Baan Vieng Ping Dance Workshops Jul 22 & 27

“I love you,” says one of my students, Aun, as I try to teach them how to “spot” while turning (a classic lesson for any dancer). I respond with a laugh, knowing that her motive for repeating this and other sweet little English phrases, e.g. “I miss you,” is more likely to amuse herself than to bolster my self esteem. Once and a while, I decide not to leave her expressed sentiments unrequited and respond sincerely that I love her too, causing a burst of giggles to break out amongst the girls as they dutifully follow me in our routine sun salutations.

So far we have still been working on basic technique and experimenting with different themes, such as “pathways in space” and “levels and shapes.” Every class teaches me something new about the ways in which the girls learn and dance best, what interests and excites them, and even what makes them flat-out bored. I wish that I could have more time with them in order to continue this process of mutual learning, but our workshops go quickly and we only have 4 scheduled classes left before their performance. That is likely to change, however, because last night the girls eagerly suggested that we add Fridays and Sundays to our schedule; I assented to this, happy to see that they were so motivated and interested though a bit sad to give up such opportune days of rest.

The choreography and concept for their final performance is still being formed in my imagination. I’m working off of some movement that we have made together in class and trying to incorporate aspects of their stylistic preferences, which challenges me to choreograph in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. I look back to the grant proposals that I wrote months ago for Princeton, in which I spoke of creating fusions of Thai classical and folk dance and Modern (western) dance with my students, and here I am with 10 teenage girls whose main dance experience and interest is Thai break-dancing. Fortunately, I’ve forgotten most expectations about what this whole experience “should be” and have happily embraced the flow of life and creativity here in Chiang Mai.


Baan Piranan and Hope Home, July 23 & 24

After a brief hiatus from our weekly Baan Piranan visits, we were back on Thursday for some fun umbrella painting! On our way there we stopped at a big hand-crafted umbrella store and we purchased some plain, white umbrellas for Wichai, Nong Mai, and Joop Jang, the newest addition to the Baan Piranan family. We had never worked with Joop Jang before, and when we arrived she was very tired and sore from her physical therapy, but we still tried to cheer her up and have her try painting. Wichai was also a bit tired and sick, though he brightened up when whirling his brush around a spinning umbrella. Nong Mai was giggly and delighted as ever to be painting and playing with moroccas and tambourines. Their umbrellas turned out beautifully!

Today, Friday, we held our third and most successful workshop at Hope Home. We had two wonderful visitors who wanted to volunteer for the day, so the extra hands made it even easier and more enjoyable for everyone. After last week's painting fiasco, we decided to try different media--glue sticks and colored crepe paper. The theme was "Under the Sea" and we had prepared stenciled drawings of a fish and air bubbles rising from its mouth for each child. They tore the colored crepe paper, crinkled it up, and glued it within the outlines of the fish. Some, especially the twin boys, were more interested in gliding the glue stick around than using the paper. Two of the disabled children, Natalie and Sassy, were also able to participate in the art project.

The next activity was Freeze Dance...not exactly part of the "under the sea" theme, but very fun and good for everyone. It took a few minutes to get the children to dance, but eventually all ages were bouncing around to James Brown. Afterwards Verena and I began blowing bubbles for the children, who ran around trying to pop them. I would hold out the bubble stick and mutiple faces with pursed lips would lean in and emit their strongest blow. It was very adorable.

Meanwhile, Jeannie continued to work with Pat, singing for him and playing instruments. He was tired but very content in her lap. Pancake was resting quietly in Kristy's arms for the whole time, and Phil was taken for a stroll by Tanya, one of the visiting volunteers.



Mosaics at Freedom House

Yesterday we had a long day. After we had worked in the office we went to Freedom House, an education center for Burmese refugees. Freedom House had just opened a cafe (where you can get amazing fruit shakes!) and wanted to create decoration for it. As we had done a mosaic workshop before, we were hooked on creating mosaics and decided to do it again.

