Reflecting on our Takeover of City Hall with Institute of Imagination for Big Dance 2016

by Gorm Ashurst

by Gorm Ashurst

On this bitter cold day I’ve enjoyed remembering the summer highlight for our primary school programme; when we quite literally took over City Hall on 4 July 2016 with 360 KS2 pupils in partnership with The Institute of Imagination (iOi) as part of the London Mayor’s Big Dance 2016.

Embarking on a journey weaving and spiraling through the building pupils encountered workshops and interactive installations within the iconic Council Chamber, Map Room and Conference Rooms.  The activities designed and facilitated by Siobhan Davies Dance, School of Noise, London Brain Project and Kano Computers, and curated by The iOi, took dance and imagination as the starting point, creating a common theme of movement to enable dynamic pupil experiences.  Challenging pupils and teachers’ preconceptions of dance; participants’ experienced computer coding, music making, neuroscience, and choreography with no taught steps, to explore and re-imagine dance in a multidisciplinary environment.  As one participating deputy head reflected; “Immersing children in creative activities enabled their imagination. (There was) implicit learning through play; fusing the arts, science and culture together.”

Dance is a powerful art form and mode of learning; combining physical activity with creative expression. 100% of participating pupils and teachers surveyed at our event said that moving helped them learn and use their imaginations. As society adopts more sedentary lifestyles, and schools maintain traditional forms of learning, our ability to use and apply our imagination using creative approaches will become increasingly important for new skill development and for the health and well-being of our children.  Participating in dance has a significant broader impact on a child’s learning and development; it provides a means of expression, develops kinaesthetic awareness and physical dexterity, builds self-confidence and social skills, sparks curiosity, cultivates new ideas and encourages new ways of looking at the world.   This was recognised by another pupil participating in the event; “(I learnt) that you can express yourself in many different ways and that you shouldn’t be scared to do anything.

As The iOi’s patron Ken Robinson articulated in his talk ‘Dance Is Important as Maths’ for the Cohan Lecture 2016 “dance is deep in the heart of every human culture throughout history… it’s the expression of relationships, feelings and ideas.” His definition of education as a tool to enable students to understand the world around them and the talent within them so they can be fulfilled individuals and active compassionate citizens, highlights the important role dance, movement and imagination can have in learning, enabling humans to explore this relationship between the world around and within us.

The City Hall Takeover provided a moment of awe and wonder for pupils. When schools entering into the iconic building’s spiral heart (staircase), a unique piece of performance was initiated, setting the scene for the theme of the day. The varied multidisciplinary activities enabled all children to engage with dance; whether that was through physical tasks challenging proprioception and spatial awareness with Siobhan Davies Dance or by coding a sequence of actions for a virtual dancer with Kano Computers.  The installations and zones enabled pupils to work independently, make choices and follow their interests with a plethora of provocations to spark their imagination. Pupils were empowered as independent learners, encouraged to explore, tinker and take the lead. As one teacher told us: “Creative and imaginative ways for children to experience elements of dance and music, (through) experimentation with other media, allowed more independent learning and choice.”

Siobhan Davies Dance are excited about continuing to work with The iOi in 2017 at their new cultural venue, and with lots of the schools that participated in the City Hall Takeover through our Thinking Body project. Follow our blog for more on these.