Philip Northington is a professional musical theatre actor and dancer with credits including the National Tour of the Wizard of Oz, performances at the Paper Mill Playhouse and Jacob’s Pillow, and training at American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and Ballet Magnificat!, among many others. Philip took one week off of his current show in Branson, MO to teach dance in a studio in San Jose, Costa Rica with Performing Arts Abroad. Here he reflects on the crazy ride of landing in another country and hitting the ground running (or dancing as it were)!
Performing Arts Abroad provided me the opportunity to spend one week in San Jose, Costa Rica teaching dance to some of the most well-trained young professionals I have ever worked with at a studio. Additionally, I spent 4 hours each day studying Spanish while staying with a host family. I have travelled for leisure and I have travelled for performing, however this type of trip was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was a marathon from the moment I woke up in the morning to laying my head at night but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was taken to places personally and artistically I’ve never been before.
As I studied Spanish throughout the week I came to realize speaking any language is not just about grammar and vocabulary, but learning a new way of life, broadening your perspective on culture. It was a joy to learn how to express myself in a completely different way. Taking this language into my dance classes was intimidating, but my students were with me one hundred percent of the time, even if my pronunciations weren’t quite right. I was embraced as one of their own.
I had a dance piece prepared to teach Wednesday fully written out, and analyzed as much as possible. As I got off the bus in the morning for Spanish school, I was listening to ‘ I’m Free ’ from Jonah (This is the show I currently perform in). It hit me in this moment I am supposed to use this song. From this point forward I felt a part of a process bigger than myself and a vessel which was overflowing. Every spare minute consisted of listening to the song, cutting, pasting, and putting choreography in the right spots.
When I arrived at the studio that evening, I was empowered because I saw the big picture. However, I was equally uneasy because there were many unknowns. I used all the uncertainties I had inside and dove deep into the moment, trusting in the process of collaboration, and embracing the power and unity of dance. There was a strong bond with these students through dance amidst different cultures and speaking different languages. It was a great thrill to experience something coming together for the first time and everyone taking part in it.
Over-preparedness results in feeling like a robot. However, being enough under-prepared but not too much enables collaboration. Finding this balance while being a tutor and guide was an important lesson for me to learn this week. As I begin to find my rhythm again at home in the States, Costa Rica has taken part in molding me into a new man. Sure, it is subtle, but it is also substantial. I will forever treasure these people I’ve had the privilege of teaching, dancing, learning and exploring alongside. Pura Vida!
Written by Philip Northington
Performing Arts Abroad Music Volunteer in Costa Rica