Something Magical: Arist in Residence Program

Reprinted from Maine Arts Mag,
The official publication of the Maine Arts Commission

Winter 2006

Every year the Maine Arts Commission supports both artists and school systems through its Partners in Arts & Learning Program. This is the story of one of those projects. In September of last year, world-renowned ballerina and mime Karen Montanaro spent seven days with elementary school students in the Maine communities of Alfred, Limerick, Lyman, Newfield, Shapleigh, and Waterboro.

Imagine a school day so exhilarating that students were still buzzing about it even as they headed for home. That is exactly what happened for seven full days last September in the southern Maine elementary schools of Maine School Administrative District (MSAD) 57. As students boarded their buses, the teachers could not help but notice that something unusual was going on. Some of the students were trying to "speak" without using words. They were practicing the mime techniques they had just learned from Karen Montanaro.

"I would like to say that the program was simply outstanding,"
says Shapleigh Memorial School Principal Cynthia Kostis. "Our entire school got into the swing of things. Mrs. Montanaro is a great role model for our children and the audience was mesmerized.

It is no accident that school officials were impressed. Montanaro's workshops required a lot of planning. Long before the event, she met with teachers to learn about their expectations and incorporate them into the workshops. The teachers said they wanted the entire school involved in the program. Montanaro agreed and explained she would be using a technique she calls "Body Based Learning." It is a course based on her years of working together with her late husband, professional mime Tony Montanaro.

"Many teachers and administrators think of mime as just an art form. I try to teach them that mime can have a direct application to their curriculum," says Montanaro.

Her program began each day by meeting with third grade classes. With her pointe shoes laced and ready, she gave the students a brief demonstration of ballet.

"Ballet takes years to learn," Montanaro told the students. "But you can become a master mime in just seconds. All you have to do is pay attention."

It worked. In just minutes, Montanaro had an entire room of students practicing basic mime techniques such as holding their hands perfectly in place. They were definitely paying attention.

"Physical movements and exercises are the best way to cultivate the art of paying attention because the payoff is instant. If they are doing a mime illusion, they see the magic of holding their fists in one place without moving a molecule," Montanaro says.

Residency (Image)

The day was far from over. Montanaro next met with students, up to 60 at a time, to rehearse for an afternoon assembly in which they would perform for the whole school. A small group of teachers also met with Montanaro separately for a surprise soccer comedy skit to be performed at the assembly.

Sixty students performing together sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Montanaro uses the words "chaos" and "order" to her advantage. Instead of ordering the students into their places, she showed them through mime and body language the difference between chaos and order. They followed with their own mime versions of chaos and order. The end result? An entire gymnasium becomes "ordered." The students performed and the audience joined in.

"The third graders in Lyman Elementary were delighted to learn the difference between body chaos and body control," says Lyman Elementary School third grade teacher Hillary Zayed. "They did very well being able to tell the difference and then demonstrate it. This is a language we continue to use in the classroom daily."

Recently Montanaro reflected on her week spent with the students of MSAD 57.

"Even in the early stages, I felt there was something magical about this residency. I was entering a situation where high expectations were cultivated, facilitated, met and appreciated."

The Maine Arts Commission's Partners in Arts & Learning Program will continue in MSAD 57 through 2008.

This year Karen Montanaro is once again working with hundreds of students of all ages both in Maine and across the country.

For more information on the Maine Arts Commission's Partners in Arts & Learning program please contact:

Paul Faria at 207-287-2790 direct line, email or TTY/NexTalk 877-887-3878 User ID: paul.faria

PHOTOS by Mary Doyle

Maine Arts Commission

Return to School Programs.


Karen's Public Speaking Program

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Photocredit: George C. Anderson

Karen on stool image

A Visit to Sanford (News Article)
Photocredit: Argy Nestor

Students Learn Mime

Bringing Magic (News Article)
Photocredit: Times Record

School Assemblies Image
School Assemblies Click Here!
Photocredit: The Sun Journal

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Struggle to Be Image

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Concert Image
Concerts CLICK HERE!

Karen Teaching
Workshops CLICK HERE!

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Presenter Resources CLICK HERE!

Karen with Marcel Marceau
Karen with Marcel Marceau
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