The Dance of Conversation: What Dance Classes Taught Me About Conversation

I’m glad I don’t talk like I dance.  If I did I’d probably be considered autistic—I misstep, turn the wrong way, and sometimes hijack the lead. Well, maybe I’m being too hard on myself.  I’ve only had a few dance lessons.

However, in those few lessons, the parallels between dance and everyday conversation, have been striking.  We can learn a lot about what makes for good conversation by what makes for good partner dancing.  Here a dozen brief lessons I have learned:

1. Be in the moment, aware and focused, or you might get your toes stepped on!

Conversation application:  All too often we are thinking of what we are going to say or do next and don’t give the other person our full attention.  Did you look into the person’s eyes long enough to note his or her eye color?  Did you notice the fleeting facial expressions?  Do you remember the person’s name?

2. Listen to the music and choose the appropriate steps.

Conversation application:  Have you considered the context of the conversation and the other person’s mood or your own?  Choosing the words to fit the mood can be critical.  For example, calming words are better than inflammatory words if the person is angry.

3. Attitude is important:  be warm, friendly and respectful.

Conversation application:  A warm, friendly and respectful attitude is shown mostly through appropriate eye contact, an engaging smile and taking your partners feelings into consideration.  Build up; don’t tear down.

4. Timing is important.

Conversation application:   There is a time to talk and a time to listen and, unlike the basic partner dances, a rhythm of taking turns:  following (listening) and leading (talking).

5. Lead and follow from your center (heart).

Conversation application:  If you are not true to your authentic self and if you don’t listen and speak from the heart, your conversational dance will feel artificial.

6. Seek clarity.

Conversation application:  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  If you are leading (talking), give your words context and direction to aid understanding.  If you are following (listening), rephrase and reflect to confirm understanding.

7. Lead by making suggestions—don’t be too pushy!

Conversation application:  While clarity is important, it shouldn’t be accompanied by a pushy insistence that your view is the only acceptable view.

8. Following is just interpreting signals.

Conversation application:  listening involves interpreting verbal (words), vocal (tone of voice) and visual (body language) signals.

9. Improvise! There are no “wrong steps” only miscommunications.

Conversation application:  If your conversation partner says something that you feel is “wrong” try not to negate their interpretation, but accept and move the conversation forward (“Yes, and . . .”)

10. Mirror your partner.

Conversation application:  You will be more in-sync with your partner if you mirror their mood, voice, body language and facial expressions.

11. It’s a collaboration, not a competition.

Conversation application:  A conversation is a team effort, not a one-upmanship.  Strive to make your partner look and feel good and work together toward a common goal.

12. Keep dancing–At first it may be awkward, but it gets easier

Conversation application:  Look for opportunities to connect and converse.  Learn from those who are more skilled.  Stay in the dance of conversation.


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

3 Responses to The Dance of Conversation: What Dance Classes Taught Me About Conversation

  1. Tracy Palmer says:

    Love it! Your points are thoughtful, creative and so true. If 93-97% of communication is ‘non-verbal’, then all the non vocal communication in partner dancing is exactly like speaking! What a fabulous comparison. By the way, I ballroom dance!

  2. Great post Diane! So it on twitter!

  3. Pingback: How have you benefitted from ballroom dancing? « Stuart and Tracy Palmer's Dance World

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