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

Mind The Gap

Mind The Gap - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

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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…


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