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Is dance as important as maths?


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I felt sure that Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk where he said dance was as important as maths and gave a charming story of how Gillian Lynne got into ballet would be somewhere on this forum. Perhaps it is and maybe those with a better memory than the search engine can uncover it. But I have not been here all that long. I searched against "TED", "Robinson" and even "Ken Robinson" and nothing has shown up. So here goes.
 
Sir Ken who taught at Warwick and was on the board of the Royal Ballet gave a talk to the TED (technology, entertainment, design) community that has been watched nearly 28 million times. That's more than 4 times the population of Scotland. In it he said that schools destroy kids' innate creativity which he considered to be as important as literacy by foisting a curriculum that ranks maths at the top and dance at the bottom.  "Maths was important" he said "but then so is dance."

 

You can watch his talk here or read the transcript there.

 

The best bit for me was his story of how Gillian Lynne got into dancing:

 

"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."

 

 

Isn't that a lovely story? Thank goodness she had a far sighted child psychologist and an even more far sighted mum.

 

The reason I mention this story now is that I see from Sir Ken's website that he is in conversation with Sarah Montague immediately after the midnight news. We can also listen to him n the iPlayer right now,

  

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Honestly, I think there are a lot of ways of destroying kids' innate curiosity, and I'm fairly sure that the wrong curriculum taught by the wrong teacher could use dance to do that just as well as maths. I've heard of people saying that maths classes really triggered their creativity and broadened their mental outlook; it depends on how things are taught, how the teacher interacts with the class, and the innate abilities and interests of the individual pupils.

 

Unfortunately the "sit there and listen to me" approach is one of the easiest ways of teaching a large class, and one-size-fits-all is one of the easiest ways of handling a large school. To say nothing of the attitude of some elements that schools should foster obedience rather than creativity and should stifle attempts at critical thinking because their objective is to turn out good, compliant, obedient members of the workforce. That sort of attitude can make a lot of subjects deadly boring. Plus, as with the story of Gillian Lynne, it doesn't really help to try and force kids. I was never very musical but my mother insisted on my taking piano lessons because she enjoyed it. She must have seen how much I hated it but it became a sort of power-struggle thing for her. Went on into my mid-teens when the teacher and I finally agreed we were wasting each other's time. Mother was beside herself with fury, and it took my dad to point out that if her real objective was for me to love music (which it obviously wasn't but she claimed it was), she was going about it in exactly the wrong way; it also didn't hurt, from my point of view, that my teacher refused to have me back! But ever since then, given the choice of listening to music or not listening to it, I prefer silence to music, and I wouldn't have a piano in the house if you paid me. Not that I'm saying that maths was more important to me, because I hated that too (along with science, which my dad was forcing me into the way my mum was forcing me into piano lessons). The only subject I cared about at all at school was history, and that's pretty much the case now, although I never did history at school beyond O-levels and our history teacher was hopeless. So really, I think the best way to foster creativity is to encourage kids in whatever areas they show the most promise in, whatever that might be for the individual child, while also stressing that a well-rounded education is important even if some of the subjects aren't to a child's individual taste.

 

However - just thinking about a society where they don't teach dance in schools and a society where they don't teach maths in schools - I think the latter society would find itself in more trouble in the longer term.

Edited by Melody
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As to the relative value betwixt  math/s and dance - depends upon the society.  If you are in need of a community activity such as celebrating a community event or a community need - like a rain dance - math won't help very much.  However, if you need to calculate how much water to divide amongst the farmers - math would be helpful.  

 

I see no comparison in value - each is different and both are necessary.

 

Why does one obviate the other?

 

We probably each can tell a tale where a teacher or a parent was wrong in the choices which were made in what to teach children.  Sometimes the choice is based upon what is available, what is obtainable and what is practical.  I think as life proceeds, we discover what we would have preferred and find ways to pursue it - perhaps not as a vocation but as an advocation.  And - sometimes that is even better.

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Over the last month or so I've seen three of The Globe's vibrant productions on a cinema screen and have been forcibly reminded how Shakespeare at school had nothing to do with 'performance.'  It was purely an examination-related activity and, worse still, a source for 'lines' as a punishment.  My mother, who by the end of primary school had me devouring Greek Myths and John Buchan, often used to say that she would never forgive my English teacher in secondary school for destroying all that she had done.  By contrast, our French master would get through each day's lesson in relatively short order and the remainder of his periods would be spent talking about almost any subject under the sun.  Teachers, good teachers, are what matter - and that was equally true when it came to learning the arts of Navigation in the RAF some years later.

