Locating the passion – do you know when you’ve been tango’d?

In my attempts at bringing humour into my work, I – and I think I’m probably not the only one – have occasionally used the phrase ‘through the medium of interpretive dance’ as a shorthand for ‘out-there, wacky stuff in the business place’. Despite my love of aforesaid wackiness I’ve never actually been to a meeting or workshop where any form of dance was featured – until last night when I attended the excellent Knowledge Cafe run by Alida Acosta and accompanying tango dancers.

Knowledge Cafes have been around for 10 years and were conceived by David Gurteen as an antidote to Death By PowerPoint. The purpose is to get meaningful discussions, interchange happening between participants with an initial idea or theme as the core. For anyone seeking a gentle nudge out of their comfort zone they are strongly recommended.

Alida started by introducing tango school owner Nathalie and Mark, one of her students, who went straight away into a slow and controlled tango. Intimate and restrained, it was the opposite of the lurching back and forth movement stereotypically associated with the dance form.

Nathalie and partner

Following this well-received turn, Alida explained how she felt tango was a metaphor for how we make decisions – it can be seen as a conversation, with a level of intimacy, and where we choose our partners.

In the workplace we are often operating within a ‘paradigm of rationality’ where we believe we are making decisions on a logical and rational basis. This is actually rarely the case – our bodies have stored up knowledge that we don’t notice because ‘we are too busy thinking’.

Nathalie – a dancer from an early age – then explained how she and her husband had taken up tango dancing whilst living in Buenos Aires and became captivated by the dance form and its surrounding culture and etiquette. She built on Alida’s earlier introduction by pointing out that developing the technique was a rational process but when you give in to the dance with your partner you forget it.

Alida kicked off the discussion groups by asking what it was about our work that fed our passion – when did it feel like dancing? This prompted some interesting discussion in various groups over the course of an hour or so. I won’t attempt to cover all the points that were made but my personal take-aways were (in no particular order):

Some people are passionate about their work, others keep it separate. Some contributors were happy to admit that they were, others were in work that they didn’t feel passionate about but pursued other interests passionately in their spare time.

Passion and enthusiasm are not the same thing – some people can be quietly passionate about what they do, others can be more outwardly and demonstrably enthusiastic. It might be hard to tell the passions held by the quietest ones though and, although this wasn’t discussed at the time, I believe the role of a manager or leader is to bring this out from their teams in a non-threatening way.

Sustaining passion can be a challenge. Some people described their original passion for their work as having become more humdrum over time. In a way it can be a bit like any long-term relationship – you need to find ways to keep the passion alive.

The busy-ness of work doesn’t allow much time to reflect on how we feel about it. In discussing passion we moved into the broader area of how emotions show up at work. Often, we are disconnected from our feelings so allowing a bit of down-time or reflection (possibly by writing a journal) can enable us to catch up and rekindle the passion for what we do.

Passion has become commoditised. It’s become obligatory to be passionate about everything so people could well be faking it. (My contention on this point is that inauthentic passion will soon be found out though other actions that are inconsistent with the person’s espoused passion.) I was intrigued by a passing reference to a (job?) ad referring to an organisation being ‘passionate about street furniture’. I personally would be glad that there are some people out there who are genuinely passionate about street furniture and want to create nice place were we can park our backsides to reflect on our feelings…

We closed with another example of the tango, beautifully performed by Nathatlie and Jorge, leaving us with plenty to reflect on and a general feeling that we probably could do with a bit more passion in the workplace. So, as David Bowie put it, let’s dance – or at least use the metaphor of dance (passion, abandonment, technique, etiquette and practice) as a way of making our interactions with customers or co-workers a bit warmer and a lot more human.

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