How to kill creativity

Imagine you give a kid a cute little toy. It lights up, spins around, the whole deal. Then imagine you spend half an hour explaining to the poor kid how it works. You show them every single thing it does. Then you leave them to play. What happens? Nothing. That toy is dead. 

All the magic can be explained out of things. When there is nothing to explore, things lose their shine. The allure fades. With a new concept, the fun is in exploring it—sometimes in bizarre ways. That bizarreness makes all the fun. Play, curiosity, and exploration are ways we learn and grow. 

The Playful Wind

Contrast this with how dance is often taught. A concept or move is introduced. Then it is explained to death. Why? Because people are addicted to explanation. They want to know why and how before they do it. 

Information feels safe. We want to do it right. We don’t like mistakes. This is exactly why so much dance is boring, since we learn through making mistakes—and then correcting them. When we are spoon-fed material, we might get to correct mistakes (a lot of them), but they are all related to someone else’s vision. We need to make our own, as we explore and discover for ourselves. 

Consider Elena Lentini’s wind exercise. Dance as a leaf blown by the wind. The image is enough. The sound and feel and temperature of the wind engage multiple senses. We can relate to that. We can play with that. What is the wind? Gusty? Warm? Cold? Up to you. What kind of leaf? A red leaf? A huge leaf? A new spring leaf? Up to you. 

The fewer specifics, the more the imagination fires up. Our mind and the quilted wonder of our memory supply details, skipping around, swapping them in and out. Try it if you haven’t yet. It’s fun. Of course, there is also purpose to the wind exercise. Several. It does a lot of things at once. I’ll explain, but for now, continue to play with that image (try adding a veil, too). And play. 

Here’s some music for that. 

Play is key. It opens creativity, happiness, and an inquisitive, open delight in the world. This dance is, at its heart, play. It is exploration, release, communication, shared love. We often lose sight of that while perfecting our hip drops. As teachers, we help our students connect by making time for experimentation, play, and fun.

Sufis say to have the experience first and get the explanation later. Modern learning science backs this up. Learning is more durable when we grapple with a concept or skill on our own before getting an explanation. We turn it upside down, bang it against the wall, poke and prod, and generally get our hands good and dirty. It may feel frustrating (especially if we are concerned about doing it “right”), but it’s far more nourishing. 

To recap:

Explanations kill the fun.

Experience first, explain later.

Play is your best friend. 

Have fun!



More: Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School (cites two interesting studies, from one of which comes the opening story):

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