Educator Profile: Catherine Wright “Art Yoga Cat”
We believe that the arts are essential to the quality of life and community in Central New York. Our mission to promote, support and celebrate arts and culture is the heart of all our programs and services.
We strive to engage with students at every level of education, from elementary to college and with educators and administrators to build a culturally engaged community. Arts education is a key component of several of our programs: Dasher's Magical Gift, Michael Harms Theatre Festival,DeFrancisco Young Artists Scholarship Program,STAR Training Program (Support for Teaching Artist Regional Training), and the AiHE Consortium (Arts in Higher Education). These programs, help ensure that arts education is given full support it deserves in central New York.
So in celebrating Arts Education Week, we would like to recognize some of the many people in our community who are dedicated to enriching the lives of students at all stages of their education.
Thank you to Americans for the Arts for hosting this national celebration of arts education, and thank you to all the educators who impact lives every day through the arts. We hope you enjoy learning about a few of our local educators and reflect on how teachers have impacted your own life. #BecauseOfArtsEd #ArtsEdWeek.
Today CNY Arts would like to recognize Catherine Wright “Art Yoga Cat," a freelance Yoga and dance Instructor and interdisciplinary performance artist and lecturer from the Mohawk Valley. Catherine participated in the STAR Training Program in Rome, NY this past summer. Learn more about the STAR Training Program.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your current role in arts education?
I am Catherine Wright, aka “Art Yoga Cat,” and I am a freelance yoga/contemporary dance instructor at the Rome YMCA, PrattMWP, Ballet Arts of CNY, Hamilton College and 4 Elements Art Studio. As a performance artist, I create interdisciplinary environments in which a character performs ritualistic tasks in order to attain enlightenment. These creations have been shared all over the Mohawk Valley, Syracuse and across the country, and they are meant to inspire viewers to understand their place in the interconnectedness of all sentient beings.
2. What drew you to education?
I believe in the possibility of inspiring people to breathe, move, and be. This is my calling, my “dharma,” and it is an honor to do it in several different communities throughout the day.
I come from a long lineage of teachers. I attended the University of Utah on scholarship, for a BFA in Modern Dance, with the plan of becoming a professional dance company performer. During my junior year, I had my first high school student teaching experience. It was in an inner city in Salt Lake City, Utah and something sparked so strong that I came alive in the studio! There was this reciprocal exchange with the students, and when the students started to embody the movement and feel empowered, I felt it too! Everyday was a challenge, and every day there was a reward for the hard work we did together. 18 years later, I haven’t stopped teaching and sharing the power of movement, breath, and voice.
3. How do you think arts education can help students address current issues in our society?
There is an undoubted rise in a lack of connection between human beings in our society today. One only has to look around to see people looking down into their cell phones and data devices and no longer looking up, out, and sensing the world around them.
The arts impact a student on a holistic level. Artistic expression begins from an internal space and then journeys to an external sharing. The creative process requires introspection, examination of societal issues, and a vulnerable fearlessness. This courageous journey leads to connection, which leads to community, which leads to compassion, which leads to a sense of belonging and purpose in this life. Finding, claiming, and then sharing their unique voice is ultimately empowering for a budding student.
Consequently, student confidence affects all other courses in the school day. They feel supported to ask questions to understand material further, and a sense of control to complete assignments. Next thing you know, students are looking up from their cell phones, maybe even unplugging, and interacting with the world around them. Their eyes are open to societal issues, and the problem solving begins.
4. What is one way in which you keep your personal artistic practice fresh outside of the classroom?
I attend workshops and retreats a few times per year to soak up new material to embody and then bring back to the studio classroom, which serves as a playground for discovery for both students and teacher. I also read a lot of literature on a variety of theologies to bring into my lesson plans.
5. What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring young student interested in furthering his or her artistic career?
Believe in thyself! Find your voice, and be yourself. Always be prepared by practicing your craft because you never know when that opportunity is gonna come knock knock knockin’ at your door, so be ready!
6. As part of National Arts in Education Week, we'd love it if you could share one story about how arts education has personally impacted your life!
As we all know, Prince passed away this year. I used Prince’s music in a lot of my lesson plans when teaching “soul jazz” dance combinations and technique exercises. I often referred to his boldness and passion and unique contribution to the performing arts in my lesson plans. Before each high school production, I had the department’s 150 dance students gather in a big circle and hold hands to feel gratitude for our community and for the opportunity to perform and express themselves in front of the community. I would sing the song “Positivity” by Prince into the microphone, and sure enough, the kids began to learn the song and join in with me. “Positivity, have you had your plus sign today? Positivity, do we mark you present or do we mark you late?” We repeated these lyrics over and over in our sacred circle before the show. It was a reminder to keep things positive, because anything can happen, especially in a performing arts production.
I was missing my Minnesota peeps, particularly my students, during Prince’s passing. That weekend proceeding his death, all of the Twin Cities was shut down and people were gathering in the streets to dance to his music and pay homage to his inspiration and impact on our lives. I received several messages from dance students, from graduating classes 2003-2012, and they thanked me for sharing Prince’s music and for teaching them to be themselves and to check their positivity each day.
The arts are a powerful thing! They are a reflection of a culture, a time, and its people.