Monthly Archives: February 2010

Bullies on the dance floor

Some leaders are beautiful to dance with – their lead is clear, direct and yet comfortable and soft.  Other leaders are rigid with tension and move harshly in ways that can damage the follower.

I have seen leaders berate their follower (unbelievable but true) for failing to do what they ‘lead’, and I have watched beautiful leaders bemused as followers blithely ignored their lead and did their own thing.

In the workplace we think of bullying as a personality driven behaviour.    Bullying personalities exist, but  the majority of ‘bullies’ are situational bullies.  They are fine in one context, but demonstrate inappropriate behaviours in another.

This also is true on the dance floor.  Some men are fine and relaxed until the dance floor gets busy, when the

y get overwhelmed with information and choices.  In order not to bump their partner into anyone, they become rigid with tension and start ‘bossing’ their partner around.

  • to the follower this feels like bullying
  • to the leader this feels like ‘getting the job done’

– in this case ‘the job’ being to get round the dance floor without colliding with anyone else.When the leader is overwhelmed, ‘getting the job done’ tends to have a very narrow definition.  Normally in tango the ‘job’ might be something like:  making a good connection with my partner and dancing in harmony with the music, my partner and the other dancers on the floor.  Just focussing on “avoiding a collision” is a very limited part of that experience – though an important one.

On the dance floor we try to teach leaders to relax their muscles, to breathe (yes, they can forget even that when ‘getting the job done’ has narrowed their focus), and to keep it simple when the dance floor is chaotic.

In the workplace, we tend to place escalating demands on the leader under pressure, giving them less time to relax an

d breathe.   For the follower in the workplace, this means an escalation of tension and demands which, even if not directed at them, feel like bullying and indeed can have that effect whatever the intention of the leader.Occasionally on the tango dancefloor you will see a couple ’dance it out’, as they use the explosive energy of anger or passion to dance.  When this is done by two skilled dancers, it can be thrilling and exhilarating if both feel this is the way to go.  If one partner is just marching the other round the dance floor because they are in a bad mood, this is an entirely different thing.

It is extremely hard to have followers in the workplace who can ‘dance it out’ with you.    Bosses often imagine they have such followers at work – mistaking compliance under pressure for consent.  If they had ever danced with a passionate tanguera who knew how to ‘dance it out’, they would never confuse their workplace tantrums with something that is good and clears the air!

Our bosses need to realise that a frantic ‘always on’ kind of life, or kind of tango, creates something monstrous that is unable to respond appropriately to another person.   When things get frantic and chaotic, It is time to relax the shoulders, do a few exercises, breathe, and focus on keeping it simple and keeping our followers safe.  This is no moment for grandiose plans or complex choreography.

“As on the dance floor so in life”.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website :  You can follow Annabel on twitter –

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As on the dance floor, so in life …… #2

Ballroom dances are highly choreographed – they can look great, but when circumstances change the dancers may be unable to respond quickly. I once saw a ballroom couple run repeatedly into a wall because their choreographed routine had more steps in it than there was room in their dance hall (I am not making this up). Some businesses run like that – so locked down with instructions and manuals that people feel they must run into a wall rather than make an intelligent decision to go round a corner.

An improvised dance form might seem like a recipe for chaos. How does it work if everyone is doing their own thing and making it up as they go along? There are some businesses which are chaotic, with everyone apparently acting fairly randomly – but this doesn’t work for a growing or larger business. Only the tiniest business can run on the basis of no settled routines or procedures at all, and they’re most unlikely to grow.

Improvised dance forms, like Argentine tango, have rules about how to decide what to do and what is the right direction of travel (the “line of dance”). The dancers practice techniques and fundamentals, which allow them to improvise with confidence. When the unexpected happens, the dancers can make intelligent decisions about what to do – and make it look good and feel rewarding.

To the beginner in dance, both choreographed and improvised dances are the same – a mystery they are struggling to understand. To the practitioner they are very different. The choreographed dance can be polished and practiced, but it has a rigidity that sets limits. The improvised dance gives room for the flash of genius, but it tends to be riskier – although when the fundamentals are properly in place, there is an established baseline of competence that pre-empts serious problems.

When you are writing policies, handbooks and contracts you might want to consider how much choreography is needed and how much room for intelligent (and beautiful) improvisation needs to be left.

Talk to us about creating some fundamentals that will allow you to respond to changing circumstances

“As on the dance floor, so in life!”

Christopher Head is a Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website :

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As on the dance floor, so in life

Argentine tango is a dance of close embrace and improvisation.  The two dancers are ‘leader’ and ‘follower’.  The leader in a male/female couple is usually the man.  But we live in modern times, and tango can be danced by m/f, m/m or f/f couples.  It’s true that it takes two to tango, but you don’t have to specify which two!  And either partner may take the lead – it just needs to be agreed in advance!

On the dance floor, the leader should respond to the music, and his partner, and the circulation of the other dancers, and indicate (principally by change of weight and orientation of shoulders) the steps or figures that he is inviting the follower to take.  This is the “lead”.

So …… the ‘lead’ is an invitation, not an order!  The follower has the choice to ‘accept’ the lead and perform the figure indicated, or may perform some other step or figure than the leader expected.  Sometimes the follower does something unexpected that actually works very well, and the good leader leaves enough room for the follower to surprise the leader with greatness.

When things go adrift, poor leaders blame the follower for not doing the ‘right’ (i.e. what they thought they were signalling) steps.

The wise leader knows that it is never (well, only exceptionally rarely) the follower’s fault that the dance goes wrong.  If the lead was not clear, just exactly what is it that makes this the follower’s fault?  If the follower is inexperienced, it is the leader’s responsibility to dance simple figures that are within the competence of the follower.  Yes, push the boundaries a little – so that you take the follower just beyond the point of their comfort zone into a place of exhilaration and excitement – but so that in reality the follower has little choice but to exceed their own expectations in the dance whilst all the time feeling cherished and held by the leader.

When this works, the dance is truly wonderful.  And isn’t ‘leading’ in business much the same?

“As on the dance floor, so in life!”

Christopher Head is a Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website :

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