31 July 2018

Studying Māori Performing Arts

Kevin Roback
US Study Abroad Student

Kevin Roback shares his experience of studying Māori Performing Arts at Otago University in NZ.

By far my favourite paper (course) at Otago has been Māori 108 Waiata: Te Timatanga (a.k.a Māori Performing Arts).

This was also a paper that I was very unsure about taking. The idea of learning about a culture through performance really appealed to me, but I had zero experience in the performing arts. I had no idea if the course was going to be fun or something that I was actually interested in doing. Not to mention how much my family was making fun of me for taking a “dance” class. However, like most things that I have done abroad, I went for it to see what would happen.

Performing a Haka. Photo: Sam Bernstein

The first day of the lecture didn’t do very much to ease my worries. I found out that the course used a unique teaching method called teaching in the dark.

Our lecturer told us that we would do a similar thing by learning the songs orally in a dark room. We would be responsible for learning the songs and the tune without ever seeing the words or the music.

Four months later and I couldn’t imagine any other way in which the course could have been taught. On Monday we would go to lecture and learn about famous composers throughout history, then on Tuesday we had our practice where we would learn songs in the dark. We recently had our final performance where we sang seven full songs and performed the actions to go along with them. The performance went off without a hitch, even though two-thirds of the all were international students who had no prior knowledge of the Māori language.

The guys post final performance. Photo: Zac Cangemi

I would attribute this success to teaching in the dark. The dark room meant that nobody could see each other, and people were not afraid to try things and make mistakes. The strange teaching method and the active nature of the paper gave people something to bond over. These aspects of the paper allowed us to perform to the best of our abilities without holding back once the lights were turned on. I am grateful for this paper teaching me that, whether it be a speech, presentation, performance on stage, or singing in the car, confidence and believing in yourself is the key to giving a good show. I would definitely recommend this paper to anyone who is interested in a fun and unique way to learn about Māori history and culture.

Share this story
About the contributors
Kevin Roback
US Study Abroad Student

Kevin Roback, from Hamilton College in the USA, was a study abroad scholarship student studying Math and Neuroscience for one semester at the University of Otago. His favourite part about New Zealand was rock climbing at Long Beach and exploring the spectacular natural beauty of the South Island. He also enjoyed the people, who were "so relaxed and fun to talk to."