about a strong life: gillian’s story

07/20/2011

by anne lueneburger

A little girl in England, only in second grade, was already in lots of trouble at school.  Her grades were terrible, her work was late – even her handwriting was poor, and despite her youth she seemed headed for a future of hardship.  Compounding her difficulties was her restlessness – she would oscillate between fidgeting and staring vacantly.

The girl’s teachers believed that a learning disorder was the root cause, and the girl’s mother took her to a psychologist.  The girl worked hard to not fidget in the meeting, sensing – even though only eight years old– that this man’s views would have a major impact on her life.  She did not feel like she had a problem, but she was afraid!  The psychologist spoke to her mother and kept a close eye on the girl.  After about twenty minutes, he thanked the girl for being patient and told her she’d have to wait a few minutes longer as he and her mother would talk in private.  “We’re going to leave the room for a few minutes,” he added, “but don’t worry – it won’t be long.”

Before he left the room, the psychologist turned on the radio.  As they left the room, he whispered to the mother: “Let’s see what she does.”  What they saw was that the girl immediately got up and started to move with the music, naturally and effortlessly, forgetting her worries.  The psychologist turned to the mother and said: “Madam, Gillian is not sick, she is a dancer. I would recommend you’d send her to a dance-school.”  Her mother did.

That little girl is 85 years old today.  Her name is Gillian Lynne, and she became not only wealthy, but more importantly a celebrated ballerina, dancer, actor, theatre director, television director and choreographer.  She is noted for her popular theatre choreography associated with the iconic musicals Cats and the current longest running show in Broadway history, The Phantom of the Opera.  Today, she might be diagnosed with ADD and helped with Ritalin to suppress her fidgeting and become a passable student.

What is so powerful about this story is that somebody saw Gillian’s strength (in fact, recognized that what appeared to be a weakness was a symptom of an outstanding strength).  Gillian would never excel at many subjects in school, but there was one thing – one strength – she had that gave joy to her and millions of others.

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