Draw Dance Revolution: Connecting with Malaysian Students Through the Arts

Guest Article by Tina Lee
Seattle University

SMK Anjung Batu Earth Day Mural. Completed in April 2012
Mersing, Johor is known as a sleepy beach town, however the students at SMK Anjung Batu have shown me that they are bright, creative and they love to dance! 
 
I knew it would be challenging to communicate with my students since I don’t speak Malay and they are painfully shy.  I found out that the students are more approachable afterschool where they feel more comfortable among their friends and in their own clothes.  I initiated an Earth Day Mural Project in March 2012 with the support from the principal and our English Panel at SMK Anjung Batu.  I called out an open invitation to any student who was willing and available to meet after school twice a week.  
 
My education in painting & drawing (BFA) and arts leadership (MFA) has allowed me to develop creative ways of teaching, through visual communication tools.  I mapped out the structure of the mural to provide each student with their own square, allowing them to take ownership of a piece of the mural.  I collected images online of examples of Earth Day murals, Earth-related things such as animals, plants, water, etc.  After showing the students this slideshow, it inspired them to develop their own ideas of what to create in their respective squares.  Instantly, the students were eager to sketch and claim their spot on the grid.  Many of the students chose to include English words in their drawings, which was not a requirement. 
 
SMK Anjung Batu Mural Squad in action
 
During our mural painting sessions, one of the students, Elai, exhibited a keen interest in music and dancing.  We took turns playing songs from his computer and then mine.  The music we played was meant to entertain the Mural Squad while they painted, but also proved to be a prime opportunity for Elai and I to have a conversation about something he clearly had a strong passion for.  We shared common interests in pop songs and rap music.  We talked about Tupac, LMFAO, Jay-Z, Robyn, La Roux and even old school R&B such as Jodeci, among others.
 
ETA Tina Lee and student Elai at Festiva Mersing 2012
 
One day, we were going on and on about MichaelJackson.  I told Elai about the Michael Jackson flash mob dance I participated in in the U.S., and then continued to explain what flash mobs were by showing him some YouTube videos online. Watching him grow completely mesmerized by this new concept was like watching the midair freeze of Neo played by Keanu Reeves in 1999’s The Matrix, for the first time.
 
A few days later, Elai approached me and asked for my help in organizing Mersing’s first flash mob – in only two weeks time!  On April 14-15, 2012, the flash mob was set to perform at Festiva Mersing, a celebration launching the Mersing Laguna Project, the RM22 billion eco-tourism project which will see the transformation of Mersing from a sleepy coastal town into an international tourist destination to be completed in seven years time.
 
SMK Anjung Batu students practicing for the flash mob
 
In the following two weeks, a group of 100 students took action to commit to this inaugural performance.  We met twice a day, every day for two weeks, practicing and perfecting dance moves and transitions together.  Elai and a few older students took the initiative to choreograph and coordinate the meetings.  The three-minute dance routine consisted of four pop songs.  I gave them a few minor pointers, for example, not to worry about foot work since the crowd will mostly see the upper half of our bodies during the mob, but they did the leading and I was able participate alongside the other students.  The performance was a success and today, Elai and the students continue to dance after school.  Their next performance is set for the Teacher’s Day Assembly.
 
At Festiva Mersing, day of flash mob performance

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