Silenced by Shame – Reflections upon the Home in the Body Seminar II

Eeverybody else speaks so well. Aino has spent a year as exchange student in Kansas and Ilmo is an online game enthusiast. I’m the only one who isn’t fluent in English. I don’t speak well at all. I don’t know the language well enough to express my opinions. I feel so ashamed that I would rather vanish into the wall. I’ve better not say anything. I’ll fail.

How many students have been silenced by shame in language class? It is traumatizing to be criticized for anything as personal as your inability to express yourself correctly in a foreign language. And the shame of failure is deeply stored into the body where it gets stuck. The problem is, that it is not easy to unleash these bad memories, unless we address the body itself, instead of just intellectually processing the trauma in words.

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the second International Home in the Body Seminar arranged by Elämäntaidefoorumi at UKK Institute, Tampere. Once again, Rosen Therapist and Essential Motion leader Riitta Saarikko and her wonderful team had managed to put together a unique and very thought-evoking program. This time the conference presented several therapeutic body methods for curing trauma. The keynote speaker was Arnoud van Buuren, Psychiatrist and Pesso-Boyden System Psychomotor specialist from the Netherlands.  This body-mind approach was originally created by the American dancers Albert Pesso and Diane Boyden-Pesso, defined as follows: “PBSP heals past emotional deficits using unique processes called ‘Structures’ and ‘Microtracking™’ that help clients to identify emotional deficits and create ‘new memories’.” In other words, traumatic memories are replaced by new pleasant memories in a process where the body is involved.

This year the Home in the Body seminar also introduced Voice as an essential part of embodied awareness. Classical song teacher Iiris Seesjärvi has initiated a therapeutic approach to voice teaching, named Häpeästä hiljaiset, shared at the seminar by song pedagogue Demian Seesjärvi. There are many Finns who have been traumatized by the notorious song exam at school, where you were asked to sing in front of the entire class. Many would have felt the failure deep in their bodies when they were not able to sing according to standard criteria. As a result, they were shamed into silence.  I believe that the same has happened in some language classes when people’s pronunciation and grammar has been mocked and ridiculed. I’ve met students who had been asked in secondary school to remain silent since their English or Swedish was judged so poor by their teacher that they were denied the right to speak up. I truly hope that pedagogy is changing into a more constructive direction.  Naturally, Demian’s workshop would be welcome at Haaga-Helia too – for those who sit silently in class, afraid to speak up. I mentioned this to him and he found the idea appealing. Theories on the development of speech suggest that humans were singing before speaking, thus therapeutic song lessons would be very suitable in a business school, in the same way as is my Dancing English Teacher approach based on embodied awareness.

Finally, we teachers have great responsibility in how we involve everybody into classroom discussions. I myself always start my classes with tension-releasing body warm-ups before moving onto discussing the topic of the day. This helps the shy students to relax and a sense of heightened awareness is created within the group. In my courses there is only one sentence that is not accepted: “I don’t speak English well”. That is just a reflex from traumatizing classroom experiences. An annoying tick that has to be unlearnt. Furthermore, it is a totally redundant as well as counter-productive phrase when doing business! Instead, pull up your posture, take a deep breath, expand your diaphragm – and take a long step into the world.

Once more, I’m grateful to Elämäntaidefoorumi for creating this wonderful Home in the Body seminar concept. In the snapshot you see me opening up my wings at the end of Scott McLeod’s Clean Language workshop. As I told the group: “I arrived burdened and now I have wings to fly away.”

Flying

Flying

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Swimming into the Infinity Pool – how to give a successful sales pitch

A presentation is like swimming into an infinity pool; you don’t dive in with a splash, you don’t struggle to keep your head on the surface, you don’t panic when you cannot feel the bottom of the pool with your naked toes. You find your rhythm, you swim with long and calm strokes, you stay serene.

Swimming is about technique. Just like speaking on stage is about technique. The more you practice, the more secure and happy you get. Since teachers correct poor grammar, I don’t see why they should avoid correcting the poor grammar of the inarticulate body. However, in our western culture the body is regarded as an absent other, something unspeakable. Apparently, making comments on poor body language might even be perceived as indiscreet. Drew Leader refers to the dysappearing body in his landmark book “The Absent Body”, thus referring to the state when the body fails due to illness or an accident. When the body strikes back, everything else becomes secondary.

As a trained dance teacher I am in an advantageous position, since for me it feels more than natural to talk about flaws in body language, moreover, I can immediately offer a solution in the form of a precise correction or an exercise to practice at home. A simple example: insecure speakers often distribute their weight over the heels, this in turn leading to an incorrectly placed pelvis, again resulting in a sunken chest and collapsed shoulders as well as a weak voice. A very unfortunate chain reaction from the point of view of stage presence. By just a simple correction, the speaker becomes 100% more present to the audience.  In my opinion, a grammar mistake in speech is less distracting in terms of communication than a mistake in the grammar of the body.  An inarticulate body makes the message vague.  I like to refer to the Swedish dancer Helena Franzén notion of the “poetry of the articulate body”.

