If you have to know anything about me at all it is that I dance. I dance home alone, I dance at my work, I dance while washing the floor, I dance on the streets and people watch me puzzled, then throw coins at me. Once I even danced in a striptease bar… but that’s another story…
I’ve been dancing since I was four and I have tried every style I’ve had the chance to encounter.
In the recent years I started working with organisations and businesses helping them to reach their communities, to create meaning and value, and to discover their purpose. I help organisations tell their stories through their products and develop leadership and innovation.
Inevitably, I discovered multiple relationships between dance performances and business, between different styles of dance and different types of organisations. Here’s what I have learned:
Strict Rules and Perfect Performers Lead to Brilliant and Completely Predictable Outcome
I’ve danced ballet for fifteen years, that’s my first encounter with dancing and that’s the reason why I fell in love with it. I adore this dance because it is filled with grace, lightness, and ethereality. The perfect harmony between the dancers creates a sense of integrity and simplicity, but at the moment when someone makes the slightest mistake, it is so obvious that the magic vanishes.
The ballet is filled with strict rules and precisely defined correct way to perform a movement. Outstanding dancers have perfected movements and put emotion and soul into the show, which makes them great artists, but this requires years of practice, training, routine and compliance.
Every ballet show tells a story recreated by choreography, music, scenography, and light. Such a spectacle requires perfect collaboration between dozens of people, each of which know exactly what their role is and how to contribute to the entirety of the story through their expertise. Everything happens under the leadership of a choreograph or director who navigates the complete vision of the show. The creative contribution of individual dancers is limited, planned, practiced and kept within the frame of the director’s vision. When all of these elements propel together on the day of the premiere, the theatre hall is filled with people and sense of curious enthusiasm, when everything goes according to the carefully developed plan, then, when the curtains rise, the audience experience the miracle of dance exactly as it was supposed to:
larger corporations that work in traditional sectors seem very similar to that. If nothing unexpected happens and everyone does their job with absolute perfection, the clockwork does its job and the outcome is so flawless and simple that consumers don’t even recognise the tremendous amount of work that stands behind it.
As soon as something does mess up however, everyone thinks this is the end of the world, because the slightest imperfection is so prominent, although extremely rare for the extremely complicated mechanisms behind it.
This way of work requires perfection and efficiency of the execution rather than creativity or innovation. Those characteristics are not cultivated in an organisation like that just like ballet dancers are not encouraged to improvise during a performance. Creating new solutions and innovation is strategic, well thought out process which often leaves the organisation stuck in its old ways attempting to use them to solve a fundamentally new and complex problem.
Just like these wonderful ballet dancers that got creative about their performance:
When everything is interconnected, being together and acting together may be more important than the individual
After the ballet I started dancing Bulgarian folklore. the most typical form of that is what we call “horo” or chain dance where many dancers dance together and perform the same steps in complete sync. This is a dance that rarely invites individualism, while in ballet dancers can contribute creatively in the preparation of a performance, in folklore everything is created collaboratively, without ownership or mastermind behind it. Even the most incredible folklore dancer cannot showcase their skills on their own. They have to do it together with others or in a relation to others.
Ideally, the best dancer will lead the chain to show the steps to the others. Their mastery is about beginning the dance, sensing the rhythm, and teaching others to follow him and dance after them. The beauty of this dance is the sync between many people, the fact that we are together and enjoying this moment collectively.
This video shows what this dance looks like. It’s of course a stage performance, there aren’t that many recordings of it from the time when people danced like this on the village square. It is, however, a realistic representation of how leadership and relationships between people are played out in this dance.
Since this is folklore, it serves as community binder, it is transferred as word of mouth and it exists solely to create connection, relationships and sense of togetherness. In ballet the purpose is to tell a story to a certain audience. In this dance this is not the point, even it it does tell a story, even if there are observers who could enjoy the mastery of the performers (traditionally that would be the village elders who watch how the youth dances together). The reason why the dancers dance is to have fun, and the stories the elders read in that behaviour is just a side effect of the joy that dancing brings.
Similar to this, there are organisations that exist because being part of them is incredibly satisfying and the people involved in them are brought together by a strong sense of belonging to a community. In such organisations leadership is essential because only if there is someone willing, skillful and enthusiastic enough to lead the dance, people will stay together and perform. Often the results of work like that are incredible, however they do depend on the mood, devotion, environment and people present in each situation. If the right leader or expert is there to lead the crowd in the right moment, everything flows. If nobody recognises the “music” and knows how to move with it, the organisation will get stuck and there won’t be any dancing happening.
