Working With What We’ve Got

Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers 'Working With What We've Got'

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Often, when our time would be better spent working with what we’ve got, we get distracted. We think that having something new will somehow make us better. But will it?

Sensible Investment

On a recent trip to Germany, I found myself perusing a local music shop, together with a family friend. He had recently taken up the bass guitar and we spent a happy half hour trying out the store’s various models. One, in particular, caught his attention. So, on returning home, I set about researching this instrument.

Asking players I know, they agreed the bass in question would be a sensible investment for a developing bassist. The brand has a good reputation and the cheaper models benefit from following a similar manufacturing process to those that carry a much higher price tag.

Why Are You Looking?

One bassist sent me a link to an online review, so I could share this with my friend. On watching the clip, I was surprised to see that it was not a particularly favourable review. However, many people had posted beneath it, saying they had the model and thought it excellent. So, I decided to investigate further and one video caught my attention.

This piece had a typical click-inducing title: something like ‘7 basses you should avoid’. But the content was actually quite illuminating. The host of this video posed the question: why are you looking for a new instrument? And asked the viewer whether their time would be better spent in working with what they already have.

Mother of Invention

Interestingly, my friend had said at the outset he didn’t think it wise to invest much money whilst finding out whether or not the bass was the right instrument for him. He already has an affordable bass and I know from jamming with him that he has made a good start using that. Until he started looking at alternatives, he was quite happy with his situation. His focus was on learning and the enjoyment that come from it.

I think this is quite relevant to the teaching environment today. In schools, everyone is having to make compromises and sacrifices. And it could be easy to say ‘if only we had the budget, we could get this’ or ‘had we the resources, we could do that’. Yet – as the saying goes – necessity is the mother of invention.

We Each Have a Voice

To make music, we don’t necessarily need any instruments. I have personally run workshops in which children have used waste paper bins and their contents to create sounds. We can hit, scrunch, rattle, shake, stomp and all manner of other things in order to make music. Plus, of course, we each have a voice.

Similarly, we can all move – in one way or another. And we don’t necessarily need a bespoke space in which to do that. Visual art can be derived from collage, using old magazines and brochures. We can even build pin-hole cameras to make our own photographs.

Present Enjoyment

None of which is to say schools should not be better resourced. Of course they should. But we can only work with what we have – and this, in itself, can be a useful learning experience for our pupils. Over the course of their own development, each will be faced with a range of choices. And they will be subject to a lot of pressure to acquire ‘stuff’.

If we can all learn to make the most of what we have, we may not be so inclined to waste time and effort searching for something ‘better’.   Working with what we’ve got means getting on and being creative. Down the line, we may – indeed – be due an upgrade. But let’s not let that distract us from our present enjoyment of doing.

Putting Ideas First

Juggling For Beginners

Have Less and Do More

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Start a Conversation

Start a Conversation - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Every creative project starts with a conversation. And every Conversation begins with a question or statement. So, what do you have to say? What do you want to know? How will you start a conversation?

It may go something like: “I’ve had an idea!” or “what do you think about…?” or “have you ever wondered…?”. And now you’re off! It really can be that simple.

Learn Something New

The difficulty comes when you try to think too far ahead. The very fact you’ve posed a question or put forward an idea demonstrates you have something specific in mind. But it also suggests you are willing to learn something new. So, don’t cloud things by trying to second-guess where the conversation will take you.

The purpose of starting a dialogue is to gain somebody else’s view on a topic. In conversation, this may feel adversarial. Especially where two people have different perspectives. But conflict will only arise if you are overly defensive of your position.

Carry The Conversation Forward

Working creatively together, this process becomes collaborative. All view points can be explored to the mutual enrichment of everyone concerned. And the presentation of a resulting artistic work means you can share discoveries made with a wider public.

In performing or displaying your artistic creation, you therefore carry the conversation forward. Firstly, you will provoke thoughts and feelings in your audience. Their responses in the moment help to fuel the performance or presentation. And they may well go away afterwards and have further discussions of the ideas or concepts raised.

Question, Challenge & Discuss

All of which is is invaluable within an educational setting. We strive to provide safe spaces in which pupils can question, challenge and discuss ideas. The supportive, collaborative environment engendered by creative pursuits provides an ideal opportunity for individuals to grow and flourish.

It’s especially beneficial to those that may be less able to participate fully within a standard classroom scenario. For them, having other ways in which to engage with given topics and concepts can be both liberating and rewarding. And they also benefit, within this context, from not being singled out. All are encouraged to freely express themselves and none has to fear getting things ‘wrong’.

A Habit Worth Developing

Whilst this, in of itself, may be daunting to some, no one should be averse to simply starting a conversation. It’s something nearly all of us do without a second’s thought. And if you don’t, it’s a habit worth developing.

In our everyday interactions, the simple act of asking a question – whether to a friend, a relative or a complete stranger – will invariably lead to some kind of dialogue. This is often dismissed as ‘small talk’. However, asking someone ‘how’s your day going?’, ‘what brings you here?’ or, simply, ‘how are you?’ can be the precursor to an unexpected and interesting exchange. Whereas we may be reluctant to make the first conversational move, it’s rare that somebody will be less than pleased we have taken the trouble.

Aired & Shared

In any given situation, you are likely to have thoughts and questions in your mind. If you allow these to be aired and shared, they may well provide the first steps towards a creative outcome. So, what do you have to say? What would you Iike to know?

How will you start a conversation?

One Thing Leads to Another

It’s Good To Talk

Do You Have Something to Say?

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Doing Less – Achieving More

Doing Less - Achieving More; Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Not for the first time, I find myself having to contradict what I previously wrote. But that’s fine: contradiction provides a rich source of creative possibility. Now I’d like to explore the benefits of doing less.

Do What You Can, When You Can

I know… last time I wrote ‘perhaps we could all benefit from having less and doing more.’ I still stand by that. But it does need Some qualification.

The point I was making was that we shouldn’t use not having something as an excuse for not doing something. However, what I wasn’t suggesting is that we should aim to be busy and productive all the time. Rather, we should do what we can, when we can, with what we have. And this needn’t necessitate constant struggle.

Genius Drop-Out

Oddly enough, I was reminded of that fact recently, whilst reading about the work of Albert Einstein. It would be easy to assume that Einstein spent his whole life slaving over a smoking blackboard. However, he dropped out of school in Germany, having found the environment too pressured. He then spent a year reading philosophy and casually dropping in on lectures at a local college, before taking up ‘serious’ study.

Had Einstein not given himself such mental space, it’s possible he may never have made the breakthroughs he did. It took enormous leaps of imagination to generate his world-changing theories. So, time spent nurturing that imagination was certainly not wasted.

Fully Immersed

As educators, we can provide our students with opportunities to be both ‘doing’ and have mental freedom at the same time. This, of course, is through creative activity. Whether painting, dancing, singing, writing, sculpting, etc. they can fully immerse themselves in their thoughts and ideas. At the same time, such tasks block out external ‘noise’. So the imagination has room into which it can expand.

We are all under near-constant pressure to be achieving and productive. Whereas, truth be told, little of our activity produces anything. And most actual output comes after a period of reflection or contemplation. So, any exercise that manages to combine reflective thought with tangible output has to be valued.

Just Another Chore

But we must avoid the tendency to make this just another chore; something to be ticked off a list of of achievements. Creativity should provide a space in which pupils can step outside of their normal modes of thinking. And this is a chance to develop useful life habits.

Through creative expression, we can challenge our own certainties. We can explore new possibilities. And we can develop new ideas. But they key is to immerse ourselves in the process, not rush headlong towards a proscribed goal.

Surprising and Rewarding

In education, we must set aims and objectives. That’s fine. But we must allow our students time to explore these fully. That way, they can be open to outcomes that are as surprising as they are rewarding.

Being truly productive takes time. So, sometimes, we do need to do less in order to achieve more.

Creative Impatience

Enjoy the Ride (& Value The Process)!

Take Some Time Out

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Have Less and Do More

Have Less to Do More - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Sometimes, having a lot of ‘stuff’ can be more of a hindrance than a help. Perhaps we would all benefit were we to have less and do more.

An Epiphany

My son is currently studying at drama school. He was recently preparing to return and sorting out what he wanted to take. Some time ago he’d acquired a crash mat to practise his gymnastics at home. In addition, I’d offered him my old electronic drum kit (he’s a man of many parts). Now, he wanted to have these with him at his new digs.

So, my wife arranged the hire of a small van and we were getting everything ready for the move. But then I had an epiphany. Our son had been telling us how tightly scheduled his course is. And how he has been visiting a local gymnastics centre, as well as using the school’s rehearsal rooms and drum kit. Which means there would be little need for him to have everything at his home.

Mother of Invention

How often do we say to ourselves ‘if only I had x, I could do y’? But how many times is that really true? Are we really just making excuses for not simply finding a way to get on with y in the first place? Maybe we can hire or borrow whatever it is we need. Perhaps we know someone who has the skills or resources we lack.

This can provide an opportunity to connect or collaborate. It also alleviates the need to acquire ‘stuff’. We may well discover we don’t really need it after all. Or can find a way to achieve our goals with what we already have available. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Creative Resourcefulness

Many great creative works were produced when the artist had next to nothing at their disposal.  The key thing was they had a vision. And saw that through to fruition, however limited their means.

For those of us concerned with education, clearly having sufficient resources is important. However, creative resourcefulness is something from which every pupil can benefit. As previously discussed, the creative process is largely one of whittling down our options. So, starting with limited means may actually be of benefit.

Dance in a Field

Creative expression is a function of imagination. We can very easily stifle that mechanism through over-reliance on equipment, technology or other paraphernalia. Plus, should we do away with all that, we remove the excuse that we can’t commence our experimentation until we have […insert excuse here].

Children engage their imaginations constantly. They are keen and willing to represent their ideas through whatever means are available to them. So, they won’t mind at all if they are asked to dance in a field, draw with mud or sing in a corridor!

Go Create

We can all create. Some of us feel the urge to do so more than others. But none of us needs to be held back from doing so for the want of more stuff. I’d even argue we could all benefit from having less and doing more.

So, go create. Using whatever you have. Whenever you can. And no, my son didn’t take those things with him. And he’s happy without.

Connect… For Real

Do Something

One Thing Leads to Another

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Take Two

Take Two: Dance Notes creative blog for teachers

Yesterday, I spent some time reworking a song I’d recently recorded. Only to find I actually prefer the original version. So was that a waste of time?

The Luxury and Burden of Choice

Sometimes, you need to consider an alternative in order to appreciate the value of a piece of creative work. As previously discussed, any artistic pursuit is  largely a process of whittling down possibilities. So, how do we know when we’ve chosen the right ones?

In short, we don’t. As we’ve also explored, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We, therefore, simultaneously have both the luxury and burden of choice. And, for our pupils, this provides an excellent learning opportunity.

Joys of Childhood

Being able to try things out with no risk or consequence is one of the joys of childhood. And perhaps one we could afford greater value. If children are encouraged to embrace that freedom, they may find it easier to make boId choices later in life.

But that’s not to say we are leading them to be reckless. And this is where our experimentation with alternatives comes in. Learning to make creative assessment through comparison is a useful life skill. One that can be applied to a great many situations.

Different Hats

If children are taught to see decision making as a playful, creative pursuit, then it need not become a chore when required under more pressing circumstances. And they may choose to apply the A-B testing technique explored whilst practicing creative arts.

Whilst ‘going wrong’ may seen frustrating at the time, it is therefore an integral and useful part of the process. Plus it can shine a light on what is good about a version we now realize we prefer. It’s the artistic equivalent of trying on different hats. Often, we only know which one we prefer once we’ve discovered those we don’t like so much.

Explore The Alternatives

In the world of audio recording, it’s common practise to capture multiple takes’. It’s also remarkable how often the first take turns out to be the one we prefer. But we can’t know this until we’ve explored the alternatives.

So go ahead. Try and try again. Take one… take two… take three… Enjoy the process and appreciate the difference.

Do Something

Please Yourself

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Take Note – Part 2

You can never know when your best ideas are going to strike. But you can be fairly sure it won’t be when you’re sat at a desk waiting for inspiration.

Latest Brainwave

So, how do we harness these fleeting thoughts? A simple solution is to keep a notebook handy. And if you can’t have that with you when out and about, try to make a note of your latest brainwave as soon as you get back to it. As I am doing now.

Structuring our time, particularly within an educational setting, is important. However, we need to allow for the fact that intuition tends to behave in a chaotic, unstructured fashion. And not be fooled into assuming we’II remember everything when the time is ‘right’.

Couldn’t Possibly Forget

How often have you had a moment’s insight and believed the idea so strong you couldn’t possibly forget? Then, later – when you’ve tried to retrieve that thought – it has completely evaporated. Very frustrating. And potentially costly, in terms of the time and effort spent remembering what had been there in front of you.

It may seem inconvenient to break the moment in order to note something down. But this is far less of a disturbance than having to root around your memory reserves later, in a retrieval mission after the event.

Individual Context

It’s the mental equivalent of dealing with something right away, rather than putting it on a ‘to do’ pile. Whilst it may feel more efficient to go through tasks in one concerted effort, each has its own individual context. And that will need consideration when you come to deal with it later.

If you address ideas as they appear, their context will be self-evident. Whereas, should you put them off until later, you’ll need to rediscover the background to each as you come back to it. And run the risk of important detail being missed.

Real Learning

For these reasons, it’s a great idea to keep a notepad, ideas journal, scrapbook or ‘rough book’ handy. All of which can have a place within the classroom. They provide a way for you to keep your thoughts in order and your pupils to appreciate that their spontaneous ideas have value.

We naturally want children to retain the important information we impart through our expert teaching. But they also need to acknowledge the responses and questions these teachings provoke. Which, arguably, is where the real learning happens.

Meaningful & Rewarding

When our pupils have the opportunity to work creatively with this learning (through music, art, dance, etc.) they will then have a store of source-material on which to call. Creative pursuits are therefore both informed by – and a way of reinforcing – classroom learning. So this is a two-way street.

Those who struggle within a conventional learning environment, thereby have an alternative way to engage with their thoughts. And those that find creative expression a challenge have a way-in to this world. In either case, having kept a note of ideas that inform their work makes the process more meaningful and rewarding.

Take Note!

So, please, take note. And take notes.

Take Note

Save Everything

Unexpected Inspiration

Don’t Get it Right – Get it Done

A film maker once told me he only had one direction for his crew. And that was this: ‘don’t get it right – get it done’.

Nagging Doubt

For some, this may sound like poor advice. Surely, we should all strive for the best possible outcome? Yes, indeed, but the key word here is ‘possible’.

Every creative pursuit has its constraints. These may be time, resources, skill-levels, etc. Although we are aware of these, many of us – in nearing completion of a task – may have the nagging doubt our work could be better. So, we don’t finish.

At some point, we have to agree that what we have produced is good enough. We will invariably wish some things were different; some elements should be better. But unless we have the courage to declare our work complete, we may never finish.

Flaws and All

Though you may be unhappy with some of your creative rough edges, it could be that these are what give your work its character. To you, something may feel like an annoying blemish. But to everyone else, it could seem inspired. Why do you think we apply the phrase ‘flawed genius’ so often to creative artists?

If you work to commission, you will invariably need to meet an imposed cut-off. This may feel like an inconvenience but try to see it is an advantage. You need to deliver your work by a certain point in time and within a set budget. So, procrastination is not an option. One way or another, you have to ‘get it done’, flaws and all.

Doesn’t Matter

In the world of education, timetables similarly restrict our pupils. Older children must deliver assignments for assessment on time. Younger ones must generally complete given tasks within a lesson framework.

Remember that what is important, within this context, is that the outcome doesn’t matter. Yes, a few of you may flinch at that assertion. But real learning comes through the creative process. Making mistakes is part of that process. And wanting to do better another.

Progress & Improve

Fear of something not being good enough can prevent a pupil from completing a creative task. Not only that, it can put them off even starting. So, it is vital they understand that this is a safe environment in which they can experiment. Encourage them to end up with a ‘finished’ piece, regardless of its flaws. This should enable them to get on and immerse themselves in the act of creation, rather than fretting about its outcome.

Indeed, whether you create within the commercial world, for educational purposes or simply for fun, there’s a good chance you’ll be unhappy – on some level – with what you make. But this is not a bad thing. It demonstrates a desire to progress and improve. And the way to do this is to create something else. And – when that’s not good enough – something else again. And again.

Get it Done

So long as we remember to enjoy the process, this becomes a rewarding and fulfilling situation. As we continue to strive to improve, we become evermore fascinated by the act of creating.

Though we may not consider all our output to be ‘right’, we are getting it done.

Do Something

Ideas, Obstacles & Outcomes

Knowing When To Stop

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Connect… For Real

Connect... For Real - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Sometimes, when working within a ‘creative bubble’, it’s possible to get bogged-down. That’s when you need to connect.

Always ‘On’

People will often ask ‘have you got much on at the moment?’. This is a well-meaning and vague question that’s really only intended as small talk. However, if you are a freelance creator, it can be quite triggering. The reason being that you always have a potentially infinite amount ‘on’.

How so? Because your work is self-generated. Much of what you do may be determined by the needs of others. However, in between such work, you will always be striving to improve your craft, discover new methods, find new means of expression, etc. So, in effect, you are always ‘on’.

Like Minded

Not only does this highlight the need to know when and how to switch off (discussed elsewhere) – it also demands coping strategies to stay focussed and on track. A very good way to cope is through connection with others. And preferably others who are of a like mind and/or in a similar situation.

My own work involves a combination of creative composition, education, performance and administration. Which can be quite a juggling act. And, sometimes, overwhelming. The need to produce on demand whilst maintaining good business practices and nurturing new opportunities can, frankly, be too much. However, this is my choice and the rewards are abundant.

Prepared and Invested

When I lose sight of the positive side to all of this, my best strategy is to call on somebody I know who understands my position. And this can work for anyone, regardless of your talents and interests. But – in my experience – it needs to be a real, human interaction in order to have any impact.

What generally happens, in my case, is that a meeting – however informal – with another creative individual tends to spark ideas and processes that knock me out of my malaise. This works because I have now made a commitment to another person. If I have suggested ‘let’s meet to have a chat about x’, I then need to make sure I am prepared and invested in x to begin with.

We All Need an Ally

Quite often, x will lead to y. And now there are two of us involved, so I have to keep up my end of the bargain, whatever that may be. Sometimes, it could be as simple as sending a follow-up email, thanking the person for their time and outlining what I propose to do next.

Even where a meeting has no agenda and nothing tangible comes from it, you have both committed to the continuation of your relationship, be it professional or otherwise. And you have each reinforced the knowledge in one another that you have an ally. Which we all need.

Stay Connected

A cornerstone of our educational work with young people is engendering collaboration and cooperation. Learning, at a young age, to share ideas and problems, is a skill that will provide life-long rewards. In adulthood, it’s easy to forget to maintain our connections. We can be ‘too busy’ or ‘not feeling up to it’ or a host of other excuses. However, for own well-being, connection is vital.

Children – in the main – will collaborate instinctively. But when one feels vulnerable, at any age, it’s very easy to shut others out. Just when we most need them.  As previously discussed, vulnerability is a key element of creative pursuits. So, whilst engaging with these, it’s important to stay connected.

In Person

And, in case it wasn’t clear before, these connections need to be in person. Social media, I’m afraid, just won’t cut it. Whatever those algorithms may want you to believe!

Creative Connections

It’s Ok To Be Vulnerable

Knowing When To Stop

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Save Everything

Save Everything - Dance Notes creativity blog for educators

In a recent post, we discussed the value in generating ideas quickly, then discarding them. Let’s now look at the benefit of keeping what we’ve produced. Let go… but save everything!

Kept and Valued

You can be both not too precious about what you make and diligent in storing your creations. The same art teacher that encouraged my class to work fast and throw our work away also instilled the principle of keeping everything. And this isn’t the contradiction it at first appears.

We can free ourselves to be creative and explore new ideas when we aren’t constrained by the need to produce ‘finished’ work all the time. However, once we do create something substantial, we may not always have an immediate outlet. Especially if our work is experimental by nature. This does not, though, mean that it should not be kept and valued.

Future Inspiration

We never know when such work may be useful. Nor can we guess when something may prompt us to revisit the ideas or methods employed in its creation. Keeping an archive means we can readily access earlier output. We can then find it as and when needed, if only for future inspiration.

The brain is a curious thing. When an idea is present, it is hard to imagine it not being there anymore. How often have you thought ‘I should write that down’ but then not done so? At that moment, the thing on your mind is so clear you can’t imagine it disappearing. But then, when you need to remember what it was, it has evaporated.

It Is Work

The same can be said of creative work. It is such an immersive experience that, at the time of creation, the notion you may not be able to remember what was made or how it was done is hard to entertain. Trying to recreate something that came from a moment’s inspiration is virtually impossible. So, it’s a good idea to hold on to your work, even if you have no idea why you would want to.

