The Cohan Lecture: Sir Ken Robinson – Dance is as Important as Maths

Last weekend we went to see Sir Ken Robinson deliver the Cohan Lecture at The Place. This was our second visit, following the inaugural lecture given last year by Robert Cohan himself.

The same title “What Matters?” was suggested by the Chief Executive of the Place, Kenneth Tharp – and “what matters”, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is that the arts are all too frequently given less value than the core subjects of English, maths and the sciences.


Professor Robinson chose to call his lecture “Why Dance is as Important as Maths”.

Some may think that Ken was being deliberately provocative but this was a serious and genuine statement that warranted a conversation even longer than the hour it took him to present.

He reiterated his view that it sometimes feels as though we have “education from the neck up” rather than embracing personal, social, spiritual, instinctual, emotional and physical learning.

Dance, according to Ken, is as important as maths because “the arts spark our imagination and connects us to ourselves”. To borrow a phrase from an old lager advert, dance has the potential to “refresh the parts other subjects cannot reach” – or refresh the people other subjects cannot reach. For another key point that Sir Ken made was the curriculum needs “re-humanising”. For too long, education has been driven by a system of imposed standards at the expense of the real needs and talents of individuals.

“The multitude of talents that people have. . . .our systems of education need to be adapted to them.”

Sir Ken started his talk by explaining how some Tweeters responded when he announced the title of his lecture on Twitter.



Here’s a small collection.

  • Telephones more important than bananas. Ants not so important as toilet ducks. Paper clips more important than elbows. (Very creative, as Sir Ken said!)
  • So, young man seeking a job, I see you’ve got no GCSE in maths but boy can you dance!
  • Fortunately, the skills of reading a calendar aren’t as important as nailing a decent rumba. (Sarcasm somewhat missing the point)
  • Haha, great (Outright ridicule)
  • I like dance. I encourage everyone to do it. As important as maths? No

And then this.

  • A maths GCSE is much more important to the vast majority of kids than dance. That is reality. Nothing against dance.

What Sir Ken is advocating is that we shouldn’t take this as “reality”. He says learning and learning about learning is constantly evolving, and recognition of the breadth and depth of learning through dance has to be appreciated and acknowledged.

“The pulse of humanity responding to the rhythms of the world around us and within us.”

“Above all, education is personal.”

Other tweets were more supportive, this one being a particular favourite.

  • Time and again, in schools and in life, the arts provide the key that unlocks learning potential.

IMG_5716 (2)

Sir Ken emphasised this point – that the arts can open a child’s mind to learning where other subjects have stressed and bored them. He illustrated this by showing a clip of young offenders who had been “sentenced to dance” with a company called Dance United. Having been given an Arts Council grant, teachers and Youth Offending Team staff worked with a group of young people who were NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) to see if dance and performance could develop their social and emotional skills. The results were extremely positive.

A few quotes from Sir Ken’s lecture:

Sir Ken quotes [1]


Sir Ken quotes [2]


Sir Ken quotes [3]


Sir Ken quotes [4]

It’s essential to note that Sir Ken did NOT say maths isn’t important. Neither did he say dance is more important than maths. He simply argued the case for balance, equilibrium, breadth and depth in the curriculum. Like us, he would like all children – regardless of their academic ability or their practical, physical and creative inclinations – to be “excited and energised” by the curriculum offered. From this develops a real hunger for learning, and links directly to his belief that every child should be encouraged to “find their element” and that we all have different elements.

“Some have their life work in maths. Some in dance. Diversity is needed in education.”

Neither did he say that a planned curriculum isn’t important or should be scrapped. He re-emphasised his view that good teaching is at the heart of good learning and that a focus on output has eroded our culture of learning – something with which we strongly agree.

The Cohan Lecture 2016 will soon be available online. (Last year’s can be seen on YouTube – ).

For more information –

Sir Ken’s view on the “Aims of Education” –



 “To enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.”

We concur with this and reiterate that these are challenging aims that requires rigour and dedication – a re-humanising of education and a reinvention of schooling in the 21st century.




We’ll follow up this post with our own interpretation of Sir Ken’s statement on “Why Dance is as Important as Maths” and on rigour being an essential part of creative learning.

In summary: dance (and the arts generally) is as important as maths because it engages and enables the development of a broad range of faculties, abilities and what we would call intelligences in ways that pure academic study doesn’t even set out to address. In terms of personal development and life skills these are at least as important as pure academic success. It’s vital that all children and not just the more privileged ones can access these areas of learning, and we need to consider those who are unable to attend after-school and weekend opportunities and experiences for reasons to do with family responsibilities and family finances.

We still need a great debate on the aims of education.


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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1 Response to The Cohan Lecture: Sir Ken Robinson – Dance is as Important as Maths

  1. omalone1 says:

    Gwiz, apparently his 2006 TED Talk is the most listened to TED Talk. Its a pity they were not listening to John Gatto, or blacks werent listening to Amos WIlson


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