Lightness, Playfulness, Principles, and Rhythm Bring Order in the Chaos, Creativity, and Unexpected Outcomes
My latest passion is Lindy Hop, which looks like this:
Typically Lindy Hop is improvisational dance. Each dancer develops their skills individually but with a partner they create the dance in the moment. What moves will they do together depends on the space, music, other dancers, the mood. Together with the other couples on the dance floor they create a network of movement and stories that build up into a perfect storm that changes every moment. Partners change, the music shifts and the spirit of the dance transforms entirely even though the people are the same.
There is no common vision for the dance, each person comes with their skills and intention to dance, and the vision is created on the spot. There are no rules, only communication in the moment (what am I dancing and with whom) and rhythm.
Of course, there are steps, routines and principles in Lindy Hop, however each dancer is free to combine and interpret them in their own way. Improvisation with a partner requires complete presence in the moment and sense for what the next one might be. Such dance works best when we are in the flow while dancing because otherwise we risk to misread the signs given by our partner and create dissonance or crash into other people on the dance floor.
In every couple there is a leader and a follower, who can witch roles any moment in the dance. This creates unique dynamics in the space because there are endless possibilities to create a dance between all the different people on the dance floor. Sometimes partners also switch during the dance and this creates even more complex and unpredictable environment that develop our attention to the current moment and ability to adjust and adapt to it.
LIndy Hop reminds me a lot of the way a lot of modern organisations are organised – they consist of networks of people, each one of them contributes to the whole through their own skills, talents, and ideas. Each individual synchronises with the collaborative rhythm and dynamics, but stays true to their own ideas and style. The key nods in the network are the individuals who have a broad portfolio of skills and ability to adjust to the environment and people around them, they have the ability to use the right move in the right time, switch roles and be creative when the environment asks for that. In such organisations there are multiple leaders who change and switch depending on what is needed.
These organisations seem unpredictable and chaotic but whenever all the members of the organisation are clear about the shared principles they follow and have understanding for the shared purpose, they can get wildly creative in this framework (like the Lindy dancers who are aware of the space, the music and the Lindy basics). In such context there is no individual leader who has the right solution and who can lead the organisation single-handedly towards their vision. They need the right partners, followers, and context to make it happen and it probably will change in the process anyways. Working this way requires creativity, freedom, open mindedness, flexibility and less expectations of the outcome, curiosity and continuous search for opportunity to manifest our ideas.
Radical Innovation is Born and Dies in Chaos, if we create the space for them to manifest themselves, recognise and cultivate them, they may turn out to be the revolution that we need.
On the other end of the spectrum is the authentic and emotional ecstatic dance. It is created spontaneously, chaoticly and freely, here and now, no audience, no others who matter, no purpose, driven by the need to express ourselves and live the moment. We can be together, we can be alone, we can dance love, happiness, loneliness, devastation, peace and pain. From this a choreography may be born, or a new story, or perhaps just moves that will vanish with the moment. The outcome cannot be planned or predicted. All that is needed is space where people who dance feel safe, relaxed and free to express themselves, and rhythm that moves them.
Some of these dancers are masterful, talented and professional no less than an opera prima ballerina. Such space of freedom and chaos gives them an opportunity to explore, experiment and learn to express themselves in a radically new way. Then, with just a bit of framework, the chaos can turn into grace, lightness and perfection, created on the spot, here and now:
By the way, for such a performance, experience with ballet can be crucial, however, the ability to let it go and invite chaos and other possibilities are no less essential to address the needs of the space, time and context.
What I learned is that different times, environments and challenges call for different types of organisation.
In environment that is unpredictable, complex and fluctuating, we need to dance different styles to adapt to it, respond to it, challenge it. Modern dance flows with the moment, although it’s tottally unpredictable, Lindy Hop creates sense of collaboration and co-creation, folklore offers community feeling and trusty solution to recurring situations, and ballet provides predictable perfection and security. The question that every organisation could ask itself is “What are the realities, needs and levels of uncertainty that we operate in? What are the processes that will best help us navigate these circumstances and dance through the world with both joy and impact?”