Cultural scene

Cultural Education: Dance Lessons that Change your Life

Countless institutions in Germany encourage young people with cultural projects.  Photo: Andreas Kasube © Planet KulturCountless institutions in Germany encourage young people with cultural projects.  Photo: Andreas Kasube © Planet KulturEducational success and social participation largely depend on one’s social background. Cultural education is important, particularly with regard to the integration.

One is afraid of getting involved with people, another is worried she might not pass her school-leaving exams. Another, a war refugee, has just arrived from Nigeria and is struggling to find his feet in his new life. None of these 250 children and young people, many of whom attend “problem schools” in Berlin, has any experience of classical music. But these dance lessons will change their lives. In just six weeks, they learn to dance Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. The feature film Rhythm is it – you can change your life in a dance class showcased the success of the Berlin Philharmonic’s first major education project – and prompted follow-up projects.

Cultural education is regarded as essential at all political levels. Photo: Andreas Kasube © Planet KulturCountless institutions in Germany are helping young people, particularly those from educationally disadvantaged families, to become actively involved in cultural forms of presentation. They include many public and independent bodies such as kindergartens, schools, theatres, libraries, museums and foundations. According to the Federal Association of Youth Art Schools and Cultural Education Institutions (bjke), “some 400 art schools for children and young people and cultural education institutions of all sizes” are involved. Following the findings of PISA and other studies, which highlighted the extent to which children’s and young peoples’ social backgrounds determine their educational opportunities and their possibilities for playing an active part in society, there has also been some rethinking in the political discussion, with new educational concepts being put on the agenda.

“A key factor for integration”

“Cultural education” is regarded as essential at all political levels and the National Integration Plan refers to it as a “key factor for integration”. Children and young people should engage in dialogue with one another through cultural activities, regardless of their background and their families’ educational capital, gain an understanding of the value of cultural diversity and become acquainted with possibilities of social inclusion through cultural reception and production.

Thus, schools are encouraged to cooperate with museums and orchestras and to bring people working in the field of culture into everyday classroom life. Municipal libraries offer a varied cultural programme, ranging from poetry slams to multicultural reading nights. Exhibitions present the environments of children and young people from different social and cultural backgrounds and talented youngsters learn creative forms of self-expression at art and music schools as well as at children’s and youth theatres. These relate to the children’s and young peoples’ environments while opening up new perspectives for artistic self-realisation and for generally shaping their lives.

Musical Project of Planet Kultur e.V.

Planet Kultur: The great prize that beckons is the audience’s applause at the Schauspiel Köln.  Photo: Christoph Seelbach © Schauspielhaus KölnSince 2004, the Cologne association Planet Kultur, for example, has been working with musically gifted unemployed young people who have left school without qualifications to put on their own musical version of a Shakespeare play each year. As well as using the traditional text, the linguistic, musical and dance backgrounds of the young people are included in songs or hip-hop inserts in Arabic. “Unlike in ordinary school, young people here are not measured by their difficulties and shortcomings, but by their talents,” reports Lisa Mehnert, who heads the project. It may happen that a youngster who is a talented dancer shares the role of Papageno with another who is a talented singer.

That not only makes the youngsters more self-confident but also promotes practical skills of relevance to everyday life. Reworking texts and learning them by heart trains linguistic skills, promotes creativity and requires discipline, team skills and tolerance. A motivating factor is that anyone not learning their steps or arriving late for rehearsals gets into trouble with the group. The great prize that beckons is the audience’s applause at the premiere at the Schauspiel Köln theatre.

“No talent may be lost”

At the Neuköllner Talente the focus lies on a 1:1 relationship.  Photo: Thomas Bruns © Neuköllner TalenteThe “Neuköllner Talente” project takes a different approach to promoting talent. The focus here lies not on group work but on a 1:1 relationship. Children from the Berlin “problem district” are assigned to a voluntary adult mentor with whom they undertake activities in weekly meetings. Depending on their inclination, the programme not only includes puppet theatre and playing the guitar, but also playing football or visiting a planetarium. Thus, youngsters can discover not only their artistic, but also their sporting or scientific talents. “Many children are permanently devalued in their development. No later than when their primary school recommends that they continue at a Hauptschule1, they know that they are on the fringes of society,” says Project Director Idil Efe. She hopes that in the meetings with their mentors, the children will discover their talents and interests and gain an insight into a wide variety of areas of work and life.

All these projects are based on the realisation that talents not only constitute great potential in a child’s development, but are also a resource for society as a whole. Thus, they make an important contribution towards the integration of disadvantaged people in Germany.

Janna Degener
works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
May 2010

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