By Mindy Robbins
Utah COPA MDT Artistic Director
It has been a privilege over the last three weeks to meet parents and
students, hold parent meetings, train teachers and teach in MDT
company camps in Draper, American Fork and Tuacahn. I am continually
full of gratitude for our amazing faculty, I honor the sacrifice of
parents and am in awe of the talents and dedication of our students.
In the parent meetings and the MDT company pep rallies, we spoke of a
book I recently finished titled, Peak, Secrets From the New Science
of Expertise. This book has changed me as an artist, a parent and
an educator. I have battled with gift versus hard work for a long
time. We have all heard the famous quote, “Hard work beats talent
when talent doesn’t work hard” by Tim Notke. As we look at experts,
we may even be caught saying, “they were born with a gift”, or “that
is just God given natural ability”. While I personally believe
everything I have been given, talents included, have come from God, I
have pondered over the years how much of one’s success can be
determined by natural God given ability versus hard work. The book
Peak delves deeply into this subject and it is fascinating, even
blowing the theory of perfect pitch, what most of us believe is a
given not acquired ability, out of the water! Peak references years of
scientific studies on the difference between experts and amateurs in
many different fields. The book suggests four main points.
Step outside their comfort zone regularly
Learn from the experts in their field
Hold the gold standard for achievement (experts never “arrive”)
PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE: During each MDT company camp, we challenged
the students to “Purposefully Practice” this year at COPA. This might
include coming to class early so they can take a few minutes to center
themselves before class begins, reading the journal notes from their
vocal instructor and applying them in their at home practice, bringing
the class journal, sheet music or monologues to class, memorizing
monologues and lyrics in advance, concentrating on muscle and core
engagement in dance classes, practicing choreography to teacher videos
at home and so on. I am a firm believer when a student dedicates
themselves to Purposeful Pratice their talents and confidence will
STEP OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE: I have spent a lot of time pondering
this point. I believe it is often easy to assume “experts” don’t get
nervous, and maybe even that things come easily to them. This
couldn’t be further from the truth for me. At 40 years old with 24
years of professional work in the industry I still find myself outside
of my comfort zone on a regular basis. As I have contemplated this
circumstance, I realized that even though I may feel doubtful, anxious
or nervous at times, I am willing to continually step outside the box
and push the envelope. Accepting it is normal for me to feel these
feelings has allowed me to consciously push through them and bring
awareness to the courage deeper inside of me to take the step anyway.
As I continue to take these steps I become more refined as an artist
and stronger as a human. Students who are willing to take risks and do
things that make them nervous or uncomfortable are on their way to
becoming experts. There are many opportunities through COPA for
students to step outside the box. They may include getting to know new
people, wearing a ballet leotard and tights, performing a solo or
monologue in front of a large audience, auditioning for a vocal or
dance solo in front of their peers, discussing a moment of offense
with a friend in company and so on. COPA students will become
stronger as they continue to face their fears and step outside of
their comfort zones.
EXPERTS: COPA provides the opportunity for students to learn from
experts. We pride ourselves on hiring faculty with years of
professional experience and education in their respective areas. The
best singers in the world learned from the best singers in the world.
The best tennis players in the world learned from the best tennis
players and so on.
THE GOLD STANDARD: Experts never arrive. They never stop pushing
themselves. There is no cap to the limit of human potential. The
student who desires to perform a double pirouette and achieves the
goal, only to desire a triple pirouette, is an expert in the making.
We never stop learning and growing, unless we stop trying.
To summarize, after reading this book, my opinion has changed about
what it takes to become an expert. I now believe the success of an
expert is more dependent upon the individual’s desire to purposefully
practice, step outside the box, work with the best and never arrive
more than merely on natural ability. Many gifts are given. Many gifts
are acquired. May our COPA students desire to acquire.
I look forward to an amazing year of growth!
Utah COPA MDT Artistic Director