A Dancer’s Tale…

When Gillian Lynne was asked how she became a dancer, a charming and quite delightful tale emerged. Indeed, her answer entranced me. This is her tale.

Gillian Lynne
Dame Gillian Lynne

I also saw the tale as offering yet another example of the ever-present need to challenge conventional wisdom. I saw it as a wonderful example of how challenging conventional wisdom can sometimes help us bring dreams to life…

The idea for sharing this tale began with my fascination with creativity. I’ve always marveled at how the most creative amongst us manage seemingly to create something out of nothing. Certainly, Gillian Lynne’s creations were quite astonishing.

I’ve been quite fortunate in seeing creativity at work up close and personal. I have worked, for example, with entertainment and business clients who were quite brilliant innovators. Again and again, I saw how they seemed to create absolute magic from nothing..

create something
Creating something out of nothing!

As I watched them all weave their magic, it made me wonder. Was a coincidence, I wondered, that the most creative innovators worked in relative freedom—apparently unrestrained by rules and boundaries? Was there a connection between that and their magic?

This is what made me so curious about Gillian Lynne.

Dame Gillian Lynn…

Dame Gillian Lynn was born in 1926.  Her accomplishments are quite remarkable.

At the age of 18, she joined the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company in London. She later became a soloist performing at the Covent Garden Opera House in London. Her notable ballet credits are too numerous to mention here.

She later became Britain’s foremost exponent of jazz dance and a choreographer extraordinaire. She went on to be a leading director/choreographer of her generation. As a choreographer, she is best-known for her quite remarkable work on Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

She was also an actress and director in theater and television. She has directed over 60 productions in the West End and on Broadway. She has worked on 11 feature films.

She has received numerous awards, including two Olivier Awards. She received the Award for Outstanding Achievement for her choreography of Cats in 1981. In 1997, she was honored by Her Majesty the Queen with CBE. In 2013, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement ‘Special’ Olivier. In 2014, she was again honored by Her Majesty the Queen. For her services to Dance and Musical Theater, she was presented with the DBE (Dame of the British Empire). She was the first woman to have been so honored.

gillian-lynne-at-the-olivier-awards
Dame Gillian Lynne at the Olivier Awards

Sir Ken Robinson…

The story I’m now sharing comes from a TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson. If you haven’t heard any of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED or other talks on YouTube, you should treat yourself! You won’t regret it…

If you haven’t heard any of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED or other talks on YouTube, you should watch some. Treat yourself!

Sir Ken is a quite brilliant educationalist. He also has a dry and self-deprecating British sense of humor that makes his talks irresistible. His epic TED talk  “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is one of the most watched TED talks in history. Last time I looked, almost 39 million viewers had seen it!

Sir Ken Robinson – Curiosity
Sir Ken Robinson

A dancer’s tale…

When Sir Ken Robinson asked Gillian how she became a dancer, this is the tale she told—

In the 1930s, when Gillian was only 8 years old, her school wrote to her parents. They wrote how they feared she had a learning disability. She couldn’t sit still in class. She wasn’t completing her homework assignments. She was distracting her classmates and disrupting her classes. In their letter, the school recommended that her parents seek professional help.

Her parents followed the school’s advice and took her to a specialist. As they gave him the school’s letter to read, Gillian sat on her hands listening to the conversation. After about 20 minutes, the specialist stood up. He told Gillian he wanted to talk to her parents alone for a few moments. He said he would turn on the radio for her to listen to. They left the office. Outside the office, they watched Gillian through the window…

Now alone, Gillian got up and started moving to the music…

As the specialist and her parents watched, the specialist said there was nothing wrong with Gillian. She was simply a dancer, he observed. He explained that some people simply had to move to think. And Gillian was one of those people.

He offered her parents a simple solution. They should enroll her in dance classes, he advised. And that’s exactly what her parents did. Gillian said that those dance classes were the most wonderful experiences of her young life. She danced with other kids who, like her, loved to express themselves through dance.

And the rest, as they say, was history…

Sir Ken Robinson’s comment about this tale was classic. He observed that, if this had occurred in our time, a doctor would likely have diagnosed her with ADHD. He would then have medicated her. She would have been told to “calm down.”

And the world would then have lost a most remarkable talent…

The Tale’s gifts…

The first and most obvious gift of Gillian’s story is that we are all different in our own special ways. We simply have to respect these differences.

And, in doing so, we shouldn’t be too quick to accept conventional wisdom. This is particularly true in the case of dealing with over-active kids or employees.

In another talk, Sir Ken Robinson offers this related thought about kids generally:

A child could fidget and be distracted simply because he or she is bored in a class. Is this the child’s fault, he asked?

Could it be, he continued, that the solution doesn’t lie in medicating the child? Instead, could the solution lie in tweaking the school curriculum and refining the skills of the teacher?

For me, folks, these are the gifts of the tale. In part, its about challenging the conventional wisdom that distraction always leads one back to ADHD…