Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dance is just as important as Maths

TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. It describes itself as
"a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world."
The Great and the Good have given talks including Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill GatesBono, and many Nobel Prize winners.

One of the most popular speakers is the educationalist Sir Ken Robinson. His speech "How Schools Kill Creativity" which is embedded above has been watched nearly 28 million times. That's right. 28 million. Almost the population of Canada.

That speech is remembered for the catch phrase "Dance is an important as maths." Looking at the transcript I don't think he actually used that phrase but that was certainly the meaning he conveyed:
"There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think math is very important, but so is dance."
A little later in his speech he tells a charming story about the ballerina and choreographer Gillian Lynne. In his talk Sir Ken refers to her as the creator of Cats but my favourite work is "A Simple Man" which she made for my beloved Northern Ballet. Here's how the story goes:
"I'm doing a new book at the moment called "Epiphany," which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there. It's really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of; she's called Gillian Lynne -- have you heard of her? Some have. She's a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera." She's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet in England, as you can see. Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, "Gillian, how'd you get to be a dancer?" And she said it was interesting; when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the '30s, wrote to her parents and said, "We think Gillian has a learning disorder." She couldn't concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they'd say she had ADHD. Wouldn't you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point. It wasn't an available condition. (Laughter)People weren't aware they could have that.
Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother,and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it --because she was disturbing people; her homework was always late; and so on, little kid of eight -- in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, "Gillian, I've listened to all these things that your mother's told me, and I need to speak to her privately." He said, "Wait here. We'll be back; we won't be very long," and they went and left her. But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, "Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school."
I said, "What happened?" She said, "She did. I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think." Who had to move to think. They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School andfounded her own company -- the Gillian Lynne Dance Company -- met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She's been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she's given pleasure to millions; and she's a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down."
Thank goodness that doctor didn't. What a remarkably perceptive, far sighted, enlightened man he was.   And what a wonderful mother.

We in Britain will get a chance to listen to Sir Ken in conversation with Sarah Montague early tomorrow morning immediately after the midnight news. For the next few days we can even listen to them on the iPlayer.

Finally, a word on TED. Anybody can join the mailing list. I've been on it for years.  If you do you will get an email with a selection of some of the best talks every Saturday afternoon. It's one of my weekend treats.

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