Better Group Communication: Dancers Have It All

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

This saying of unknown origin is particularly meaningful and relevant for dancers. On the one hand dancers must focus on the development of individual movement vocabularies, but they must also learn to explore forms and structures within an ensemble. Dancers have the luxury of being able to view things from unique perspectives, yet interdependence is woven deeply into their work as artists. All artists who understand the collaborative aspects of ensemble know they can often accomplish much more together than the group’s individual talented members could ever achieve on their own.

More Than One Voice Opens Up Possibilities

Teamwork Makes The Dream WorkWhile having more than one voice opens up possibilities, it can also be challenging. Life, like dance performance, is all about truthfully connecting with people around you whether you’re gathering as dancers, meeting in a group, or convening as a family. Just as dancers must engage with one another in an ensemble work, it is the connection with those around you that helps you shape and find the whole, regardless of the type of group. Artists learn to listen, they solve problems, and they recognize and use others’ strengths.

When we’re working together in other kinds of groups, we don’t often connect the tension-release-movement principle to those experiences. We instead strive to make decisions that are about ourselves as individuals rather than decisions that make it possible for the group to move forward. Tension in group settings comes from the same kind of delicate balance required in dance ensemble performance. It is spatial awareness on another level, but still the synthesis of collaborative effort with individual needs.
  • Dancers understand tension, release, and movement.
  • The tension-release-movement principle is intrinsic to dancers’ physical experiences—it’s personal.
  • In dance ensemble performance, that tension-release-movement principle is amplified with issues related to spatial awareness.

The only way to know the truth of a movement is to do it on your own body.
~ Twyla Tharp

Working Together When You Don’t See Eye to Eye

Here are some ideas about how passionate people can use the tension-release-movement principle to work together even when they don’t see eye to eye.

  • Move an issue forward in daily life by being sure the right ensemble is at the table. Dancers have skills that match the challenge of individual and group performance.
  • Whether choreographed or improvised, dancers know the goal of a specific ensemble performance. Move past the tension points of conflict or disagreement by establishing and continuously aiming for the ultimate purpose of the group’s discussions. Check in frequently to determine how close you are to achieving your goal.
  • Use dance improvisation techniques to generate movement past tension points; you can even actually dance your conversation. This is a wonderful way to move issues forward because the group has to find and define the problem as they’re solving it.
  • Nothing stops the flow of creativity more than ignoring one or more members of the group. Successful performers know that virtuosity will emerge from the group, not from any one member.
  • Dance ensemble performance requires that each person have individual control, but must at the same time be flexible enough to always move with the developing momentum of the group.
  • Ensemble dancers submerge their individual egos with a deep awareness of the bigger picture—the larger collective group mind.

Make a note of the tension points and how they are released. The release might be gradual, sudden, or sustained. Determine the overall shape of the ensemble performance at the conclusion of a discussion or series of dialogues. You will soon understand Helen Keller’s remark—“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” You will then determine how you might do things differently in your next creative exchange.

Nothing is more revealing than movement.
~ Martha Graham

Whether you’re expanding communication skills within a group, unlocking their creative potential, or seeking innovative ways to reach a common goal, dance techniques can help you achieve your goals. People often view art and artistic expression as a solitary effort, but it is ensemble that nurtures the individual artist while providing extraordinary group results. Ensemble is teamwork—a collective skill that is essential in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. It is the work of groups who come together with understanding of how to create momentum with deep awareness of both the individual and the whole that will thrive in this new millennium.

Dancers develop individual movement vocabularies.
Dancers explore ensemble forms and structures.
Dancers “Have it All.”

Dr. Patricia Hoy headshotDr. Patricia Hoy graduated from the University of Redlands with Bachelor and Master’s degrees in woodwind performance and from the University of Arizona with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting. She taught high school for eight years before moving to higher education. She moved quickly through the system to tenured professor, accepting several administrative assignments along the way, and finally assuming a role as a full-time higher education administrator. She is now the Dean of Academics at The Boston Conservatory, where she oversees the Dance, Music and Theater Divisions. Her upcoming book Arts Awareness outlines the basic concepts of her worldview perspective of the arts. The reader learns Dr. Hoy’s seven creative concepts that help synthesize the richness of creating art with teaching, leading, succeeding, and living a more fulfilling life.

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