Research Paper By Anna-Karin B. Kruse
(Inspirational Leadership and Life Coach, ITALY)
How Dance Experience Can Be Applied To Coaching To Support Clients In Finding Their Inspiration And Move Towards Their Desired Outcomes
Dance can elevate our human experience beyond words, (Judith Jamison– quotation available from www.ted.com)
I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God.
Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. (Martha Graham– quotation available fromwww.goodreads.com)
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. (Pablo Picasso – quotation available from www.goodreads.com)
A mighty flame follows a tiny spark. (Dante Alighieri – quotation available from www.goodreads.com)
I have a background as a dancer and a teacher in dance, comprising also the experience of working with dance included in the school curricula in Sweden, and I have appreciated learning about dance used for therapy and healing and the positive effects of dance in these contexts. I then worked with leadership and change management learning and training programs for international organizations during the last twenty years, and I have realized how my dance experience can be applied also to this latter context. I have come to appreciate how my work as an Inspirational Leadership and Life coach can benefit from my dance experience too during my studies at the International Coach Academy Certified Coach Training Program.
This research paper is, therefore, going to explore how to dance experience can be applied also in coaching to support people in finding their inspiration and move towards their desired outcomes, stimulating learning, greater self-awareness, confidence and connection with self and others, encouraging exploration of changing perspectives and forward movement.
Use of arts-based methods, including dance, to stimulate progress in organizational change
In an article by Taylor and Ladkin (2009:55-56), it is emphasized that “with the rising use of arts-based methods in organizational development and change, scholars have started to inquire into how and why these methods work”. The authors lay out the following four examples “of the many ways that the arts are used in managerial development:
- At Virginia Commonwealth University, medical residents are taught theater skills to increase their clinical empathy (Dow, Leong, Anderson, & Wenzel, 2007)
- At the LEGO company in Denmark, managers build 3-dimensional representations of their organizational strategy using LEGO bricks (Roos, Victor, & Statler, 2004)
- S. Army leaders look to the film Twelve O’Clock High to illustrate key lessons about leadership (Bognar, 1998)
- MBA students at Babson College take art classes to enhance their creativity (Pinard&Allio, 2005)”.
Such methods “are driven by fundamentally different processes; that is to say, they are informed by different assumptions about art and how it contributes to human development. [Four processes that are particular to how arts-based methods contribute to the development of individual organization managers and leaders are identified]:
- Skills transfer. Arts-based methods can facilitate the development of artistic skills that can be usefully applied in organizational settings (e.g., medical residents being taught theater skills to increase their clinical empathy).
- Projective technique. The output of artistic endeavors allows participants to reveal inner thoughts and feelings that may not be accessible through more conventional developmental modes (e.g., managers building 3-dimensional representations of their organizational strategy using LEGO bricks).
- Illustration of the essence. Arts-based methods can enable participants to apprehend the ‘essence’ of a concept, situation, or tacit knowledge in a particular way, revealing depths and connections that more propositional and linear developmental orientations cannot (e.g., the film Twelve O’Clock High is used to illustrate key lessons about leadership).
- The very making of art can foster a deeper experience of personal presence and connection, which can serve as a healing process for managers and leaders who may so often experience their lives as fragmented and disconnected (e.g., MBA students taking art classes to enhance their creativity)”.
The authors aim with presenting these ideas is to “assist those designing interventions that incorporate arts-based methods to think more clearly about the particular contribution such processes can make, and thus to use them in a more informed and discerning manner”. It is suggested that the accessing of “our embodied, sensuous knowing through presentational methods and forms rather than through propositional methods and forms is the distinctive characteristic of arts-based methods. The great benefit of presentational forms is that they provide relatively direct access to our felt experience and draw upon our emotional connection to our self, others, and our experience”.
The analysis made by Denhardt and Denhardt (2006) is mentioned(2009:57), “looking at what leaders might learn from dance, such as the interplay of space, time and energy, and the rhythms of human interaction”. The authors also point to the broader suggestion by Richards (1995), that “managers should approach all work as an art, suggesting that we seek joy in our work, work to nurture our spirit, claim ownership of our work processes, and use our whole self. Thus the process of skills transfer operates both in the application of specific skills, such as the oratory skills of an actor being learned by an executive who needs to make many presentations, to more meta-capabilities, such as an approach to managing or leading as art (e.g., Grint, 2001; Vaill, 2989)” (2009:57-58).