And it is work. In the educational world, the relative value placed upon creative activity waxes and wanes. Those of us actively engaged in creative education are in no doubt as to its intrinsic value on multiple levels. However, because the act of being creative can be very playful and enjoyable, it is all too easy to dismiss as frivolous. Building a body of work is one way to offset any such misgivings.

Demonstrating Your Abilities

There is a whole other debate to be had about whether the value in an artwork is in its perceived price or something less tangible. But the fact is that most creative professionals have to work to order, in some capacity or other, in order to survive. Which means they are subject to other people’s assessment of the value of their work. And they need to be able to demonstrate their abilities to prospective clients.

Most ‘artists’ will be producing whether or not they are commissioned so to do. Were they to simply discard the work that was not ordered, they would have little to show for their efforts and no way of exhibiting their skills and talents. Keeping a portfolio is vital for the procurement of sustaining work. Or, in an educational context, a place on a chosen course of study.

Keep Everything

So, free yourself creatively by not always aiming to produce ‘finished’ work. But keep everything you do finish. And organise that into a useable, presentable archive wherever possible. You never know when you may need to present evidence (or just want to remember your creation for its own sake).

Your creative work is work. And that is valuable. If not now, then you never know when you may need it.   

Let Go

Go With the Flow

Take Note

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Let Go

Let Go - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

We live in a world in which it’s possible to capture almost everything we do. However, it’s useful to know when to let go.

Spoiler Alert

Spoiler alert: over the next two blog posts, I’m going to wilfully and knowingly contradict myself. But that’s OK. Life’s full of contradictions. Isn’t that what makes it so interesting?

Today I want to focus – to quote from a songwriter friend – on the art of letting go. Which ties-in with the broader discussion of how to generate ideas and stay creative. Sometimes a fear of missing the good stuff may actually preventing it from happening at all. I’ll explain.

Nothing At All

When I was at school, art was very much my thing. And because I was good at drawing at a young age, there was an expectation that everything I’d do would be of a certain standard. Which in turn became quite inhibiting.

I would sit for hours with a blank piece of paper in front of me, wondering what kind of masterpiece might ensue. As a consequence, quite often I did nothing at all. Which denied me the pleasure inherent in the act of drawing.

Get Stuck In

Thinking too far ahead in this way can be counterproductive. It wasn’t until I reached sixth form and studied under a more progressive art teacher that I learned that it’s OK to just ‘do stuff’. Not only that but I could do stuff and then throw it away.

As a group, we were encouraged to work very quickly, with no ‘corrections’ allowed. We’d be given large sheets of low-grade paper and permanent markers with which to draw. So, there was no choice but to be active, let go of any doubts and get stuck in.

Happy Accidents

With the knowledge that at the end of the session we would bin our work, we could work without inhibition. This was very liberating and helped to inform my work, later in life, as a composer. It turns out that a lot of what we value most as artists comes about by happy accident.

But you have to put in the time. You have to allow for the weight of activity that will ultimately deliver that rare pearl you are seeking. And it’s OK to discard the rest.

Something Precious

You may think that by not capturing your work – whether it be visual, in sound or physical movement – you may be in danger of losing something precious. However, the act of regular creation means that you are storing up a kind of creative muscle-memory that you will be able to then call upon when needed.

But without complete freedom of expression, you will always be constraining your ideas. In a world in which we are constantly measured and compared, such freedoms are rare. As educators, it is our duty to afford our pupils this liberation. Because, if they can’t experience it through creativity, where else is it going to happen?

Just Let Go

As advertised, I will be presenting a contradictory view in my next blog post. In the meantime, however, get busy, get creative and… let it go.

Let Go the Reins

Go With the Flow

Just Do One Thing

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

It’s OK To Be Creatively Vulnerable

It's Ok To Be Creatively Vulnerable - Dance Nots' creativity blog for teachers

One thing that holds many people back from realising their potential is the fear of vulnerability. But it is OK to be creatively vulnerable.

Truly Liberating

I’d go a step further. It’s necessary to make yourself vulnerable in order to be truly creative. Furthermore, creative activity is unique in providing a space in which we can be vulnerable without putting ourselves in danger.

Of course, within an educational setting it is vital that safeguards are in place to ensure safety. Once that is in hand, the freedom to let go of certainty and security is truly liberating. But why is this important?

Free to Express Yourself

It’s important because a life lived in fear is one of repression and limitation. Once you have experienced the reality that others’ opinions can’t hurt, you are then free to express yourself in whatever way you like.

Reaching that point may take a little time and effort. And one of the biggest fears for many people is that of being laughed at. For younger children, this can be particularly so.

Equal Footing

To help them overcome this, it is essential they be put on an equal footing with their peers. When all are equally vulnerable, then mutual support can be instilled. And a good way to facilitate this is to present a creative challenge which is new to all participants.

Working visually, this may mean introducing a new medium to a group or class. In sound, this could be providing instruments that are unfamiliar or asking a group to work with their voices in new and unusual ways. Physically, the challenge may be to find new ways of moving or interacting with others.

Imagined Limits

Anyone who has taken part in an outward-bound activity that pushed all participants beyond their imagined limits will know what a bonding experience this can be. It may seem strange to equate this with art work but the outcomes can be very similar. The sense of togetherness and mutual support engendered by, for example, putting on a theatrical production can be truly exhilarating.

It’s ironic that we fear alienation and ridicule by making ourselves vulnerable through creative pursuits. In the event, we are more likely to forge closer bonds and connections with others when we allow this vulnerability. We all crave shared experience and often it’s the more uncomfortable situations that fulfil this need the most.

Empathy & Admiration

Even solo creative pursuits can work in this way. A singer, sharing their thoughts and feeling through song connects with others in a way that may illude them in day-to-day life. A visual artist, though remote from those viewing their work, may similarly evoke levels of empathy and admiration they’d not otherwise imagined.

In all cases, the artist or creator has had to lay themselves bare to a greater or lesser extent. And, in all cases, they will have found that this has done them no harm. Quite the contrary: it has enhanced not only their own life but those of many around them.

Which can’t be a bad thing. Can it?

Do You Have Something to Say?

Keeping It Real

Please Yourself

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Who Am I Kidding?

Who Am I Kidding - Dance Notes' creativity blog for teahcers

Sometimes, we just want to run away and hide. We ask ourselves: ‘who am I kidding?’ So, how do we overcome such anxiety?

First Time Nerves

Last week, I performed at a charity event. There were two stages but only one compere and sound engineer. Fortunately for me, I performed on the stage that had both. Others were less lucky.

One such performer was a young girl, who was singing her own songs for the first time in public. She is a student of a friend of mine, who was there to support her. When it came to her slot, there was nobody there to introduce her and nobody to show her how to plug in or get the sound she needed from the PA.

Warm Reception

My friend, her teacher, showed her how to set up. However, she was disheartened and said she no longer wanted to perform. He persisted and said that if she wants to do this, she will need to get used to the vagaries of live performance. In the end, she went through with her set and received a warm reception.

This may not seem like a particularly unusual or earth-shattering story. However, for that young performer it could just be a life-defining moment. And, even if this turns out to be the one and only performance she gives, it will have taught her something valuable. Which is to overcome your anxieties in the moment, however doubtful you may feel.

Imposter Syndrome

We all experience doubt. Many of us suffer from what is commonly known as ‘imposter syndrome’, whereby we feel unworthy of an opportunity or the attention it affords us. However, we all have it within us to push through. In the words of a popular psychology book from the 1980s, we need to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

As a youngster, I went for an audition to play drums for a rock band. When I arrived, another drummer was already playing. He looked the part and was a phenomenal musician. I almost left without trying out myself. However, I realised that if this was what I wanted to do, I’d need to go ahead and take the plunge.

After the audition, not much was said, so I packed up and left. Later that day, received a call from the band leader. He asked why I’d rushed off. I told him it was clear the other drummer was far better and they wouldn’t be interested in me. To which he replied: ‘he was too much of a superstar – we really liked your playing’.

Honesty & Integrity

The point is, we can each only do the best we have to offer. Often, we will convince ourselves that our best is not good enough. And very often we will be wrong.

The fact that you are worried whether or not you are good enough to do something shows that you are invested in it. You care about the outcome: both for yourself and others involved. These are signs of integrity and honesty. Both of which are valuable attributes.

Do It Anyway

So, by all means feel the fear. Do question your abilities and motives. But don’t back out. If whatever it is you are hoping to achieve doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. Having said that, if you care enough to have such doubts, you’ll probably be great.

Please Yourself

Do You Have Something to Say?

Ideas, Obstacles & Outcomes

Don’t Look at The Tree

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Creative Connections

Creative Connections - creativity blog for teachers

One of the nice things about creative work is connecting other people. Creative connections are vital and passing those on is a pleasure.

Broaden Horizons

We’ve already discussed how collaboration broadens our own horizons. Our ideas are enhanced by sharing, discussing and questioning them. Problems are solved more quickly and in unexpected ways when we open ourselves to external input.

But how do we build the creative connections needed for this to happen? It’s really very simple. And possibly better to ask: ‘how do we block connections that would otherwise take place?’.

Whatever your creative pursuit – be it visual art, music, movement, theatre – you will inevitably come into contact with other, like-minded souls. Even if you spend hours secluded in a studio, you will then, at some point go to exhibitions, courses, festivals or similar places where other artists gather. And, unless you are particularly shy or people-averse, you will make connections.

Open & Honest

People often talk about ‘networking’, which is a fair description. Unfortunately, that word has become loaded with negative implications. There is a sense that it entails egotism and/or manipulation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The main thing is to be open and honest with one another. We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, insecure. And we don’t need to be impressing one another all the time, even if we consider others to be somehow important to our progress.

Be Useful

A really good way to make and nurture creative connections is to be useful to others. Within my own local creative community, people will often ask if I know someone with a particular skill or talent. It’s always great to be able to say: ‘oh yes, so-and-so does this’ – or ‘here’s the number of someone who does that’.

In these scenarios, you are not only aiding the person in need of help but also the one that can provide it. You have facilitated a whole new connection, which will then enrich the creative network as a whole. What’s more, those people will remember you as a helpful presence and are likely to keep in touch and want to work with you when the opportunity arises.

Useful Participants

And this applies to educational work too. Youngsters that may not otherwise find it easy to connect are given a reason to interact. They become useful participants within a collective pursuit. This teaches them the value of getting together with others. Which, hopefully, will spill over into their lives outside of the educational setting.

They too will then be able to say ‘oh, I know someone who’s good at that’. And then they can be the one who’s helpful in putting others together. Which is a valuable skill to nurture and a useful asset in any walk of life, creative or otherwise.

Get Connecting

So, go on and get connecting. Whether it’s introducing friends, colleagues or pupils, the rewards will be many. We all like to feel we are part of something. And to help others feel that way is both enriching and rewarding. Especially at a time when many have had to endure isolation for so long.

Do Something

Your Creative Curve

Please Yourself

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

30 Years On

30 years on Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

30 Years ago this month, Dance Notes was born – in a small room in North London that was studio, office and living quarters rolled into one.

Small But Efficient

The tiny bedroom space (not the one picture) needed to be used efficiently to facilitate the needs of a fledgling enterprise. Music was composed using a digital piano, a borrowed synthesizer, flute, voice and percussion (whatever household objects came to hand). All of which had to then be stowed away to make space for the ‘office’. This comprised an electric typewriter, various ledgers, folders, writing pads and a telephone.

So, there was literally only space to perform one task at a time. Which was no bad thing. Whereas, today, digital technology allows us to flit from one thing to another, back then the progression was linear. Consequently, time had to be planned and apportioned. And the job got done.

Early Collaboration

As a student in a multi-discipline performing arts environment, I had become fascinated with contemporary dance. For me, as a composer, this provided amazing opportunities for experimentation. It also delivered some very useful lessons in collaboration. Getting inside the head of other artists and sharing their creative vision is something I learned to appreciate early on. And this has stood me in good stead ever since.

After graduating, I was engaged as a dance accompanist for classes, both at Middlesex Polytechnic (as it was then known) and Westminster College. This was a great way to see, first-hand, how different rhythms, textures and timbres work together with movement. At the same time, I co-founded ‘Hot Savoury Soufflés’ dance-theatre company, with whom I both performed and conducted workshops.

National Curriculum

During this period, Dance was introduced as a compulsory element of the National Curriculum for primary schools in England and Wales. I had already begun creating music for individual teachers. So, it was a natural progression to offer this to schools more generally.

The name ‘Dance Notes’ was settled on and seemed nicely to reflect the aim of providing music for dance. A collection of tracks was copied to cassette tape (yes, indeed!) and an artist commissioned to create the inlay. Now all I had to do was let people know what was available.

Something Missing

The response was instant and overwhelming. So, I quickly began work on a second collection (‘Dance Notes Volume 2’) and invested in some new studio equipment. But it soon became clear that something was missing.

Teachers started calling to ask where the ‘notes’ were. I had naïvely assumed that schools tasked with delivering a new curriculum area would be provided with the necessary information and skills to do so. But apparently not. Fortunately, in naming the business ‘Dance Notes’, I had accidentally stumbled upon the answer.

Forging Partnerships

I teamed up with a dance specialists who understood how teachers work and plan their lessons. We created a series of 12 lessons (6 at Key Stage 1 and 6 at Key Stage 2), which were published as the book ‘First Steps in Dance’. But this was rather proscriptive and limited in its scope.

Luckily, by now, the internet was taking hold as a viable way to share information. It therefore became possible to create new lessons on a rolling basis and develop the format as we went along. Eventually, this evolved into the downloadable plans you see from Dance Notes today.

Back to The Curriculum

Originally, lessons were offered as an add-on for teachers that had bought music and needed help with their planning. However, over time, the focus switched. Now, each scheme reflects a classroom topic and is structured to take classes through a term’s progression. A range of supplementary materials is also provided, to guide teachers through learning pathways, pupil assessment, etc.

So, the music is now an embedded element, rather than the main feature. In a sense, Dance Notes has come full circle. It began as a response to teachers needing music in order to fulfil their dance teaching requirements. But it has become a fully-integrated set of teaching resources, the themes and structures of which are driven by the curriculum.

Listen & Respond

So, what does this all have to teach us, from the point of view of creative education? There are a number of lessons to be learned. One has to do with resilience. When the 30-year history of Dance Notes is condensed into a few short sentences, it all sounds pretty simple. However, it has actually been a long and bumpy road. But I have never lost sight of what Dance Notes is for and the belief that it can genuinely help improve young lives.

Perhaps more importantly, I have listened throughout to the teachers who use these resources. You are the people whose needs I aim to fulfil. You have helped me adapt to the shifting demands of the schools curriculum. And you have shown me how to use the language of education.

Adaptation is Key

If it’s possible to build a business from a borrowed synthesizer and a typewriter, it’s equally possible to overcome creative challenges in the classroom. As a teacher, you may need to adapt a classroom for a dance space. You may need to spend two sessions on part of a plan that was written for one week. You may find yourself using a music track from one section to accompany a different one. All of this is OK.

Similarly, pupils are tasked with physically representing ideas they may have only previously put down on paper. They may have to overcome shyness and inhibition to interact with other children. They are challenged to think of new ideas on the spot. And they do.

A Little Bit Easier

I admire every single teacher that is faced with multiple demands on a daily basis. And I hope that my small contribution may have made at least one part of that process a little bit easier.

Thank you to all who have used and contributed to Dance Notes over the past 30 years. Long may it continue.

Just Do One Thing

Enjoy the Ride (& Value The Process)!

Do Something

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Putting Ideas First

Putting Ideas First - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Sometimes, telling people about your ideas can force you into action. And, even though this may feel scary, it can often be the best way to get things done.

An Open Secret

I recently delivered promotional material to a local theatre for a performance that’s in development. But the show itself doesn’t yet exist. So, how can that work? Well, this is something of an open secret within the theatrical community. If you are involved in that world it may not come as a surprise but others might think it strange.

The truth is, when you put together a theatre show, things happen in a peculiar order. One of the first things you generally do is create promotional images. Then, you’ll write some ‘blurb’, describing your masterpiece to prospective venues. After that, you design posters and flyers to attract audiences. Then, you write a press release for the media…

Something Missing

So, what’s the big reveal? Well, something’s missing from that list… The show!

I’ve worked on many theatrical productions, as composer, musician, writer and performer. And, in most cases, the show itself hasn’t been created until all of the above has taken place. But don’t be alarmed.

In order to produce all that promotional material, you really have to know what the show is going to be about. You need to have a clear vision of the mood, style and flavour of the performance. And you must be sure you can deliver, when it comes to putting it all together.

Everything Will Follow

So, all I need do now is write the thing! Well, the songs are written. The structure is in place. Special guests are booked. And everything else will follow.

You may well have experienced this with a school production, an exhibition or an open day. A date is set well in advance. And as that deadline nears, there is no option but to see through the ideas you have for how this will be presented.

Calling Your Own Bluff

It’s as though you’ve called your own bluff by saying ‘I’m going to do ‘x’ on this date’. In education, deadlines are a natural part of the process. However, on a personal level, it’s also good practice to set yourself goals and a time by which to achieve them. And if you broadcast these to the wider world, you’ll feel duty-bound to meet them.

For pupils, they can learn a valuable lesson in understanding commitment. Having promised to carry out a creative activity, especially when in collaboration, they will discover that others are now relying on them to see it through. Which, in turn, carries responsibility – both to themselves and their collaborators.

Tell The World

Next time you have a creative urge or an idea, try telling someone else about it. Then announce a date or time by which it will be finished. And promise to make the resulting work available.

Then, you will already be on the road to creating something to be proud of. Encourage your pupils to do the same. Or involve them in your own projects.

Remember: we only ever regret the things we haven’t done. So, tell the world your ideas. Then make them happen.

Just Do One Thing

What Is Your Personal Truth?

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partner: Make  Move

Mind The Gap

Mind The Gap - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

222346322 © Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums | Dreamstime.com

Preparation for any kind of performance is very important. But mind you don’t fall down the gap between being fully rehearsed and truly spontaneous.

Variables in Delivery

We have talked before about the importance of going with the flow and remaining alert to creative possibilities. However, sometimes our aim is to produce a distinct performance. So, how do we then best harness those things within a ‘fixed’ piece of work?

You would hope that, by the time the show/exhibition/gig/etc. comes around, you would be fully rehearsed and know what is going to happen. But within the prepared framework, there are always going to be variables in delivery. Not least of which is what is going on inside your own mind.

Set of Tools

Many seasoned performers suffer terribly from stage fright. They can become paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of expectation and crushing sense of scrutiny. And this is why many people feel they could never perform in front of others.

Working with pupils in a creative performance setting, we can help to overcome such fears, before they become embedded. And, as with all things, to do this we must have a set of tools at our disposal. Chief among which is good preparation.

Heightened State

For my part, I have experienced performance of many kinds first hand. Some of this has been informal, some formal, sometimes improvised, sometimes highly defined and thoroughly rehearsed. And in all the time I have been performing, I can only recall one instance in which I experienced no nerves. And that was not a good thing. Not at all.

Being nervous puts you into a heightened state of alertness. Which aids good performance. But it can – of course – also induce terror, if not properly harnessed. So how do we get hold of those nerves and turn them into something useful?

In The Moment

The trick – as already mentioned – is good preparation. If you are doing something technical, like playing a musical instrument or performing a dance, you will need to be secure in your core abilities. If you are presenting something more improvised, you will need to have set-out some boundaries and rules.

Whatever the nature of your creation, a live performance entails being ‘in the moment’. And this is where we can trip ourselves up. I would suggest that you need to be either fully rehearsed – to the extent that you know exactly what you will do in the performance – or, you need to be open to spontaneous possibilities and able to go with ideas as they appear.

Danger Zone

The danger zone lies between these two conditions. And I have experienced this for myself on many occasions. If you are partially rehearsed but trying to recreate something precise, there is a real danger you will find yourself struggling to remember what you rehearsed, rather than delivering an actual performance.

I would even go so far as to say that you are better off being under-prepared than partially rehearsed. If you take to the stage/space knowing that anything can happen, then you will remain present. There are, then, no such thing as mistakes, just new possibilities.

Better Than Planned

Even professional actors will tell you of times they have had to improvise their way out of a situation on stage. Someone may have forgotten a line or missed a cue. Whilst they, undoubtedly, will have been fully rehearsed, they were also able to remain in the moment and open to unexpected situations. So, the performance was not interrupted. Quite possibly, something better than what was planned may have even emerged.

In the end, there is no such thing as ‘wrong’. Which is the great beauty of all things creative. You, as performer, are in charge. You have the power to take your audience wherever you wish. Just make sure your co-performers are also with you!

