The Prep Is an Old School Dance: Performing The SAT / Kenya (Robinson)
The Main Idea
Ayana Evans is a performance artist and painter. An accessories designer and native Chicagoan. An idea athlete and Ivy League graduate. A husband-seeker and night owl. A catsuit wearer and game-killer-in-heels. An educator, congratulator, and investigator, she resists the compartmentalization of these aspects of herself by physically undermining assumed boundaries. Friendship is a piggyback ride and sprints along Rivington Street. Insecurities are chair dips and fried chicken – kinetic libation and the calling of names. Performance is a luscious body, wrapped in neon green and black – the oppositional gaze in operation. And Palmolive is nostalgia. She has made her practice an entrepreneurial exercise too, a robust online store where you can order mugs, cotton tees and fierce fanny packs – embellished with a signature doorknocker earring. She postulates Art and commerce as two sides of the same coin, like teaching and performance are conjoined twins. The classroom or community center or kitchen table is a dojo for beating the test, a training ground to elaborate on the distinction between achievement and intelligence.
“Vocabulary in context questions are common in the reading section as well. It is important to note that the most common definition of the word is usually not what is being used on the test. It is usually the 2nd or 3rd definition found in the dictionary… THUS the word chosen should be the one that can seamlessly be replaced into the sentence of the vocabulary word in question. Students should reread the full sentence with their synonym choice before making a final decision.”
– Ayana Evans
The Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) is a sociocultural phenomenon, a rite of passage for students nationwide, and increasingly, internationally. After working as a private tutor for wealthy clientele, Evans now utilizes the rubric of standardized testing to explore
vocabularies in a performative context. And, not surprisingly, the test is all about performance. The score, an unfixed variable to push to its limits; to be eventually used as currency, buying college entrance and scholarship dollars for a future-life of social mobility and economic freedom. Imagine a montage, “Eye of The Tiger” pumping in the background, number two pencils at the ready, a healthy breakfast digesting, an auditorium filled with ‘Good Kids’. ‘Good Kids’ with access to resources unimagined by a slew of bright students (also ‘Good Kids’) whose guardians are the working poor (or the state subsidized poor) operating within boundaries erected by race, class, and gender. The Prep Is an Old School Dance is a training program, not just in the context of the four-hour test, but in the underlying message of achievement. This performance work suggests that achievement is a thing to be seized, instead of “earned” or “bestowed”. A brass ring made accessible via strategy and knowledge of self.
“Word problems were made to be a bigger part of the SAT in 2016. It’s supposed to give more real life application to the math section. While most are problems you won’t do in real life, algebra word problems are important practice for SAT math. Questions are often easier to answer when you work backwards and plug in the answers. Working backwards, it’s an important trick in the math section.”
– Ayana Evans
Backwards is the place to visit when looking for your lost keys – your glasses – your wallet. It’s also a successful strategy for the math portion of the SAT. By analyzing the end product, you can discover its individual parts. It is in this space of backwards that Evans was introduced to a peculiar corollary in her test prep teaching – that a sense of entitlement is a successful strategy for standardized testing. The obligation to answer every single a question is actually an impediment to moving forward. You are better off cherry picking questions tailor made for you. Somehow I feel that this discovery has played significantly in her performances as well. Working backwards, from the creative block presented by her love life and transforming it into fertile material, (#iJustCameHereToFindAhusband) and allowing it to resonate with lonely hearts and ambitious doers everywhere. Working backwards to confront the drama of late rent and eviction notices, only to repeat the performance and call attention to how audience support, or lack thereof, is racialized and gendered (“Monetized”). And the audacity of her lived experience serving as inspiration, by retracing her steps to a nexus of artistic privilege.
“Knowing basic functions is an important category on the exam. The basics of this will allow the harder problems to be easy.”
– Ayana Evans
And so, it boils down to basic functions. Ayana Evans is a performance artist. She is dedicated to her craft, and, as she’s learned from her charges – a bit of entitlement goes a long way. The Prep Is an Old School Dance is the sharing of her expertise through a series of actions. Educating as her total self. Not bound by mainstream professional decorum, but serving strategy in a spandex catsuit. Peppering the class with physical challenges, a la Double Dare, and presenting access to the “underprivileged’ as a default, not simply as a charitable contribution. And mostly, because she’s an educator, the artist gets as much as she gives.
Kenya (Robinson) is a community-taught artist from Gainesville, FL. A socialite, international southerner, and mischief maker, she is an apexart International Fellow (Montevideo, Uruguay) and was awarded a Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant in 2015. Her project CHEEKY LaSHAE: Karaoke Universal was funded by Creative Capital in early 2016.