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Oh, gosh, O-level Shakespeare...yes, a very good way to put people off for life.

 

But even so, I don't think creativity has to do with a particular subject as much as a general outlook. My husband's maths teacher was a wonderful eccentric who made maths classes into a real adventure by the sound of things, whereas music lessons were very few and far between and the sports teacher (they didn't have dancing lessons at his school, that I know of) was basically just drilling the pupils in the skills needed to become naval ratings. He never forgave my husband when he asked to learn to play golf. :D

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Looking at this from another angle, are the two so totally opposite? A choreographer matches patterns in 3D to a rhythm. A dancer demonstrates spatial awareness and counts, counts, counts. Is it possible to excel as a dancer without an innate sense of order and symmetry? There's even Ashton's "Scènes de Ballet", inspired by geometry.

Seriously, (puns now over), the link between maths and music is recognised - has there been much investigation into the extent to which our early ancestors' experience of dance contributed to the evolution of Mathematics?

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Looking at this from another angle, are the two so totally opposite? A choreographer matches patterns in 3D to a rhythm. A dancer demonstrates spatial awareness and counts, counts, counts. Is it possible to excel as a dancer without an innate sense of order and symmetry? There's even Ashton's "Scènes de Ballet", inspired by geometry.

Seriously, (puns now over), the link between maths and music is recognised - has there been much investigation into the extent to which our early ancestors' experience of dance contributed to the evolution of Mathematics?

 

I think you are right and that is in fact one of Sir Ken's points. He says we have a hierarchy of subjects in our schools with maths at the top and dance at the tail and value achievement in the former more than achievement in the latter which may or may not be true.

 

There are people who have done well at both,   Our own fellow subscriber and good friend Dave Wilson is a case in point (see his Pythagoras and Pliés – Mathematical Beauty.  6 March 2011 Dave Tries Ballet). There are many others if you trawl the blogosphere.

 

All human learning is linked as indeed is human experience.   

 

Incidentally I think Sir Ken's premises that dance is undervalued and maths overvalued is wrong, but that's another story.

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Ballet and maths have been equally important and necessary components of my life.

Maths and sciences always came easily to me and my headmistress had pathed out my life to becoming a surgeon (I was very good at needlework too !!) but I was also doing well in my dancing life and followed my heart and joined the RBS senior school. After 3 amazing years I accepted that I wasn't a virtuoso dancer destined to be the next Fonteyn and a few years in a corps de ballet did not appeal so the next step was to find a job with enough money to stay in London - dancer now morphs into computer programmer.

After a few years of living a 'normal' life, then with 2 small children, I really missed my ballet. Happily, the local stage school which my little girl was attending was short of a teacher so my life became rounded once again, working days as a software engineer and teaching ballet at my daughter's dance school, 

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Ballet and maths have been equally important and necessary components of my life.

.........................

After a few years of living a 'normal' life, then with 2 small children, I really missed my ballet. Happily, the local stage school which my little girl was attending was short of a teacher so my life became rounded once again, working days as a software engineer and teaching ballet at my daughter's dance school, 

 

I am grateful for GailR's contribution. It supports Robinson's thesis that creativity need not be sacrificed to academic prowess but goes hand in hand and the one may even enhance the other.  I don't know GailR but I do know others in my over 55 class at Northern Ballet for instance with similar stories.

 

Juvenal recognized the relationship between creative physical and intellectual activity when he wrote "orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano" and Dr Arnold practised it albeit in a narrower sense centuries later at Rugby School.

 

The strapline of TED is "ideas worth spreading". This thread is an example. There are over 1,700 similar recordings by all manner of speakers on all sorts of topics that are as thought provoking as Sir Ken's.  On today's home page for example Sir Tim Berners-Lee argues for a Magna Carta for the web, Eric Liu on the realities of power, Megan Washington on dread of public speaking and Dan Pacholke on prison reform. Anybody can subscribe to TED's mailing list and I always look forward to my email on Saturday afternoon with a fresh selection of interesting and powerful talks at TED conferences that have often stimulated my reading about topics I had never previously contemplated.

 

I have never attended a TED conference and would dearly love to do so. It must be a thrilling experience, But I have been to a TEDx in Bradford which was run on similar lines with sparkling presentations by local speakers that ranged from Victorian memorials in Bradford's cemeteries to the Grand Trunk Road. There are TEDx events all over the country and indeed all over the world.

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