As a country, we tend to be polite with strangers, we might talk about the weather or how quickly the time flies but we queue, and we sometimes allow space for others. My point is it’s not in our national character to be socially extravagant as people unless we win big or have had one too many at the bar.
You can see this if you ask a group of young people to move around a space. Everyone picks up the same pace and you are unlikely to see anyone be fast or slow. As a result, when you want a group to sing out or make a bold movement it doesn’t come easy for them. I think this comes from our education where we learn not to stand out, not to draw attention. Show-offs are frowned upon.
In performing arts sessions It’s different. We have a saying – dare to be different! But that doesn’t mean people can instantly be bolder, you have to work for it and coax it out of them. The trick is to be surrounded by others who are also going for it – then it’s a case of – come on in the water’s lovely.
I think this natural reticence is what makes British actors a bit special. There’s a sensitivity inside that is hidden by jokiness with friends or a reluctance to speak, beyond the weather, to strangers. Being on our guard is a defence mechanism. And taking the mickey out of others cuts them down to size.
If we can get our young people to take little risks with the sound they make or extend their movement we help them have social confidence. If they take a deep breath and release a big sound and not be embarrassed about it, think how it encourages their self-belief. If they push their arms and legs out strongly in a dance, they start to own their space instead of apologising for it. Eventually, you can ask them to walk around the space and they will do so but they’ll vary their pace, use different levels, do it with power or gentleness and be much more individual – making their own decisions rather than checking out everyone around them and adjusting to be the same.
This is an area where the performing arts give young people real tools for life – the strength to be yourself and not fear what others think – or as Captain Kirk put it “ to boldly go where no man has gone before.” It may be where a man (or woman) has gone before but going boldly that may be a first for them!