learning an important, creative business skill through dance


When I was back in college, my favorite dance professor was teaching a course in how to create original choreography (think of it as content creation with a human body) and on the first day, she told us something that I still have scribbled in the corner of a cherished notebook. She said, “Good choreography is observing the problem in front of you, figuring out as many ways as possible that it can be solved, then choosing the most original or authentic resolution.” As if the statement didn’t make enough of an impact, the entire time this tiny 60-something year old woman spoke, she simultaneously contorted herself into bizarre positions on the floor as examples of the unlimited number of possibilities that exist to solve a problem.

how one woman learned an important, creative business skill through dance with Ruby Smith on Belong Magazine Blog

This simple gem of wisdom inspired me in creating choreography for future performances and projects, but I really began to see how far it could reach once I started blogging and designing a website. It hit me that this advice is directly applicable to business as well.

How exactly, one may ask, can a dance improvisation technique be used to improve our creative problem-solving skills in the workplace and in our lives?

1.      Observation.

The first step in applying my professor’s advice is to practice the art of objectively observing a problem, which is often easier said than done. I know I tend to be quick to immerse myself in an issue, sucked into the panic and anxiety of it all. We get stuck inside of a tiny knot of tangled limbs (as a dancer it happens literally) and finding release can be difficult. The best thing to do is breathe, step backwards and just look. Observe. Take a couple leisurely laps around the problem. What are you dealing with?

2. Record all Possible Solutions.

Once we have formed a complete picture, we can start mapping out as many possible ways of solving this problem as our brains can handle. Write them down, sketch them out, whatever we need to do to visualize the fact that this problem is actually solvable in multiple, creative ways. Some of these ideas might be just plain idiotic. That’s okay, write them down too and shake them out of your system. Take note of absolutely everything that comes to mind. Even “bad” ideas are part of the process, as much as our own personal inner critics would like to squelch them. In collaborative business endeavors, every team member is usually given a chance to voice their opinion and in that same way, every voice in your head needs to get out and be heard in order to move on to the next part of the process.

3. Choose any and all possibilities that feel authentic.

Once it is all recorded, look at all of the ideas of how this problem can be resolved and circle (mentally or physically) any or all possibilities that feel particularly original and just true to yourself. In the case of choreography, this may mean that if somehow my arms are twisted awkwardly behind my back (odd things happen in contemporary improvisation), then instead of just releasing them and moving on the the next movement, transition through that twist and find an interesting way out- maybe one arm, then the other. Maybe the arms move quickly, maybe painfully slow, maybe even the legs get involved. You get the picture.

I realized that even without analysis, I was already using this technique when solving business-related issues as a choreographer and director. In one of my very first projects, I ran into more unexpected problems than I could count at the time, including dancers getting sick and dropping out, strict space limitations in where we were performing, and having to stretch the budget more than I had originally imagined. However, instead of freaking out and curling into a tiny ball on the floor, I remembered my professor’s words.

With each challenge, I took some deep breaths, observed where the problem was coming from, figured out all of the possible resolutions, and chose the way through that was both creative and comfortable for me.

These days, I apply this to blogging when I come down with a case of writers block or get bombarded with too many articles telling me what I should be doing as a blogger/freelancer. I have found that generally following these steps is what brings me back around to that creative spark that can get buried in the noise of everything else going on in life.

These steps help to eliminate any “easy-way-outs,” because let’s be honest, at the end of a long day or when we have reached mental or physical exhaustion, sometimes that is all we want. However, we have to remind ourselves that we are better than that. We are creative business owners/artists/dancers/thinkers/makers. Therefore, we have to acknowledge that the first solution we come up with to solve a problem may not always be the best.

It is true that our abilities have natural limits, but that shouldn’t stop us from reaching around and stretching very boundary.

My work is limited to the possibilities of my own body or those of my dancers- how far I can push without injury. Other limits may be budget, time-frame, resources, etc. Whatever your boundary may be, creativity is endlessly generous, bountiful and can thrive even in limited environments.

The way we respond to challenges within our limits is a test of that bountiful creativity, so let’s put it to good use. If we always choose the most authentic resolution, the way we dance around problems will be unique, interesting and all the more beautiful.

Ruby Josephine is an international choreographer, writer, blogger and baker who was born and raised in the midwest and has landed in Tangier, Morocco where she has been living and dancing for the past 3 years. She believes in stretching comfort zones and the power of generous creativity.  

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