This was the first time I met dancers from the Juilliard School. It was a new environment (Central Park near Tavern on the Green). I asked everyone to play a game of approach and retreat with a second direction: be aware of a nonverbal signal. The game morphs from individual concerned about themselves into one of unified action. Some might see this as “just” a kid’s game.
Yet, there are many other levels of learning happening. What were they?
The two most important functions of this activity was to create an environment where the stage is set for optimal learning to happen. Experiments in how human’s learn at optimal levels reveal that two conditions must be met:
* A safe space needs to be created—mentally, emotionally and physically for all.
* Participants must become attentive and, hopefully, fully engaged! Maybe it should be “Play attention” rather than “PAY ATTENTION!”
There’s more layers. We also:
* Started to understand how each participant played the game in his/her unique way. Plato was credited with saying: “I can learn more in an hour of play with someone than a year of conversations.”
* Used an improv rule: always respond to a stimuli, whether it’s a verbal or nonverbal, with “And.”
* Elevated our moods through physical activity to stimulate an internal good feeling with the release of a body hormone/neurotransmitters called dopamine.
* Increased body awareness to get in touch with the power of our animal nature.
* Solved a series of challenges.
* Switched back and forth from being an aggressor to the hunted. Do you know of a universal game played by kids in all cultures? It’s some version of “Hide and Seek.” Ours was a version of that. You can make a legitimate case that this game is primal in our species. If that is so, what does that say about ourselves?
* Used our imaginations and the ability to pretend–a valuable skill especially for adults.
* Practiced in being flexible in body and mind–I do not believe the dancers from Juilliard often play or practice this “silly” game often .
* Stepping outside of the rational mind and its bureaucracies. Having experienced these games multiple times, many adults decide not to participate because the keepers of their internal bureaucracies shut down the possibility with heavy judgments.
* Understanding the differences between competitive and cooperative play. In a cooperative game, there are only winners because everyone wants to continue to play (there is no part of play where we are not learning).
This experience can be, and has been, tied to learning an academic skill: writing descriptively. After these kinds of experiences, I seldom hear the dreaded curse of near meaningless words. “Nice,” “Interesting,” “Like” are rarely are used to describe what we experience through play. There is a huge difference of imagery between “I like ice cream,” and “I crave ice cream!”
We did this all this in 29 seconds. Obviously, this was just a beginning. Yet, an important one: a new portal has been opened to explore.