You Never Know

And, most importantly: mind the gap. Avoid that vague area of half-preparedness. Make sure you are clear of what you want to say with your creation. But also be open to the unexpected. You never know where it may take you!

Just Do One Thing

What Is Your Personal Truth?

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partner: Make  Move

One Thing Leads To Another

Let’s put the creative horse before the cart. You may not know what rewards are in store. But, invariably, one thing leads to another.

Degree of Collaboration

A few years ago, I put on a live music event that incorporated elements of dance. One of the dancers was a student in her last year at university. She invited me to create a soundtrack for her final degree piece.

This dancer is also a fine artist. After graduating, she was awarded a residency at a local arts studio. At the end of this, she was to put on an exhibition of her works in the studio’s gallery. For this, she decided she would, once again, collaborate with other artists.

Different Perspectives

So, we met in early 2020, to discuss ideas for the exhibition. Her vision was to create something that reflected our different perspectives: her as an artist starting out in professional life; me as someone who has – for want of a better term – been around the block a couple of times.

We came up with the method of interviewing our respective friends and contacts. Their responses would form the basis of a soundscape, which I would create to accompany the visual works. In this way, a piece would be generated that reflected our differing circumstances, without being present ourselves. 

Creative Responses to Challenges

It turned out the best way to achieve this was to send out a list of questions and ask participants to record their responses on whatever device was at hand. For most people, of course, this would be a mobile phone. However, the quality of audio would vary according to the actual phone used, the acoustics of the space in which the recording was made and any ambient noise in the  background.

I was happy that these variations would provide technical challenges in blending and mixing the voices. I also knew that these challenges would help to trigger creative responses in building the resulting soundscape. What I didn’t know, at that time, was that we were about to be plunged into lockdown.

Extra Layer

As work began – and the recordings started to come in – we were already well into the first Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. So, this added an extra layer of social context to the participants’ contributions. And, of course, I too was immersed in the strangeness of what was happening to us all.

Before long, it became clear that the exhibition, originally scheduled for the summer, was unlikely to proceed. However, by this time, I was already invested in the creative process. I’d devised a method for combining and editing the voice recordings. And I had started to build a soundscape around these.  So, I ploughed on, regardless of whether or not the exhibition would take place.

Intrinsic Value

And here is the crux of what it means to be ‘an artist’, whatever your chosen discipline. In the main, artists create work for its own intrinsic value. Naturally, in most cases, an audience completes the work. However, whether or not there is an intended audience, the work is its own reward.

So, with no specific deadline or outlet for this audio production, I continued; thoroughly absorbed in the creative possibilities it provided. And – once complete – there it sat, largely unheard. Until, a few months ago, I received a call for submissions for an audio installation. This is a curated audio exhibition for an arts festival. The theme of which is the precarious state in which our society currently find itself.

A Life of Its Own

Now, my work, which started life as a collaborative project for an art installation, will have a life of its own. It could easily have been shelved and forgotten. However, the impulse to complete it, for its own sake, has meant it was finished and ready when an opportunity for presentation arose.

As a creator, one can often have the sense of working alone in the dark. It can sometimes feel self-indulgent to be spending long ours on something that is, to others, a ‘mere’ hobby. However, without this toil and commitment, there would be no end product to share. And, every so often, that sharing leads to recognition, appreciation and broader communication.

Shared Experience

Sadly, we are conditioned to see the value of something, primarily, in terms of the money it generates. But, for most of us, the truly valuable things in life are not quantifiable in this way. And, very often, these will comprise some form of shared experience.

Ultimately, what we know as ‘art’ facilitates such shared experiences. Working creatively with children, we provide them with the experience of exploring together. This then leads to sharing what they have created. And, in many cases, the process will generate some form of mutual understanding, whether of one another or the subject of their endeavours – or both.

One Thing Will Lead to Another

Through the creative process, we learn that concrete outcomes come from abstract thought. Ideas lead to actions. Actions lead to reactions.

In a nutshell – keep creating and one thing will lead to another.

Art For Art’s Sake

Just Do One Thing

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partner: Make  Move

Do You Have Something to Say?

Do you have something to say? Something you can’t ignore? Something hard to articulate in plain language? It’s time to get creative…

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What is Art?

People often ask ‘what is Art? What is it for?’ I would suggest it’s the expression of the inexpressible. It’s a way of communicating ideas and feelings that can’t be put into words. Let’s be honest, there are plenty of situations in which words won’t cut it. Frankly, I’m struggling right now.

One of the limitations of written or spoken language is its linear form. Visual art allows the viewer to roam from one image to another, forming connections and patterns in her or his own mind. Sound may appear to be linear but the use of motif and repetition similarly creates patterns that transcend temporal constraint.

The Proverbial Tree

But what makes this ‘art’ is the intent behind the creation. The desire – on the part of the artist – to communicate is what provides depth and meaning. Often the meaning itself may not even be clear to the creator. However, the need to impart ‘something’ will render the work meaningful to its recipient. Even if the perceived message is other than that originally intended.

As someone who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of art, I am constantly fascinated by what my creations mean to those that encounter them. Indeed, a piece of art could be said to be like the proverbial tree in the forest. If a painting has nobody to view it, does it really exist at all? Yes, it does – but is it then art?

Intension to Communicate

All of which may contradict previous musings on the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’. But there need not be a conflict. The process of creation is certainly its own reward. And it’s undoubtedly good practice to produce work regardless of whether an intended audience exists. However, what imbues this with meaning is the intention of communication.

At the point of creation, it may not be clear what the outlet for a creative work will be. But this should be no impediment to completing it. The fact you feel the need to say something, regardless, demonstrates that you have an artistic statement to make. So make it. 

Just Be

In fact, I’d go as far as to suggest that the best art avoids pandering to any expectation of how it will be received. True expression is, thus, ego-less. Rather than aiming to provoke a specific reaction, the creation is a pure expression of ideas, feelings or both. The artist doesn’t try to dictate how this will be received or interpreted. Rather they give freely of themselves, secure in the knowledge a recipient will form their own opinion or reaction.

In an educational context, this provides pupils with an excellent opportunity. They are consistently asked to perform specific tasks to achieve designated outcomes. In creating something for its own sake, however, they have license to just ‘do’ – and, even, just ‘be’.

Get Creative

With ever fewer freedoms and ever greater constraints, this is hugely beneficial. Children desperately need self-expression. The chance to turn this into something productive may just prevent that urge from becoming disruptive or, even, destructive.

 So, what do you have to say? How would you like to say it? Are there no words to express what you are feeling? Then it’s time to get creative.

Putting Ideas First

Art For Art’s Sake

Please Yourself

Our Creative Partner: Make  Move

Ideas, Obstacles & Outcomes

Ideas Obstacles Outcomes - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers. Phot: 88559857 © publicdomainstockphotos | Dreamstime.com

How do you convert ideas to outcomes when the path is full of obstacles? Do you know who to turn to when the going gets tough? Wouldn’t you rather just give up?

Spirit & Determination

I had the pleasure of performing at a new event last weekend. The idea was that this would be an alternative and sustainable outdoor experience. It combined healthy dining with live entertainment, within a secluded, woodland setting. All of which sounds pretty idyllic.

This was the first of what is hoped to become a regular fixture. As with many fledgling ventures, it was beset with obstacles and the whole thing could have been a disaster. However, the sheer spirit and determination of all involved meant that the evening was actually a success.

The person providing sound – who was also one half of a duo on the bill – became unexpectedly unavailable. When his partner arrived with the PA, she discovered that the electricity supply was not sufficient to cope with its demands. In attempting to rig this up, the power was lost to both the event marquee and temporary kitchen where food was being prepared.

All Is Not Lost

But all was not lost. A back-up generator was quickly deployed to provide power and light to the kitchen. Tea lights were distributed around the marquee area, creating an intimate and magical atmosphere as evening began to set in. The early performers calmly played their instruments without amplification or stage lighting.

Meanwhile, others worked behind the scenes to restore a power supply that, whilst unable to fuel the sound-system, was sufficient to run lighting for both the stage area and kitchen. Which meant the noisy generator could be put back to bed. And now the guests could enjoy aperitifs and canapes by candlelight, serenaded with acoustic instruments.

There was also a large campfire, away from the marquee. This was ready and lit for when darkness set in and diners wished to stretch their legs. In fact, you would have been hard-pressed to guess that anything was other than as planned.

I Can Do Something

So, what does this all have to do with creativity? A lot, as it happens. The organiser, Michelle, had looked at a piece of woodland and said ‘I can do something here’. Michelle had imagined a space in which people could meet, eat and be entertained. She had defined her criteria for what would make an alternative and sustainable event. And – crucially – she had sought out the right people to enable all this to happen.

And that includes not only those building, decorating, performing, cooking and serving. The clientele was also a key ingredient. By being clear about the type of atmosphere she was hoping to create, Michelle attracted people that were open-minded and actively engaged with the concept behind the evening.

Vital Bond

From a performer’s point of view, this is critical. If an audience is switched on to what is happening in front of them, the vital bond that makes for good entertainment can be forged. In this instance, quite a lot was asked of the attendees. They had to trust that the food would be tasty; the ambience stimulating; the company convivial and the entertainment of good quality.

Not only that but they needed to ‘go with the flow’ when it was clear not everything was running quite as intended. Because all were invested in the idea of the evening, the evening happened. And it happened despite difficulty and set-back.

The Idea is Key

Anyone who has been involved in a theatrical production will be able to relate to this scenario. You begin with an idea; find a venue; build a production team; enlist your performers; advertise for an audience. And, somewhere along the way, you rehearse and refine your show. But the key thing remains the idea. And your willingness to follow it through. Regardless of what obstacles may get in your way.

So, whatever your creative urges (or your pupils’), be sure to act on them. And don’t be put off by the inevitable pitfalls.

Good luck and happy creating.

Please Yourself

Your Creative Curve

Just Do One Thing

Our Creative Partners

Don’t look at the Tree!

Don't Look at the Tree! Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

How often do you focus on the one thing you don’t want to think about? When I was learning to paraglide, the instructor said ‘Don’t look at the tree’. So, what did I do?…

Hard to Miss

The training slope where I took my lessons had one, solitary tree – right in the middle. During a Question & Answer session, early in our course, one of the pupils asked: ‘has anyone ever hit the tree?’. The instructor replied ‘You’d be surprised’.

You see, although this is a lonely oak – with space all around – it can be hard to miss. When making an approach to land, a pilot can easily fixate on an obstacle he or she would rather avoid. Unfortunately, since the majority of us are visually-biased, should we look at something, our inclination is to steer towards it. And, when landing a paraglider, this is a bad idea.

Vulnerability

So, why am I telling you this? Apart from the fact it allows me to casually mention my flying exploits, it does have relevance to creative pursuits. This has to do with our innate sense of vulnerability when expressing ourselves. And when we feel vulnerable, it’s all too easy to focus on our fears.

Imagine that, rather than training to fly, you are learning a song. It’s a lovely, lyrical piece that fills you with joy. You want to sing it publicly but are terrified of performing in front of an audience. Your kindly teacher tells you to forget about the listeners and not look at them.

Now the audience has become ‘the tree’. Even if you keep your eyes tightly shut, you will inevitably think about the people in front of you. So, rather than immersing yourself in the pleasure of singing this beautiful tune, you become filled with anxiety. Which can spoil the whole experience.

Don’t Look Now

Whereas I didn’t actually hit the tree, in my early attempts to land a paraglider safely I did come pretty close. The instructor’s well-meaning exhortation to ‘not look at the tree’ actually had the opposite effect. Much the same as if somebody says ‘don’t look now’ and glances over your shoulder. You are pretty-much guaranteed to look behind you.

In leading creative activities with children, we need to be aware of this potential pitfall. Our attempts to steer pupils away from their concerns may actually lead toward them. There is little point in pretending the proverbial tree doesn’t exist. However, drawing attention to it may not be the best strategy.

In the case of flying, the solution is simple. Focus on the place where you do want to land. That way you are assured a safe flight and a soft landing. The equivalent, in our singing example, might be to concentrate on your breathing, your posture, the words you are conveying and the story you want to tell.

Enjoyable & Enriching

Creative pursuits can be a terrific tool for confronting our fears. By immersing ourselves fully in our chosen activity, we can forget about what scares us. Those concerns become as irrelevant as a solitary tree in a huge landing field, so long as we resist the urge to say ‘don’t look’.

If we are absorbed by the act of creation, we need not concern ourselves with the outcome. Paradoxically, the chances of that outcome being subjectively ‘good’ are then greatly enhanced. And if not, who cares? We’ve had an enjoyable and enriching experience. Which is what really matters.

Please Yourself

Juggling For Beginners

Don’t Follow the Leader

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Too Much Inspiration?

Too Much Inspiration? Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Here’s an interesting conundrum. We know that sometimes it feels difficult to get inspired and generate new creative ideas. But what do you do when you have too much inspiration?

Do Something

Staring at a blank canvass, whether metaphorically or literally, can be a daunting experience. We have previously discussed the notion that, when you can’t think of what to do, the best strategy can be simply to do ‘something’. But what do you do when your mind is overrun with ideas?

Oddly enough, the solution is very similar. You maybe have an idea for a book, a play, a painting, a concerto, a sculpture, a dance, a film. You may even have several of these hit you all at once. Annoyingly, that seems to be how inspiration works. Like the proverbial buses, you wait for a creative idea to turn up and three arrive all at once.

Make a Start

Don’t despair. Your rush of inspiration doesn’t mean everything has to be done immediately, even though it may feel that way. What is important is that you make a start. You can’t be in three places at once, so why consider tackling three creative projects at the same time? Choose one of them and get started.

As with all artistic ventures, you will doubtless experience a surge of productivity as you begin to realise your vision. This will inevitably be followed by a period of hard grind and then, at some point, you will very likely hit the doldrums. First of all, let’s concentrate on your current state of heightened creative ‘flow’.

Road Map

Get some of your ideas down on paper or recorded in some way. Sketch out a road-map of what you have in mind. How this looks will depend on the medium concerned. The main thing is to commit something to a format you can retrieve and refer to when needed.

If you are overloaded with ideas for multiple projects, then outline a plan for each. Though you may now be impatient to get cracking, it is a good idea to have all your ideas recorded before starting on realising any one of them. Once you have the bones of your creations laid down, then you can choose one to make a start on.

Parallel Lines

What happens next will depend on how you, personally, work best. You may find it most productive to tackle concurrent projects in parallel. Alternatively, you may find it better to work exclusively on one, safe in the knowledge the others are planned and waiting for when you are ready to return to them.

If you prefer the parallel approach, you may – perhaps – write an intro for a book, mark out the layout of a painting and decide on a sound pallet for a composition. Then, you could go back and work on a first chapter, block-in some background to your painting and find an opening theme for your composition. And so on.

Boundless Imagination

Within the world of education, this decision is more-or-less made for us. The school timetable means that pupils have their time managed for them, to a large extent. The parallel-activities approach is an intrinsic part of the school day. And children have the benefit of both boundless imagination and the ability to quickly change from one subject to another.

Energy & Motivation

Whichever way you choose to work, pay attention to your levels of energy and motivation. If, whilst grappling with the wording of your book intro, a melody for your musical opus pops into your head, its OK to ‘swap channels’ and go with the composing. Whilst you are in this creative mood, make the most of your self-motivation and enjoy the moment, wherever it takes you.

It’s all too easy to spend time worrying about what we ‘should’ be doing. When we have the luxury of being inspired to do something, then its really OK to drop everything else and have fun with that. And if the creative rush leads to multiple ideas at once, all the better. Though this may not be your ‘job’, you are being productive in the truest sense.

Making Hay

You could think of this as being like a harvest. When the trees are full of fruit and the fields burgeoning with wheat, it’s important to get them safely stored. That, way when the winter comes, you have supplies to draw upon.

The same is true of your creative impulses. Grab them while they are fresh and make sure you have somewhere safe to keep them. That way, when the creative drought hits, you’ll have something to fall back on.

A Little Restraint

Whereas you may want to eat all your fruit in one go, this would be bad for you health and leave you with nothing for the lean times. Similarly, when you are full of creative ideas, it’s important to find ways of storing these for when they are needed. A little restraint now can make life easier later on.

Do Something

Creative Impatience

Take Note

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

A Rest is as Good as a Change

We’ve discussed before the importance of knowing when to stop. Once you’ve had a chance to refresh, you may find everything’s actually fine. Sometimes, a rest is as good as a change.

Overwhelmed

Recently, I have been working on a commission to create a soundscape for an art installation. It’s a big undertaking: over two hours in length and with multiple strands of sound. Not surprisingly, this became somewhat overwhelming and it was necessary for me to take some time out.

As luck would have it, another commission came in, with a shorter deadline. So, I was actually forced to take a pause. Returning now to the larger project in hand, I find that I had begun to overthink things. Fortunately, though, I had saved copies of the work at different stages, so it is possible to rewind a little.

Losing Sight

And here’s another important lesson. Whilst we have often talked about the importance of creative freedom and unfettered exploration, their can be a danger of losing sight of what was already working. So, when new steps are taken, it is wise to keep a track of them, so that unpicking may be achieved if needed.

In the case of this soundtrack, I was able to return to an earlier version and find that the more recent additions made were really unnecessary. It was only possible to have this clarity after having stepped away and thought about something else for a while. Listening afresh, it was much easier to hear what works and what doesn’t.

Change Channels

So, how do we apply this insight to creative work with children? When their activity is tightly scheduled, it can be hard to say ‘walk away now and do something else’. True, but it is possible for them to be diverted to another part of the process. Children will quickly be able to ‘change channels’ and, with the right prompting, easily find their way back to where they were once the time is right (possible during the following session).

For us grown-ups, especially if we are carrying out screen-based tasks, the pressure to carry on until something is ‘finished’ is always present. However, many jobs can benefit from a little distance and then a review, prior to completion. How many of us have, for instance, sent an email and then wished we had proof-read it first?

Have a Rest

With creative work, the eternal question of ‘when do I know it’s finished?’ can be hard to answer. And it may well be that we pass that point without noticing. When things begin to get difficult – or feel bogged-down – it may be a sign we’ve already crossed that line.

After time to clear your thoughts and see/hear/experience your work with a fresh mind, you may find that it was finished after all. Or, alternatively, you may simply now have a stronger vision of what to do next. Either way, you will – at least – have had a rest. Which is never a bad thing.

Knowing When to Stop

Do Less to Achieve More

Your Creative Curve

Creative Impatience

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

‘Yes… And…’ – The Art of Improvisation

'Yes... And...' - The Art of Improvisation

I was recently listening to a radio interview featuring a well-known comedy actor. The interviewer asked the secret of good improvisation. The answer? ‘Trust’.

Taking Risk

In creating anything through improvisation, there is an element of risk. Without a script, a score or a blueprint to follow, the artist/creator is stepping into the unknown. To reach a successful outcome, they will therefore need to trust their wits and instincts. Moreover, where group improvisation is concerned, all will need to trust one another.

But what risk is there, really, in making things up? For many it will be the fear of rejection or even ridicule. The act of creating inevitably invites scrutiny, comparison and judgement. We all want to feel valued. We want to know we are accepted and appreciated by our peers. So, their thoughts and opinions can make or break us.

Measuring Up

In an educational setting this can be even more pertinent. Young children are constantly measuring themselves against one another, both in work and play. When you add to this the need for continual assessment, this can be quite challenging.

For a child to present ideas they have thought up on the spot, within this context, it can be intimidating. They need to know that it’s OK to contribute, without risk of condemnation. Even if some of their ideas may not be the best.

More Comfortable

There are two keys to making this process more comfortable for everyone. One is to ensure that all participants are actively involved. In that way, all share the risk. Each can take comfort in the knowledge that they are ‘all in it together’. Not only does this make individuals feel less vulnerable, it also creates a powerful group bond.

The other is to apply what is sometimes referred to in comedy circles as the rule of ‘yes’. Or – as I heard it explained in another recent interview – the rule of ‘yes… and’. This is more or less as it sounds. When one improviser throws up an idea, the others must agree or go with it. And this can apply equally well to comedy, acting, music, dance or any other group improvisation.

Co-Creation

Knowing that no matter what you come up with, your co-creators are going to run with it, makes it much easier to take the plunge and come up with something. Not only that but (using the ‘yes…and’ principle) they will enhance that idea. Which means that they are now equally invested in the process. And so, creation becomes co-creation.

The benefits within an educational setting are clear. And far-reaching. Youngsters are constantly pitted against one another, whether deliberately or otherwise. The experience of sharing ideas, efforts and vulnerabilities can, therefore, be both instructive and life-affirming.

Choose ‘Yes… and…’

And why limit this to creative pursuits? Perhaps we could all use these techniques more within our daily lives. Instead of saying ‘no… but’, perhaps it would be more constructive to choose ‘yes… and.’

