How Ballet Can Make You a Better Leader
Leading a company to business success is not an easy task. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise to encounter countless articles and studies examining the abilities and qualities successful leaders hold. The focus is often not only on accomplished business leaders, but also on auspicious individuals in other sectors.
Surprisingly, a hobby that could hold the key to turning you into a better leader is ballet. It is time to explore 1) the origins of ballet and examine 2) the leadership qualities as well as 3) the abilities this 4) dance can teach a leader.
THE ORIGINS OF BALLET
Before we examine the qualities and abilities ballet can provide to leaders, let’s take a moment to understand the history of ballet. Indeed, once you look into the origins of this dance, you can see it has been attractive to many famous leaders of the past.
The dance took its first steps during the Renaissance in Italy around 1500. The word ‘ballet’ has its origins in the Italian word ‘ballare’, which means ‘to dance’. The first dancers wore masks and restrictive and sumptuous clothing. The difficulties dancers had carrying these heavy and decorative clothes led to the dance developing as a form of small hops, slides and gentle turns.
From Italy, ballet was brought to France when Catherine de Medici married the King of France, Henry II. The dance developed greatly in the French ballrooms and it was especially favored under the reign of Louis XIV. According to historians, the king himself liked to dance around. This is indeed an early indication that leaders have found this form of dancing intriguing and helpful.
It was under King Louis XIV, that the dance became a professional form of art. His thirst for talent meant ballet wasn’t simply a leisure activity, but a routine that required professional training.
In 1661, the first dance academy dedicated to ballet opened in Paris and soon everyone, not just the noblemen, were able to experience a ballet show.
The dance quickly spread, with two clear centers forming in Russia and France. These two countries have undoubtedly played a major role in developing the dance to its current form and glory.
In the 19th Century, the Romantic Movement became reflected in ballet and the dancers began dancing on the tips of their toes. It was also when wearing the tutu – calf-length, full skirt made of tulle – became the norm for ballerinas.
In Russia, the popularity of ballet skyrocketed during the 19th century. Russian choreographers added a more classical technique to the dance and made the precision and elegance of the movement the key parts of a ballet display. Part of the quest for showing off the detailed footwork and movement meant the tutu was cut shorter, to its current form.
The origins of ballet include a number of strong visionaries, such as Serge Diaghilev and Pierre Beauchamps. Under King Louis XIV, it was a way to highlight power and influence. In Russia, the dance was practiced as a guide to accomplished behavior and the dancers trained to perfection. It’s therefore no wonder the dance can enhance leadership qualities.
Before you read about these leadership qualities and abilities that come with training ballet, you can watch this interesting introductory of the development of ballet over time. This YouTube video specifically looks at the pointe work:
THE LEADERSHIP QUALITIES YOU CAN LEARN FROM BALLET
So, what are the leadership qualities you could take home from this wonderful dance?
Ballet is an intense dancing style. If you’ve seen a ballet performance, you know that the dancers must be able to perform complex routines, often without moving away from their spot. This requires focus, as you can’t take your eye of the ball at any point.
The same applies to leadership. You need to be present on the ‘here and now’ when making decisions. A good leader must have the ability to focus on the present, while remembering to look forward to the next part.
Furthermore, ballet dancers need to focus on a number of details. The greatest dancers have to establish the right exercise routines, follow the right diet and live according to a correct lifestyle (no late-night parties for the professionals!). Creating the perfect performance requires focus on these little details.
Similarly, a leader can’t focus on any single aspect of leadership. The focus must be on a selection of details, which help the team to strive forward.
Becoming a world-class ballet dancer doesn’t happen overnight. Professionals often start young and craft their skills for years before reaching their full potential.
The style of ballet is also subtle and gentle. The understanding of the movements takes patience and practice. Patience is a key to improve in both, ballet and leadership skills.
Leadership skills are not achieved overnight either and ensuring success as a leader will require plenty of patience.
Since ballet requires hard work and attention to small details, you’ll need passion to stay on course to mastering it. Ballet is by no means an easy form of art, even though it can be relatively accessible. Ballet lovers and dancers tend to be increasingly passionate about their art and live and breathe it at all times.
When you watch a breath-taking ballet performance, you can see the passion and emotion. You don’t simply stare at the performance; you feel it and live it together with the performer.
The same passion is required as a leader. Since you are leading the team , you need to be able to excite others and maintain the same intensity even when things don’t work out as you planned.
Leadership and ballet aren’t just about technical perfection. You can be an intelligent and skilful person, yet lack the passion to lead others. In fact, you might be perfectly capable of achieving financial targets, but business isn’t just about money. If you are passionate about the product and the service, you can reach these goals while genuinely improving the world around you.
Ballet performances require the team to work together. But occasionally, a dancer might miss his or her steps. But this doesn’t and it shouldn’t stop the performance. Other dancers need to persevere and keep going.
Furthermore, ballet shows rely on dancers performance – even when their mind might be somewhere else. The dancer must be able to set aside his or her emotions and provide the team with a stunning show. This is also what great leaders do – they persevere, even when the situation looks dark.
As a leader, you’ll know your team is relying on your performance. You are the dancer that needs to show example and show up, even when you’d rather put your feet up and rest.
The levels of physical endurance needed for ballet can take many by surprise. Ballerina Misty Copeland told in an interview that during the performance season rehearsals start at noon and last until almost six in the evening, after which you must prepare for the show. The exercise routine is rigorous and when you are preparing for a ballet show, you repeat the same movements over and over again.
The same discipline to organize is crucial for leadership. You set the example and if you are lazy, your team will quickly follow suit. You are in charge of organizing the routine, ensuring everyone in the team follows it and setting the example of hard work.
