Friday, May 15, 2009

Ballroom Dancing - It's Not Just Social, It's Business


It was the start of my Sophomore year of college. I’d just returned from Europe and was open to trying new things and conquering my fears. I’d always aspired to the ideal of the classical Renaissance man and felt the need to learn how to dance, but was always afraid of looking like a fool. In a
bolder moment I signed up for a Ballroom/Latin/Swing hybrid class. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had just made one of the most important business and social decisions of my college career.

It is only common sense that no matter who you are ballroom dance classes are good for you. It’s great physical exercise, it’s social, and it’s definitely not going to hurt your dating life. In the last year or two the public’s opinion and passion for ballroom has exploded with movies like Take the Lead and shows like Dancing with the Stars drawing large crowds. This increase in popularity is great, but not ultimately important to what I want to share with you. I want to talk to you about how dance is going to make you a more capable and better connected business professional.

It’s no secret that for the average American public speaking is terrifying. It also shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that being a successful, well connected, and competent business person requires the ability to socialize and be competent in social settings. To this day universities teach public speaking classes, clubs like the Toastmasters have become popular and hundreds of business self-help books have become best sellers. While these all have merit none of them are fun or, for that matter, all that efficient. Classes don’t provide for any significant amount of practice, speech clubs are great but can be intimidating and hard work and books take time and may tell you what to do but still don’t provide a place to do it in. Thus, the power and benefit of Ballroom Dancing.

At its very core, Ballroom Dancing is all about relationships and presentation. While it might be possible, it’s pretty difficult to Waltz or Salsa without a partner. Add to that, Ballroom Dancing has been used as the primary social mixer at formal social events for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Ballroom Dancing is a must for the aspiring business professional for the following reasons:

Physical Presence – Your posture and presence says a lot about you. Ballroom will not only improve your posture, it will increase your balance and physical presence while making you more aware of how your body
looks and moves. A strong handshake is good but ultimately worthless if you lack the presence to back it up.

The first 30 Seconds – In most situations people decide a lot about you in the first 30 seconds. This is unfortunate because the first 30 seconds is also typically when we are at our worst. Social dance classes and dance clubs provide the opportunity for individuals to interact with a large number of friendly faces in a relatively short time. This increases your comfort and first contact competency in general – not just when meeting or talking to potential dance partners.

The Confidence to Approach – It’s incredibly difficult to approach someone you are not familiar with and then to try and strike up a conversation regardless of the audience or location. Ballroom revolves around just this type of behavior. Every time you approach an individual for a dance you are building your competency and confidence. The added bonus is that in a dance environment most people actively want to be approached. There is nothing like positive reinforcement to build competence.

Be the flame, not the moth – Most formal events typically have several standard components. A nice meal, a live band or a DJ and a space set aside to serve as a dance floor. It doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite night club or a black tie event, the same rules apply. The dance floor will stay empty until one or two couples break the ice. By the time three couples take the floor a wave of people will follow. But, guess who gets noticed? The first two couples. Also, consider – what message did you send by not only taking the dance floor when everyone else was afraid to, but by actually knowing what you were doing. You now have the world’s best ice breaker for the rest of the evening. Not only that, but if you’re a young intern or new hire at a company you have now set yourself apart from the other new bloods and distinguished yourself in the veteran’s eyes. In that one action not only do you distinguish yourself, but exhibit confidence and culture - something that in any other situation would take a lot of work and be difficult to do.

Dance is ALWAYS a relevant topic – While you might find the occasional exception, it’s been my experience that almost all adults fall into one of three categories. They know how to dance, they love watching dance, or they have always wanted to learn how to dance. For that reason dance can serve as an incredible fallback/icebreaker in almost any situation. It’s a magical topic that can be used to build familiarity and add uniqueness to any initial interaction.

Social Network – Life is about meeting people. Any successful socialite or business person is constantly looking for ways to meet the right type of people. Unlike bars, clubs, and other similar social settings, dance is
all about meeting and interacting in a friendly and conversational setting. When you’re at a dance club it’s about dancing and having fun first and foremost. As a result it’s actually much easier to meet business contacts or make valuable social connections because people typically don’t have their guard up. The dance scene also tends to attract people from more affluent backgrounds. Consider: what type of social class/group places a heavy emphasis on the ability to dance? What social classes have the money to spend on pricey dance lessons? Just remember above all else – when it comes to dancing, being the best isn’t about skill. It’s about enjoying
and enriching yourself, meeting people, and learning. So, perhaps in the future you will consider joining me for a drink and a cigar after a night at the club.

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