Do Something

Please Yourself

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

The Space Between

A famous composer once observed that ‘music is the space between the sounds’. What did he mean by this and how can it help us as educators?

White Noise

Let’s turn that around: what would music be if there were no space between the sounds? Taken literally, you would get a constant blast of all frequencies, generating what’s known as ‘white noise’. This is similar to the sound you get on an old, analogue radio when it’s not tuned to any station. There is no definition: no beat, no melody, no tone and no harmony.

Visually, the same applies. If all frequences of the colour spectrum are transmitted, you get white light. Again, there is no definition. No shape, no colour, no tone. But, of course, these are extreme examples. The quotation implies something a little more nuanced.

Set Adrift

An orchestra playing constant, random tones, will create a wall of sound. A stage full of dancers all moving continuously throughout the space will present a scene of chaos. And here we get a little closer to what our composer was really getting at.

Even if the orchestra members in question are all playing in the same key; without any phrasing or pauses between notes, the audience will have little to ‘hang on to’. The same applies with movement, painting and other artistic media. If there is no definition, the viewer will be set adrift in a virtual sea of sensation.

Of course, this can – in of itself – be a useful technique to create tension, confusion or an immersive experience. However, the impact of this will be limited. And its effect will depend on there being a beginning and end, within which that impact may be felt.

Letting The Audience In

By allowing space between notes, moves, images, etc., we create room for the audience. And this is where the ‘art’ begins. For any meaning to be conveyed, a dialogue needs to take place between creator and recipient: whether through sound, movement, visual imagery etc. It takes a little courage to leave such space but this is how we let the audience in.

When encouraging children to express themselves creatively, we tend to focus on ‘doing’. Indeed, within these pages, we have talked a fair amount about how to get our pupils to ‘do stuff’. But, along the way, it’s also important to remember to make room fo our audience. Even when that audience is just ourselves.

A Conversation

The easiest way to think of this is as a conversation. If we talk to somebody without pause for breath, we quickly overwhelm them. The listener won’t be able to follow our train of thought for long if there are no clear sentences or phrases. And if we don’t then allow them space to think, reflect and maybe even respond, they will quickly become fatigued and switch off.

Let’s be honest, we have probably all had the experience of seeing somebody’s eyes glaze over when we are excitedly talking on a topic about which we are passionate. The problem is, unless we tame our own enthusiasm, it can run away with us. In the heat of exuberance, the meaning we are trying to convey may be lost.

Breathing Space

So, by all means, go head and enjoy the creative rush. Allow yourself outpourings of artistic brilliance. Thrill at the total immersion in free expression. But remember to breathe. And remember your audience needs space to breathe too!

Knowing When To Stop

Creative Impatience

Do Less to Achieve More

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Keep Your Distance

'Keep Your Distance' Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThe phrase ‘keep your distance’ has generally been used by way of a warning. But there may also be a more positive interpretation…

 

New Creative Adventures

I was talking with my daughter, the other day. She has recently been writing songs, together with a friend. This is completely new to both of them and has been a very rewarding experience. It has also thrown up some interesting insights into the creative process.

We have discussed, before, the merits of collaborative creativity. We have observed how this can take us to places we would not otherwise go. In turn, we may then meet challenges we would not otherwise encounter.

Differences in Approach

My daughter has, indeed, found this to be the case. She is new to putting words and music together. She has particularly enjoyed the differences in approach between her and her friend.  And both acknowledge that the results have been better than either could have hoped to achieve alone.

But something else struck me about this scenario. And that is the similarity with my own recent creative work. I have been helping my son put together some remote recordings he and his theatre group have made. This is familiar territory for me, whereas my daughter is exploring something quite new. However, there is a connection between our respective experiences.

One Step Removed

That connection lies in the benefit of being one step removed from the emotional content and having an objective view. When we work creatively, we tend to be delving into our personal responses to a given stimulus. This means that we can quickly become very invested in the outcome. Which is – of course – a good thing. But it can also impede our progress.

Because we are close to the subject matter, it may be difficult to see where improvements can be made. If we are very attached to an idea, we can easily confuse our responses to it with the creation itself. Whereas, somebody with a little distance from the emotional content may be able to offer alternative suggestions and a different artistic approach.

Emotional Detachment

So, my daughter and her friend benefit from being able to work creatively in response to one another’s words and/or melodies at a slight remove. They can suggest ideas and improvements for the good of the song, above and beyond any emotional attachment to it. That is not to say they do not want to convey the underlying emotion. But together they can be craftsman-like in their interpretation of it.

I benefit similarly from that emotional detachment when mixing somebody else’s recordings. This is something I find very difficult to do for my own work because I am too close to it. So, I will generally invite an external expert to do this for me. However, I can be more objective when doing this for somebody else. 

Alternative Solutions

When we ask primary children to be ‘good critical friends’, we are echoing these processes. The learning here is two-fold. On the one hand, the child or children being critiqued learn to accept suggestions and criticism. On the other, they are made aware that there are always alternative solutions to any creative task.

Learning that artistic vision and technical application are not contradictory is a valuable lesson. For those of us that create for a living, we need to not be too attached to any one outcome. Through collaboration, we can quickly overcome the limitations of our own creative thinking. And, in collaborating, we need to allow for the fact that each participant will have their own vision.

Heartening

Whereas, in creative work, it is the emotional impulse that creates the spark, a little personal remove allows us to fan the flames. So, it can sometimes be good to keep your distance. And what could be more heartening in these socially-separated times? 

 

It’s Good To Talk

The Creator & The Craftsperson

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Creative Impatience

Creative Impatience - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersDo you suffer from creative impatience? When an idea strikes, do you want to know, immediately, what it will look, sound or feel like? Cutting corners rarely saves time in the long run. But…

Proper Groundwork

This is something with which I grapple all the time. Often, I will be so excited by an idea that I fail to do the proper groundwork to enable its satisfactory completion. However, that does not mean you should resist these impulses when they occur. Quite the opposite.

Back to The Beginning

To give an example, I have recently been working on some video clips from a live performance. Having decided to put this footage online in episodes, I set about marrying the audio and video. As per usual, the desire to get this ‘out there’ somewhat overtook the necessity to pay attention to detail. Which has meant that, to some extent, I have had to go back to the beginning.

I was putting the finished clips together when I noticed a nasty background noise was compromising the sound. So, I set about rectifying this within each clip. But then I realised it would be better to fix the original audio before separating into individual segments. Which, had I been paying attention, could have been done at the start.

Log Your Progress

However, some things only become apparent when viewed (heard/felt/etc.) in context. And that context may not always exist until we are already into the creative process. So, frustrating as it is, sometimes you just need to do some unpicking in order to refine your creation.

This highlights the need for keeping a log of your progress. Whatever the medium, it should be possible to record the steps you have taken. This is useful on several levels.

You may be creating something you would like to reproduce or adapt at a later date. You may wish to teach others your methods, so they can learn from your experience. Or, you may need to go back and rectify a mistake, before then rebuilding what you had achieved.

Not Such a Bad Thing

Fortunately, in this digital age, it is easier than ever to capture the steps taken. And, if you are working within the digital realm itself, you can simply undo and redo specific actions. You can also save alternative versions of your work.  So, experiments may be made without losing the original draft.

Therefore, whilst attention to detail may save time in the long run, the odd rush of creative impatience is not necessarily such a bad thing. We all know that many of our best creations are essentially the result of mistakes. And license to make mistakes is fundamental to the creative process.

Permission to Risk

Where children are concerned, this freedom is key to the whole creative experience. Whereas they are subject to myriad rules and restrictions – imposed, of course, for their own good – being allowed to break free from such constraints is liberating. And knowing that it’s OK to get things ‘wrong’ leads to far greater creative possibilities.

We all crave a degree of certainty in our lives. And we all know this will invariably be thwarted, one way or another. A major benefit of creative pursuits is giving ourselves permission to take risk within a safe environment. Safety is, of course, very important when working with pupils. So, allowing a form of risk in which there is no real danger is a joy for both pupil and teacher.

Doing in Reverse

Though it may sometimes mean unpicking what had taken many hours to achieve, the learning this provides is invaluable. Indeed, the act of undoing something is merely ‘doing’ in reverse. So, we then benefit from double the experience!

Or am I just excusing myself for being sloppy?

Let Go The Reins

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Your Creative Curve

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Moving The Goalposts

Moving The Goalposts - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersSo, you’ve read the brief, defined your boundaries, created a masterpiece… and then everything changes. What do you do when the goalposts move?

This will be a familiar scenario for anyone working to commission within the creative industries. But what does it have to do with education? And what can we learn from the fickle capriciousness of the ‘real world’?

Constant Pitfall

It may come as no surprise that this situation has arisen for me personally (this may seem rather music-specific but bear with me). Last-minute change is, in fact, a constant pitfall when writing to order. Particularly when composing for video. This is largely due to the fact you will initially be working to a rough edit, which is then invariably ‘tightened up’.  

What then happens is that all the work done to ensure your music reflects the pacing of the video is now out of sequence. The editor and/or director may not be too concerned. They will still be working to the underlying beat of the music. And this should still work (unless they have completely changed tack) – but the phrasing will now be out.

Unwanted Demands

The solution lies in rediscovering your original response to the creative brief. Even though phrases may need to be shortened or tempos quickened, the sounds, motifs and melodies will still be relevant. And you now have the opportunity to refine and edit your work to make it more concise… ‘leaner’.

Having such a task imposed on you may feel like an unwanted extra demand. But it will rarely make what you have produced worse. More often, it will make things that little bit ‘snappier’. And this is where the learning comes in.

Good Critical Friends

We’ve spoken a lot about giving children free rein to express themselves through creative learning. We know we need to give them space to express themselves. We understand the importance of resisting our natural urge to steer or lead. And our pupils, thereby, have ownership of their creative work.

However, an important part of this process comes at the end. That is when we invite pupils to observe and comment on one another’s work. They are encouraged to be ‘good critical friends’, offering suggestions for improvement and further development.

Humility & Flexibility

This is the point at which children have the opportunity to craft what they have made. To go beyond the original creative impulse and stretch themselves. And that requires both humility and flexibility.

It is hard for anyone to take criticism, however well-intentioned. Yet, the ability to accept and accommodate other people’s ideas is an important skill. That way, we grow beyond our own self-imposed limitations. Which is where collaboration can lead to rewarding results.

Where the Magic Happens

It can be frustrating to have a teacher, editor, director or whoever ‘meddle’ with your precious creation. But remember, they too will have a creative vision. It may not be quite the same as our own – but this is where the magic happens.

A good deal of great art, especially in the world of music, has come from apparently conflicting partnerships. Lennon and McCartney (The Beatles), Townsend and Daltrey (The Who), Waters and Gilmore (Pink Floyd), Sumner and Copeland (The Police) and Simon & Garfunkel are examples that spring readily to mind. No doubt Gilbert & George, too, have their differences – but that is less my area of expertise.

Social Learning

Conflict resolution, compromise and mutual acceptance are all by-products of the artistic process. In fact, this is precisely why creative pursuits are such a powerful tool for social learning. As educators, we all know how important those things are – even if they may not feature in any SATs.

In the end, somebody else moving the goalposts may just be the artistic nudge we need. Learning to accept and understand other people’s ideas and opinions can only be a good thing. And it is one more step towards realizing potential we may not know we already had.

Now, can somebody please explain how Gaelic Football works?

 

Unexpected Inspiration

It’s Good to Talk

See, Hear & Experience

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Take Note

Taking Notes - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThe other day, something  sparked an idea for a blog post. Sadly, I’ve forgotten what it was.  Which got me thinking about the power of writing things down – take note!

In my studio, where I spend the majority of my working hours, I keep two piles of recycled paper. These are from things that have been printed or posted, don’t need keeping and are blank on one side. One stack lives next to my laptop and another on the studio desk. I use them to take note of ideas, to-do items, phone messages, etc. as they occur to me.

Take Note

There are many circumstances in which going ‘direct to digital’ is an advantage. Right now, for example, I am typing into a word processor. That way, I can quickly correct and edit as I go. I will then be able to easily make amendments and revisions later. Similarly, when working on a new music composition, I will generally work straight into my Digital Audio Workstation.

However, when an idea for a song lyric appears, or a potential blog topic pops into my head, it is always useful to write that down immediately and manually.  When it comes to audio, I have the digital equivalent of a notebook (a portable hard-disk recorder). With this, I can quickly capture an idea for later retrieval; something I would be hard-pressed to do on paper. So, ultimately, it’s the making notes that is important. rather than the method in which this is done.

Mental Clutter

The point is that sometimes an idea can be fleeting and needs to be grabbed immediately. If not, it may either be forgotten entirely or remain as one of many fragments of unattended business in the back of your mind. These little idealets (technical term), if not released into the physical world, can quickly build into mental clutter. And a cluttered brain becomes sluggish.

Think of your own laptop or PC. If you don’t perform regular maintenance, it can slow to a crawl. Similarly, if you don’t organise your documents into folders, they will become a confused mess on your desktop. Even the most unconventional mind needs order and clarity. So, rather than landing yourself with a huge clear-up down the road, avoid congestion by noting things down as they occur to you.

Initial Spark

Of course, you could then just be displacing the problem. These notes, if left to proliferate, will be just as disorganized and impenetrable as unattended thoughts. Knowing that an idea is safely noted allows you to attend other matters until you are ready to act upon it. But you also need to cultivate the habit of organising and nurturing impulses whilst they are still fresh. 

This is particularly important in the case of creative ideas . The initial spark needs to be kindled before it goes cold. By rendering it visible in the first place, you have already greatly increased the chances of catching a flame. But, in order to build a creative blaze, that will need to be fed before it goes out. OK, enough of the tortured fire imagery – maybe I have too much time to burn!

Remind & Recap

Younger children have new ideas, thoughts and experiences all the time. Their minds are still malleable and able to recall information readily. Yet, since so much is new to them, points of reference are harder to come by. So, whilst physically noting things down is less necessary, regular reminders and recaps are important.

At the beginning of any creative session with young pupils, it is therefore useful to look back over what was done last time. On the one hand, a week is a very long time for a child. On the other, remembering what they did a week ago should not be difficult, given the right prompts.

Precious Moments

For the teacher, you will doubtless have notes to which you can refer. But will you remember those little moments of precious creativity and spontaneity your pupils produced? Here again, if you take note of things as they occur, that will ensure nothing is lost or forgotten.

Then you can say to a pupil “do you remember when you did ‘x’?” or “didn’t you have a really good idea for ‘y'”. They will be thrilled you remember and able to then quickly build on their ideas. They, of course, don’t need to know you wrote that down last week. The main thing is that their creativity is rewarded.

Still Can’t Remember…

None of which excuses the fact I still can’t remember what on earth I was going to write about this week. Perhaps it will come back to me. Or perhaps not. Where do forgotten ideas go when we don’t take note?

Now maybe there‘s an idea for a blog…

 

The Tyranny of The Screen

Just Do One Thing

Knowing When To Stop

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

 

Do Less to Achieve More

Can it really be that you can do less to achieve more? Is this just an excuse for laziness? Or is there something to be said for taking your time?

Time on Our Hands

Right now, many people have more time on their hands than they are used to. And quite a few are spending it realizing creative ambitions that had been kept on hold. Which begs the question: what were we all waiting for?

Whatever the answer, sheds are now being built, gardens renovated, books written, albums recorded, instruments mastered, paintings painted and more besides. Few people carrying out such activity, however, would consider themselves ‘busy’. They are simply getting on with things, in-between the hours of relative boredom.

Constant Input

In recent times, it has become a virtual crime to be bored. Or, at least, to admit to that condition. Children rarely experience the luxury of having nothing to do. And, even when there is no scheduled activity, they will, very often, default to some kind of screen-based entertainment.

Many studies have found that this is not an entirely healthy state of affairs. It has been suggested that boredom is a necessary part of growing up and one that leads to creative thinking. Children have almost limitless reserves of imagination. But for that to flourish, it needs space and time. Constant input can fill the mental wastelands in which seeds of ideas would otherwise take root.

Limits & Boundaries

And so it is for adults, too. Most of us go to ‘work’. Many never question the purpose of this, beyond providing money to pay for food, shelter and luxuries. And the more we have of these, the more we seem to need. So, the more we work.

With modern technology and digital communication, this work can follow us virtually anywhere. Unless we choose to provide ourselves with limits and boundaries. Currently, we have these imposed upon us. And, whilst the background to this is tragic, some consequences are undeniably positive. Can we, then, learn – in the long-run – to make a habit of doing less? And, thereby, achieve more?

The Space Between

Composer Claude Debussy famously commented that “music is the space between the notes”. What he meant was that music needs to breathe. A listener needs time and space to absorb its flow and cadence. The same can be said for any compositional form: visual art, dance, drama, film, prose, verse. A constant stream of sonic, visual or – even – conceptual input can only serve to overwhelm and confuse.

Which is the state in which many people find themselves, on a regular basis, today. We crave information and (now more than ever) connection. However, without breathing space between interactions, we cannot make sense of things. Though we seek constant stimulation, when we get it, we are unable to cope.

Associated Guilt

The same may be applied to the creative process. It’s not possible to be on output mode the whole time. Periods of reflection and – indeed – boredom are a necessary part of the journey.  So, we need to resist the feeling that time spent ostensibly doing ‘nothing’ is time wasted. And let go of any associated guilt that modern society may attach to this.

Only today, I received an email from a distant collaborator (in New York). This is a man who has created a global network of original thinkers and artists. He has coordinated a world-wide creative project that has produced a number of thought-provoking video sequences. His work is challenging, original, inclusive and collaborative.

True Value

Today, he described himself as ‘tired and lazy’. Tired, perhaps. Lazy, never. What I think he meant, was that he has taken the time to follow his creative project. Possibly at the expense of other things he believes he ‘ought’ to be doing. Maybe he has hit a bit of a slump in productivity. We all do that. It is, after all, part of the process.

In the end, however, this individual has achieved a great deal. Whilst society demands that we remain ‘productive’ at all times, nobody really ever is. We can, indeed, keep ourselves busy. But in so doing, there’s every chance we are actually creating less of true value.

It’s OK to Do Less

So, give yourself permission: it’s OK to do less. Especially now. And see whether, in the end, you actually achieve more.

 

Please Yourself

Knowing When to Stop

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

 

 

 

Your Creative Curve

It’s all very well saying ‘just have a go’ but how do you combat doubts about your work? The trick is to recognise where you are on the creative curve.

Is It Any Good?

We’ve spoken quite a lot about the need for expressive freedom. We’ve established that sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and just do something. And we’ve discussed how the process (rather than the end product) is the reward. But, in the end, we all want to create something of value.

So, how do you overcome doubts about whether what you are doing is any good? Even if you agree it doesn’t matter what other people think, if you have misgivings of your own, this can be unsettling. And if that undermines the enjoyment of your creative activity, then it is clearly something that needs to be addressed.

Impostor Syndrome

Well, to begin with, you may be reassured to know that even the most successful artists tend to have these feelings. In fact, those of whom there is the greatest expectation can suffer the most. There is a recognised condition known as ‘impostor syndrome’, which is essentially the sensation of ‘getting away with something’ whilst feeling unqualified to do it.

For the rest of us, the stakes are somewhat lower. We really only need to please ourselves and, perhaps, our peers, parents, teachers, etc. However, that doesn’t necessarily make things any easier.

Seeing The Creative Curve

To combat this discomfort, we need to understand that our misgivings are part of the process. There is a distinct curve to the creative act that, if we can recognise it, we can use to manage our expectations. In the same way that we need to be aware when it’s time to take a break, we must also allow for the emotional highs and lows of the creative journey.

Lost Faith

A colleague was recently reviewing some emails I’d sent her. She is somebody I routinely send my blog-posts to before publishing. She will proof-read and critique them prior to their being sent out into the world.

In one such email, I had written ‘I’m not sure if this one is any good’. She responded that it was actually really good and had something useful to say. I then explained I’d reached the point in the creative curve at which I’d lost faith in what I was trying to say. Which gave me the idea for today’s blog.

99% Perspiration

You may have heard the quote – apparently said by the inventor Thomas Edison – that ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’. Now, nobody is claiming any kind of genius here but the sentiment rings true for creative work. Generally, there is some kind of inspirational spark that leads to the compulsion to create. And, to realise this creation, a good deal of hard work then follows.

But that is not the whole picture. As I wrote to my collaborator, there are more layers to this process. Namely: the initial excitement of having an idea; the enjoyment of bringing that to life (through writing, moving, composing, painting, sculpting, etc.); the drudgery of refining and editing the creation; and, finally, loss of faith in the whole thing.

Under Scrutiny

Now, this may sound rather harsh, cynical even. But it will be familiar to anyone who creates on a regular basis. For me, personally, the loss of belief usually coincides with the point at which my work needs to be presented to an audience – or made available for scrutiny by peers and colleagues.

