Activating Soft Skills
How do you enact soft skills with your collaborating team and dance participants? What supports the growth of soft skills in others? How might you bring your dance practice into other sectors with the interest to foster soft skills in other settings?
We have found a few key factors that contribute to the growth of soft skills, which are the attitudes you lead with and how those attitudes are manifested in particular actions.
Your attitudes, behaviour and actions are the conduits that soft skills pass through.
Examples of attitudes in action are trust building, inclusivity and adapting how you communicate to the needs of the group. Examples of behaviours are vulnerability and compassion, which help open the opportunity for deeper connection and transference of soft skills to others.
Another way to think about attitudes and behaviours is to think about how the soft skills in your practice are used to nurture or highlight soft skills in others. For example, having a welcoming attitude to your participants may mean them taking on the same attitude to welcome others. You welcome others by doing specific things, such as greeting people by name, creating ice breaker tasks, making sure that new people are included in tasks, checking in with their needs.
Other examples of having an attitude that encourages soft skills in others include, modelling patience, non-judgement and authenticity.
Attitudes and behaviours, combined with the environment and institutional systems (if you are collaborating with an institution) combine to form the enabling conditions for soft skills to flourish.
Let’s Turn to Your Body
Here is an audio guide to provide you with a moment of embodied processing in relation to the theme of the chapter.
What do you notice?
This reflective task will help you identify the personal attitudes that govern your artistic leadership. It will also help you identify the enabling conditions that allow soft skills to flourish in the specific contexts in which you work.
Consider the following questions. You may like to write down your answers so you can return to them at a later date.
- When you think about the next encounter you will have with your dance participants, what attitudes do you want to bring into the space?
- As you guide the practice, what are you modelling through your own behaviour?
- What soft skills do you notice in your participants over time as you give focus to soft skills through your practice?
- At what point in the process of working with a group do you notice you and the participants practising soft skills together? Was there a particular moment you can highlight or did a specific task introduced at a timely moment contribute to you noticing? Where in the process was this?
- What other contributing factors in your specific environment would you associate with the development of soft skills in your group? For example, what actions do you take to prepare the physical space before your group arrives? What do you give focus to in communicating with your dance participants and collaborators before each encounter? What strategies do you use to keep up your good intentions all the way through the activity and afterwards?
- In what way might you think about your practice in relation to your collaborators? Can some of the soft skills you foster with your dancing group also be practised together with your artistic team? For example, an active listening attitude, approaches to giving and receiving care as you move through challenges and conflict, strategies for risk taking. How might you specifically carry forward these soft skills?
Identifying attitudes and enabling conditions
Below is a case study. After reading it through you’ll find questions to help you identify the enabling conditions, both in the case study and then in your own practice, which allow for soft skills to flourish.
Patricia Carolin Mai is a choreographer based in Hamburg. As part of her practice, she focuses on sending clear communication ahead of each rehearsal with reminders for what will happen when everyone gathers. She opens the studio 30 minutes before the rehearsal starts so that people can arrive and transition into the space as they need. She then engages in a consistent 30 minute warm-up that becomes familiar and routine to her participants. It involves a guided journey of awareness of one’s own body, the environment and the other bodies in the room. She activates this through touch and building up heat, as well as activating other senses, such as smell, sight and sound.
As Patricia leads the dancers through rehearsal, she has cultivated an approach that offers reliability and surprise at the same time. This is her way to help the dancers feel safe, as well as concentrated and open for new input. She gives direct and explicit tasks for movement and observation, at the same time making the instructions optional so an individual can exercise choice-making in the process. She offers praise to the whole group, rather than only individuals and also provides questions for observation and reflection. Throughout, Patricia weaves in insightful explanations for where certain movements come from, as well as the reasoning behind some of the actions, so that the aims and values of the tasks are explicit. She also engages in the use of pictures and metaphors to bring one’s body into certain movements and states, offering comments and descriptions in order to bring awareness to the physical qualities being discovered.
- Can you identify the enabling conditions (the attitudes, behaviours and actions) that Patricia sets up in this case study? It may help to first identify what soft skills you see being activated and then to unpack how her actions and attitudes are generating those soft skills.
- Now think about your own practice and the intention and tools you use to guide your participants. Write down what you do and the soft skills, attitudes and enabling conditions that are involved.
You can read more about Patricia’s case study here.
Soft skills I see in you
Here is a card game to play with participants, collaborators and colleagues. It will bring to the surface soft skills you see in others, as well as facilitate a discussion about the soft skills you are practising as a group. This game is intended to be used once you have been working together over a period of time.
The first round is in pairs, so make sure you have a space large enough for small group discussions. Following the game, reflect on what was said and what it means for your own teaching and artistic practice.
Print and cut out the cards provided, including the blank cards. For the first round you will need to print enough blank cards so everyone has three each.
You will also want to have the soft skills map handy to reference.
- Distribute three blank cards to everyone.
- Ask everyone to pair up with another person they have been working with.
- Write down on each blank card one soft skill that they have seen their partner practising during their dance time together. Please refer to the map to be able to call upon the breadth of soft skills potentially being practised.
- Swap cards. Each person should have three cards written on by the other.
- Discuss what each has received. Following are a few questions to support the dialogue:
• Did anything surprise you in what your partner wrote down?
• How do you want to use this awareness of soft skills that your partner has seen in you?
• Is there a soft skill that wasn’t mentioned that you would like to enhance? How can you imagine doing that?
- Now take all the cards with soft skills printed on them. Lay out the cards so the text is visible.
- Ask the group: from the soft skills you see spread out, what have we been practising together as a group?
- Discuss as a group what you think you have been practising together. Following are a few questions to support the discussion:
• Can you highlight specific aspects of the dance activity that support you in practising the soft skills selected?
• Are there soft skills not mentioned that you would like to give more focus to? How can you imagine doing that?
Conversation and marker moments
Soft skills may be accumulating, but the people engaging in your practice may not know it is happening unless it is "marked" or noticed.
How do you make soft skills visible with your collaborators and participants? How do you create moments that bring awareness to the skills being developed?
Whether you have decided to make soft skill growth central to your dance sessions or you have left them to grow more in the background as you focus on other aspects of the dance practice entirely, providing moments for collective awareness can be very meaningful for all involved.
Here you will find a few questions and prompts to help spark conversation around the dance experience in general.
- What did you give during our time together?
- What did you receive during our time together?
- One word: describe your experience of the session in one word
- Perspective Game: From the perspective of… I saw/felt/noticed…
You can be as inventive as you want here, choosing the perspective of, for example, the cloud in the sky, the bucket in the corner.
- What do you want to remember?
- What do you want to take with you?
- What do you want to keep from this practice?
Think about how you want to activate people’s answers to the prior questions. Do you want to physicalize them through a gesture in a closing circle? Or do you want to open 5 minutes of collective writing on a large sheet of paper? Or offer post-its for them to spread the responses in space?
Following one or two of the above questions, you could then turn the focus to soft skills specifically. You can either use the cards from the games found here or here, or you can show them the soft skills map and ask everyone to identify 2 or 3 of the skills that they felt they practised in the dance session. You can unfold a dialogue based on their responses and begin to discover how your intentions for the session have landed in their own experiences.
Video - Marker moments in practice
Here you can follow an example of how Giovanna Garzotto creates marker moments in her Dance Well class, as a way of noting the soft skill of creativity being developed in the participating dancers.
Giovanna is a Dance Well teacher. Dance Well is an Empowering Dance case study, which focuses on movement research for Parkinson’s Disease.