I spent yesterday morning at a World Lyrical Dance Federation (WLDF) competition in Dublin. I saw lots of dancers aged approx 5-9 yrs old perform short routines to various standards. If I didn’t have skin in the game it’s not a place I would have chosen to spend my Sunday morning (!) but since I was there I was interested in what type of event it would be and what sort of culture the organisation would exhibit.

And sure enough, my interest was piqued at the end of the session when the improv section began. Dancers were encouraged to come up with their own routines on the spot to well-known songs in the lyrical genre.

And it was really interesting to watch. Many dancers bunched up right in front of the judges, others took advantage of the space at the back of the floor. Some spent the time showing off as many moves as they could, others took their time and built up the intensity of their routine as the song progressed. Some connected with the message in the song, others reeled off the same moves no matter what music was being played. But it was great to see all dancers being urged to be creative and express themselves.

It’s like Oscar Peterson said when another pianist showed him how well he could play one of his solos. “That’s great man, but I want to hear your stuff, not you playing my stuff”. Learning how to play other people’s music really well is important in the learning process, but it should be a means to an end, not the end in itself.

And it’s important that students get to realise this early in their studies – in as fun and a safe way as possible – just like was in evidence yesterday morning.