were harder than I thought they'd be. I'd never even seen a mime on TV before, so it was a new experience for me," said Corey. "It was fun and I learned a lot."

Teacher Robin Norsworthy said Montanaro's visit was funded through the Aroostook Partners in the Arts and the Zippel-Pine Street PTO. "Between the two organizations, they completely funded Karen coming up here," said Norsworthy. "My daughter, Heather, who taught for four years in the Spurwink School became friends with Karen and had her come into three of the schools in the Spurwink area. Once Heather saw Karen work with the students and perform, she called me and said, 'Mom, you have got to get her up there. She is one of the most amazing women I've ever seen. She was relentless on me doing this, so over the last six to eight months, we've worked to get Karen up here."

Norsworthy said because of the snow that feel in April, the students weren't able to get outside as much and needed something to help cure cabin fever. "We thought spring would be a good time for them to get up and start moving," she said. "Each workshop was for two hours, and it was non-stop movement and activity. She pushed them to do something they didn't think they could do, and they went beyond their own expectations."

"Sometimes students have a hard time staying focused," said Norsworthy, "but Karen taught them how to do that. I learned a lot, too. She made them feel good about themselves, to stop and listen, and calm down. That's an important lesson for everyone."
Mime Helps (3)
Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

(Right) PARTICIPATING in a stretching exercise as part of a workshop on focusing are, from left, Kayli Malenfant, Amanda Charette, Joel Tewksbury and Tyler Seeley. The workshop was led by Karen Montanaro, who travels all over the world helping students use the techniques of mime and dance as tools for helping them learn how to focus.


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