Play; Gillian Lynne

When people know their core truths and live in accord with what I call their “play personality,” the result is always a life of indescribable power and Grace. British educator Sir Ken Robinson has spoken about finding such power and grace in the life of dancer Gillian Lynne who is the choreographer for the musicals Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Robinson interviewed her for a book he is writing, titled Epiphany, about how people discover their path and life. Lynne told him about growing up in 1930s Britain, about doing terribly in school because she was always fidgeting and never paid attention to lessons. “I suppose that now people would say she had ADHD, but people didn’t know you could have that then,” Robinson said wryly. It wasn’t an available diagnosis at the time.”

Instead, school officials told Lynn’s parents that she mentally disabled. Lynne and her mother went to see a specialist, who talked to Gillian about school while the girls sat on her hands, trying not to fidget. After twenty minutes, the doctor asked to speak to Lynn’s mother alone in the hallway. As they were leaving the office, the doctor flipped on the radio and when they were shut in the hallway the doctor pointed through the window back into the office. “Look,” he said and directed the mothers attention to Gillian, who had gotten up and started moving to the music as soon as they left. “Mrs. Lynn,” said the doctor, “your daughter’s not sick, she’s a dancer.”

The doctor recommended enrolling her daughter in dance school. When Gillian got there she was delighted to find a whole room of people like herself, “people who had to move to think,” as Lynn explained it. Lynne went on to become a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet, then founded her own dance company and eventually began working with Andrew Lloyd Webber and other producers.

“Here is a woman who has helped put together some of the most successful musical Productions in history has given pleasure to millions and is a multimillionaire,” Robinson says. Of course if she were a child now, he adds, “someone would probably put her on drugs and tell her to calm down.”

Robinson’s story about Lynne was really about the strength and beauty of living in accordance with who she is–which for her meant living a life of motion and music. If her parents and teachers tried to make her into an engineer, Lynne would have been unhappy and unsuccessful.

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul – Christopher Christopher Vaughan
Ch 1: The Promise of Play; pg 11 – 12

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