How dance can help stimulate learning, awareness of self and emotions, connection with self and others
Judith Hanna (2016) indicates that dance can help “demystify how the brain coordinates the body to perform complex, precise movements that express emotion and convey meaning [and that] dancers [also] deal with the relationship between experience and observation”. She further points to the fact that “research shows that dance activity registers in regions of the brain responsible for cognition [and that] more than 400 studies related to interdisciplinary neuroscience reveal the hidden value of dance. For instance, we acquire knowledge and develop cognitively because dance bulks up the brain. Consequently, the brain that ‘dances’ is changed by it. Dance is a language of physical exercise that sparks new brain cells (neurogenesis) and their connections. These connections are responsible for acquiring knowledge and thinking. Dancing stimulates the release of the brain-derived protein neurotrophic factor that promotes the growth, maintenance, and plasticity of neurons necessary for learning and memory. Plus, dancing makes some neurons nimble so that they readily wire into the neural network. Neural plasticity is the brain’s remarkable ability to change throughout life. As a method of conveying ideas and emotions with or without recourse to sound, the language of dance draws upon similar places and thought processes in the brain as verbal language. Dance feeds the brain in various kinds of communication. Society privileges mental capacity—mind over matter and emotion. Talking, writing, and numbers are the media of knowledge. However, we now know that dance is a language, brain-driven art, and also, fuel for learning subjects other than dance. In short, dance is an avenue to thinking, translating, interpreting, communicating, feeling, and creating. As a multimedia communication that generates new brain cells and their connections, dance at any age enriches our cognitive, emotional, and physical development beyond the exercise itself and extends to most facets of life”. Dance is thus a pathway to enhance learning.
There is a dance for everyone, from professional ballet dancers to persons with disabilities, from the very young to the very mature. “Varied dance genres are languages and dialects. Becoming fluent in more than one gives dancers depth and adaptability in dance and cognitive benefits. Training in multiple dance styles offers a unique kind of brain-body workout. We can apply what psycholinguists have discovered about learning a second or third verbal language to learning more than one dance language. Students who learn more than one dance language not only are giving their brains and bodies a workout; they are also increasing their brain plasticity” (Hanna: 2015: pp. 81-82).
Mackrell (2019) emphasizes that “one of the most basic motives of dance is the expression and communication of emotion [and that dance is often used] as a way of releasing powerful feelings, such as sudden accesses of high spirits, joy, impatience, or anger. These motive forces can be seen not only in the spontaneous skipping, stamping, and jumping movements often performed in moments of intense emotion but also in the more formalized movements of ‘set’ dances, such as tribal war dances or festive folk dances. Here the dance helps to generate emotions as well as release them”. Dance may thus communicate ideas, values, and emotions. It is a medium for expressing one’s own emotion, a subjectively experienced state of feeling, as well as the emotion of a character one may portray (Hanna, 2015).
As Mackrell (2019) further writes, “people also dance for the pleasure of experiencing the body and the surrounding environment in new and special ways. Dance often involves movement being taken to an extreme, with, for example, the arms being flung or stretched out, the head lifted back, and the body arched or twisted. Also, it often involves a special effort or stylization, such as high kicks, leaps, or measured walks. Dance movements tend to be organized into a spatial or rhythmic pattern, tracing lines or circles on the ground, following a certain order of steps, or conforming to a pattern of regular accents or stresses. All these characteristics may produce a state of mind and body that is very different from that of everyday experience. The dance requires unaccustomed patterns of muscular exertion and relaxation as well as an unusually intense or sustained expenditure of energy. The dancer may become intensely aware of the force of gravity and of a state of equilibrium or disequilibrium that normal activities do not generate. At the same time, the dance creates a very different perception of time and space for the dancer: time is marked by the rhythmic ordering of movement and by the duration of the dance, and space is organized around the paths along which the dancer travels or around the shapes made by the body. This transcendence of every day may also be experienced by the spectators”.
