“The Story of Gillian Lynne” ~ paraphrased from the book The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.
Gillian was only eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned. She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly. Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class – one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her. Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this – she was used to being corrected all the time, but she really didn’t see herself as a bad child. However, the school was very concerned. Finally the principle wrote to Gillian’s parents, saying that Gillian obviously had a learning disorder of some kind and it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs. This was the 1930’s, and classroom inclusion and accommodations were not yet the norm. Today, Gillian would probably be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and put on medication. But the ADD epidemic hadn’t been invented at the time and wasn’t an available condition.
Gillian’s parents sprang into action and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst. The doctor, an imposing man in a tweed jacket seated behind a large, oak desk, asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties she was having at school. While he didn’t direct any of his questions to Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time.
Eventually, the adults stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat down next to the little girl. “Gillian, you have been very patient, and I thank you for that, ” he said. “But I’m afraid I need you to be patient for just a little longer. I need to speak to your mother privately for a minute. We’re going to go out of the room, but don’t worry. We won’t be very long.” The mother exited the room and the psychologist followed, but first he leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.
When they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Let’s just stand here for a minute and watch what she does.” There was a window in the door, and they stood to the side where they could watch Gillian but she couldn’t see them. Nearly immediately, Gillian was up off the couch, moving and skipping about the room to the music, looking at the various things on the shelf , humming to herself. After watching for a few minutes, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne. I don’t believe Gillian is sick. She’s a dancer. You should take her to dance school!”
So her mother did exactly what the psychologist suggested. When Gillian walked into the dance school for the first time, she immediately felt at home. Here were other people like HER. People who had to MOVE to think! She started going to dance class every week and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her. She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world. When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. She met Andrew Lloyd Webber and he hired her to choreograph some of the most famous musical theater productions in history, including “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera”.
Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future who some considered “special needs”, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time – someone who brought pleasure to millions, and earned millions of dollars doing it! This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes and saw who she really was. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.
This story is not meant as a criticism for anyone with a struggling child, but perhaps inspiration to take a second look at what makes them tick, what brings them joy, what conditions let them THRIVE! All children need unstructured play time in which to daydream, come up with their own entertainment, and make their own rules! Some children really do need to MOVE in order to THINK! My middle child was exactly that way, and because we homeschooled, I could let him wiggle, sit in a rolling chair, toss a tennis ball, squeeze silly putty, hop on one foot …. whatever he needed to do in order to concentrate on the task at hand.
How does this story impact you? Do you have a Gillian Lynne in your home?
Some of the ways we can help our children nurture their natural curiosity and creativity are:
- banish perfectionism – allow for experimentation, dabbling, and mistakes
- don’t be afraid of messes – creativity can be quite messy at times; but messes can be cleaned up
- provide space, time, and tools for a variety of artistic expression – markers, paints & brushes, all kinds of paper, scissors, glue, old magazines, yarn, fabric, tools & wood, clay, dirt, costumes or old clothes, musical instruments, cardboard tubes and boxes, puppets,
- listen to all kinds of music
- read! – stories, fairy tales, poetry, biographies
- ask your child to think of new ways to do things around the house – encourage creative thinking and problem-solving
- teach your child not to compare themselves to others – comparison is the thief of joy!!! Creative pursuits are very individual, and often two people will approach the same subject in very different ways
Creativity is a vital part of the abundant life that God created for us. Another benefit of creative activities is the ability to bless others! The fruit of your creative labors can be enjoyed by others, can touch the lives of others, and build community. When Gillian Lynne was allowed to tap into her natural creativity, she blossomed and not only found her inspiration and purpose, she inspired thousands if not millions of others.