As I approach Bosham, the sun is ripping a hole in the sky – a glowing golden hole which spills
warmth into the silver-lit morning.
Two hours later, the roll of brown paper that has been stretched like a canvas across the school hall,
and which holds the creative outpourings of thirty four-year-old artists, has a similar hole. This
accidental rip in the paper walks the line between two potential responses: it could be a disaster, or
it could be a discovery. By reframing the torn canvas as an opportunity for further artistry we begin
to expand the possibilities of what can be done with paper and pencils and hands and bodies. We
scrunch and fold and scribble, we rip and we keep drawing, we layer and we roll and we manipulate
our stretched canvas into something with multiple dimensions.
The truth is that it doesn’t end perfectly. The truth is that some of the artists want the paper ripped
and some of them want it whole and, at four-years-old, they have yet mastered the skill of
negotiating creative differences on a shared canvas. The truth is that most adults haven’t mastered
the skill of it either but maybe as we get older we forget how precious art is and so we are able to let
go of it easier…
This explosion of paper curls and pencil scrawls might look like chaos but, having wiggled and played
my way through the last forty minutes, I see it as an expression of freedom and explorative learning.
We learn to make things tidy by first making them messy. The thing that feels particularly special
about the session I am learning my way through is that there is no hierarchy of creative expression.
Having come through school and dance training I’m all too aware that the need to meet particular
academic or physical standards results in an environment where moving, playing, creating and
working in certain ways is ranked above others. Here, bottom shuffling is just as valued as bunny-
hopping, sprawling pencil marks are just as important as concentrating those marks into words,
stillness is exciting, spinning is exciting, swishing a ribbon around is exciting – and all of it is part of a
vital learning process that equips these children with the physical capacity to write. Within that
learning process, each child has permission, within the limits of safe practice, to be the dance artist
that they are, not the dance artist that they ‘should’ be.
For me this is what the hole in the sky and the hole in the paper are about. Accepting that
sometimes the plans and confines of creation have to be broken to unleash true creativity.
It makes me think about how my life didn’t go to plan. About how school told me that I could be
anything but their anything was a two-dimensional stretched canvas on which I was only allowed to
draw. And how, when I found a gaping hole in my teenage world, I thought I’d broken everything.
But If I hadn’t made that hole and then explored where my unravelling could take me, I wouldn’t be
in a school hall in Bosham, with thirty four-year-old artists, re-learning what learning can be.
“There’s a sail fish and a tuna fish and these are boats,” he tells me and I tell him that I love the fin
on his fish.
“That’s why it’s called a sail fish,” he says, “because it looks like the sail of a pirate ship.”
I don’t know much about fish, and so I don’t know whether sail fish are things I can find in the ocean,
or if they are creatures that live only in this five-year-old boy’s imagination, but there is something
incredibly special about him sharing this explanation with me. A kind of creative certainty – like this
drawing has removed any self-consciousness that might otherwise have stood between me and his
Another boy then wants to show me his drawing, he describes it all to me in great detail, adding to
the picture as he goes – adding the football that his stick-boy-self is kicking landing in the goal
opposite. The drawing now has a narrative, a time-lapse of past and present and future all
happening on one sheet of paper. He takes his pencil and stickles the page with dots and so I ask him
what they’re for.
“They’re the little holes in the ground from the shoes.”
And it is then that I fully appreciate the level of detail that has been concentrated into this work of
art. He has created the world of his imagination to the last stud mark – the imprint of boots on the
pitch – and the care and attention that has gone into this paper translation amazes me. It probably
shouldn’t, but I’ve fallen into the trap that all adults do: I have simplified children. I have forgotten
the intensity of my own childhood. I have overlooked the fact that, when I was five, I knew so many
things and was so much less afraid to learn them. My imagination was fierce: cars had faces,
numbers had colours, Lego bricks had personalities, I had imaginary pets and they all had names and
stories, my brother and I applied fantasies to our town that sat overlaid on all the houses – replacing
the mundanity of urban streets with a private fiction understood only by the pair of us…
And now we make a gallery of fictions, many of them contain football pitches but each football pitch
is different. Some of them have words, some of them have colours. Some of them have farmers in
fabulous hats. I see ‘Peewee’ the tortoise and ‘the berd’ and a My Little Pony flying through the sky.
What is it that Doodle Dance is doing here? Doodling and dancing are the kinds of things that make
most adults feel embarrassed and uncomfortable but that set children free. What we are doing does
not resemble ‘school’ in the sense of an ordered classroom of desks and whiteboards and books but
it does resemble school in that it is a learning experience. Playful education is the most effective
education. I devoted 2000 words to that as part of my dance training and – although I could still sit
here and list all the scientific, behavioural, and theoretic reasoning as to why – I feel that joining this
group of children on their journey of discovery this morning has said far more than writing an essay
about it could.