What we can learn from dancing










I promised myself I’d do 4 new things in the year of my 40th birthday (this year!). June brought the opportunity to tick one of those things off – learn to dance, and then perform in front of a couple of hundred people at the Bournemouth Pavilion. Yikes!

And the reason I’m sharing this is that I believe that all of us in business can learn a thing or two from dancing, specifically about creating and managing performance.

  1. Things don’t always work best when pre-planned, especially when you’re working as part of a team

My dance teacher, Jack, warned me that he didn’t have all the moves worked out in advance of our first rehearsal, he preferred to “make it up as we went along”. This did initially fill me with a small amount of dread, but of course I went with the flow. It’s a good job we did! Truth is:

  • Some of our really cool moves were born out of mistakes; they looked good so we kept them in the final cut.
  • Applying an iterative approach meant we could tune up the moves I could do well to be even better, and tune down the harder moves that I couldn’t quite grasp which made for a much more impressive overall performance.

Questions: How much space is created in your workplace to make good stuff out of mistakes? What’s the impact? And how often is the performance management focus on helping people use more of their strengths more of the time to make for a better overall outcome?

  1. Honest, between the eyes feedback is necessary and actually good fun

There’s nothing like an impending public performance (including feedback from four ‘Strictly’ style judges) to focus the mind on the job in hand! This also meant that I craved feedback during the training process, especially the criticisms. We both needed to know what was working and what wasn’t so it could be honed ready to nail our performance!

I noticed that my openness to feedback was slightly different to attitudes I’d both demonstrated and experienced when working in big businesses, where people had often been more defensive. Why was this?

  • I had utmost respect for my teacher’s views and expertise – I could see the positive intent in every piece of feedback, even the “we need to make you look more cool rather than a business person just trying to dance”. It was actually a relief to know exactly where I stood – no second guessing or mind reading required!
  • We had a crystal clear shared goal – to rock that performance on the night, so I wanted to get it right. Zero hidden agendas and no ambiguity on expectations.
  • I maintained the ability to laugh at myself and my short comings – this made me more open and once I was aware, I could improve or change to make the overall performance better. Basically I ‘got over myself’!

Questions: What mind-set exists towards ‘feedback’ in your organisation? What impact does this have?

  1. Performance was judged more on attitude and growth than technical ability

We were issued the judging criteria from the off…and then I didn’t look at them again until the week of the event! It was relieving to see that 35 out of the 45 points available were on things like attitude, expression, charisma, commitment and growth, and just 10 points on technical performance.

What was also interesting for me on the night is; I have no idea how many points I got for what…and it didn’t matter. I knew what went well in our performance and what didn’t, and someone handing me a bunch of scores would have made no difference to that.

Questions: What’s the weighting in your organisation when it comes to reviewing performance? And where does the emphasis and responsibility lie for reviewing performance – with the performer themselves?

  1. You can achieve an awful lot in three months

There were 11 weeks between the launch event and the actual performance, which meant it seemed like an age away, but of course it flew by!

This gave us time for 8 rehearsals and chance to arrange our costumes and props. When I reflected more deeply on what had been accomplished in this time, the list goes like this: –

  • Gone from never dancing to learning some Street/Hip Hop Dance and performing it in front of a crowd
  • Raised nearly £500 for Lewis-Manning Hospice and Parkinson’s Dance, and had the pleasure of seeing exactly how the money will be used
  • Made new friends through being part of a community, and being part of something bigger than us

Many of us in the group shared how we felt down after the event. All the build up, the camaraderie and the adrenaline of the night had dissipated, leaving a void. I felt I needed my next big thing on the horizon, both personally and professionally, because we’re naturally wired as humans to need a focus, a challenge, something to look forward to.

Questions: How do you keep people focused, motivated and challenged in your organisation? What’s the right amount of stretch and how do you avoid the voids?

Did someone say half marathon in October? But I’ve never done that before….and off we go again!

To talk team and performance development support for your organisation contact me on or 07714329339. I’ll even throw a street dance in for free!



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