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Originally published in the New Brunswick Business Journal, the following article was written by Sara Ritchie, one of our Toronto dance students. 

One of my favourite movies is Singin’ in the Rain, and from a young age, I have always loved to dance. A few months ago, when a friend suggested enrolling in a beginner Swing Dance class, I was over the moon with happiness. The best thing about the school we go to is that you can enrol as a couple or as a single as long as they get an equal number of people. The school also forces you to constantly rotate partners, so although you might start off with the person you came with – who knows where you’ll end up. In respect to learning how to do the moves, this strategy is a really great idea. When you get a strong leader, you can almost seem to know what you’re doing – and when you have a weak leader, you realize just how much you have to improve (as well as force yourself from not taking over the leader role).

After our dance class the other night, my friend and I got to discussing the role the leader plays at in dance and how that translates to work. Similar to the leader in dancing, who helps guide the follower through the moves, a people manager needs to provide a strong sense of leadership for their employees so they have a clear sense of direction in respect to expectations. And, similar to how a leader in dance helps dictate the transitions and what the next move will be in respect to the overall dance, a people manager helps lead the team’s overall contribution to the organization.

In couples dancing, if the leader isn’t assertive, the follower may feel the need to try to provide direction – however, this can lead to miscommunication and a total dance floor breakdown. By being assertive, the leader ensures their partner knows what is expected of them so they can help fulfill their role in the dance steps. They can also work with their leaders lead and not “step on their toes” – at work the same thing is applicable. A manager who provides clear direction helps their whole team succeed. When staff don’t feel like they have clear direction, they may be inclined to try to subvertly overthrow the manager. By providing the necessary information to your staff you can ensure that they have the tools they need to succeed, helping both them and you look poised and professional.

On the dance floor, there also has to be a sense of trust. The stronger the leader is, the stronger the trust is because the follower knows even if there’s a misstep, the leader will bring their partner back to where they need to be. The same can apply to work. If your team trusts you and knows that you will back them up and stand behind them, your relationship gets stronger because they know you are working for the success of the team.

When you’re on the dance floor and you have a strong leader, with strong communication – you get into a groove. Nothing else matters except the dance you are engaged in together – it can be a really fun and beautiful thing. By being assertive, providing strong communication and building a trusting relationship with your team – you can help everyone get into the groove. And that, Daddio, is the bees knees!

Sara Ritchie has worked for the past 13 years in sales and communications in Saint John, Montreal and Toronto. She can be reached at sarathewriter@gmail.com. Her column appears every Saturday.