The World Alliance for Arts Education and UNESCO share an inspiring message for International Arts Education Week (23–29 May) by Li Cunxin (Mao's Last Dancer), Artistic Director, Queensland Ballet:
In a world of constant pressures, of noise, of expectations and distractions, art can be the thing that sustains us. Art has the capacity to take us to another world; allows an escape even if just for a moment. Be it in a gallery, a theatre, a music studio or on the street, art is a powerful thing. It has the power to transform, to transport, to enrich and therefore, sustain.
My world of ballet is one such artform. In my experience ballet, and the personal nature of creative expression, is a power like no other. I truly believe ballet can sustain communities by enriching lives through prioritising physical and mental wellbeing, connecting diverse communities with each other and bridging socio-cultural divides.
True art should not exclude, it should invite all to explore, experience and enjoy. Ballet can do just that. Ballet develops individual skills such as confidence, creativity, reflection, determination, persistence, and resilience. It encourages a drive for excellence and can develop skills that can sustain us for life, with many great artists taking on leadership roles and becoming shapers of society.
I would not be the dancer I became or the person I am today without the incredible arts education I received as a young person. Knowing how vital that training was to me, I have long been committed to the development of young people in the arts. It’s something that is at the very heart of my vision personally and professionally. A key part of that development is finding what makes people passionate.
Passion is the most important thing in achieving one’s best and is what sustains one in reaching for a goal. Passion made me work harder than most, passion made me hungry and drove me to pursue perfection and excellence. To catch up to my fellow classmates and to improve, I often woke up at 5am or earlier to practice, hopping one-legged with sandbags strapped to my ankles and pirouetting under the candle lights to gain the necessary muscle strength for jumping and turning, I did this for years. Hard work paid off, I graduated as one of the top dancers in China and the rest is history.
I found my passion for ballet thanks to an incredible teacher I had, Teacher Xiao. I credit Teacher Xiao with changing my outlook on life, for inspiring me, for making me who I am today and for igniting my passion. That passion for ballet was what sustained me through years of being away from my family, through all the challenges and hard work.
I hope many others will benefit from arts education like I have. They may not all grace the stage, but I do believe it will transform their lives and the lives of those around them. I do believe arts education will not only help sustain our precious artforms but also our communities. Creating passionate people that strive to understand, respect and challenge each other.