Tip #426: Shall We Dance? The Magic of Using Dance in Training

“Relationships are like a dance, with visible energy racing back and forth between partners.”Colette Dowling

As an experiential trainer, I have experimented with using different art projects, movement and games to reinforce learning. For years, I’ve used music and metaphors to create a positive learning environment. Recently, however, I did something so brand new that I wonder if any other trainer has ever tried it. I incorporated dancing and live music into my training program!

The program was focused on how the members of an intact team can keep performing their responsibilities and moving forward when policies, procedures and team members are continually changing.

Two of the learning objectives for the program were for the participants to:

1.      practice continuing to go forward even when the members keep changing; and

2.      discuss how to sustain a team through membership changes.

I thought about possible metaphors for moving forward despite changing circumstances. It occurred to me that square dancing and contra dancing require the dancers to continually change partners but keep moving forward. I decided that a dance would be an excellent learning activity to help them achieve these objectives.

Well, as luck would have it, I happen to have a good friend who calls contra dances. We chatted, he was available, and he was even able to schedule two fiddlers to play while he called the dances.

I had three responsibilities to prepare for the dance. The first was to ensure that the training room would be large enough for 12 people to dance without bumping into any furniture. The second was to get a notice out to the participants to wear comfortable shoes (I was very afraid some stylish women would wear sky-high heels and twist their ankles!)

My third responsibility was to purchase pink and green bandanas to differentiate the women dancers from the men dancers (since I anticipated that we would have more women than men).

The dance was scheduled for an hour just before lunch. As the fiddlers warmed up, I explained the reason for the dance and then put out the bandanas. Although I indicated the significance of the different colors, the caller just told folks to grab any bandana they wanted.

The caller taught some basic steps and then had the group practice. Having real fiddlers there added to the ambience. Some people were natural dancers and picked up the steps very easily. Others had more difficulty, but persevered with great good humor.

When the caller called a dance, the energy in the room went through the roof. The result was somewhat chaotic and absolutely hilarious, particularly when two huge men, one in a pink bandana and the other in a green one, sashayed crazily together down the line. My face literally hurt afterwards from laughing!

So, the dance itself was a lot of fun. I still wondered about its learning value.  After lunch, would the participants see the similarities between the dance and the team changes they were experiencing?

I began with the focus question: “They say, ‘Life is a dance.’ What do the dances we just learned and your team experience have in common?” Their responses were incredibly perceptive, noting many commonalities.

Next, I asked them to relate back to the dance experience and then work with their table groups to identify ways to sustain their team through membership changes. They did that beautifully, even using dance terms to explain some of their ideas.

It was very gratifying to see that both learning objectives were successfully achieved.

At the end of the day, when they stood to report their key take aways from the session, they continued to use dance terms! Clearly, the dance had an indelible impression on them.

In summary, my first experience using actual dancing with live music as a tangible and kinesthetic metaphor for change was very positive. I will definitely do it again!

May your learning be sweet.



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