Last Tuesday I went along on an Imagination Club outing. The club was set up three years ago by Barclay Price, director of Arts & Business Scotland, on the Heineken principle: that it would refresh the parts – well, one part in particular – that everyday organisational life doesn’t reach.
Three or four times a year, a small group of us meet for a few hours to do something that none of us have ever done before, and stretch our imaginations in the process. ‘We’ are mainly people from the higher echelons of the Scottish academic, arts, cultural and enterprise world, plus me as a kind of official recorder.
So far we’ve made short films at the BBC, spoons in the jewellery department of Edinburgh College of Art, and I can’t remember exactly what in an imaginary sandpit in Barclay’s office; written poems in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, visited Jupiter Artland, a private sculpture park outside Edinburgh, played the World Game in a converted boathouse on the Fife coast, brainstormed new uses for touch-screen technology in a high-tech lab at Edinburgh University’s Informatics Department, and last Tuesday – danced.
The majority of us, I suspect, were dreading it – quite needlessly as it transpired. It was fantastic. We had an empty ballroom to ourselves, and an inspirational leader in the person of dancer and choreographer, Christine Devaney. Within half an hour she had us unashamedly gliding and swooping, springing and leaping around the huge space, lost in what we could make our own bodies do, entranced by the feeling of physical freedom. Within an hour we were in groups, rolling and tumbling and writhing in coils. And for the finale, all inhibition by now cast to the winds, we choreographed our own short dance pieces.
Total absorption, self-forgetting, is the thing that has characterised the best of these outings. This was certainly true of Tuesday, though it was accompanied by a strong sense of physical awareness, as if we were experiencing the world almost entirely through our bodies, and the relationship of our bodies to the others around us. It was, I realised afterwards, an almost unconscious form of communication; more than that, a form of communion, and a more powerful one than anything we normally achieve with words, outside perhaps poetry.
Most of us these days lead less physical lives than at any time in human history. To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson’s famous remark about academics: our bodies have become a form of transport for our heads, they’re how we get our brains to meetings. This can’t be a good thing. Dancing and movement reminds us of something important about ourselves, something without which we’re incomplete.