Four things I’ve learnt from Nia and Sir Ken Robinson
By Melissa Fagan
The year 2020 will be remembered for many things, not least of all phrases like:
‘The new normal’, ‘You’re on mute’, and ‘Stay safe’.
It will also be remembered for social distancing, mask wearing, and the unfortunate death of over a million people worldwide from the novel coronavirus.
For me, among other things, it will be remembered for the passing of Sir Ken Robinson (21 August 2020).
I’m guessing that if you practise Nia, you will have heard of him; he was a great fan of dance and at one time was on the board of the Royal Ballet in England. But if you haven’t yet heard of him, do yourself a favour and watch his 2006 TED talk about how schools kill creativity, the most watched TED talk of all time.
Sir Ken Robinson was a British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to governments, non-profits, education, and arts bodies.
Originally from a working-class neighbourhood in Liverpool, Sir Ken Robinson was knighted in 2003 for his lifetime of service to the arts.
I originally became interested in Sir Ken’s work because of my own work in education and of course, my role as a parent, trying to find the most humane and child-centred ways to educate my kids.
But then I discovered Nia, and so much of what Sir Ken speaks to became even clearer.
Allow me to share some of Sir Ken’s teachings, which I’m consolidating for myself as I step into the dance.
- We think in movement
“We all have bodies,” Sir Ken reminds us. Our bodies are not just vehicles for transporting our heads. Our bodies actually help us think. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that some of my best ideas have come to me while I’ve been dancing.
- Mistakes are celebrated
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
As a recovering perfectionist, this is where I have the most work to do. It’s okay to get things wrong, I’m discovering. If I don’t know the steps, I can just free dance and try again the next time. As one of my Nia teachers reminds me, mistakes should be celebrated – they mean I’m learning something new. And as Sir Ken’s quote implies, mistakes mean I’m exercising my creativity muscle.
- We build a relationship with our bodies
I’m a pretty cerebral person. I read a lot and live in my head much of the time. In Nia, I’m learning to have a conversation with my body. When I step into the dance, I know it’s time to tune in to my body’s messages. Sir Ken spoke about creativity being as important as literacy in education. In Nia, not only am I exercising my creativity muscle, but I’m also developing the literacy of my own body; I’m becoming body-literate if you will.
- In dance we find community
“Dance education has important benefits for students’ social relationships, particularly among genders and age groups.” – Sir Ken Robinson
Sir Ken’s life’s work was advocating for the inclusion of the arts and creative education in schools. He saw it not only as a way to engender a culture of creativity for a future we can’t yet imagine, but also as a way to create social cohesion so that humankind could collaborate for a better future.
This is needed now more than ever.
During this COVID year, despite doing much of my dancing in the privacy of my bedroom, with no one around to watch me (as the quote goes) I’m becoming part of a global community. Whether I’m dancing with a teacher broadcasting from Germany, Switzerland or Johannesburg, I’m doing so with other curious, creative and non-judgemental people who are putting their own bodies, their physical, mental and spiritual health front and centre. As I watch my teacher on the screen, I’m aware that there are others dancing to the same music with the same intention and focus.
We are all on a learning journey. Indeed, in this strange COVID year, we’re all on a similar journey, learning new things about the way of our new world. Thanks to Sir Ken and now Nia, I am stepping in to this journey with curiosity, creativity and community.
- Melissa Fagan is a freelance writer and copy-editor. She is also the author of four children’s books for NPO Book Dash.