At the end of the year at my school they have Year 9 pantomimes. Each form class writes and performs a pantomime. There are some rules. The performance has to have a song and dance routine, and it has to have a teacher in it. There was a certain inevitability about the fact that I would be involved in my form class’ song and dance routine.
You may or may not know that one of the big songs of the last while has been the Party Rock Anthem (everything after about 3’40″ is awesomeness. On the other hand this song is hilarious from start to finish). What I hadn’t realised was that shuffling was very important to this song’s success. Shuffling is a kind of dancing. This is important because my form class decided to do Twelve Shuffling Princesses as their fairy tale for the pantomime. I think you can see where this is going.
Quite often in my life I mock things as being easy when I have never tried them. For example, I once spent quite a lot of time mocking golf. I mean, how hard could it be? Banging a ball around with a stick and trying to get it into a hole? I was quite boring on this subject, until I actually tried to play golf. After spending a few hours trying to either (a) hit the f%&king ball, or (b) find the f&%king ball in the bushes, I realised it was actually pretty hard to play golf.
I also did this with Kapa Haka. Kapa Haka? Pfft. How hard can that be? That feeling lasted until about September this year when we were taught how to do the school haka. I’m a lot less coordinated than I had previously thought. All the singing, and arm waving, and stamping is very hard to coordinate. Suddenly I realised that I looked like an embarrassing Dad trying to dance at a wedding. Ok, so Kapa Haka is really hard, and people who do it really well have worked really hard and are talented.
Right, so I had to face the fact that I would be shuffling in the pantomime. Here’s what shuffling looks like.
Pfft! I thought. How hard could that be? (How come I keep thinking this even after the golf and kapa haka debacles?) I started getting up at 5am (no one needs to see me shuffling), and looking at youtube clips that teach you how to shuffle. I did this because I had already hit my first hurdle. The first hurdle was when I had stood in my living room the previous day and I had the previously unthunk thought “right, I think I’ll shuffle” and I realised I had no idea what to do.
Ok, so now it’s 5am and I am looking at some guy talking on youtube about shuffling and I am trying to do it. The basic step is called Running Man, and I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to do if you think about it while you are doing it. I found myself in some kind of retarded, disjointed leg bobbing that always seemed to turn into Riverdance. The only time I could do it was when I somehow stopped thinking about it, but this proved very hard. Somewhere, in the back of my brain, there was always something called Dignity lying on the floor laughing its arse off.
Next I tried the sideways shuffle. For some reason this was a lot easier. Well, it was easy to shuffle left, but for some reason really hard to shuffle right, so I would end up stuck in the far corner of the room with no way of getting back. After three mornings of this I decided that my dance routine would look something like an old man warming up for a hurdling competition followed by a seamless shuffle into the left hand wall. Probably this would be ok.
When I demonstrated my technique to the class later in the day they had no hesitation in dropping me from the dance number. It was cold. It was hurtful.
It was also a relief.
It also made me think of two things. Firstly, about the folly of passing a ruler over things and telling people they are below the standard. I took Art from Year 9 to Year 13 because I loved it. I was only average (below average if we take my final mark). I had no great gift. I enjoyed turning out pencil sketches of buildings and landscapes. That’s about it. My painting portfolio in Year 13 was not much chop. I’m glad I did it though. Like I’m glad I started playing guitar when I was around 15 or 16. I never became a good guitar player, but I have had thousands of hours of pleasure out of it and the bands I have been in. Just as I had quite a bit of fun discovering that I am a crap shuffler. It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself and others when you are having fun doing something you love.
I said that getting dropped from the dance team made me think of two things. The second thing is this very fine, and entertaining talk by Sir Ken Robinson about how school can kill creativity.
The first time I watched this clip I was charmed, but missed a few of the messages. His messages are interesting.
Education, he says, is preparing our kids for the future but we have no idea what the future will look like. My daughter started school this year. When she retires it will be around 2075. Or taking it another way, how did the education of a kid starting school in 1945 prepare them for 2010?
Creativity should be given the same status in education as literacy, and that being wrong is a big part of creativity and learning. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with any original.” Yet, he says, we are creating students and school systems where being wrong is the worst thing you can be.
We also have school systems where creativity is at the bottom of the hierarchy of subjects. He talks about Dance and Drama which he correctly says is a subject that is right at the bottom of the hierarchy. If you want to know what the hierarchy is just imagine this conversation:
Child: “I want to drop Chemistry and take [insert 'useless' subject here].”
Parent: “You’ll never get a job doing that!”
But who gets a job in the field of Chemistry?
As for Dance and Drama, I would have avoided it like the plague if it had been offered when I was at school, but a lot of kids would have loved it. Rosamund is a little dancer. Anytime there is any music on anywhere she instantly starts to boogie. Eleanor also dances, and she loves drawing. Her drawings just keep getting cooler. The last few times she has done drawings I have genuinely thought, “I wish I would draw like that.” So it annoys me when people look at kid’s drawings and make suggestions. Don’t they know that every part of a kid’s drawing has been carefully thought about?
While we are on this tangent, here is her latest drawing of me.
Which, I think we can all agree, tells us a lot about the state of my footwear.
Thankfully, my mother was very tolerant of all my creative whims and subject choices when I was growing up. I dropped Maths after I got the equivalent of my basic numeracy credits. It really hasn’t mattered that I took it no further, and has been much better for me to stuff around in Art, and play the guitar, and write blog posts, and try and fail to shuffle. Much, much better.
I hope to work at a school, and be parent who says this: “can you write and do sums? Good. Now, what do you really want to be in a few years?” Then all I have to do is make sure I listen.