The art of dance in leadership

Writing a weekly blog is quite a commitment when we all have so many demands on our time and energies.

To be honest, some weeks it’s a joy and the words and ideas just flow but other times it can be that bit more of an uphill challenge.  For some inspiration and relevance, we always check out what’s being celebrated, what key dates are being observed across the world and look to weave the essence of some of them into our writing.

So, imagine the happiness in seeing that this week we can draw inspiration from International Dance Day on 29 April.

Every year, April 29 is celebrated as International Dance Day.

It is the birth anniversary of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet. This day was created by the Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), the main partner for the performing arts of UNESCO.

The day strives to encourage participation and education in dance through events and festivals held on this particular day.

However, during this Covid era, we can celebrate International Dance Day by dancing in the comfort of our own homes or maybe by choreographing a dance by ourselves, uploading a video to social media and encouraging others to do the same.

“People reflect each other constantly, but when they dance, perhaps what they reflect most is that moment of honesty.”

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, dancer and choreographer, message author for International Dance Day 2012

So please note, as we work away in front of our screens on Thursday (or any day we say) that we all have free licence to enjoy a few quick kitchen dances throughout the day in the spirit of reenergising our hearts and minds.

There’s a great quote comes to mind; “When in doubt, dance it out”. Don’t know who to attribute this to but how true is that!

The art of dance in leadership

Photo by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash

Most successful leaders know that leadership is an art, not a science. They recognise that you can have as many brilliant strategies and tactics backed up by excellent systems and processes as you want but without the more intangible qualities of intuition, passion, interpretation, creativity and vision your realisation of ultimate success is going to be limited.

Increasingly in our own work we hear leaders quite naturally referencing what are ultimately dance inspired terms to describe their own organisations’ challenges and attributes; ‘how to find the right rhythm of leading through this project’, ‘we need to understand what the pulse/tempo/pace is out there with our people’  ‘leadership feels like a dance of many different beats’.

The rhythm of leadership is a nice one to contemplate.

Obviously artists, especially musicians and dancers, talk a lot about rhythm but leaders too will benefit from appreciating and responding more to the rhythms of their company and its culture – in a way it is central to great leadership.

As choreographer Matthew Neenan pointed out,

“Even in a lawyer’s conference room, there’s a definite dance going on among the people who are speaking and voicing their opinions. There’s a definite rhythm.”

This intuitive awareness of rhythm allows the best leaders to move themselves and others forward. By exercising good timing – providing the right opportunity to bring key decisions or projects forward coupled with bringing together the right people at the right time —the work and the teams are energised.

Having this strong sense of the rhythm of human dynamics permits a leader to see opportunities which can release individuals and teams to really perform.  For many who lead, a good sense of rhythm and timing is innate.

This means also really listening – and as dancers will tell you – it’s a complex task, involving all the senses as well as intuition. For dancers, a big part of picking up the rhythm comes from not just listening but also watching the way people move.

Translating this into the language of leadership can be about gathering information, observing and learning before moving into action. Changes in the culture of an organisation, the success criteria of ‘how we want to do things round here’ are dependent on first understanding the existing rhythm.

The European Dance Network conducted a lovely piece of work in 2016 called The lonely dance of leadership. The way they described their source of inspiration for the dance sounds very familiar to all of us in the world of leadership;

“Leaders have ultimate responsibility for everything. They set the vision and direction of travel, inspire and nurture others, and make decisions that cannot always be popular. Other people may offer advice and opinions, but in the end it is up to the leader to juggle different demands, make sense of diverse views and shape the future.

Leadership is a lonely dance.”

At the end of the 3 day project the director of Dance House Lemesos shared his impressions and thoughts.

The original list is long but here’s a taste of how he described leadership;

Honestly, once you start digging into dance and its influences on leadership it becomes almost endless. Some final thoughts;

  • Fluid | Planning with flexibility – ready for the unexpected
  • Staccato | when you just have to leap into crisis driven leadership, short and sharp
  • Chaos | taking the risks, making sense out of the apparent mess, using the energy of the moment
  • Lyrical | operating with instinct, emotional intelligence to the fore, caring and empathetic
  • Quiet | powerfully, subtly living the values and beliefs you want to see live and breathe around you

Time for you to now…

  • Dance round the kitchen, or garden, or wherever
  • Add to the list of dance in leadership
  • Celebrate international dance day
  • Book your tickets and get dance back in our lives as soon as you can