Nothing else touching the ground…
So I’m in South Africa teaching a dance workshop in a township outside Durban. It was hot and sweaty. We were tired, overwhelmed. South Africa had been through some big transformations – but things were still bleak in a lot of ways. Poverty, racial tension, tricky stuff.
It was the end of the workshop when one of the teenage boys came up to me and said:
“Sir, can we put some music on and dance for you?”
“No worries, sure.”
What happened next transformed me.
They let rip. They danced with passion and conviction a mash up of contemporary styles – hip hop and break dancing. But if that was all that happened well I would have been impressed..but not transformed.
It was towards the end of the impromptu performance that one of the guys performed a miracle. I didn’t catch how it started all I remember is looking over and watching him slide across the floor (which was lino on top of concrete) on his forehead. Yes thats right his arms were by his side, nothing else was touching the ground he just slid across the space on his forehead. Maybe 3 meters or so across the room.
Arms by his side.
Nothing else touching the ground.
So what changed in me? I think I was forced to re-examine what it is to teach someone something.
I wondered why I hadn’t walked into that room put on some music and said “Who wants to dance?”. I realised that my approach to teaching was a very traditional one, one where the teacher was the holder of knowledge, the authority who could tell the student, who was a blank canvas awaiting instruction, what they were going to learn and when.
And I saw how limiting this was. Who had told this boy he could slide across the floor on his forehead? Certainly not a dancer from Australia teaching a dance class on a hot afternoon. I would never have dared to imagine this was possible. My beliefs would have severely limited this young mans ability to discover what dance can be.
And all of that led me to change the way I approach teaching people anything, including how to communicate in an engaging way.
Now I start with the question ‘What do you want to learn?’ and then I build my teaching from a belief that a person has the capacity to learn what they want to learn. My job is to inspire the curiosity, the passion, the imagination, the self-awareness, the audacity to slide across the floor on their forehead or whatever version of that miraculous feat they desire to learn.
Artist, advisor, coach.
I find the real problem, make the difficult easy
and tell a great story.
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