Mackrell (ibid.) further explains that “drawn into the rhythms and patterns created by the dancer’s movements, [spectators] may begin to share in the emotions being expressed through them. [They] may also experience kinesthetically something like the physical sensations of the dancer. Kinesthesia, or the awareness of the body through sensations in the joints, muscles, and tendons, rather than through visual perception, not only defines the dancer’s experience of his own body in movement but also how dance exerts its power over the spectators, who not only see it but also feel an echo of the dancer’s movements and rhythms in their nerve endings”.
It can be concluded that dance does indeed stimulate learning, help to connect with one’s body and emotions, and, it can also allow for the dancer to connect with the spectator, and, emotional, physical, and spatial awareness can be experienced. Drawing from dance experience can benefit coaching by guiding clients towards connecting with themselves and others (referring to body, emotions, and space), using creative role play and visual exercises in coaching sessions, for them to learn how to move out of their comfort zone and situations of hold back.
How dance can help stimulate creativity, teamwork, resilience, perseverance, and self-control
As technology advances in the world of work, “it is becoming less important for workers to do and more important to organize and innovate. The ideal employee of the future still has strong math and reading skills, but—more importantly—is equipped with creativity, resilience, perseverance, and self-control” and it is suggested that “dancers may be prepared with just the skills our future economy needs” (Kelsey McFalls, Dance Magazine, 2017). McFalls argues that “dancers have the skills to be the ideal 21st-century worker. As practitioners of non-verbal communication, dancers have strong interpersonal, team-working skills and can interpret and organize abstract concepts through visual learning. Additionally, dancers develop a sense of entrepreneurship and self-advocacy. It is no small feat to simultaneously collaborate with a company of competitive peers while trying to cultivate one’s artistic voice. Even the most talented, face setbacks and insecurities; it’s only through self-control and determination that any dancer sees their first paid opportunity.” Marisa Hanson (Dance Magazine, 2016), attests that the tools she learned from her dance practice “were instrumental in finding success after the dance. [Here are the five skills she evidences that she] gained from her dance training that will serve any dancer long after their final bows:
A knack for problem-solving:
When she accidentally ran on eight counts too early in San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, she had to fix the problem and she had to do it fast. With a quick mind (and enough adrenaline), a dancer can handle anything from an onstage tumble to a class presentation gone wrong. The show must go on, after all.
What greater example of teamwork is there than a corps de ballet? Dancing in the corps required her to work with a group of diverse personalities. This makes her a valuable player in group projects in which, as the corps, nobody looks good unless everyone looks good.
A ‘thick skin’ and perseverance:
As difficult as it was for her to hear from a professor that she was unlikely to pass her class last semester, she took it as a chance to up her game, ultimately exceeding her expectations and earning an A in the course. Dancers know better than to take criticism or rejection personally. They recover gracefully, challenging themselves to improve instead.
Dance has taught her the value of keeping commitments. She often missed out on concerts and parties in favor of rehearsals; if she didn’t show up, she wouldn’t get cast. While attending class in college is considered ‘optional,’, the same rule applies: Skip a day? Forget about straight A’s.
A sense of self-discipline:
Dedication matters but showing up is only half the equation. Discipline is a side effect of our training, as technique classes are dictated to us through a series of commands. Self-discipline, however, is the drive to perform these actions to the best of one’s ability 100 percent of the time. Dancers are hard workers and self-motivators, taking their tasks seriously in any context. Whether it’s nailing 32 fouettés or landing a dream internship, dancers have what it takes to achieve their goals.”
One can indeed see the connection here to the statements by Martha Graham:
It is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit” […] “Practice means to perform, repeatedly in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. (Martha Graham -full quotation available from www.goodreads.com)
As dancers can transcend their experience into their life after professional dancing, anyone of us can apply the same skills by practicing living our unique lives in a similar vein and this is where tapping into dance experience can benefit coaching. A creative mindset and an open mind perspective are necessary to cope with the continuing changes we are facing in today’s world and flexibility, resilience, and confidence are key aspects of the way forward. Guiding clients towards approaching change, setbacks, and obstacles with creativity, confidence, and resilience can help them move towards and enhance their growth mindset. The perspective of a professional dancer can help them visualize a new unique way for them to reach their goals and desired outcomes.
