5 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Swing Dance

Jan 01, 2016 1 Min Read

Photo credit: James Lee at jameslsy.com


Swinging into the New Year!

I love dancing. I’ve always been involved in dance performances, choreography and competitions as I was growing up. If I had been born in America, I’d probably have ended up as a dancer for Michael Jackson.

Swing dance was something I was exposed to seven years ago, but didn’t follow up with until 2014 when I realised that the girl I used to dance with was doing it twice a week in Singapore. After seeing her on the dance floor, I was determined to be good at it so I could ask her for a dance.

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So what has swing dance got to do with leadership?

The lead and the follow

Any type of partner for dance will have assigned roles: the Lead and the Follow. The Leads, which are traditionally the guys, will decide what moves to perform and the Follows, who are traditionally women, will read the signals given by the Leads and execute the moves.

Life itself is very much like dancing. You often find yourself in the deep end learning how to lead or follow. First-time Leads will scramble with the little vocabulary of dance moves trying to lead, and first time Follows will find it hard to read what the Leads want them to do.

Swing dance2

Swing dance. Photo credit: James Lee at jameslsy.com

Whether you dance or don’t, here are five leadership lessons to take away from the dance floor and to apply to the rest of your life.

1. Be fluid

You should know by now that things in life don’t always go the way you want them to.

In swing dance, if you’re a Lead, this can take the form of doing a move you thought would work and it doesn’t. It could be your mistake or perhaps your dance partner is new to the move, hence it didn’t work.

A good Lead will always improvise. They will go with the flow, adjust, and turn that blunder into something beautiful.

In real life, maybe you have a business plan that didn’t work out the way you wanted it, or it could be just a party you’re trying to throw and it fell through. How can you be fluid enough to adapt and turn it to your advantage?

“Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

2. Respect and teach

Be nice and respect your partners. The relationship you have while dancing to that three-minute song shows a lot about you. No one likes a dancing partner who makes you feel awkward. People naturally gravitate towards you when you make them feel comfortable.

A great dancer can still be deemed a jerk if you’re being aggressive or even trying too hard on a move that results in hurting your partner. Others might make their partners feel uncomfortable because they throw moves way above their level, which creates a huge gap. Instead, break down the moves a little.

Likewise, as leaders in your sphere, always respect your people. Give them challenges gradually and patiently guide them through tough times to develop them.

Your people will then see that you have their best interests at heart, and will try to follow up bit by bit.

Eventually, a huge task given to them won’t seem so daunting after all.

3. Clear communication

A message is only effective when it is delivered with clarity that the audience understands it. In swing dance, communication is important. There are times that I myself as a Lead tried a move that isn’t communicated clearly and the Follow moved in an unexpected way.

Our bodies give out the best communication. People may not consciously pay attention to your body but they still “hear” what it says. Good Leads make sure their body is saying what they want to say.

In life, when you communicate with confidence, your people can follow your leading more clearly. And if you don’t, they may pick up that insecurity and stumble on their feet along the way.

4. Take the opportunity

Opportunities don’t come by all the time. If you take too long of a time to decide on something, you’d most probably miss the boat.

On the dance floor, you may see someone across the room that you want to dance with. Maybe you’re the confident type and you go for it right away. On the other spectrum, you may be someone who takes the whole night just thinking about it.

There isn’t always going to be the next song. Seize the moment, and don’t wait too long. If you do miss the opportunity, most likely it was not yours to begin with.

Take your time and look for these golden opportunities that may help you progress in your career goals and life’s purposes.

“Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”
– H. Jackson Brown, Jr

5. The best leads also follow

It’s not the easiest thing to play different roles in a dance. Most Leads stick as Leads on the dance floor and vice versa, but the best Leads and Follows know that the roles are not set in stone.

Venturing out of your intended role gives a whole new perspective on the dance. You’ll start to see the challenges of your partners when you try to issue a move. You are now able to empathise with them and make better communications to allow the both of you to execute a move gracefully.

Learning a different role other than the default fills the missing gaps, with valuable information to allow you to see the full picture. It is definitely uncomfortable to step outside of what you know.

Heck, change is one of the hardest things to do in life. But don’t let fear hold you back in becoming greater than who you are.

Recognise the influence you have with others in every aspect of your life. You are a leader, so be a leader.

What is Swing Dance?

Swing dance (sometimes called Jitterbug) consists of a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s–1940s.

During the swing era, there were numerous styles of swing dancing but those that remain include: Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag and Lindy Charleston. Today, Lindy Hop is the most well-known, and it originated from Harlem of New York in the early 1930s.

Dance moves have evolved with music. Swing dancing styles are the foundation of many other dance styles including disco, country line dancing, and hip hop.

‘Dancing is like dreaming with your feet!’ – Constanze

Drop James a line or two if you need a dance partner at james.lee@leaderonomics.com. For more Thought of the Week articles, click here. 

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James was born to dance and is adventurous by nature. He is a true blue Leaderonomer who is also a treehugger by accident, an artist by blood and a photographer by profession.

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