Betsie Gambel’s Huffington Post Blog – Dancing Lessons

This spring I attended a public relations conference presented by The Counselors Academy, a division of the Public Relations Society of America designed for PR company owners. The attendees were heavily “take charge” types of people, as you would expect from business owners. One of the most enjoyable sessions was given by Patrice Tanaka, founder and Chief Joy Officer of Joyful Planet, LLC, and author of the Joyful Planet.  Her theme was to choose joy, be mindful of it and share joy with others.

This idea of joy led to a dialogue about being a leader and a follower. How does one achieve joy, especially if you are in a situation you do not control or to which you are not are not accustomed?

HuffPost - Dancing Lessons Ginger RogersThe answer can be found in Tanaka’s personal quest for joy. An accomplished PR professional with countless awards and accolades, Tanaka is the posterchild of a leader. Earlier in her life, she was intrigued by the idea of ballroom dancing, and aspired to become a proficient dancer. Her one problem, she explained, was that she did not know how to follow the steps of her partner.

Wow! Could I relate!  I cannot tell you how many times my dancing partner has scolded me, “Betsie, quit leading,” or “Betsie, just let go; follow my lead and enjoy!”

While dancing is meant to bring joy, it can also bring anxiety, as well as a feeling of ineptness. Indeed, for a female leader or business owner for whom control is the norm, dancing with a partner can sometimes be a challenge. Tanaka offers these “dancing lessons”:

Be fully present in mind, body and spirit. Just as in yoga class, while meditating or when developing a strategic plan for a client, be focused on the task at hand. Be all in.

Ballroom dancing is all about one’s partner. Dance across the floor as one entity. Just as various musical instruments create the unified voice of a symphony, the dancing duo, likewise, becomes a unit.

Ballroom dancing teaches one how to be a strong follower. Sometimes in life being a follower is more appropriate than being a leader. In a meeting, for example, when one is an invited guest, it is important to remember not to take charge. The same holds true in roundtable discussions when you are a participant; follow the lead of the facilitator and do not monopolize the conversation. In the musical Hamilton, Aaron Burr advises Alexander Hamilton to “Listen more, talk less.”

The female in ballroom dancing is always the follower. Get over it, girls. That’s just the way it is. The woman must be receptive to be lead and follow unquestionably. A leader and a follower pair is what makes the dance beautiful. Just remember Ginger Rodgers who did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels.

Be prepared to assume your role 100%. This commitment is necessary for a balanced partnership, with each performing his/her role of leader and follower. Remember, “It takes two to tango.”

With these lessons in mind, successful women are the hardest to teach ballroom dancing because they are more accustomed to leading than following. It’s a time to step back for a moment and recognize that the world needs leaders and followers, and each is to be respected for those roles. The lyrics in “Life’s a Dance” reiterate that “Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow.”