As a competitive ballroom dancer, I came to learn that a successful performance, no matter your placement is based on a positive physical and emotional connection with your partner. When I began my dance journey, I went into it as a fun and creative endeavor, with my sole focus on learning the dance steps or patterns as near perfect as I could. My mistake and greatest lesson was seeing great dancing as a solo effort and as a task to be achieved. Great dancing that is visually beautiful and high performing, isn’t just about the execution of the steps, its as equally about the partnership and the connection to others.
One of the coolest things for me as a ballroom dancer, is the many parallels I have drawn between my dance life and my work life as a consultant and learning leader. The partnership concept and principles are the same, just the context is different. Here are some of the greatest parallels I have drawn.
Creating Physical Connection. This is the most obvious element one would think about relative to dance, the physical hold and the movement. A strong hold encompasses the entire body. The body connection is never forced or tense, nor is it loose or droopy. There’s an in-between that is firm, yet fluid at all times, and most especially in motion. Obviously, ballroom dance is a visual art expressed without words. The physical connection is how dancers communicate or rather talk to each other during the process. It is also the way they convey the mood or “story” behind the dance. How I experience this same element off the floor, is through the importance of physically being present, the proximity or positioning of others to me, and listening for their vocal tone and expression. Body language is most certainly unique to the individual and is culturally-based. Like in dance, it pays for me to stay present and aware to “read” and translate the unspoken clues that facilitate a strong partnership.
Using Emotional Intelligence. You more than likely are familiar with this concept and term. It was introduced in 1995 by Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the best selling book, Emotional Intelligence. It simply means one’s ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions and that of others. In dance, if I bring a negative attitude to the floor, that is precisely the outcome of my performance I can expect. It’s also not a pleasant experience for my dance partner to deal with either. As with any partnership, a strong performance is best facilitated by being aware of and sensitive to your partner’s unspoken needs and emotions. The strongest partnerships I have are with those where we are able to stay present, open share and clarify our needs and feelings for an optimal experience.
Leveraging Strengths. My dance coach once told me that every dance partnership he has whether it’s his professional partner or each of us as students is different and unique. He takes the time to learn our personalities and abilities and leverage them with his own for an optimal performance. I was so appreciative of this as someone who values strengths leadership practice. Every partnership I have had over the course of my 30-year career, is as different and made better by learning and leveraging our combined strengths. We each bring what is best to the work for the best outcome or result.
Being Agile. When you are competing, you never know what will you walk into the day of competition. The people you are competing with, the adjudicators judging you, the physical condition (sticky vs. slippery) of the floor, how you physically or emotionally feel or how your partner feels. The variables are always different and its the partners collective ability to maintain an agile mindset in anticipating these for the best performance. This is no different than when I walk into meetings, trainings or projects with clients. You achieve agility through everything I’ve just written to regarding physical connection, emotional intelligence and leveraging strengths. It’s all about staying present and using that information to be agile in response to those partnering variables and achieving the optimal performance.
So think about your most powerful partnerships whether it be at work, at home, or in the other contexts of your life. What makes them that way? What parallels can you draw? And most importantly, how can you replicate what happens from those successful partnerships to others?