And this is where the relevance to our work in education comes in. Put yourself in the shoes of a young pupil. They have been really excited by an idea they had for a picture/dance/story/song. They then lost themselves in the enjoyment of making this thing of their own inventing. And they have worked hard to refine and improve their creation.

But then comes the point at which they have to present their work. This may be: to you, as the teacher; to their friends, whose opinions matter deeply; or to the whole class, which has the ability to make them feel like a hero or a failure. When we look at it from the child’s perspective, it’s pretty daunting. Just at the point at which they feel least confident, they must make themselves most vulnerable.

Confronting Fears

If we are able to recognise our own frailties in such a situation, we can better empathise with our pupils, faced with this crisis of confidence. But it need not be a crisis at all. If they are made aware that everyone feels this way sometimes – and that it’s OK to be unsure – we can help them confront their fears.

As with so many aspects of creativity, this is an important, broader learning experience. One that can help with personal growth and confidence later in life. Confronting fears at an early age can help to strengthen the resolve of those children when they reach adulthood.

Carry On Regardless

And, for those of us that have already become adult, it is useful to remind ourselves that we can’t always be super-confident. But we can learn to carry on regardless. Generally, the best solution is simply to remind yourself you have done your best.

Whereas, in this moment, you may have lost confidence in what you have created, there is every chance that when you come back to it later, you will see it’s true worth. Or – better still – somebody else will say ‘that thing you did was really good’. Just remember, it’s all part of the process.

Now, let’s see: I’m not sure if what I just wrote is any good…

 

Knowing When To Stop

The Creator & The Craftsperson

Do ‘Something’

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Art for Art’s Sake

With no deadlines, exhibitions, performances or exams in sight, it’s a little like the Zen conundrum about a tree falling in the forest. Without a witness, does your creative work exist? Are you happy to make art for art’s sake?

Good Creative Habits

During this period of social distancing and self-isolation, it could be all too easy to slip into a malaise. However, it’s now more important than ever that we each look after our physical and mental health. And this can be an opportunity to get into good creative habits.

Most of us recognise the need for regular routines in eating, sleeping, getting dressed and maintaining personal hygiene. But how many of us see creative self-expression as a daily necessity? Physical exercise is something we know we should all do for ts own benefit. ‘Art’, on the other hand, can still be regarded as either an amusing diversion or a lucrative career option.

The latter is, of course, a rarity. Of the millions who aspire to fame and fortune through their art, only a handful will achieve them. But the creative process is available to literally everybody: anytime, anywhere. And, just as with physical exercise, this activity brings its own rewards at very little personal cost.

Creative Role Models

Normally, at this point, I would relate the topic under discussion to working with children. Clearly, the collective act of group learning has been mostly suspended for the time being. But that doesn’t mean we cease to be creative role models for our youngsters.

Many of us will have children at home. Those that don’t will be in touch with others that do. And we all influence one another through our words and deeds. So, even at a time when few pupils are in school, maintaining our own creative activity as adults remains vitally important.

Abstract Expression

So, how do you stay motivated to be creative? The best way is to not think of  motivation at all. Make your art a part of your habits and routines. And don’t think about the outcome.

A good approach is to try some abstract expression. This may sound a little fancy, possibly even pretentious. However, taken at its most basic level, it is simply about freeing yourself from expectations.

If learning a dance routine feels like an onerous task, try moving for the pure enjoyment of physical exploration. If you don’t know what to paint (or don’t think you are talented enough to represent a specific scene or image) just play with some colours and see what happens. Bored of practicing scales on your instrument? Throw away the notes and simply make some noise.

The Proverbial Forest

If not now – when? You have licence to go off piste. You can literally ‘dance like no one is watching’. This is your chance to make a habit of expressing yourself.

Don’t just do it once, though. Make it a regular part of your routine. Perhaps after getting dressed, before bed or after meals. And then see how that effects your mood and mental health over the longer term.

You are in the proverbial forest with nobody there to see you. But that doesn’t mean your art doesn’t exist. Creativity is an innate part of us all that demands an outlet.

So, if for no other reason – make art for art’s sake.

Please Yourself

Juggling for Beginners

Let Go The Reins

Do ‘Something’

When Art Touches Us All

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

What is Your Label?

This week, two things jumped out at me from the radio. One was from Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’, the other the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Both concerned identity… what is your label?

Who Are You?

For those of us of a certain vintage, this evokes a minor hit from a major rock band. For the rest, it’s a straight forward, yet impenetrable question. What determines our sense of self and – by extension – self-worth?

It was a schoolteacher who addressed this issue, in a very timely and measured manner, on Radio 1’s Breakfast Show. He was speaking, on behalf of all teachers, to the nation’s pupils. He was particularly addressing those that, in the midst of coronavirus-related school closures, will be missing exams and/or leaving early.

The Whole Person

Those youngsters face uncertainty in relation to their exam grades. These marks, in turn, will – of course – have an influence on the future prospects of each pupil. This teacher wanted to assure all concerned that whilst exam grades are naturally of great importance, they do not define the whole person.

Pupil measurement, at all levels of education, is a contentious issue. The idea that a child can be labelled according to SATS results, GCSEs, A levels, and so on can be the source of anxiety, disappointment and demotivation. However, as our friendly headteacher pointed out, how we label ourselves can be something altogether more positive.

Fulfilling Your Identity

Which brings me to the Radio 4 ‘Saturday Live’ guest, Alice Morrison. She had worked within the media industry, enjoying high status and big salaries. However, when her business fell foul of funding cuts, she looked to her passion for adventure as a way forward.

What struck me, in particular, was when Alice talked about deciding to call herself ‘Alice Morrison, Adventurer’. By allowing herself to choose her own label, she then began to fulfil that identity. And this resonated with me personally, since I did more or less the same thing, when I began to refer to myself as a composer in my late twenties.

Dream & Aspirations

It may seem trivial but how we label ourselves is actually important. Clearly, in neither case did we just say ‘I’m going to be this’ without any preparation or prior learning. But here is the point: we never stop learning. Once we have chosen a particular direction, more and more learning becomes a necessity in order to follow that path.

Young children are often asked ‘what are you going to be when you grow up?’. I think many of us have come to the realisation that, in actual fact, we never really grow up. However, many do lose sight of the dreams and aspirations they had as a child. They allow labels that others impose to define and limit them.

Unique Talents

As the teacher on Radio 1 said, it is important to value yourself for your own unique talents. These may be academic; they may be artistic; they may be in the ability to empathise and care. And, whilst we strive to enable our youngsters to fulfil their potential through education, we need also to encourage them to choose labels for themselves.

It may sound grand to call yourself ‘adventurer’. However, if that is your true calling, it would be wrong to refer to yourself as anything else. Children have the wonderful ability to imagine themselves to be almost anything. Fostering this imagination is a vital step towards them later achieving their goals.

You’ve Got to Have a Dream

Let’s remind our pupils that labels applied by others are not the only ones that count. And, thereby, help them on the road to self-determination.

As Oscar Hammerstein II once said:

“You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true?”

 

What is Your Personal Truth?

Please Yourself

Alice Morrison, Adventurer

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

 

Please Yourself

Last week, we talked about preparation. How creativity can give confidence in meeting challenges. And how, in the end, you should be happy with your own work & please yourself.

Falling Apart

How prescient then, when one of the composing commissions cited fell apart in the final phase. The details are unimportant but, essentially, I was commissioned to write some music for a promotional film. The footage had been planned, shot and edited. I had been then drafted in to provide a soundtrack. I was given a guide track to work to and a fairly vague brief of what was required.

It became clear, right at the end of the process, that the people commissioning this piece had not made sufficient preparation. They had not fully thought-through what the promo was for or what it should say. So, in receiving the finished piece, the top decision-maker (who had been absent throughout the process) then decided it was not what she wanted.

Substantial Creative Work

Clearly, there had been a lack of proper communication in this instance. The production team (myself included) will still be paid for our work, so nothing has been lost from that point of view. However, nobody wants to be part of a project that is seen to have been a failure. But was it really?

The fact remains that a substantial piece of creative work has been made. The camera angles are magnificent, the lighting crisp and sharp. There is a terrific human element, a clear narrative and – of course – a cracking soundtrack!

Doing The Best You Can

Whilst it is disappointing to know that this footage will now not be aired, I can personally take comfort in the fact that I was happy with my part in it. As with all things creative, it is the process itself that is the real reward.

Like most artists, I have serious doubts about whether my output is ‘any good’. However, I have learned – as previously discussed – to please myself. To do the best work I can with the tools and skills available.

Inspire & Encourage

When we set children a creative task, there is no money at stake. Nobody will judge whether or not their work has met a brief or ticked the right boxes for funding. The purpose of providing them with artistic challenges is to challenge them.

Obviously, what some pupils produce may be subjectively ‘better’ than others. Indeed, we like to model examples of good work. However, this is in order to inspire and encourage the whole class, not to pit one against the other.

Please Yourself

This kind of positive cooperation is an invaluable life skill. And if individuals learn the strength to say ‘this is what I have done and I’m happy with it’, they will develop resilience for future collaborations. Pride in one’s achievements should not rely on the opinions of others. Whilst we all like to be appreciated and receive praise the true worth of our creativity is what it means to us personally.

Perhaps, in assessing children’s creative work, we could bear this in mind. Rather than saying ‘that’s good’ or ‘you’ve done well’, we could ask ‘are you happy with that?’ or ‘what do you like about it?’ It’s always good to provide alternatives and suggestions for improvement. But, perhaps, if a child is unyielding because they are happy with their work, our only response, surely, must be ‘please yourself’.

Juggling for Beginners

Keeping It Real

Moving the Goal Posts

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Juggling for Beginners

As a freelance creative, commissions can be like buses. You wait ages for one to come along – then three turn up at once. And so it is I found myself, last week, juggling three very different composing jobs.

Juggling Contradictory Demands

So, how do you contend with meeting potentially contradictory creative demands? And ensure each is delivered on time, to the required specification? The answer, as with so many things, lies in good preparation.

In the specific case of fulfilling these briefs, that entails a thorough analysis of the source material. All three are video-based and two came with a ‘guide track’ (example of the style of music desired, to which the video has been edited). A lot of information can be derived from both these sources.

The guide track provides: a genre; sound-pallet (set of instruments/tones); tempo; rhythmic structure; harmonic structure and so forth. Similarly, the video has its own pacing, tone, mood, etc. From these, it is possible to construct a template, complete with sound sources, structural markings, tempo maps and so on.

Early Preparation

But, the bulk of preparation took place before any of this was considered. That comprised years of listening, studying and performing. Immersion in countless musical styles and genres, both as audience and performer. This is not said by way of an idle boast, it is just what I do and have always done.

The point is that if you – or your pupils – have an innate interest in a creative form, you will automatically be preparing for the possibility of expressive output of your own. Not only that but a specific creative interest provides fuel for other artistic pursuits too. Better still, none of this feels like ‘work’.

Experiencing art invariably feeds the act of creative expression. So, the whole process is self-perpetuating. And a library of knowledge will amass over time, virtually of its own volition. When somebody then asks ‘Can you create this?’, you can reply – with a degree of certainty – ‘Yes, I can’.

Normalise Meeting Challenges

The beauty of working with young pupils is that they have not yet learned to question whether or not they are ‘good enough’ to tackle creative tasks. And you can give them the opportunity now to normalise meeting such challenges. That way, you are helping to offset any potential reticence as they mature.

Children that grow to develop an interest in a particular creative area will feel ‘qualified’ to pursue this later in life. Not only that but they will have a residual self-belief that may spill-over into other areas of their adult lives. What a gift, when asked to juggle three contrasting creative tasks, to be able to say ‘Yes, I can do that’.

Good News

So far, I have delivered on two of the three commissions. The good news is that they were well received. The other is in hand and I’m pleased to say that I’m happy with it so far. Which, quite frankly, is what matters – and could  well provide the topic for a future blog post.

One word of warning, though: if you are introducing younger children to  juggling – of any kind – it’s probably best to avoid fire!

I Don’t Know How You Do it

What Is Your Personal Truth?

The Art of Interruption

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Keeping it Real

It’s easy to be dazzled by what we can achieve with technology. However, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it real, especially when working in the digital realm.

A Little Bit if Grit

Music production has benefited, for several decades, from the ability to sample natural sounds. The waveform of anything that can be recorded may be manipulated and used to produce everything from percussion loops to soaring melodies. And the little bit of ‘grit’ this provides can greatly enhance what may otherwise be a rather mechanical sound.

The other day, my daughter showed me a YouTube clip of a contemporary music producer, who works with big-name pop stars. He was demonstrating how some of the sounds within what has become a chart-topping hit come from surprising everyday sources. Few would spot these within the mix but once they have been pointed out, it’s hard not to then listen to the track and say ‘oh yes!’.

A Different Approach

I had just been invited to create some music for a video project when I saw this. And it led to me taking a different approach to my composition. The video features people being interviewed in a variety of settings. Each clip ‘suffers’ from quite a lot of ambient sound spilling-through on the recording. So, rather than see this as a problem, I decided to work with it.

Listening to the background noise, I was able to identify and isolate sounds that suggested rhythms and phrases. I sampled these and blended them with instruments with similar tone and pitch. Each element was then introduced as the source sound appeared within the video. This is still a work in progress but I’m quite happy with the results.

Good Advantage

Potentially distracting noises-off have, therefore, become part of the soundtrack. What may have been seen as a problem has been turned to good advantage. Not only does this mask a technical flaw, it actually means there is a deeper connection between the spoken words and accompanying music.

As we have previously discussed, every creative project is defined by a set of limitations. This may be a physical space, a time limit, a colour pallet, a theme or – very often – a combination of factors. When additional constraints are imposed, these can actually be helpful, from the point of view of defining a creative composition.

Real-World Sources

Working digitally can create the illusion that anything is possible. And, perversely, this overwhelming freedom can be stifling. So, introducing a little reality into the equation can help narrow your options. Any art form is, arguably, a reflection of the real world. By taking real-world sources as a starting point, we can immediately root our creative work in that reality.

Consequently, our output will then be more likely to resonate with others. They will recognise, consciously or otherwise, the ‘realness’ of what they are witnessing. And its effect will be enhanced.

Messy Reality

Working creatively with children, we want them to be expressive. We also want them to be up to speed with the latest digital technologies. The latter can be a great vehicle for the former. But we need to be careful not to make everything too ‘clean’. A little bit of messy reality can make all the difference, breathing life into what otherwise may be safe and stale.

So, encourage your pupils to get their hands dirty. Allow them all the freedom that digitial creativity provides. But also instill in them an awareness of the benefits of keeping it real.

 

What is Your Personal truth?

See, Hear, Experience

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Curb Your Enthusiasm

What happens when enthusiasm spills over into domination? Well-meaning input quickly becomes unwanted interference. And creativity suffers.

Public Meeting

I was having a meeting, the other evening, to discuss ideas for an upcoming fringe-theatre event. This was being held in a public place, indeed a public house. So, it should have been no surprise when our conversation was interrupted.

The person doing the interrupting was a very dear friend. One who loves to help and, once he gets the bit between his teeth, is unable to curb his enthusiasm. Which is terrific, except for when it becomes overbearing. And my friend, in this instance had clearly been enjoying the venue’s hospitality to the full.

Uninvited Collaborator

In fairness, he was trying to contribute positively to the discussion. He was keen to push me beyond the limitations of what I thought possible for this project. Again, this is unquestionably a good thing. And I was genuinely grateful for the input and enthusiasm for this project.

However, my uninvited collaborator had latched onto the last thing that had been said as he joined the conversation. He hadn’t taken the trouble to ask about the broader vision for the show. And, more crucially, he had then dominated the conversation to the exclusion of the two original participants.

Stifling the Flow

The net effect of this intervention was to stifle the flow of ideas. Aside from the fact it hadn’t been asked for, it used up much of what was a limited window of opportunity. Had this been an equal conversation, the new perspective would have been useful. We could have batted things back and forth and helped to move the project forward. But, instead, we were treated to a lengthy monologue.

Listen &Understand

As previously discussed, when we are working creatively with young people, we must be particularly careful not to dominate. Most will automatically defer to our ideas and opinions. And, if they do, they will – of course – then be stifling their own creative impulses.

As with my tipsy friend, it is clear that our intention is to help and push things forward. However, we should see this as being a collaboration. Children’s ideas and opinions must be treated as at least as valuable as our own. So, the key thing for us to do is listen and understand.

Disengaged & Demotivated

An excellent example of how not to do this has been provided by my son’s drama teacher. She is directing their school’s show and faces a tough job. However, she is controlling the performers’ every move, word and gesture. Which means the children are disengaged and demotivated.

In fairness to this teacher, there is a wide range of ability and motivation among the pupils concerned. But her own enthusiasm is overbearing, particularly for the younger children. They therefore no longer feel that they own their performance. And so, they have become unruly and disruptive. Which, of course, makes the teacher feel she needs to take even more control. And so it goes.

Patience & Understanding

Energy and enthusiasm are key ingredients for any creative collaboration. However, these must be tempered by patience and understanding. If our own innate excitement for a project leads us to take over the conversation, then it is no longer a dialogue. It may, indeed, quickly become a diatribe.

We all have the ability to feel hurt or slighted, especially within a creative setting. And one person’s empathy may be another’s take-over bid. So, get excited by all means. But curb your enthusiasm just enough to allow your pupils and/or collaborators the chance to show theirs as well.

Together, you can then create something of real worth.

 

Let Go The Reins

Go With the Flow

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move


 

Anger is an Energy

Anger is An Energy - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersAnger is an energy that can scare and intimidate. But what if it’s used creatively? 40 years on, does Punk have any relevance for modern-day learning?

The Essence of Punk

Chris Packham, renowned naturalist, recently produced a documentary for the BBC, in which he attempted to uncover the essence of punk. He visited some key figures from the movement to see what they are now doing and how punk has shaped their worldview. Each agreed that it had been an important cultural phenomenon and a key influence in their personal development.

So what is punk? In recent times, the word has been used chiefly to describe loud, fast, guitar-driven music with shouty vocals. However, the original punk movement was far more than a musical style. It was a state of mind. You could even say it was a way of being.

Angry Energy

During Mr Packham’s film, he grapples with finding a definition for this. His conclusion is that Punk is an attitude. It is having something to say about what is happening in the world outside, right now. And it is very much about expressing personal truths, however unpalatable, as directly as possible, through words, actions and – often – angry energy.

Clearly, today, there is plenty to be angry – or at least concerned – about. We spend quite a lot of time and effort convincing our children they should control their tempers. But where does that pent-up rage go? Could suppressed anger be partly to blame for fueling a rise in mental health issues among the young?

Dangerous & Subversive

Punk, in its heyday, was seen as dangerous and subversive. But perhaps it was more like a safety valve. It actually led to very little violence or disruption. By channeling their anger into something creative and expressive, punks actually may have averted serious civil unrest.

At the very heart of the movement was a reaction to wider complacency. The UK had been through a period of political turmoil and weak leadership. And the heartland of punk wasn’t deprived inner-city ghettos. Rather, it was the drab, middle-class suburbs. The very areas that were seen as safe and neutral.

Safe & Comfortable

As parents and teachers, we strive to create a safe and comfortable environment in which our children may grow and develop. But we also need to allow them space for self-expression. Even if this sometimes means venting anger and challenging established norms. Failure to do so can create personal frustration and collective resentment.

Anger is an energy. And, like all energy, it needs an outlet. One of the many benefits of creative expression is to give that energy purpose and direction. The punk ethos means that when someone has something to say, they take the opportunity to say it. The most important thing for the rest of us to then do is listen.

Full Marks for Anger

So, the next time one of your pupils is being angry and makes you think ‘you little punk’, stop and consider. Maybe they are being a little punk. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

What we ask of our children is that they make an effort. Effort is energy. And, since anger is an energy, expressing that anger is making an effort. So – full marks for anger!

 

 

Rough & Tumble (KS2)

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

I Don’t Know How You Do It

I Don't Know How You Do It - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersHow often do we say ‘I don’t know how you do it’, when – really – we do? It’s easy to assume others have hidden talents we don’t. But we all have things we are good at that we just take for granted.

How Do You Do It?

I was having coffee, just earlier today, with a dear friend. I was talking about some composing work that may be coming my way. He said ‘I don’t know how you do it’. To which I replied ‘what?’. ‘Just make something up, out of no-where’ he replied.

The friend in question is an architect. I asked him ‘well, how do you go about designing a house?’. He then proceeded to explain that he would begin with a plot of land (this was represented by the cutlery and condiments on our table). Then, he would see where the access to the property would be (a spoon became the gateway). Next, he would note whether a road ran alongside (a napkin). And, he would consider which way was North, in relation to the property, to see where the natural light would fall.

