Sunday, July 12, 2015

On the value of dance in schools

On Friday I went to City Hall for the launch of the Dance element of the London Curriculum (a set of resources relating curriculum subjects to our city and enabling teachers to use London and all it has to offer in their classes). The sun was shining bright, there were short speeches, well-behaved kids and we got to learn a call-and-response African dance.

One speech was truly inspiring. It was made by Jamie Brownhill, headteacher of Central Foundation Boys School in Old Street. He talked about a dance project run at his school by Sadler's Wells (a dance venue) and Wayne McGregor Random Dance (a dance company). On Monday mornings (not the best time slot, he admitted, but he thought it set up the kids for the week and was probably their most valuable learning session of that week), a group of GCSE Drama boys would have two hours of dance with members of Random dance, and worked towards putting on a short performance on the Sadler's Wells stage. They also got to attend a couple of shows at the theatre.

Mr Brownhill was evangelic about the value of the project to his students and his school and listed the following benefits of the project:
- the students developed their creativity, by doing something they would have never done otherwise
- they saw the value of working as a team, and got the sense of what it is to achieve something together as a group
- they developed a better understanding of the similarities and differences between cultures, by learning different styles of dance and working with international artists
- the project was an opportunity for students to see excellence, by working in world-class dancers and seeing world-class shows at Sadler's Wells, and experience what it takes to achieve it, by performing on that stage
- because they had a clear final objective (to perform on a big stage), they got a clear pay off for their hard work and commitment. He hoped that, when later in life they may face a challenge, they would think back to this time as an example of what they can achieve and overcome.

His final plea was not just that such projects should happen in all schools. It was that, when implemented, they be compulsory. "If, at the start, I'd asked those boys to voluntary join this class, only 2 or 3 would have done it, if that. But at the end, when I asked all of them if they wanted to do it again, they all said yes! It is essential that all students engage with those opportunities, and not a self-selected group".

My write-up of his speech doesn't do justice to Mr Brownhill's warmth and enthusiasm: give him a TED talk slot instead.

More about the project on the Central Foundation school website.

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