The challenge was to do it within two hours from 6 to 8 pm and not within one day like the first time. When Moon, one of the volunteers at Freedom House, told us that the students usually are twenty minutes late but have to leave on time, the challenge seemed to be even more difficult. However the workshop ran well.

When most of the students had arrived, we started to explain to them step by step how to create a mosaic. As compliant as students in Thailand always are they worked very quickly on their designs and didn't hesitate to help each other. So we were able to start the grouting at 7 pm, which is around the time when it is getting dark in Thailand. We had to hurry up because we did the grouting outside and didn't have any artificial light with us. As grouting is a messy process it was done by the older students while the younger ones stayed inside the house and were pretending to be princesses.
When the students had to leave at 8 pm the grouting was almost done, but the cleaning part was left. We waited and waited, but the grout didn't dry, so we couldn't clean it. At 9 pm we decided to pack up and to come back the next day.

So today we spent our morning at Freedom House cleaning mosaics. It was a satisfying feeling to watch the tiles being removed from the grout and to see beautiful mosaics in the end. Now we are excited to see how they will be arranged in the Cafe of Freedom House.

Eva's Dance Workshops at Baan Vieng Ping

After a slow start with the administrators at Baan Vieng Ping orphanage, the dance workshops for the teenage girls have finally begun! With the help of Amp I taught the first class on Sunday and though it went well, I could tell that I needed to alter my approach to the structure and purpose of the class. I suppose that months of planning and thinking had planted a certain idyllic vision in my head, one of more mature teenage girls who were ready to address their life experiences and deep hopes through dance and art. I'm not diminishing the quality of the students that I do have, just admitting that I had not expected 14-17 yr. olds to seem so young and to have the rowdy personalities and "tough" persona that they do.

On Monday morning I developed a rough time line of our subsequent workshops. We will have 8 classes total, meeting twice a week on Monday and Wednesday evenings after they get out of school and I get out of work here at the CCT office. We will then have a performance on Wednesday August 12, which is Mothers Day in Thailand--a special day at the orphanage. The goal of our workshops is to generate a short dance that abstractly expresses memories of their past and hopes for their future. Hence, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

I arrived at the second workshop on Monday night more prepared, though more nervous. No Mi was my assistant that night and she and I had spent the half-hour tuk-tuk ride to the orphanage discussing how we were going to manage the language barrier (which had seemed significant to me on Sunday when I was relying on Amp so much for translation). Flashbacks to my own high school years reminded me of how miserable Mondays could feel and I wondered if they would be engaged or too tired.

To my surprise and absolute delight, they were in a great mood and very enthusiastic about the class. We were able to communicate with one another and I felt a deeper connection with them. Though I may mis-pronounce or forget their names, they do the same with mine, and we can all laugh hysterically about it together. By using a specific theme to direct the quality of movement (for this class, it was "push and pull"), I was able to guide them more effectively towards improvement. They are starting to grasp the nuances of certain exercises, but most importantly, they are really enjoying themselves.

I had the 10 girls who are officially in the class-- I specify here because I have many little ones who like to come watch or participate or bring me warm milk--fill out a questionnaire before they left to do homework and get ready for bed. This morning Amp helped me to read through them because I couldn't read their answers in Thai and were amused by their cute answers. Each one loves singing and the color black and thai hiphop/pop music. I have to incorporate these preferences into the class somehow...maybe we can break dance to a re-mixed version of "Do Re Mi" from Sound of Music while wearing jumpers made from black curtains? I have been told that I resemble Julie Andrews...


Hope Home, July 17

The end of a very hectic week brought us back to Hope Home for another day of painting and playing. This week, our theme of the workshop was "textures." In theory, we wanted to have the children feel different textures and incite their tactile curiousity, and then use those same textured objects, e.g. leaves, petals, rambutans (hairy pink fruit), as painted stamps. In actuality, this wasn't the most successful project for their ages and abilities, but we learned some important lessons and still had a wonderful time with them.

