About 500 students, parents, and teachers gathered Sunday at the sixth annual Spotlight Academy at the Music Center. There, they attended free workshops in navigating the unique challenges of being a young artist.
The Spotlight Academy, which is in its sixth year, is geared towards giving both students and their parents practical lessons in pursuing schooling and careers in the arts. It’s under the bigger Spotlight umbrella, which culminates in a prestigious competition and scholarship program. Alumni include dancer Misty Copeland and singers Adam Lambert and Josh Groban.
Director Jeri Galle said it was important to her to include practicing mindfulness among the other practical skills workshops–like how to pick a song to sing or how to film a good audition video–because those focus and relaxation skills can help the young artists not only in auditions, but in everyday life.
“Learning how to do mindfulness, being in the moment, not letting your mind spin out of control ... are very valuable tools for these students,” Galle explained. “I wanted [students] to be able to have quick tools that they could take with them and that they could use for their auditions, for their performances, for anything that they're going to do."
This year, Galle asked teaching artist and mindfulness instructor Megan Hook to lead two sessions called “The Calming Clinic.”
During the clinic, Hook introduced the 40 parents and students gathered in each session to the neuroscience behind mindfulness, and taught them techniques like holding a "mindful body," anchor breathing, and doing a body scan. These practices, she says, can help nervous students focus and perform their best, whether they're practicing, auditioning or performing.
One of the people in attendance was 15-year-old musical theater student Yasmeen Genie. She auditioned last year for Spotlight’s training program and the chance to perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but she didn't make it.
She said she came to the free Spotlight Academy this year to learn what she could do better, and how to handle her nerves.
“Anxiety – that's something I struggle with,” Genie explained. “I'm always worried about opinions, so I really wanted to take this class because I want to be calm and happy and … just be a positive person."
Hook explained that the seminar was also intended to help parents of young artists.
"As you have a child who's performing, and you see the ups and downs and the rollercoaster ride that they're on, how can you support them?" Hook asked. "And how can you help them to develop skills that create stability throughout all the ups and downs that we know are natural in this kind of pursuit?"
Yasmeen Genie's mom, Paris Genie, was also in attendance at the seminar.
“I thought it would be good for her to be able to relax and think positive thoughts, so she doesn't bring herself down before she even gets out there,” her mom explained.
Yasmeen Genie, who is a student at the California School of the Arts in Duarte, said she will try to use the mindfulness practices and positive breathing she learned at Spotlight Academy when she auditions again this year.
She plans on singing “Journey to the Past” from Anastasia – a song about overcoming fears in pursuit of dreams.