Given these parameters, he would decide where best to position the house, so that there may be privacy from the road. Ideally this would allow space for a garden to the South side, to make best use of the sunshine. He would consider, perhaps, having a kitchen somewhere where the evening light may fall upon a window (a pepper-pot) and locate a garage (salt-cellar) near to the entrance, where it would not obscure any views.

The Same Process

‘Well, it’s the same process’, I said. I will ascertain how long a piece of music needs to be; what sections are required. what instrumentation is desirable. Often – if it is a commission – I will be given a ‘guide track’, which will provide a ready-made set of parameters. From this, I can deduce: tempo; style; genre; degrees of texture and ‘layers’; whether there are repetitions and motifs; whether the piece is melodic, atonal or abstract. Once these constraints are in place, it is more or less a question of filling in the spaces.

We both agreed that the difficult bit is then to find some kind of inspiration to do the creative bit. And where that comes from is hard to define. However, once you have essentially created a playground within which to play (whether musically, visually, dramatically or whatever), then it really is just a matter of playing. Ring any bells? Of course it does!

Let Them Loose

As a teacher, you follow this process all the time. You give your pupils a set of parameters within which to operate and essentially let them loose. Obviously, if the underlying subject is mathematics, then the children won’t be allowed to roam too far. But in more creative subjects, they have freedom to explore.

As someone whose connection with education is through creative movement (or – for want of a better term – ‘dance’), it is often apparent to me that many teachers are a little intimidated by this subject. Many ask ‘how do you do that?’ – or, more often, ‘how should I do that?’. To which, the answer is: you don’t have to. Or rather, you don’t have to do anything beyond your already considerable capabilities.

What? Me?

‘What? Me? Considerable capabilities?’. Yes. You. Stop and think for a moment. How many people outside of the teaching profession think to themselves ‘how do they do that?’. I can tell you: a good many. Plenty of people – myself included – would be filled with dread at the thought of having to inspire, lead and nurture young people on a daily basis. What you do is, in short, amazing.

So, any fears you may be harbouring over teaching subject areas that fall outside your natural comfort zone are unfounded. Especially when you pause to consider that you do know how to teach. And, by extension, you can teach anything. Very much like designing a house or composing a piece of music, it really is just a question of defining your playground. Once your pupils understand the parameters within which they are allowed to play, they will naturally get on and do that: play.

You Already Know

And what is primary education at its best, if not structured play? Interestingly, in demonstrating to me how he designs a house, my friend resorted to a form of play. Our table top became the playground and our imaginations did the playing. So, in answer to the question: ‘how do you do that?’, the answer is quite simple: ‘you already know’.

Unexpected Inspiration

Do ‘Something’

From Primary to Pro – It’s All The Same

Unexpected Inspiration

Unexpected Inspiration - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersSometimes, inspiration can come from an unexpected source. So, we need to keep an open mind and avoid pre-judging those around us. You never know where your next source of unexpected inspiration may be lurking. Possibly right under your nose…

Cheeky Young Thing

Over the Christmas break, I met – as is the tradition – with members of my extended family. One of whom, is a cheeky young thing who works as a sports coach in schools. He also runs a local girls’ football team. We’ll call him Dan.

On the surface, this young chap seems like a ‘blokey’ bloke. By his own admit ion, he was never academically gifted. And his language is peppered with youthful jargon. So, when Dan chose a career in sports, nobody was too surprised. But any assumptions that this reflects a lack of sensitivity or emotional maturity on his part are seriously misguided.

Creative Thinking

Over the course of our conversation, my admiration for this young man – which was already considerable – grew. He displays a remarkable degree of creative thinking and a real depth of psychological understanding. It’s quite possible that Dan is, himself, unaware of these talents. Nonetheless, he applies them to great effect.

When Dan began coaching girls at his local football club, take-up was low and expectations even lower. He realised, however, that the important thing was the girls felt this was their club. Moreover, he identified the fact that the parents also needed to be invested in their daughters’ efforts.

Parental Interest

Previously, parents had dutifully ferried their children to and from games and training. They would gather on the touchline and have a chat, whilst their little one got on with whatever it was they were doing. So, without meaning to, they were giving the signal that they were either not interested or did not believe in what their youngsters were achieving.

Dan set about involving parents in subtle ways. They would run the touchline, provide refreshments and organise end-of-season festivities. Over time, it became as much their club as their offspring. Correspondingly, the children felt this was now something about which their parents cared and in which they took an interest.

Raising Spirits

One girl’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Dan knew he would not be qualified to provide any counselling. He also understood the importance of respecting boundaries. So, he sought a way in which he could raise this girl’s spirits and also relieve any awkwardness among her teammates.

He struck on the idea of telling jokes to the girls on the journeys to and from their various matches and tournaments. The internet, of course, is an endless source of material. With a little judicious searching, it was possible to find age-appropriate (and sometimes awful) puns, jokes and riddles to while away the miles.

So, Dan was able to find a way of diverting a troubled young girl’s attention away from her worries, without singling her out. This helped create an environment of togetherness for all the girls. And it has become embedded within the club’s culture, long after the girl in question’s mother has made a full recovery.

Support & Respect

The team has grown in numbers and strength. Various age-groups are now catered for. And additional coaches have been engaged to help with the club’s growing popularity. All of which has been achieved through an understanding of the team as individuals. They are young people with needs and concerns. And each wants to feel the support and respect of their friends and family.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dan’s day job is in sports in primary education. He clearly understands the importance of ownership for his young charges. He can teach all he likes but it only becomes meaningful to the youngsters if they feel that the achievement is theirs. Similarly, he recognises the value of inclusion. All are welcome and each is valued.

False Assumption

So, any assumptions I may have made about this beer-drinking, football-loving young geezer were wrong. Dan gives each of his young charges the opportunity to show their worth. And he understands the importance of including those around them. The youngsters, therefore, feel supported and their families share both the responsibilities and rewards.

Unexpected Inspirational Leaders

Whilst these principals may be familiar to all educators and facilitators, we can do well to afford the same courtesy to those about us. We may inadvertently make assumptions about our peers that we would not about our pupils and children. You never know what talents may lie hidden within your colleagues – or, indeed, family members. Nor can we always guess where the next inspirational leader may be lurking!

Women’s & Girl’s Football – The FA

PE… or Not PE?

We Are Family

Take Note

Ask The Universe

Ask The Universe - Dance NOtes creativity blog for teachersSometimes it’s good to stop and ask yourself what you really want. It’s a common pastime, this time of year. But how often do you ask yourself – or the universe – “what could I do with, right now”?

New Age Thinking?

This may be, for some, straying uncomfortably close to esoteric thinking. It could be the kind of ‘ask and you will receive’ New Age-ism that makes you want to fetch a bucket. But bear with me: it’s not all crystals and unicorns.

The fact is, whatever the processes and mechanisms, focusing on an aim or aspiration can yield surprising results. And there really is no mystery here. When we apply our thinking to something we would like to happen, it is more likely to occur. (I expect we have all had the experience of bumping into someone we had just thought of for the first time in ages.)

Stacking The Odds

The reason is that we are mentally creating the environment needed for that particular outcome. This may lead us to look something or someone up, go to an appropriate location or take part in a relevant event. That way, the odds begin to stack in favour of what it is we hope to achieve.

Which takes us back to an idea discussed in an earlier post.  The strategy of just doing something when we may feel there is nothing to be done. It also echoes thoughts, expressed in these pages, about not worrying unduly about specific outcomes. The key to moving on, after all, is to move.

Shifting Thought-Processes

And this may not necessarily mean physical action. The ‘moving’ may require a period of stillness:  stopping that which may be the cause of a blockage in the first place. We can then allow our thought-processes to shift. And then ‘actual’ movement may follow.

The hippy element of our community (of which I may or may not be a member) sometimes likes to speak of ‘asking the universe’. You may prefer to think, rather, of focusing on your desires. Or, perhaps, following your dreams. All of which may sound a little dramatic. On a mundane level, however, it can’t hurt to spend a little time considering what you really want: now; this afternoon; in five-years’ time. Give it a go: you may be pleasantly surprised.

Good Creative Teaching

When it comes to our children and pupils, they are generally quite adept (again, particularly at this time of year) at voicing their wants and desires. And how often do we counter with ‘yes, but right now you should be thinking about…’? There is a school of thought that the word ‘should’ is best avoided. If we can replace it with ‘could’, then the focus shifts from requirement to possibility. And this, I would suggest, is the essence of good creative teaching.

So, rather than asking yourself and the children in your care ‘what should we do?’, try asking ‘what would we like?’. As with all things, it may not lead to quite what you expect. But at least you will be heading in a direction of your own choosing.

Happy creative travels!

 


Knowing When To Stop

Do Something

Dance Notes’ Creative Partner: Make a Move

Just Do One Thing

Just Do One Thing - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersI was talking with a friend the other day. He runs his own business, so needs to be creative in his daily thinking. He offered a great nugget of wisdom, which was this: if you are going online, just do one thing.

Now, this may sound rather limiting but it is good advice. The internet, as we all know, is like an endless rabbit warren. You go online to look for one thing and invariably end up, after some time has elapsed, somewhere else entirely.

Use or Be Used

So, my friend’s counsel is actually very wise. It represents the difference between using the internet as the amazing tool it can be and falling prey to its endless possibilities. But, surely, possibility is a good thing? Well, yes, it is. However, it’s the ‘endless’ bit that is problematic.

Whether you are a teacher, an assistant, a carer or a parent, you don’t have limitless amounts of time available. But it’s when we have the least amount to spare that we are drawn into wasting it through appealing diversions. So, we need to build ourselves a strategy to avoid this happening.

Subtle Manipulation

Generally, you will go online because you either need to look something up, find something out or fulfill a web-based task (say, filling out a form). The internet is so full of well-designed distractions, that it is very rare that you will only perform that one task. An ad will pop-up, directly in response to something you previously looked at; or a video clip will automatically launch into another, once it has finished; or you will be redirected to another page, once you have filled something in… and so on.

These things feel helpful at first but are actually subtle forms of manipulation. So, it is important to tell yourself, at the outset, that you won’t be drawn into engaging with whatever else appears, once you have completed the task in hand. Or, even, before you get to the thing you want to do.

Drive for Efficiency

But, you say, some of these things are useful. Yes, of course they are. But they aren’t what you are looking for right now. So, the thing to do is to make a note of the article, web address, email, company name, telephone or whatever it is that has caught your attention. You can then come back to deal with at a later time.

Again, you may argue that this is surely inefficient. Why not make the most of your time online now and get multiple tasks out of the way? And this is the real stumbling block: the constant drive for ‘efficiency’. Ironically, that imperative is the cause of a whole world of procrastination, diversion and inappropriate time wasting.

Mentally & Physically Refresh

What’s more, our brains aren’t built to cope with constant input. It is far better to do one thing and physically remove yourself from the computer, phone, tablet or implant (only a matter of time… and then, of course, it will be too late). Simply by moving away from your device, you will give your brain a chance to refresh. And the chances are it will then come up with something else you really do need to accomplish.

Even if this then means returning to your screen, you will have had some mental space. If you’ve also walked away, you’ll have had a chance to physically realign too. Let’s not forget the bodily demands of sitting in one position for prolonged periods, either.

The Here & Now

Children are often chided for not being able to stay in one place for more than a short time. Perhaps we should view this as a positive thing. Let’s allow them to roam, fidget, dance and play, in between the more focused tasks expected of them.

And, while we’re at it, we should only expect them to perform one task at a time. It’s what children are good at, being – in the main – firmly rooted in the here and now. It’s something we adults can often only aspire to.  So, perhaps we should let the children be our guides in that respect.

Just Finishing One Thing?

As they get older, our children too may be drawn into the vortex of online confusion. But it’s our duty to not only make them aware of the inherent dangers but also stand as fitting role models. And we can’t do that if we’re too busy ‘just finishing this off’ online!

 


Selfies & Photos (KS2)

We Are What We Eat (KS1)

Our creative partners: Make a Move

It’s Good to Talk

It's Good to Talk - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThis week, I was reminded of the importance of getting out and talking to other creative people. Ironically, I’m writing this as I sit by myself in a railway-station bar…

Networking

In my defense, I have just come from a ‘networking event’. Yes, that phrase makes me shudder too. It conjures images of  a room full of people, desperately selling themselves to one another. However, such occasions do have their merits.

We began, as is often the case, with an opportunity to chat informally. A panel of ‘experts’ then spoke on a topic that united us all. Next, a live act was introduced to entertain us. At least, I’m told they were there. From the  back, I couldn’t see and they were – frankly – ignored by all and sundry. And, finally, we were set free for some ‘B2B’ (business-to-business) networking.

As you may gather, the horrible corporate language is not something I hold dear. Neither are the specifics of this occasion of any particular relevance, so I won’t bore you with those. However, how the evening panned out for me personally was, I think, interesting and informative.

Discomfort

I suspect I was not alone in feeling this was an evening I ought to attend. At the same time, the idea of having to impress myself on a room full of strangers was daunting. Add to this the suspicion that everyone else present was more successful, talented and self-assured than me and you can imagine my discomfort.

BUT… there’s a very good chance that many, if not most, people present were feeling the same way. So, the only thing for it was to dive in, introduce myself and talk to people. Mostly, this led to genuinely interesting conversations and a reminder that it is, after all, good to talk. In a couple of instances, it also paved the way for what could be fruitful partnerships.

Simply Connect

The truth be told, I did actually make to leave, following the panel presentation. Fortunately, an instinct persuaded me to say hello to some people who had nipped outside for a cigarette. Somehow, this felt less intimidating than competing with the apparently super-confident throng at the bar inside. Thus emboldened, I returned to the fray and did manage to connect with some people there.

Again, the details are unimportant but common interests were established and emails exchanged. Whether or not anything concrete will materialise from these brief encounters is far from certain. However, the simple fact of having made connections felt like justification for making the journey. More importantly, it has also been a catalyst for looking again at some aspects of my work.

Overcoming Negative Feelings

Two things strike me about this experience, when thinking of its relevance to children’s’ education. The first is that the feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness are routed in memories from my own childhood. This makes me think it is of vital importance to do all we can, as educators, to help our pupils overcome such negative feelings.

Self-worth is a powerful currency. Sadly, it is all too often confined to a measure of ‘success’ or aptitude. However, the ability to be open, friendly, attentive and empathetic is arguably of greater value. Children need to be encouraged to recognise their own worth. If they see that others share their own innate shyness, awkwardness and lack of confidence, they will be more able to talk freely with one another later in life.

Shall We?

So, the second point is that how we get beyond those potential limitations is by connecting with others. Every project, collaboration, play, band, orchestra or dance company will have begun with a simple conversation. Somebody will have said to somebody else ‘shall we have a go at this?’ or ‘shall we try that?’.

I, like many, have made a career in the creative arts, in spite of constant doubts about my own capabilities. And I can report that just about every professional situation in which I have found myself has come about through a chance encounter. People often say ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. The implication is that those who have succeeded have had special access to the right people.

The fact is they have sought-out or happened upon the ‘right’ people. And they have done this by putting themselves in appropriate situations, regardless of any discomfort they may have felt. They have persevered, in spite of their personal misgivings.

Worth the Effort

And the real point is not that through mingling and networking we can all became famous artists. That is only ever going to happen to a select few. No, the point is that we can all benefit, both creatively and as human beings, by being more connected and open.

In the digital age, real-life interaction is more important than ever. It may feel intimidating, sometimes, to approach people we don’t already know. But it is always worth the extra effort. It really is good to talk.

 


Ourselves (KS2)

Rough & Tumble (KS2)

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

What is Your Personal Truth?

your personal truth - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersAttending a comedy event last week, something struck me about what makes a successful act. Each performer needs to deliver a version of his or her personal truth. This is as true for a painter as it is a stand-up comic, as it is a singer.

Immersive Collaboration

The evening in question was hosted by an old friend I’d not seen for some time. He was a lecturer on the Performing Arts degree course at the university where I studied. One of the great strengths of that establishment was the amount of crossover between different disciplines. Therefore, as a ‘straight’ music student, I was able to immerse myself in collaboration with dancers and actors, as well as musicians from other backgrounds.

We chatted about how many former students from the university are still active in their chosen creative field. What all seem to agree is that we were given an environment in which we could explore, make mistakes and learn to ‘have a go’. In so doing, we learnt to put our whole selves into whatever challenges were thrown our way.

Sincere Commitment

Which brings me back to my starting point this week. In order to fully immerse yourself in a creative task, you need to be sincere in your commitment to it. And the only way for that to succeed is by finding your own truth within the art you are conveying.

Even – or especially – actors need to heed this advice. Clearly, their craft entails adopting personae that are, in once sense, ‘fake’. However, for a part to be believable to an audience, it must also be believed by its performer. So, the actor will find their own truth within a role and convey that via the character.

Deeper Engagement

But what relevance does this have to creative work with children? Actually, a great deal. If a child performs – say – a sequence of dance moves that have been given him or her by their teacher, they will, most likely, simply recreate the physical motion. Whereas, should they be invited to think of their own moves, they will instantly be engaged on a deeper level.

Now, they have ownership of their craft. The movements will reflect their feelings and beliefs in relation to the subject. And, of course, this will stem from what is true for them. Which is why, once set a task to create something on a particular theme, most pupils will find it hard to contain themselves. Ideas are not a scarcity for children – and the most valuable of all are their own.

Sharing Our Truths

By delving into their own truths, children are engaged on an emotional, psychological and physical level, all at once. We all have a physical response to our ideas and feelings. Sadly, much of the time, these impulses have nowhere to go. Through physical creative work, however, we can all – children and adults alike – give shape to our own individual truths.

Not only that but we can then see, hear or feel the truths of those around us. These can then be assessed and appreciated. We can discuss the relative merits of each and perhaps incorporate them into our own thinking. And isn’t that much healthier than typing our respective viewpoints furiously into social media?!

 


The Circus (KS1)

Circus (KS2)

Middlesex University Department of Performing Arts

Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

See, Hear & Experience!

See, hear, experience - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersTo keep creative, it’s good to maintain a healthy level of regular input. So, be sure to get out there. Go see, hear & experience new art in all its myriad forms, as often as you can.

Last week, I went to see Rambert dance company. They were performing three new works by contemporary choreographers. All three were hugely inspiring. Each had a very different flavour from the next and the audience was rapt throughout.

Highlight

Before going to this show, I had taken a look through the program, together with a dancer friend. We had both recognised two of the choreographers but had not heard of the third. The piece she had created turned out to be – for me at least – the highlight of the evening.

So, on returning home, I looked up the person in question. She has worked as a dancer with a number of big-name pop stars. But her breakthrough as a choreographer came though her work with one Christine & The Queens. This was a wonderful coincidence from my point of view. You may remember, I previously mentioned the inclusion of dancers within several of this year’s Glastonbury headline acts. And the pick of those was – for me – Christine & The Queens.

Creative Touchstones

I find it fascinating to see which things resonate with me and how certain artists have a tendency to pop up repeatedly. This particular artist’s name is Marion Motin. I would urge you to seek-out her work and, if you get the chance, go along to see her piece ‘Rouge’ performed by Rambert dance.

But that’s just me. You must have your own creative touchstones. People who inspire you, perhaps in unfathomable ways. Performances that make you want to rush out and create your own masterpiece – whatever that may be.

The Stimulation Our Children Need

And, of course, the same is not only true of us but even more so for our children and pupils. At a time in which the creative arts are arguably undervalued, it is important that we do all we can to ensure our young charges get the stimulation they crave and need. This can be as simple as going to a local art gallery, attending a local theatre or listening to a concert.

And, in this digital age, I would suggest that experiencing these things ‘live’ and unfiltered is of particular importance. Any piece of art relies, to a large extent, on its audience. Viewing images of art works on a screen is not the same as standing among other gallery-goers and feeling their awe, wonder or – perhaps – indifference. Sensing the tension within the audience around you at a theatrical event is a completely different experience to watching the same performance on a television screen.

Making The Effort

So, whilst any exposure to art can only be a good thing, a certain amount of effort is required to maximise the impact of the experience. We need to mobilise ourselves to go out ‘there’; find the interesting stuff; seek what challenges us and remain creatively fresh. As role models for our youngsters, they too will benefit from seeing our engagement with the arts. And, as we all know, it doesn’t take much to pique their curiosity.

Happy hunting.

 


Alice in Wonderland (KS2)

Space (KS1)

Our creative partner: Make a Move

 

Knowing When to Stop

knowing when to stop - dance notes creativity blogKnowing when to stop can be difficult. It’s all very well having strategies and techniques for generating creative activity. But, how do you know when it’s time to switch off?

