Cooperating to Create the Illusion of Conflict or Communication as a Method of Injury Prevention

[This is a blog entry that the Organizational Health (OH) Committee at my company asked me to write.  My company is a training/organizational development company.]

The folks on the OH committee asked me to write something about dancing. I’m guessing they were thinking I would write something about how dancing has improved my well-being and makes me more productive in the office. However, what has really struck me lately is how good communication skills and team work have improved my dancing. So I’m going to write about that.

How many times have you been in a team meeting and the team leader states his objective for the meeting and you think “Are you friggin’ out of your mind?!” Now think back to all those times and count on your fingers how many times an unsuccessful outcome would result in any kind of broken bone. Anybody get to their second hand?

This is the norm for a modern dance company. Well, at least this modern dance company: Human Landscape Dance,, next performance: Kennedy Center Millenium Stage, March 23rd, 6pm.

Now modern dance, like other types of modern art, differs from its predecessors in that there are no set structures, no rules. No stories, no music, no set steps, and, on occasion, no movement. Well, unless you want them. The idea is to be new and different (or not). For all you Calvin & Hobbes fans, it’s an aesthetic Calvin ball – the only rule is there are no rules. This often leads to some wild and crazy choreography (when one is using choreography). Perhaps something like facilitating a start-up meeting using open space technology with a new client in Lusaka (analogy assistance by Margaret). You’re about to deal with any number of unknowns but you know you and your co-facilitators have got the basic skills to deal with whatever challenges await. You’re flying by the seat of your pants but you’ve got a good tailor and know how to work that couture. Or perhaps… [Put your own analogy here. Share in the comments, if you like.]

What I find remarkable about the dance company I’m currently in is just how functional our interactions are. Here’s a video clip from one of our rehearsals. I’d be interested to know what kind of communication skills you see.

And here’s why I think we work so well together.

Clear understanding of authority. Mac is in charge. He will make the requests of the dancers. He appreciates the dancers’ experience and often asks for and accepts input from the dancers. However, the final decisions are his. The dancers have volunteered to do what the director asks and agree to accept his decisions.

Trust. Like in an office, be on time, be prepared. Unlike an office, physical trust. Are you strong enough to lift me and strong enough to get me down? Am I going to hurt you when I jump on you? If something goes wrong during this catch are you going to make the right split-second choice that will keep us from being injured? If I drop you are you going to be able to land well?

Communication. Checking in before a new lift.  How am I holding you (with my arms, over my back, on my shoulder)? Let’s take this in stages. Checking in afterward. Are you OK (usually after a crash and burn)? How did that feel? How could that be better? There is also a shared context, shared experience that makes communication easier. We’ve all had years of dance experience and, for a lot of the really physical stuff, years of contact improvisation where we’ve experienced all kinds of lifts and all kinds of falls.

Willing to take risks. Sometimes, in order to achieve something new and exciting, the director will come up with jump or lift that could be dangerous and there’s no way to test it but to do it. The only way to practice a flying leap into a catch is to do a flying leap into a catch and a fully committed effort is safer than a hesitant partial effort. This is aided greatly by having the previous qualities in place.

Patience, persistence, repetition and endurance. A lot of times getting it right is a matter of trial and error. And you have to be able, mentally and physically, to do it over and over and over again. And then know when to stop.

Finally, memorization. The process is improvisational. The resulting choreography is not. If we refer back to the startup meeting in Lusaka analogy, once you’ve finished that meeting you’ve got to repeat it word for word - this time in front of an audience. It’s P transforming into J. The following clip is a bit of that process. You’ll see where the title of this blog comes from toward the end.

Now here’s what that sequence looks like at the end of that rehearsal. Not bad for a couple of hours of good communication.



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Reply to comment | Human Landscape Dance

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Great entry!

My favorite part is aesthetic Calvin ball!