Yesterday, I met with a university student for whom I’m acting as thesis advisor. (Side note: among other things I do when I’m not dancing or teaching dance is to work with university students at all levels, guiding them through major research projects, theses, and dissertations either as their advisor/supervisor, or as an adjunct to their faculty supervisor.) The student, tasked to complete a thesis proposal as part of her capstone course, clearly had no idea of what a thesis proposal should actually look like. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that there was a gap in the formal part of the program—the student was asked to complete a task without being given prior guidance on how to do it.
Luckily, she had a good leader! 😉
In dance, we often run into situations where one partner asks something of the other that is beyond what the other partner has formally learned. In salsa, it is less common for the follower to take the lead, so to speak, compared to other forms, but it does happen. In most cases, however, it is the leader attempting to lead the follower in a move that is not yet part of the follower’s repertoire. In an instant, the leader can tell that the follower didn’t pick up on what (he thought) should be an obvious move. What to do?
The leader could stop the dance and attempt to teach the errant follower what the “right” response move should be to his lead. Any self-respecting follower, at this point, should walk off the dance floor. Whether her response was “right” in some objective sense, it was correct for the knowledge, skill level, and clarity of the lead she was shown. This harkens to Cardinal Rule of Dance #1: No teaching on the social dance floor (especially if uninvited).
More appropriately, the leader recovers and responds to whatever the follower was able to do without showing any disapproval of what she danced. Should he want to attempt the same move again, he should do so with a little firmer guidance, a little more slowly, and with a lot of (tacit) encouragement via smile and body language. Whatever the more experienced partner does, their intention ought to be to enable the other person to enjoy the dance as if they were dancing at a more advanced level, despite their prior formal training or lack thereof.
For my university student, I was able to lead her to understand the structure of a thesis proposal. She is then able to take what she already knows and apply it to the more advanced level, creating a successful outcome (we hope!). For the less experienced dancer, a good partner can figure out what they already know, and help that person apply their skill to a more enjoyable, perhaps more advanced, experience.
One last thought: My primary work is as a leadership and career transition coach. I help people and organizations to be their best, typically in a workplace context. In particular, I coach leaders to understand and embody contemporary leadership: enabling an environment in which people come together to collectively create a future experience that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. It occurs to me that dance leaders do the same with their partners: they come together to collectively create an experience (of the music, in this case) that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
See you on the dance floor.