An Endless Task

I spoke previously about separating out your inner ‘creator’ from your ‘craftsperson’. Generally, in my case at least, the former will know when an idea has run its course. However, the polishing and finessing can – if you’re not careful -become an endless task. Or at least, you may easily overlook when it would be a good time to take a break.

To give a recent example, I was working on a new piece of music last week. The initial idea had arrived some time ago whilst tinkering at the piano and I had stored this for later use. Bringing it into the digital realm, I was able to play around with different sounds, rhythms and textures. All of which is a fun process and one in which I tend to become very absorbed.

When Enough is Enough

The hard part is to know when enough extra layers and sounds are enough. Similarly, finding new sections to complement the original seed idea can be challenging. These need to be consistent in tone and style, yet provide enough contrast to make for an interesting whole. Plus, of course, you are always looking for a satisfying beginning, middle and end to any creative project.

Working digitally has its advantages and disadvantages, as we have discussed. The upside is that anything is possible. The downside is – you’ve guessed it – anything is possible. Even once parameters have been set, a structure has been established and a solid framework built, there is still scope to get lost amid all that possibility.

A Kind of Madness

For me, a kind of madness seems to set in. I reach a state in which I can’t leave the thing alone. I am constantly drawn back to see what would happen if I cut this, tweaked that or rewrote the other. And this is the point at which there is only one solution. Just walk away.

In the cold light of a new day, everything invariably becomes much clearer. So, if you find yourself in this situation – whether composing, painting, dancing or any other creative activity – try to recognise the fact that it’s OK to leave. The thing won’t disappear, just because you have left it for a few hours. It will almost certainly reveal what excited you about it in the first place, when you return at a later time.

Time to Leave

In the meantime, it’s a great idea to physically remove yourself form the situation. If your project is computer-based, switch off and leave the room. If it’s studio work, go outside. In fact, going out into the open is never a bad thing to do. Fresh air, wide horizons and even the change in temperature can be instantly restorative.

So, if you are stuck on something at this moment, you have my permission. Take a break. Now. Put the kettle on; go for a walk; have a lie down – whatever works for you. Then feel the difference when you come back, refreshed.


Take Some Time Out

The Environment (KS2)

The Scented Garden (KS1)

Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

Under Pressure

under pressure - dance notes blogToday being World Mental Health Day,  it was a nice coincidence to find myself reflecting on a recent mentoring success. This was with an Asperger’s sufferer who was feeling under pressure. The keys to this breakthrough appear to have been space and respect. And both were applied by the student himself. Let me  explain.

Shut Off

Some friends asked me, a couple of years ago, if I could help their son with his music making. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call him Tom. Tom had been studying music at school and doing well. However, he has a form of Asperger’s that means he has a tendency to shut off if he feels under too much pressure. Tom’s teacher had spotted his potential and tried to provide plenty of encouragement. Unfortunately, this had the effect of making him withdraw and lose confidence in his abilities. So much so, Tom was in danger of giving up music altogether.

So, Tom’s parents asked if there might be anything I could do to help. They were most keen for him to rediscover his creativity and were not overly concerned about academic achievement. He knew and liked my music, so they thought I would be someone he could trust and respect. Whilst they live at some distance from me, I said I would see what I could do remotely.

Flexible Arrangement

We decided that the best approach would be for this to be a flexible arrangement. Rather than keeping to fixed times or days, Tom and I would have an ongoing dialogue. Tom could share his ideas and thoughts with me and I would provide feedback. I could also give him a window into my working life; sharing thoughts on things that motivate and inspire me as they arise.

Over the following months, we sent emails back and forth. Tom would sometimes send a YouTube clip of him working on a piano piece or singing with his guitar. I would comment on his work; pointing out composers that may appeal to his style and making gentle suggestions about where to take things next. I also let Tom know about music to which I had been listening, radio programs that may interest him; gigs I had played or attended, and so on.

Shared Interests

As someone to whom ‘teaching’ does not come very naturally, this situation felt very comfortable and real. We were just two people with a shared interest in music, swapping thoughts and ideas. The fact that I have experience of creating and performing for a living was largely irrelevant. But it was helpful in showing Tom his own potential. Once he could see that we are essentially no different from one another, this gave him licence to see his own ideas as valid and worthwhile.

There is absolutely no fault to be inferred on the part of Tom’s school teacher. It was simply unfortunate that well-meaning encouragement was perceived as unwanted pressure to achieve. Having said that, this is a constant danger, especially when we live and teach in an environment in which achievement is almost always expected. Ultimately, however, motivation has to come from pupils themselves for them to gain from their learning experiences.

Beyond Qualifications

In Tom’ s case, I am happy to report that he went on to study music at a Higher Education establishment. He continues to write  music and enjoy his own creativity. Not only that, but he recently gave his first live performance at a local festival. This, for him, was a huge achievement and way beyond anything qualifications or certificates could provide.

It feels as though what Tom most needed was validation. He wanted to know that what he was doing was OK and that his efforts were legitimate. I revealed to Tom my own haphazard thought processes and creative workings. And this showed him there is nothing special about me, even though he had admired my work for some time.

Space and Respect

Tom has therefore become able to believe in his own potential to do similar, if not better, work himself. The motivation was already within him. Now, he also has the self-respect and mental space to act upon it.


Ourselves (KS1)

Do Less to Achieve More

Don’t Follow The Leader

Our Creative Partner: Make  Move

a Creative Challenge…

a creative challenge make me something like thisThis week, I was presented with an interesting new creative challenge. Essentially, the task was ‘make me something like this’. But what does that mean?

The charity, Make a Move, with which Dance Notes has a close partnership, had been asked to produce some guided-meditation recordings for a client. Michelle, who heads the charity and is a key contributor to Dance Notes, asked if I could record her as she talked through the meditation. And this led to a new creative challenge

Authentic

We convened in my studio and Michelle asked if she could have a track she liked playing in the background. To make things as authentic as possible, she also had a volunteer to guide through the meditation as we recorded her speaking. I explained that, in order to keep the voice recording clean, I would send the music to Michelle’s headphones. I would then mix the voice and music for the final recording.

But there was a catch. Michelle did not have permission to use this music commercially. So, I offered to make something from scratch. And this was where the creative challenge came in. Whereas I have produced many soundscapes in the past, this was specifically to aid relaxation and sleep.

Do Your Homework

So, how do you set about achieving something like this for the first time? Firstly, you do your homework. I listened to the tracks that Michelle had been using and noted their key characteristics. I then set about creating something new and distinct. Importantly, though, the music needed to share the qualities that enabled them to serve their function.

This reminded me of a time, a few years ago, when I was regularly creating music to order for commercials. I had a very good agent, who understood what information I would need in order to fulfill a creative brief. It is astonishing how few people have this skill, though it’s actually not too difficult once you appreciate what is needed.

A Bit Like This…

Many people, when commissioning a piece of music, will say ‘oh, a bit like x’ or ‘something atmospheric’ or ‘energetic’. The problem is that one person’s idea of ‘energetic’ or atmospheric’ will be quite different from another’s. Similarly, to simply say ‘like’ something is open to interpretation.

If you are asking someone to create a piece of music for you (or a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a film, etc.), what you really need to do is tell them what qualities it should have. It is undoubtedly useful to have some reference material. However, without knowing what it is about that piece of work that really matters, there is scope for a lot of misinterpretation and wasted effort.

The One Element

In the case of music, the composer will want to know whether it is the style, the beat, the sound-pallet, instrumentation, genre, dynamics or whatever that appeal from the guide track. I could create something that, to my ears, sounds a lot like a chosen track but miss the one element that actually makes it work for the person who chose it.

Fortunately, in this instance, I was able to have that conversation with Michelle. She explained that she liked the electronic sounds, the lack of meter, the constant dynamic and the harmonic qualities of the guide tracks. So, right from the start, I had a set of parameters within which to work. I was therefore able to quickly deliver what was required.

Finding Qualities Within

Similarly, when working with children in dance, it is good to avoid saying ‘move like x’. Rather, it is better to ask ‘how does x move – what are its qualities?’. Then your pupils can try to find those qualities within themselves, rather than simply mimicking something they think you want to see. It’s a subtle difference but an important one.

The creativity comes from internalising ideas and owning them. One could argue that children already spend too much time trying to produce, on demand, what is expected of them. In creative work, they have licence to do the unexpected and feel good about their individuality.

I May Just Cry

And if you are ever in a position to commission some music from me, please don’t ask ‘can you make something like x’. I may just cry.

The Scented Garden (KS1)

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

The Tyranny of the Screen

the tyranny of the screen - Dance Notes creativity blogLast time, I mentioned how I like to capture ideas by recording improvisations and then teasing-out the creative nuggets that appear.  A computer hooked-up to my keyboard aids this process. However, I neglected to mention that, quite often, I will also work away from digital devices to escape the tyranny of the screen.

Not Always Helpful

And this, I think, is an important point. Sitting in front of a computer screen – whether to write, compose, animate, ‘paint’, design or for any other creative activity – can be inhibiting. Or, at least, it can dominate your thinking in a way that is not always helpful.

We are so used to using screens in our daily lives that it is easy to underestimate to what extent the method influences the outcome. I am using one right now and it is quite possible that what I write or the way I express myself is being driven by that fact. Instead, why not sit with a paper and pen and write long-hand, before then transferring your thoughts to a word processor?

Liberation from ‘Efficiency’

Our fixation with ‘efficiency’ means that this may seem like a waste of time. However, having the freedom to sit outdoors, in a cafe, on a train or in some other environment, away from the computer, can be liberating and lead to thought-processes that may not otherwise arise. Similarly, playing a keyboard that is ‘just’ a keyboard may illicit different results to doing the same thing when a screen is in front of me.

When I wrote my last blog, I had recently started work on two new compositions. Each had arisen from simple ideas that had presented themselves when I was tinkering at a piano, away from my computer. I had the presence of mind to record what I was playing, so that I could later reproduce it in the studio and craft the results into a full composition.

Carry a Notepad

As a teacher, you will undoubtedly have many pressures on your time and resources. Having the luxury to sit down and think about what you want to do creatively with your class may be rare. However, it’s not difficult to carry a notepad around. It is quite likely that ideas and thoughts will occur to you when you are away from your working environment. Rather than trying to then recapture these, next time you are ‘planning’, try to make a note of them immediately.

How many great thoughts and ideas come to you when you are out walking, running, taking a bath or lying in the sun? There’s a reason for this: your mind is having the opportunity to unwind and this is when you are arguably at your most creative. Rather than then turning this into ‘work’, if you can store these ideas for later, when you are working, you can then get back to relaxing. Which, after all, we all need.

A World of Possibility

Of course, nearly everyone carries a phone these days. And most phones have the facility for you to write notes, record audio, capture video, etc. However, the moment you open this device, you are presented with a world of possibility and, inevitable, some of this will lead back to ‘work’. Try to resist the tyranny of the screen, in whatever shape or form. You’ll have plenty of time for that later.

In the meantime, let your creativity flow, capture the inspiration.

And… relax.

 


Toys (KS1)

The Seasons (KS1)

Dance Notes’ Creative Partner: Make a Move

The Creator & The Craftsperson

The Creator & The CraftsmanMy son asked me, the other day, how I generate ideas for compositions. People often ask: “where do ideas come from?”. The simple answer is that nobody really knows. However, I do know how to keep them coming. And this involves engaging your inner Creator & Craftsperson.

From Impulse to Outcome

We have already talked about the need to flex your creative muscles on a regular basis. And how it is important not to stifle the creative flow. But how do we get from the initial impulse to a finished piece of work (whether in music or any other creative form)?

I would suggest that there exists within us all two distinct creative types: the creator and the craftsperson. One or other may be more dominant in each of us but I believe we can, with practice, harness the unique talents of both. The trick is to allow each the space to work to their optimum ability.

Time & Effort

This reminds me of the oft-cited quote that ‘composition is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’. I may have misquoted that but you get the gist. The point is that creative inspiration can be fleeting, whereas the process of honing the original idea into something of value takes time and effort. But don’t let that put you off.

A few years ago, I set myself the challenge of creating a new piece of music every day. In the event, this became every working day, during school time (to fit with family and other commitments). Nonetheless, I did stick rigidly to that regime – regardless of my state of mind, health and spirit – for a whole year. And  I did this with the help of my own inner creator & craftsperson…

Simply Explore

In the evening (after putting my – then young – children to bed), I would sit at my keyboard and play the first thing that came to me. I would simply improvise until an idea took hold – or explore entirely free improvisation with no set parameters. My master keyboard is connected to my computer and I would record whatever came out.

Lack of Expectation

Normally I would use a piano sound for this, as it provides the opportunity to generate harmony, melody and rhythm all in one go. It is also an expressive and dynamic instrument and one on which I am not overly well-trained. This last point may seem odd but having a lack of expectation can aid the necessary ‘letting go’ that enables ideas to come freely.

Having found a motif, chord progression or soundscape that was pleasing, I would set about refining and learning this. Again, working at a computer means that it is possible to ‘cheat’ this process. I could play one segment at a time and overlay different parts or voices. During this stage I would tend to also find different sounds to suit the style of music emerging.

Knowing When to Stop

All of this would happen very quickly and uncritically. Often, I would reach a point at which I would start to lose may way or feel I was ‘over-cooking’ the ingredients. That would be time to stop for the night.

The next morning, I would return to what I had created. With fresh ears, I would invariably now be able to recognise what was working and what needed improvement. And now comes the crafting bit. This is when the creator needs to take a back seat and allow the craftsman to chip away at the rough draft until the polished work is revealed.

Review & Refine

Again, it is important to recognise at what point this process is complete. It is very easy to over-do the finessing until your creation becomes sanitised. My personal method is just to keep on reviewing, making incremental changes until nothing more leaps out as being ‘wrong’. In the case of these daily compositions, I may well return to one or other at a later stage and feel it needs something more (or less).

Moving On

However, it is good discipline to move on. There is always something you feel could have been better. And this provides impetus for the next piece of work. And the next. And so on.

So, indulge your creator. Give him or her licence to express and throw some shapes/sounds/colours/words around. Then invite your crafts-person to make sense of the mess. But make sure each knows when it’s time to stop.

Have fun!

 


Ourselves (KS1)

Rough & Tumble (KS2)

Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

Festival of Performing Arts

I had the great privilege of taking part in a festival for the performing arts last weekend in Somerset. You may have heard of it, it’s called Glastonbury Festival. Whilst there, a few things struck me, beyond the usual overwhelming sense of being awe-inspired.

Dance on The Main Stage

One was that several main-stage acts incorporated dance within their shows. And not just the usual seductive, eye-candy gyrations to which we have become accustomed. This time, there was a ballet duet (Stromzy); ‘Ballet-Boyz’ (Years and Years) and Christine and the Queens’ unique choreography. The latter was very much  an integral part of the performance. and it was especially interesting to see ensemble dance in which each individual was able to explore their own characteristics.

Contemporary Issues

A second aspect was that many acts drew attention to contemporary issues. Stormzy talked of the need for representation of all sections of society. Years and Years’ frontman spoke about gender issues, calling for acceptance and inclusivity. And Christine (or ‘Chris’ as they are also known) revealed how they often felt like an outsider and a ‘loser’.

Create Your World

Christine/Chris went on to say how they coped with that situation through theatre. They created their own world, one in which they could choose the role they want to portray. Standing on the Other Stage, as the final headline act on Sunday evening, Christine said they felt as though they had finally won something.

Role Models

What powerful role models these young performers are. Not only has each been able to transcend their individual circumstances, they have also created power from a position in which they originally felt marginalised. To then implore a huge live crowd – and even larger digital audience – to follow their lead is both brave and inspirational.

They stand as living examples to others who may feel similarly on the fringes of society. Whether through music, dance, theatre or other art forms, all can outgrow the limited perception of those around them. It is no accident that Glastonbury Festival has a reputation as more than just another music event. Beyond those main stages, people of all persuasions express themselves through myriad creative means.

Force for Good

That creativity seeps into the consciousness and being of all who attend. Even if, for many, this transformation only lasts for one weekend in the year, it is something to be cherished. And if we can somehow manage to recreate those feelings of openness and love in our day-to-day lives, then this is truly a force for the good.

You don’t have to be a superstar to know the benefits of creative freedom. None of those headline acts started out with the sole intention of finding fame. Each had a story to tell, a past to shed, a preconception to outgrow. And so, I would suggest,  do we all.

Festival Spirit

Maybe we should think of our whole lives as one big festival for the performing arts. Every day can’t be Glastonbury but we can at least try to bring some of that spirit into the everyday. 

 

https://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk

India’s Festival of Colours

 

Go With the Flow

Last week, I had the privilege – once again – of doing some work for a local charity at Glastonbury Festival. If you’re heading that way, my advice is to go with the flow.

Esoteric Healing

Among my co-workers were an assortment of interesting characters. One of these works at the more esoteric end of the healing spectrum. We spoke about our various experiences with Tai Chi, Yoga, Bowen Technique, Alexander Technique, etc. It struck me that, whilst these each offer a different approach to achieving and maintaining well-being, they all have one thing in common.

‘Flow’?… Mumbo Jumbo?

All of these disciplines share an interest in ‘flow’. Now, to some people, delving into such areas may sound like mumbo jumbo and quackery. However, my colleague takes the healthy view that if something works for you, then why not go with it? And this is an attitude with which I wholly agree.

You can perceive this flow in purely physical terms. For example, body alignment will affect the flow of gravitational pull on the various parts of your anatomy. In response, there is a flow of muscle energy, working to balance that force. And, to control all of this, there is a flow of electronic signals between your brain, muscles and nerve cells.

Cut Yourself Loose

What some will have difficulty with are things like ‘Chi’. This is an unspecified energy but could be seen as the result of all the above. Whether we choose to see this as something mystical or purely mechanical does not particularly matter. The main thing is that we ‘go with the flow’ and allow the benefits to be realised.

In our creative work, we also need to allow this sense of fluidity. As with those healing disciplines, it is useful to have a methodology and structure within which to operate. The interesting part is then to observe the outcomes when we cut ourselves loose.

If It  Feels Good – Do It

For young children, this largely happens automatically. They have not yet learned to question why or how particular movements make them feel good. But for them it is simple. If something feels good, then do it some more!

Taking the next step to using movement in an interpretive way is also of little problem to most youngsters. Why not ‘become’ a monster/space ship/historical figure/animal/feeling or even colour? That’s what children do.

Mutual Learning

As adults, we can fall into patterns of behaviour – whether emotional, physical or (dare I say?) spiritual – that block the flow. And my colleague at Glastonbury’s work as a healer tends to centre on releasing such blockages. When working with children, we need to be mindful of our own restrictions. That way, we can enable them to exceed our limitations and stretch their own boundaries.

In turn, they value our guidance and respect our experience. In this sense, there is a ‘flow’ of learning that goes in both directions. In essence, we provide the framework and the children respond with ideas. We then work together with them in order to channel these into substantial creative outcomes.

Get Moving

And the beauty is that creative flow can also reduce or alleviate health issues. The blockages that can cause physiological or psychological harm can be mitigated through creative freedom. In a  nutshell – if something is blocked, get moving!

Whatever your beliefs, it’s good to go with the flow.

 

‘The River’ Teaching Pack for Key Stage 2 Dance

Ask The Universe

 

Do Something

Empty page, blank screen - nothing to write about - do something.I have nothing to write about this week. So, what do you do when you have nothing to say?… Do something!

Keep in Shape

Believe it or not, you are likely to have some of your best ideas at such a time. The important thing is that you exercise your creative muscles.

You need to make regular use of your physical muscles to keep them in shape. The same is true of your creativity. Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, sometimes you just have to do.

Blank Sheet

As a child, I was a gifted artist. Or rather, I was good at drawing. So, I made the mistake of thinking I was a gifted artist. I wasn’t. Hours were spent sitting with a blank sheet of paper, wondering what to draw.

Until an art teacher at school made me produce work at speed. He had us drawing with thick marker pens. We could not, therefore, erase mistakes and start again. He encouraged us to work fast, try different media, confront our doubts and express ourselves.

Worthless?

Which meant we produced a lot of material that was worthless. Or so we thought. Our art teacher encouraged us to keep everything. He knew that, in that way, we would learn to value the process.

If you are constantly striving to produce something ‘finished’ and substantial, there’s a good chance you won’t create anything at all. You need, sometimes, to remind yourself that it’s OK to just enjoy the doing. What comes out of it doesn’t matter.

The Reward is in the Doing

Every professional dancer, musician, actor, painter or writer understands the need to practice their art. Many of them will put in many hours that are not rewarded in any obvious way. However, the reward is in the ‘doing’ itself.

And then, every so often, all those hidden hours will result in something that does become visible to others. Then a whole new level of reward is achieved. That of knowing the effort has translated to expression. And this has then affected others.

Do Something… Anything

The ultimate aim of communicating something that resonates with an audience is, thereby, achieved. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything comes from a willingness to jump in and start with something… anything.

