The Hero’s Journey: Garner Harris

The Hero’s Journey: Garner Harris

Hero’s journey and breaking down barriers

You may have heard about the ‘hero’s journey’. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the idea that many great stories follow a specific trajectory: the hero’s journey. You can really see it in films like Star Wars.  Is the hero’s journey somehow the story of how our students progress while they are with us? Maybe…

…I considered a story that was very familiar to me: the story of Garner Harris* who is a great friend of Urdang. This is Garner’s hero’s journey.

1.     The hero’s journey begins in the real world where the hero is living a life of no particular quality or ability. The hero is uncomfortable or undirected, experiencing a ‘pull’ or ‘stress’ of sort.

Garner’s story begins in the 1970’s in the boogie clubs of London where he danced with his buddies. It was here that Garner discovered his affinity for dance – funk in particular. He loved dance, but he never dreamt of being a dancer. He didn’t think it was even possible.

2.     There comes a moment when the hero is called to pursue a dream or adventure. External influences or a change within prompts a change in the hero’s circumstances. At first, they might refuse the call as they fear the unknown, but eventually they give in to the prospect of adventure.

In 1980 Garner’s friend from the boogie club, Desmond, auditioned at Urdang. Desmond got a place and a scholarship with it. He shared his success with Garner and the other boys from the club. A few more friends successfully auditioned and soon Garner found himself on the front steps of Urdang.

3.    Next, the hero meets someone who changes everything; a mentor, or influencer. The mentor’s insight, attitude, encouragement, whatever it is, helps the hero ‘cross the threshold’ to start their journey in an unfamiliar world.

Garner? He met mum. That year she admitted 15 guys from the boogie club, totally unafraid of the challenge that lay ahead. What mum saw was 15 young men, most of them black, who were looking for something positive to do. With her help, they ‘crossed the threshold’ into a world they never thought they’d be part of, a world they didn’t think they had access to. Mum broke down the barriers for them.

4.     Once they’ve crossed into the supernatural world, the hero is tested and tried. In being tested, the hero finds allies who look out for them and help them to be more resilient.

The boys from the club certainly knew how to dance, but most of them had never received any technical training. Two remarkably talented ballet teachers were instructed to give the young men the technical training they needed to join the rest of the students in regular classes. This was Garner’s first challenge. “We would have looked like footballers in a ballet class,” he says!

And in the toughest times, Mum remained Garner’s ally. She even gave him a place to stay, in the room beside mine, in our family home, “I was a working ticket, a real pain in the ass. I couldn’t live with anyone. But Leoni, she put me up [in her house], she gave me some time to get my head on straight,” he says about living with us. To this day Garner remains ever-grateful for having mum as such a close ally.

5.     The hero soon faces a major challenge that they struggle to overcome. Overcoming this challenge requires concentration, effort, and perseverance.

Garner’s training got harder. Dealing with it requires motivation and readiness to learn. Garner’s classes taught him to dance, but his teachers and the way they taught made the difference. In every class, every day, he learned he needed to have discipline, drive and determination.

6.     When the hero overcomes their greatest challenge, they are rewarded. But there’s a risk with ‘seizing the sword’ and taking it back into the real world; they must face one last test.

Garner’s reward was his diploma: it signalled the end of his three-year challenge. He could now pursue a career in the performing arts. But as with many performers, the search for work can be daunting and at times challenging. His ‘final test’ was finding work in the performing arts, but he was pleasantly surprised.

7.     The hero finishes their journey with one final triumph that illustrates the transformation the hero has gone through.

Garner found a career in the performing arts straightaway after earning his diploma. It turned out that the skilled training and tough discipline Garner had experienced at Urdang helped him be among the best there was.

“You get your standards from where you train. Even students who struggled at Urdang were set up for success because the quality and standard of training was just SO high.”

This is what my mum was after when she founded Urdang: to create a place where each student, regardless of their background, could go on their own hero’s journey. And I like to think that’s still true of Urdang today. 

Source for hero's journey:

*pictured above as follows: 

Left: the late Desmond Harris, centre: Garner Harris, right: Henrietta Harris.

Think different

Think different

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