As a dance style, ballet is goal oriented, whether or not you are aiming at the top level. Even beginners will set out goals, whether they are about learning a specific move or simply improving their physique. For professional dancers, the goals might be about joining a famous ballet group or learning the routine for the next show.
Leaders must be goal-oriented as well. In fact, you’ll often need to work towards multiple different goals. These could be about launching a new product, increasing the revenue stream or reducing the operational costs. You should always aim for something, whether it is a big or a small target. It can help clarify the right path, and help you and the team to stay focused.
Ballet is an elegant and romantic dance, yet the professional world of ballet can be brutal. The competition for the best positions within the industry is tough. Without a competitive spirit, you are unlikely to dance at the Bolshoi Ballet group.
Ballet also has to compete with other forms of entertainment. Ever since its invention in the courts of Italy, France and Russia, the dance style has tried to improve and reinvent itself in order to reach a new audience. Ballerina Tamara Rojo told the Guardian,
“We’re constantly trying to expand our audiences and reach people that have never thought they would love ballet”.
Ballet needs to fight for its audience, as well as to attract new dancers to join its ranks.
A leader has to have competitive qualities as well. You need the hunger to reach the top and the appetite to maintain your position. Becoming a team leader in a company doesn’t guarantee you a place in the sun forever. In fact, as soon as you gain that position, there will be a long line behind you waiting for you to slip.
THE LEADERSHIP ABILITIES YOU LEARN FROM BALLET
As well as helping with the above leadership qualities, you can also gain essential leadership abilities from ballet.
The ability to multi-task
If you’ve ever watched a ballet performance, you know that different things are happening at the same time. The dancers often need to be on top of what the other dancers are doing, while performing their own routine. But the dancer must also perform different choreographies with his or her hands and feet.
This type of ability to multitask is essential for leaders. You’ll need to juggle different tasks at the same time. The focus must not be on just the big picture, but also the finer details. Furthermore, you aren’t simply just performing various tasks and scraping by, you are in fact, finishing it all with graze.
The ability to deal with different people
One of the great aspects of ballet is its ability to bring together people from all walks of life. It’s a sport that attracts young dancers, but there are also groups for older enthusiast. Not to mention how ballet, as a form of art, has fans from different sections of society.
For the dancers, aiming at the top of the profession, reaching the goal often requires them to travel to different parts of the world to train. Moving to a different culture and training with new people isn’t easy – good people skills are needed.
In today’s interconnected world businesses are also gathering talent from different parts of the world. A leader has to be able to make everyone feel welcomed and find ways to use these differences as an advantage.
The ability to let others shine
Ballet performance isn’t built around an individual performance. For the show to work and to impress the audience, everyone has to play their part. In ballet, you might be dancing at the centre of the stage in one minute and fall into the background the second.
Whilst the performance has a lead dancer or two, every member of the group plays an important role in ensuring the performance is going to be a success. A dancer will need to know how to deal with their spot in the sunlight, but also how to support others with their time.
The same ability to allow others to shine is crucial for a leader. You might be leading the pack, but you aren’t the only member of the team. In fact, the best leaders are often not the ones basking in glory, but who help bring out the best in other people.
The ability to be present
It’s hard to imagine anything more majestic than a ballet dancer striking a pose. Like we’ve mentioned above, the dancer can wholly captivate the audience and make them feel the passion the dancer has for his or her craft.
The posture during the performance is all about the presence – the full stretch of the body, the expressiveness of the face ensures the dancer captivates the whole room with his or her presence.
In a Huffington Post interview, Japanese ballerina Misa Kuranaga explained the importance of presence by talking about a performance that captivated her. She was watching a performance and felt radiating energy from a dancer, who wasn’t in a leading role.
“The way she was performing on stage was so beautiful; she was giving everything she had for that moment, for those five minutes of demonstration,” Kuranaga said.
A competent leader can stand out from the crowd in the same way. A leader must be able to capture the room’s attention, with authority, charm and passion. Leading isn’t just about saying and doing the right things; our communication is as much about the verbal cues as it is about the non-verbal cues.
If you are looking to learn more about physical presence and its importance to leadership, ballet is a fantastic teacher.
The ability to stay on your feet
You can understand the physical requirements of ballet, by simply getting on your toes for a few moments. If that seemed difficult, imagine maintaining the posture for hours, while also gliding around the room in an elegant manner.
As well as requiring emotional perseverance, ballet dancers must be in shape. You need a strong body to withstand the physical stress, as well as the emotional drain long hours and disciplined routines can have.
The same applies to leaders. The saying “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is a great rule to live by, especially as a leader. Leaders are required to work long hours, withstand the emotional stress and even jet across the country or the world. If you aren’t physically fit, all of this becomes harder.
The ability to get things done
The French King Louis XIV turned ballet into a professional art and the Russians transformed it into a military-like exercise. The dedication of the Russian choreographers and dancers added the effectiveness to this beautiful dance.
In ballet, you need to follow your training to become excellent, you learn the routine to a performance, you go on stage, you dance your part, and you walk off the stage until you start the routine again.
Leadership follows this same routine – the routine of getting things done. Leaders don’t have the luxury of analyzing every move for hours or discussing topics until dawn. Leaders must have the ability to know when to practice, when to perform and when to walk off the stage.
DANCING TO BECOME A BETTER LEADER
The above qualities and abilities are essential to ballet and to business leadership. Ballet is such an eloquent display of what perseverance, discipline and hard work can accomplish. It highlights the essential aspects of leading, but also working as a part of a group. The ability of the dancers to focus and endure is something valuable every leader, who wishes to accomplish success, should study and learn from. So next time you go experience a ballet performance, remember to look at the show through a new lens.
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