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Lessons from the Dance Studio Applied to the Workplace !!
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Lessons from the Dance Studio Applied to the Workplace !! - April 8th, 2006

Dancing involves the close cooperation of two individuals. What can it teach us about teamwork?

I’ve been taking dance lessons. Maybe you have too. We all show up to learn a new dance and many of us are strangers. All the dances require certain steps in order to achieve the goal, and involve two people working together toward this goal. We’re there to learn how to do the polka, for instance, but it involves more than just where to put the feet.

There are many times in life when we work in pairs, and the lessons we learn at dance school can help us with this special kind of teamwork.

1. The Frame. This refers to how the man holds his upper body, arms and hands in order to hold the woman. He must apply just enough pressure to the woman’s shoulder blade, and she in return has to lean into it so he can guide her. She also has to place her hand on his right shoulder “just right.” In this way they can move together.
In dancing they say the man (the leader) is the frame and the woman (the follower) is the painting. It's the man's job to make his lady look good.

APPLICATION: Every duo working together must be able to feel the other person enough to know what’s going on without being mauled. It’s about being assertive, not passive and not aggressive. In an interchange at work, we state our opinion in an argument. We don’t withdraw or bellow and intimidate.

2. Leading. Any dyad that hopes to accomplish something has to have a leader. The man is in charge of what’s called “the sequence.” You don’t sit down with a flow chart or outline to find out what’s going to happen. It’s up to the man. The woman has to be able to pick up the cues.
APPLICATION: To accomplish something, someone must be in charge. The others must be willing and able to follow the lead, which doesn’t have to be heavy; it can be subtle. It's the leader's job to make the followers look good.
3. Following. The woman’s job is to follow, and she has to have a leader. Two people with two different ideas of what’s going to happen will work at cross purposes, and nothing will be accomplished. Even if the man doesn’t know the steps and isn’t dancing in time to the music, you must follow.
APPLICATION: Following and leading go hand-in-hand. Each person must know which is their role and do it. Sometimes you won’t know what the leader is doing, or won’t agree, but it’s still your job to follow.
4. The Basic Steps. You start by learning the basic steps of the dance – where your feet go, where the hands and arms go, how you move, and when. After you’ve mastered the basics, you can embellish and improvise.
APPLICATION: Every large job we do is composed of small, basic steps. To write a story, you have to know how to write a chapter. To know how to write a chapter you have to know how to write a paragraph; for a paragraph, a sentence. If you get overwhelmed, go backward to the smaller steps. Count like you do for a dance, “one, two, one, two, three.”
5. The Rhythm. First you learn the steps and then you have to put them to the music.

APPLICATION: In a teamwork task, it won’t work if you get out of step, out of rhythm. If preparing and eating a meal, cooking, settle the table, and doing the dishes must all be done in rhythm, at the proper time. At work, the keyboarder can’t enter the data until she receives it. The CFO can’t do the budget until the department heads provide the figures. It’s a great source of stress when people get out of synch, out of rhythm. It messes up the dance.

6. The Music. The music orients the dance. It tells us when we begin and when we stop and what dance we’ll do.
APPLICATION: Time is a kind of background ‘noise’ at work. Everything you do is oriented in some way around time. It’s no good to write a pleading if you don’t get it filed on time. Your grant won’t be accepted, even if it’s excellent, if you don’t get it submitted before the deadline. Time dictates how fast you work and defines what you can accomplish. You can write a 500 word article in an hour, but you can’t write a 500 page novel in an hour.
7. Etiquette. The polka is a strenuous dance and after a while you start to sweat. Who wants to dance with someone who’s sopping wet and smells bad? Likewise who wants to dance with a woman who fights for the lead, someone who wipes their nose and then takes your hand, or a 6’4” in man who takes huge strides you can’t keep up with?
APPLICATION: Common courtesy greases the wheels of any joint project. This involves being sensitive to what’s going on with the other person, being able to give and take, practicing good personal hygiene, maintaining healthy boundaries, and knowing how avoid and resolve conflict.
8. The Metarules. Meta rules are the rules about rules. We’re learning learning dance steps, but there are also studio rules. One is that you change partners. Another is that you smile and look pleasant as you dane. The first metarule is written down. The other one you just learn, either by picking it up, or by not doing it and being corrected.
APPLICATION: All systems have metarules. A metarule in a family may be that the kids know if they want something from dad, not to ask him when he first comes homes from work. It may be a metarule at your office that the rules in the policies manual aren’t followed. The policies manual says promotions are based on merit, but everyone knows how they’re really given.

9. You Aren’t Alone. When you dance there are other couples on the floor and the man has to keep the couple out of harm’s way. Everyone has to move in the same direction, with faster couples on the outside.
APPLICATION: You aren’t alone in the workplace either. You can picture it like a dance floor. Everyone’s moving together, but also in their own pattern and you have to make sure the two don’t clash. You have to be aware of others, keep out of their way, and avoid hitting them.

10. Learning Styles. The West Coast Swing is a dance that’s particularly hard for men to learn. I’ve tried different ways to help the partner I’m with and what works for one man doesn’t work for another. One man learns by watching, another if you actually move his legs for him.

APPLICATION: You’ll greatly increase your chances of success in working with another person if you’re able to change your style to suit their personality and accommodate to what works with them. This requires empathy and creativity as you try something, observe how it works and then adjust.

by Susan Dunn


Best Regards,
Nikhil Gadodia
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