Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Strictly Serious

I adore Strictly Come Dancing. Accuse it of being twee or dated; hate on the presenters or the contestants; question the place of a novelty show in the current climate; do as you will - I will still adore it.


Image Source: bbc.com

You see, everyone has a favourite song, everyone loves singing along to the radio, or dancing stupidly in the kitchen while you're waiting for the kettle to boil (I know it's not just me!). Not everyone has a favourite scientific theory, or would queue for hours for tickets to a lecture by an academic mathematician. So why are subjects like music given less credence in the curriculum and the world of academia than so-called STEM subjects. Especially in this country where the arts and culture form such a huge part of the income for UKPlc, and have been proven to have an impact above and beyond their initial investment.
I could argue for the impact of the arts on lives, and yes, I understand that scientific advancements and engineering developments have had huge impacts on the human species. But music speaks to us on a level other than science; art puts onto canvas or into sculpture what mathematics cannot express; we lose ourselves in a good work of fiction rather than an engineers manual when we want to wind down.
The arts are a very human way of expressing what it is that makes us human, as I argued in my degree artefact. They bring us together, and this is needed more than ever as forces across the world seem intent on tearing us apart.

Image Source: scifabric.com

In an oft-misquoted quote, when Winston Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts in order to support the war effort, he was supposed to have said "Then what on earth are we fighting for?" While I am given to understand that he never actually said that (as with so many wonderful witticisms attributed to the man), I still think it bears repeating. Art is created in a free and open society, because it is a free and open expression. I remember being told, during my music A-Level, when we were studying Shostakovich, that during the years he spent being patronised by the Soviet government, he had to compose his music according to strict communist doctrine; that each note had to appear an equal number of times, that every musical note had to add up to the same value over the entire piece. How exhausting and restrictive must that have been for him?
Art flourishes when society is free to flourish.


The Remembrance Day edition of this years competition brought me to tears; the pro-dance, which depicted through a group number the story of Basil and Madge who met during World War Two; and the celebrity guest performer, Andre Rieu and his Orchestra, who performed a beautiful rendition of Hallelujah by one of the many losses of 2016, Leonard Cohen, as two of the pro-dancers swept around them. It reminded me that we, humans, are capable of such beauty and empathy and creativity; and yet we all too often turn to discord and disagreement instead of discussion.

One of the 2016 Strictly contestants, Ed Balls, former Shadow Chancellor, appeared on another of my favourite television shows, The Last Leg, the day after the American Elections. He was asked, by the host, whether today was really a day for dancing. And he gave a wonderful response:

Image Source: digitalspy.com

Imagine if we could come together over policy or politics in the way that we do over things like Strictly, or Bake Off. I mean, I know that the outcome of a talent competition, however entertaining it may be, does not have an effect on whether people have enough money to pay their bills that month, or whether the potholes in the road get fixed, or if the country renews nuclear weapons, or how we deal with numerous crises across the world. But if we can unite over the small, unimportant-seeming things, then I think it proves that we have the ability and the capacity to unite over the bigger things.

And, as far as I know, no wars have ever been started because of the 'favourite' losing in the dance-off.

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