Working on this research paper has allowed me to reflect more in-depth on how to dance experience can be applied to my coaching process to help my clients find and sustain their inspiration. The below ideas of sample ways that a coach can build on dance experience to benefit coaching is not meant to be exhaustive, and I foresee that I will identify many other ways to use dance as a tool in my coaching process over time.
Using dance as a tool in coaching may include exploring using the perspectives of:
- Scenic experience (such as the use of focus and mindfulness when on stage to reach that ‘magic state of connection’ with the public and the use of body and space in the communication).
- The perfection of skills(for example when some movements need to be executed without thinking of them when the dancer needs to concentrate on one thing at the time in movement, such as where to direct their movement or other particulars in different moments).
- Different dance forms (to identify with specific correspondent needs to be based on client aspirations - for example, classical ballet could represent one’s head/mind, Afro-Cuban dance could represent one's center/balance/strength and Flamenco one’s emotions/passions).
- Stages in life where different dance forms can help interpret/explore and connect with those and channel them.
- “The show must go on” problem-solving creative mind-set of a dancer.
Other perspectives to play with could be how passion can grow out of enhanced skills versus how passion can encourage one to enhance one’s skills.
The importance of repetition to perfect one’s dance skills and the connection this has to the dedication, rehearsal, and perseverance is also an important aspect from dance experience that may be used to benefit coaching exercises.
Both visual and physical dance practice developmental exercises could be used in team coaching contexts, for teams to explore for example with the lens of the perspective of the dance corps, where nobody looks good unless everyone looks good, and what this may imply for the diverse team personalities to work well together.
Using role-play, metaphors, visualization and practical exercises based on dance experience will allow me to really “dance at the moment” with my clients during the coaching process and to support them in moving closer to their self-awareness and emotions, as well as in finding and enhancing their confidence and ability to connect with themselves and others and put everything in context.
Blending such exercises in my coaching can serve as a playground to challenge my clients to learn something new about themselves in a safe space and enrich their coaching experience. This can help them find and/or sustain their inspiration, that special stimulus that helps one move beyond motivation and determination, to enable them to persevere moving forward, continue learning, grow, find their way and reach their goals, feeling invincible and unstoppable.
ICA Course Outcome: Inspiration vs. Holdback: A Coaching Power Tool by Anna-Karin B. Kruse, April 2020
ICA Course Outcome: MOVES: An Inspirational Coaching Model by Anna-Karin B. Kruse, April 2020
[Accessed 27 Feb. 2020] “A mighty flame follows a tiny spark.”
https://www.flaticon.com/free-icon/woman-silhouette-dancing-flamenco_40067[Accessed 11 April 2020] “Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com”
[Accessed 11 April 2020] “I believe that we learn by practice…”
“Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance”, The New York Times, March 31, 1985, [Accessed 11 April 2020] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/arts/033185graham.html
Hanna, Judith Lynne (2015) Dancing to learn: the brain’s cognition, emotion, and movement, Rowman & Littlefield, London. Kindle Edition
Hanna, Judith (Jan 22, 2016) What Educators and Parents Should Know About Neuroplasticity, Learning, and Dance, [Accessed 13 April 2020]
Marisa Hanson, “Five life skills I learned from the dance”, Dance Magazine, Jul 07, 2016
https://www.dancemagazine.com/five-life-skills-learned-dance-2307028929.html[Accessed 11 April 2020]
Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, “Dance can elevate our human experience beyond words”,
Revelations from a lifetime of dance[Accessed 11 April 2020]
Kelsey McFalls, “Why Dancers’ Skills Are More Valuable Than Ever”, Dance Magazine, Apr 13, 2017, [Accessed 11 April 2020]
[Accessed 27 Feb. 2020] “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Taylor, S.S. &Ladkin, D. 2009. Understanding arts-based methods in managerial development, Academy of Management Learning and Education. Vol. 8(1) pp. 55-69.