A Girl and the Opera

Eight-year-old Gillian was not doing well in school. The fidgety girl underperformed in tests, had trouble writing legibly and continually missed assignment deadlines. She could also be a disruptive presence in class. Sometimes she would be so inattentive that it was as if she wasn’t really there. 

She probably had a learning disorder and needed to change schools, moving to one that catered for kids with special needs. At least, this was the thinking that Gillian’s current school outlined in a letter sent to her parents. Gillian herself didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. She was just a regular child, albeit a restless one. 

But her mother and father were anxious about her educational prospects. This happened in the 1930s, long before Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) became a catchphrase to explain children’s behavioural issues. There were also no options of medicating Gillian into obedience. Instead, a psychological assessment seemed to be the best course of action. Upon entering the psychologist’s intimidatingly formal oak-panelled office, Gillian fell into a big leather chair and tried not to squirm too much. The psychologist, who stared unnervingly at Gillian the whole time, questioned her mother at length. Eventually, the doctor came over to the girl and said that he and her mother needed to step outside for a few minutes. Before leaving, he turned on a radio that sat on his desk. 

The psychologist took Gillian’s mother into the corridor, where they both stood at a window that allowed them to look into the office discreetly. The doctor said they were just going to watch the girl for a few minutes. As the adults looked on, Gillian got up from the chair and started dancing gracefully around the room, moving in time to the music from the radio, a look of bliss lighting up her face. The psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and told her that there was nothing wrong with her daughter—she just wanted to dance.

He was right. When Gillian walked into her first dance class soon afterwards, she found herself surrounded by kindred spirits—people who, like her, loved being in motion. She worked hard in class and practised at home. 

She was eventually accepted into London’s Royal Ballet School. Four decades later, after many successes as a performer and choreographer, she choreographed Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, two of the most successful musicals ever staged. Had Gillian been deemed a problem child, she may never have found her calling. But because she was encouraged to be herself, she experienced a lifetime of joy.

Gillian Lynne at the Olivier Awards in 2013.

Photos & information credit : Google and Wikipedia.

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