So, where did I put those pencils? I haven’t drawn anything in years…

Art for Art’s Sake

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Let Go The Reins

Sometimes you just need to let go of the reins.  Events may then conspire to make things better than you had planned them. 

Breaking Down Barriers

I was recently working on a theatre production that comprised story-telling, songs, a hidden choir and surprise dancers. The choir and dancers were both embedded within the audience. The intended aim was to break down barriers between performer and onlooker. It was hoped that this would create an immersive, participatory experience.

The choir and dancers were kept secret from all concerned, except one another. They were to perform right at the end of the show, beginning from an unexpected black-out. At this point in the performance, the audience was on its feet and moving around the space.

Connections Revealed

Originally, I had asked the choir members to spread to the four corners in preparation for their singing entrance. The dancers were to make their way out towards the choir members and then move with them to the centre. Both choir and dancers were arranged into four parts and the connection would be slowly revealed as the piece progressed.

However, it emerged that the choir could not stay in time with one another when dispersed around the space. So it was decided they should form a circle at the centre, with their conductor in the middle. This, at first, felt like a compromise. In the event, though, it worked very well.

Happy Coincidence

The choir, placed centrally, used their phone lights to illuminate their scores. This created a pleasing visual effect. It also had the happy coincidence of drawing attention away from the central performer, as he secretly left the space. The dancers now began from the corners and worked their way around the space and in towards the choir.

On the night, the choir were able to stay in time. The dancers were able to easily follow their respective choral parts. And the effect was very moving for the onlooking audience.

Let Go The Reins

Some members of the choir had been a little disheartened in an early rehearsal. They were frustrated at not being able to keep together and deliver a satisfying vocal performance. I was concerned that this may lead to a less than committed effort. However, by working together to find a solution, we reached an outcome that left the choir – and audience – buzzing.

Sometimes, you just have to let go the reins a little. Then you can be open to outside input. And, in this way, a practical problem can be turned into a creative solution.

Rough and Tumble – engaging boys… and girls

Enjoy The Ride

Anger is an Energy

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

From Primary to Pro – It’s All the Same

From Primary to Pro - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersWhat a privilege it is to see talented dancers at work. From primary dance teachers (and their pupils) to professionals. All have the power to blow me away.

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have heard – and possibly moved to – my music, especially if you work in primary dance. However, although I regularly compose for dance, it has been a while since I worked directly with choreography.

In this instance, I was with a group that comprised undergraduate students, a professional dancer and a pre-university student. Let’s be clear, I was just the composer in this scenario. I was not directly involved in creating the movement itself. That honour went to Michelle Rochester, my long-standing collaborator at Dance Notes.

You Can Do This

And what struck me most about the process was this: it was virtually identical to the methods we use in our teaching plans for primary dance. Michelle has a wonderful knack for facilitating. She essentially says to the participants – whether undergraduates, professionals or primary school children – ‘you can do this – off you go’. What then happens is the dancers simply move. They try things out, find ideas and experiment, without any fear of being ‘wrong’.

The Power of ‘Yes’

I know we’ve talked about that before but it is such a vital point it’s worth repeating. And the same applies in all creative pursuits. I remember a comedy improviser once talking about “the power of ‘yes'”. He explained how each person within an improvisation must go along with whatever the others throw at them. The point of working collaboratively is, after all, to feed off one another. We can then stretch ourselves – and each other – beyond our normal creative limitations.

This group of dancers all contributed and were able to critique one another’s work. They accepted Michelle’s view as the overall choreographer. And each was thoroughly invested in the outcome. As mature dancers, they naturally have experience that children do not. This gives them the ability to quickly recognize and hone distinct motifs and phrases. As teachers and facilitators, however, we can provide an external eye to help our pupils with that.

Powerful and Empowering

I regularly ask teachers how they have got in with a particular lesson. They often talk of their surprise at the children’s levels of engagement and creativity. Some find it hard, initially, to stand back and allow their pupils the space to explore. When they do, however, they quickly realize that this is a powerful and empowering experience for the children.

All Enjoy Moving

These performers were once primary school children themselves. Somewhere along the way, they discovered that dance was their ‘thing’. If you are a teacher, perhaps you have some would-be dancers in your own class. Perhaps not. But I can guarantee this: given the chance and encouragement, they can all enjoy moving.

 

Bath Spa University dance

Video Tutorials

PE? Or Not PE?…

I have found it interesting, as a provider of resources for schools’ Dance, to watch the way this subject’s status has shifted over the years.

The government brought Dance into the new National Curriculum in around 1990. They put it forward along with a raft of compulsory subjects at primary level,  as a result of the 1988 Education Reform Act. The idea, I believe, was to create consistency across the country by embedding subjects that all schools should teach.

Stretching Pupils

Dance, therefore, was given similar status to, say, English or Geography. And rightly so. Some children find it hard to express themselves through the written word. Many, however, are able to do so through movement. It allows them to think creatively. They learn to collaborate. And, at the same time, it quite literally stretches them physically.

The government later decided there were now too many areas to cover. So, these were reduced. Against the odds, Dance was not one of the subjects removed. So, children continued to benefit from this alternative way of learning.

Curriculum Reforms

David Blunkett’s curriculum reforms led to another shift in educational thinking, in 1999. Now, Dance became part of the PE curriculum. This, perhaps, could be seen as a downgrade in terms of its creative value. Staff, however, could now also consider the health and physical benefits of movement-based learning.

Wider Value

Well-being has, more recently, taken on increased importance at primary level. And this has given Dance a new role. Now, it can be seen as something of wider value: reducing obesity, promoting emotional health, helping communication and reducing psychological problems. Indeed, it is a vital tool in enabling expression in children with learning difficulties.

Simplification

The Dance curriculum itself has been through many changes along the way. The most recent saw its simplification. The guidelines are now a few short sentences within the PE outline for Key Stages 1 and 2. Dance remains a core element, though exactly what is expected is far less clear. Fortunately, most primary schools continue to recognise the value of Dance and promote its use for all ages.

Cross-Subject Learning

One thing that is not made clear by the curriculum is Dance’s immense value as a learning tool across different subject areas. By embodying ideas that have been discussed in the classroom, it is possible to really bring these to life. Physicalising ideas from science, nature, geography, literature and history can really help children to understand what may otherwise seem abstract or irrelevant.

Flexibility

What all of this shows is the flexibility of movement as an educational tool. Wherever you choose to pigeonhole ‘Dance’, it delivers. We have come a long way from my generation’s experiences of ‘being a tree’ and following a disembodied BBC recording. Today, children are able to take ownership of their ideas, explore their own physicality and develop their creativity.

So, whether PE or not PE, Dance is Dance. It stands alone, yet encompasses just about everything. Thank goodness – for the sake of our children – it has remained within the curriculum. One way or another.

 

1988 Education Reform Act

The National Curriculum 1999

2013 PE Programmes of Study: Key Stages 1 and 2

Child-Centred Learning

Take Some Time Out

take-some-time-outDo you take time out from outputting? Are you always working through literal or metaphorical to-do lists? Maybe it’s worth standing back a while and allowing for a little input.

I had the very good fortune to visit Paris over the weekend. Whilst there, I went to the Pompidou Centre. Not only is the building itself a thing of inspiration but the exhibitions are truly mind-altering.

Switching Channels

Not everything was to my personal taste but that’s no bad thing either. Some exhibitions seemed to be there purely to provoke and anger. Which they did. Others, however, were transformative in more thought-provoking and life-enhancing ways.

Describing visual art is possibly like singing architecture. So, I won’t bore you with any attempts to convey the content or meaning of what was on display. However, the thing that struck me was the overall experience. It had the effect of making me somehow mentally switch channels.

Artistic Possibility

As a friend put it, you may find yourself – after a while – gazing on a fire hose and marveling at its beauty. Only after some time, do you realise that it is not, after all, an exhibit. However, this is a sign that you have opened your imagination to the artistic possibility within all things.

Nothing in Particular

As the weekend wore on, and my wife and I had ticked off the places we ‘had’ to visit, it became possible to then relax into simply being. Time was taken to sit at street-side cafes. From there, we observed the age-old tradition of watching the world go by. A happy lunch hour was then spent lying on grass in an ornate square, complete with fountains and statue.

We remarked on the intrinsic value of public spaces, to which people are drawn in order to do nothing in particular. Rather than marveling at the statue (Louis XIII, since you ask), it was actually more entertaining to simply let our minds roam. And to watch others do much the same.

From Output to Input

Research has suggested that children require periods of boredom in order to discover their innate creativity. The same would seem to be as true – if not more so – for adults. We all need to take a breath from time to time. To switch from ‘output’ to ‘input’. Or even ‘standby’. Only then do we free up the mental and emotional space required to engage our creative selves.

Immersion in unfamiliar surroundings or exposure to new and interesting artworks can transport us beyond our mundane everyday thinking. However, should such activities be done purely by way of ticking them off a list, the impact will be lessened. We need to be present and empty in order to receive.

The Luxury of Being Bored

So, see if you can take time out soon for some real creative input. Maybe listen to a concert, go to a gallery, take a long walk. Or simply allow yourself the luxury of being bored.

https://www.bbc.com/news/education-21895704

Ourselves (KS1)

Keep Your Distance

Creative Impatience

The Art of Interruption

The Art of Interruption - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersOn a recent walk with friends, the topic of drama workshops came up. In particular, exercises for team-building and better communication. Each employed the art of interruption.

My two companions each work within arts organisations. These provide (among other things) training for the private sector. Their ideas, however, can be applied generally to aiding creative interaction.

Storyteller Interrupter

The first example given was  a game called ‘storyteller interrupter’. In this, somebody tells the story of a recent event. As they speak, other players pitch-in with single-word interruptions. These should be quite random and have no clear connection with the story being told. The main speaker then has to include these within the narrative.

Interruption is often seen as something negative but it can actually be helpful. In this game, the person telling their tale needs to remain present within the ‘flow’.  At the same time, they must accept new ideas about how to deliver this and remain open about where it may lead. The result will be richer and more entertaining than had they been just left to speak. The storyteller feels quick-witted and smart in the face of surprising new challenges. And the listeners get to hear an amusing and interesting talk.

Questions, Questions

Our other fellow walker told us how he uses a similar method. In this case, somebody also tells a story of their choice. After a while, they too are interrupted. This time, the others ask questions about what they have heard so far.

These questions prompt the speaker to flesh-out their story. In so doing, they find details that may otherwise have been missed. The storyteller must also now operate within a new, unexpected framework . It can be difficult to speak fluently on a subject when given free reign. Whereas, having parameters imposed by specific questions can actually make things feel easier.

Transcend Limitations

The parallels are, of course, quite clear with creative teaching. Children may stumble when given a task and left to their own devices. They may question the validity of their work or simply ‘dry up’. Whereas, through collaboration, questioning and mutual discussion, they may rise above their own imagined limitations.

Generally, when confronted with a question or obstacle, it turns out that we do have an answer. We may not know in advance what that might be. However, whether through imagination or trial-and-error, a new outcome will generally be reached. It really is a fine line between ‘disruption’ and ‘collaboration’. But one can quickly lead to the other.

You May be Surprised

So, rather than discouraging interruption, perhaps we can learn to use it as a creative tool. Welcoming input takes confidence and an open heart. If we remain open to possibilities beyond our own ideas, we can become more flexible, creative and tolerant.

Next time someone interrupts you with a question or observation, try responding with ‘I’m glad you asked that’ or ‘that’s an interesting point’. And then see where this leads. You may be pleasantly surprised.

 

Let Go The Reins

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

 

When Art Touches Us All

When Art Touches us All - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersWhen an event of global significance occurs, there can be pressure to conform to a particular emotional response. How do we react when art touches us all?

 

Occasionally, such an event can illicit genuine reactions and spontaneous displays of emotion. And so it was with the responses to this week’s fire at Notre Dame, in Paris.

Personal Impact

This has had an impact on me personally, as I am about to take my wife on a long-awaited trip to the city. Though it feels a little selfish to say so, Notre Dame was high on our list of must-see destinations. For me, this would be a re-visiting of something that had moved me deeply on a previous visit, some 35 years ago.

Back then, I was on an outing, together with an irreverent bunch of colleagues, all in our late teens or early twenties. The trip included the usual sight-seeing but was mostly just a bit of a jolly. Our general demeanor had not been one of polite sensitivity or cultural inquisitiveness. Rather, we were more like a bunch of school children that had been let loose without proper supervision.

Awe-Inspiring

Until, that is, we visited Notre Dame cathedral. It’s too long ago now to recall what day of the week it was but, if memory serves, there was some kind of service taking place within the rear part of the building. This included a choir and possibly the organ as well. The effect, combined with the many candles burning around the building and the sunlight slanting through the enormous stained-glass windows, was truly awe-inspiring.

The usual ribaldry and frivolity had left us, as we emerged – one after the other – into the bright morning sunshine. Maybe because of our lack of expectation, the majesty, the atmosphere and perhaps the spirit of countless pilgrims had overwhelmed us. We were speechless and somewhat humbled by the intensity of what was simultaneously a collective yet very personal experience for each of us.

Irreplaceable Art

So, it was not surprising to witness the heartfelt prayers and impromptu singing of hymns as Notre Dame stood in flames this week. Nor the painstaking care taken by the fire crews. Or the personal risk to which they subjected themselves in rescuing irreplaceable works of art.

Even as a nation grapples with its internal politics and the world confronts a future full of uncertainty, art has the ability to unite, inspire and overcome. Just when it may – to some – appear an irrelevance, a waste of both time and resources, creativity shows its true worth. Some of the motives and methods behind the creation of such an enormous structure may seem questionable. But, to those that have provided the artistry and craftsmanship – as well those that have invested it with faith and wonder– the results transcend such mundane considerations.

Love, Unity & Hope

No doubt, we will still visit the cathedral, as planned, next week. And that visit will now take on a whole new significance. As will the cathedral itself. Already, there is talk of rebuilding and restoring. Some may use this as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement. But, for the majority, this will be a labour of love, hope and unity.

 

Lesson Plan: The Great Fire of London

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1N2o1RjFJs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Zpw_KAEhDY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4iJVfQ8Sbk

 

We Are Family

We Are Family - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersEver have one of those intense periods that really brings home how creatively connected we all are? The past week has shown me that, essentially, we are all family.

It made me think about the true value of the creative arts – whether as profession, hobby or study.

Creatively Connected

On Friday, I was privileged to attend an undergraduate dancer’s degree show. My connection was that I had provided part of the soundtrack. This followed the student’s participation in a show I put on last year. Accompanying me was one of the dance professionals who had worked with the students on that project.  She also happens to be a key member of the Dance Notes team. In turn, she had put me in touch with the heads of post-graduate and undergraduate dance at the college. And these introductions had paved the way for including students within my work.

That same evening, I went to a gig to see a band, whose bass player I worked and toured with in another group. The producer of that band has also just mixed an album for me and among the audience were various other local musicians. One of those, I currently perform with regularly.  And, somehow, these connections made the experience of seeing this wonderful trio even better.

Let the Children Play

Saturday, I traveled to watch a performance that was the culmination of a residential course. This is run by our local music services. My son plays with the symphonic wind band they host every week. Their residential has been a highlight of his calendar for several years.

What is striking about that course is its focus on collaboration. At the concert, students presented performances in around five different ensembles. These comprised: woodwind, brass, strings, percussion and voice. However, over the course of the 3 or 4 days spent on the residential, the youngsters had worked together in as many as 30 different groups. Many of these had formed quite spontaneously and the staff are always keen to encourage such initiatives.

Old Friends

I was especially pleased to be able to attend the concert this year as I had a booking myself for that evening. I thought these would clash but the evening gig had a late start. This even afforded me time for a stop-off en-route, to visit an old friend from university. He also still works within the dramatic arts, facilitating better communication in organisations through Forum Theatre. And the ceilidh band, with which I was performing that night, is run by another former university colleague.

We Are Family

It struck me that the experiences those students were having on the residential course mirrored those of my own professional life as a musician. Forging connections, maintaining relationships and finding meaning through shared endeavour are key to creative success and fulfillment. Whether this leads to a so-called ‘career’ is neither hear nor there. The main thing is the enrichment, connection and greater understanding it provides.

After all, in the end, we all are family!

What is Your Label?

Festival of Performing Arts

Unexpected Inspiration

Make a Move

Don’t Follow the Leader

Don't Follow The Leader - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThis week, I have been working with an animator with whom I collaborated many years ago. He is a top-flight CG artist but I need to remind myself ‘don’t follow the leader’.

Creative Flow

You see, there is one thing about this working relationship that is a little challenging. We both tend to have strong ideas and opinions, which can lead to a stemming of the creative flow. Differences of opinion are a necessary and often exciting part of the process. However, should either party attempt to dominate, then this can actually become stifling.

Working creatively with children, it is important to be aware of this possibility. Whereas the intention may be to encourage and motivate, it is easy for a teacher or facilitator to inadvertently adopt a position of dominance. Whilst the urge to ‘teach’ maybe hard to resist, it is invariably preferable that children be allowed to explore for themselves.

Expand & Grow

As with my collaborative experience as a composer, should too much ‘leading’ take place, there may be a narrowing of options before possibilities have been fully explored. As teachers, we can easily feel under pressure to ‘provide ‘. However, by resisting this urge, we are actually giving more, by way of license to expand and grow.

One of the many positive attributes of movement work with young children is that there is no right or wrong – only different. Having said that, it is possible for both pupils and teacher to identify outcomes that are pleasing or satisfying. working within a freely expressive framework, patterns, narratives and imagery will present themselves. It is these that we hope to find, recognize and nurture.

Don’t Lead – Don’t Follow

We want, of course, this to be the children’s’ own achievement. For them to have ownership of the outcomes is key to them taking pride in their work. So, we need to ask them: ‘what would you do next ‘, ‘how does that make you feel ‘, ‘what other shapes or moves can you think of ‘… etc. What this might produce is, of course, anyone’s guess. And therein lies the true reward.

So, be aware of your own desire to lead. Try to divert this into facilitating pupils leading themselves. Then marvel at how creative they really can be.

 

Please Yourself

It’s Good to Talk

What is Your Personal Truth?

Busty Kelp (CG Animation)

Enjoy the Ride (& Value The Process)!

Value The Process - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersSometimes it’s interesting and informative to practice what you preach…  And to value the process

 

When you use Dance Notes’ teaching schemes, the emphasis is on giving ownership to your pupils. In so doing, you need to give up control and allow the process to take on a life of its own. Which is analogous to the way in which these resources and the work that goes into them have themselves evolved.

Go Where Your Passions Lead

The chief lessons developer for Dance Notes has, for many years, been  Michelle Rochester. She is somebody who did not start out to teach dance.  In fact, she hadn’t aimed for a career in dance at all. However, she went where her passions led. Today, Michelle not only shapes the way in which teachers throughout the UK deliver movement classes but also heads up the charity ‘Make a Move’.

You may have noticed links and references to this organisation at the Dance Notes site. There is a reason for this: the two entities (Make a Move and Dance Notes) have a symbiotic relationship. And each came to be where it is today more or less by accident, rather than design.

Case Studies

Before setting up the charity, Michelle had been facilitating dance in schools around Somerset, Bristol & South Gloucestershire for many years. Some of the most valued and rewarding work was with children who had learning or behavioural difficulties. Case studies included one child who was initially unable to remain within a classroom setting for more than a few minutes. He ended up actually leading dance sessions.

Finding Solutions

When the funding for such work was suddenly withdrawn, Michelle began to look for solutions. Somewhere along the way, it was suggested she set up a charity. That way, she could continue this work at no cost to the schools themselves. Since the benefits of movement classes to the disabled and socially excluded were very clear, this took off quite quickly.

From Strength to Strength

Several years on and Make a Move works with vulnerable people from all areas of society. These include: mothers with Post-Natal Depression, Alzheimer’s patients and corporations whose workers are, by their own reckoning, ‘broken’. This latter category – of course – helps to fund the rest and to match core-funding from regular donations.

So, as with the actual lessons and workshops themselves, this whole process didn’t begin with a fixed end in sight. The reasons for carrying out this work are clear and the benefits well-known. However, where this may lead is never a given. And so it should be in any creative endeavour.

Value the Process

Individuals (teachers included) are sometimes discouraged from trying things out because they don’t know if the end product will be ‘any good’. Ultimately, the beauty of creative pursuits is that they are not outcome-led or results-driven (or any other such abuse of the English language). The value is in the process. Or, in modern marketing-cliché parlance, ‘the journey’.

So, go on, get on-board and enjoy the ride. You may not end up where you imagined you would – but you are guaranteed to learn something valuable along the way.

 

A Creative Challenge

Lessons for KS1 & 2 Dance

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move