Boonrat, a 6 year-old with cerebral Palsy, loves to paint and has a good amount of control over the brush. You can see his eyes scanning his paper to see where else he'd like to make a mark and he often smiles when his brush, thick with newly applied paint, strikes anew on the page. Sometimes he will stop to observe the other children around him, like an infant, Pancake, who was playing across from him. Pancake is as cute as her name suggests, though her blindness makes her more vulnerable. Today, with No Mi's help, she even tried painting! Pat is a young blind child with cerebral palsy. He responded wonderfully today to the noise of a rubber ducky, singing, and cradling. It is wonderFULL to see each child progress and grow each time we meet.


Wat Pa Pao Exquisite Body

we visit
Wat Pa Pao,

We go to town
With Jackson and Brown!

Skip with your head
Sing with your legs
Swing with your belly
We all dance like jelly!

Paper folded
Bodies moulded
Colored markers transcend years,

Wave good bye
Exchange a Wai
Away we fly with Ben, Cheers!


Hope Home, July 10

On Friday, we held our first workshop at Hope Home, a small center for children with disabilities. We, the three new Canvas Art volunteers, No Mi, Jeannie, and Eva, were there to execute our first lesson plan, which was a simple introduction to painting and musical therapy. The seven permanent residents of Hope Home are all under the age of 6 and had never participated in CAP before. Their disabilities are the result of cerebral palsy, fetal
alcohol syndrome, and blindness. We tried to find ways of adaptating the lesson to each child's needs and preferences.

When we arrived, we discovered that we would be working with 5 extra children from a local nursery school. However, we soon also discovered that Hope Home is so full of love and cooperation that connecting with each disabled child as we had hoped and simultaneously engaging the other children were very manageable and absolutely inspiring tasks. When helping one child down the slide or guiding another's paint brush to the paper, we could also catch a glimpse of another volunteer lulling an infant to sleep or hear the soft voice of a friend singing to a child resting in her lap. These were moments of calm, unspeakable joy amidst a ruckus of running, giggling, maraca-playing, and painting. This was our first delicious day working at Hope Home with many more to come!


Creating mosaics - an intercultural challenge

Last night I couldn't sleep well, because I was too excited about the workshop today: "Will it run well? Will everyone enjoy it?", these questions were in my mind. Now I can answer them: YES!

After a busy week full of prep work we had a great workshop.

This morning two vans arrived at the CCT office and nine teenagers from an international school in Malaysia got out of them. Their challenge today was to learn how to create mosaics and to teach it to the residents at Wildflowers, a home for single-mothers. The outcome was to be beautiful mosaic-seating for the meditation centre at Wildflowers.

At the office we first demonstrated to them the complete process of creating mosaics and taught them the names for colours in Thai which was to help them with their teamwork with the mothers in the afternoon. After discussing how they wanted to arrange the mosaic seatings in the meditation centre, each student had to draw a design on a sheet of paper. They all put alot of creativity into this step.
In the afternoon the workshop took place at Wildflowers. The students paired up with the mothers and had to explain to them how to lay down tiles on the paper according to the design. Some of the mothers could speak English, some couldn't, so it was a challenge for the students but they managed it well.
The mothers and the students created beautiful mosaics which they had to grout afterwards. The pairs used sheets of contact paper to stick the tiles on and to lay down the mosaics on the cement blocks, onto which they had already coated a bottom layer of grout. When the tiles had been stuck to the grout, they removed the contact paper and had to wait about 20 minutes to give the grout time to dry.
While waiting, the participants got together and had a good time with sweets, nice chats and cute babys. Afterwards they then had to coat a second layer of grout onto the mosaics to fill in the joints between the tiles. The second last step was to clean the excess grout from the tiles.

The last step was to clean up. As we offered them grout in different colours they had nice decorations in blue, green, red and white on their faces, on their clothes and everywhere else. In spite of language and cultural borders the teamwork between the mothers and the schoolkids worked very well, so the outcome of this workshop is beautiful seating and memories of a good time. Verena.