Last spring I had the opportunity to prepare a group of remarkable young women for taking the stage at the annual Sales Pitch competition on Porvoo Campus, none of them being experienced stage performers, quite the contrary, many feeling intimidated by a big audience. We trained the grammar of the body, challenging the natural tendency of the human body to freeze or to flee in scary situations. Biologically, our emotional regulation system has ensured our survival. However, this regulation system also causes us to shrink in situations when we should grow even bigger, such as when performing a sales pitch on stage. For over a month the group worked on correct body language, voice prosody, pronunciation and the dramaturgy of the pitch itself. We kept swimming around in the Porvoo Campus lobby, our infinity pool – in order to feel all that empty space to be mastered. Step by step the contenders grew more confident and bold. Until at the end they were already impatiently waiting for the D-Day. I had to warn the students from practicing too much – just like athletes need to make sure that their peak performance will take place in the Olympic Games, a speaker needs to make sure that she does not get bored with herself and her story. There always needs to be room for surprise and inspiration.

On 5 May we were finally back stage doing Mikhail Chekhov warm-ups and voice opening exercises. For those who had taken part in my rigorous training, the performance went better than ever before. But one can always improve something – every single performer rushed off the stage too soon after the pitch was over. So next time, when you take the stage (and there will certainly be a next time) make sure that you stay on at the end for an extra curtain call.  For me as teacher it was particularly joyful to see the tremendous improvement of students who are not the first ones to speak up in class. This made the process so much more interesting and rewarding. Finally, my advice to everybody is the following: “Keep looking for those scary places where you can test your full potential.  Seek an infinity pool with a shark lurking in the corner. There is never a state of being fully ready to go – just take a deep breath and glide in, and every time it will feel a bit easier and less scary!”

Porvoo Campus Sales Pitch winners 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Business Ballet – Seriously?

“It was one of the best courses I’ve attended during my exchange and highly relevant for my future career. The course has a unique concept that is a must for every student that would like to improve his or her public speaking skills.”

This is how an exchange student summarized the outcome of the Business Ballet course of autumn 2016. Yes, Business Ballet is a unique concept – and highly relevant. I’ve been convinced of its benefits from the very beginning when I started developing movement exercises to accompany language learning. This approach actually dates back all the way to 1996 when I was teaching French to primary school kids and came up with the idea of teaching Subject – Verb – Object and Irregular Verbs through dance. The chaos of having 10-year olds darting amidst old-fashioned desks did not hinder me from continuing my experiments, despite the occasional inconvenience of having small boys and girls climbing the walls. All these efforts paved the way for what much later emerged as Dancing English Teacher and Business Ballet.

Twenty years later I find myself teaching Business Ballet in an established business school. Last autumn I finally took my method to Haaga-Helia Pasila Campus, where I was given lavish opportunities to develop the concept further. Upon meeting the same students 4h per week, I could truly see a remarkable development in their performance skills and stage presence. Moreover, I had the opportunity to test the method with 140 students. Thus collecting valuable data on the significance of learning body awareness in business communication studies. On the whole, Business Ballet was well-received among Pasila students in the Finnish Degree Programme in Sales (Myynnin koulutusohjelma). Many approached me personally after lessons to tell me that I’m teaching the right things from the point of view of their future career: attitude, articulate body language and presence skills.

Sales students learning to cope in Azerbaijan

Sales students learning to cope in Azerbaijan

As teacher I’m a stubborn optimist – to some students it might have come as a chock that their English course was more about body awareness than sales negotiation and presentation vocabulary. For instance we spent two entire double lessons to practice walking into the room, finding the perfect spot in space and just saying your name. That’s all. Surprisingly many people do not manage to reach the end of their name in a convincing manner. They swallow it half way and sink into their body, thus signaling hesitance and insecurity. Even more people lack the courage to walk into an open space. One could spend months on practicing the perfect gait only. After all, would you buy anything from a person who tiptoes into your office and whose name you cannot catch? No, probably you wouldn’t.

Back to the unique concept of Business Ballet. A concept needs to be developed and refined. So far I have been quite much on my own, mainly supported by students and, on the other hand, by people I’ve met outside my daily workplace. I would need a team. So far I have my Dancing English Teacher blog and Facebook site as well as a rather amateurish website I put together very quickly. I would need a platform to share my ideas more professionally. Nowadays, I get occasional requests to give workshops to outside actors in business and education. For instance last week, to my great joy and surprise, I learnt that the Faculty of Law at Saint Petersburg State University is interested in my Business Ballet method. So something should definitely be done. Maybe this is the goal of the New Year: to assemble a team of people with a serious interest in developing body awareness in business studies. Yet, it might turn out to be challenging, since the body still seems to scare people. As if you lost professional credibility by bringing in the body into the discourse. I could have given up long ago, however, seeing a shy student becoming more rooted and extending into space after months of exercise, encourages me to continue to discover new ways of teaching body awareness.

Dancing on Pasila Campus

Dancing on Pasila Campus

P.S. On the course exam I had this picture of Trump’s women, with the question of how they could improve their presence. Some students suggested that they should take my Business Ballet course to learn about open focus and good posture… and correct positioning of hands.trump-women

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Coming Home to my Body

I am home. Home in my body. Listening into myself and simultaneously being aware of the people surrounding me, all of us taking part in the International Home in the Body seminar, Kotona kehossa at UKK Instituutti, Tampere. What has brought us together to this two-day seminar during the last weekend of October is a mutual interest in embodiment and inter-corporeality. The structure of this seminar is 4 hours of movement and 2,5 hours of talk/day. This is as it should be. Unfortunately, most of the time the typical conference structure tend to be 7 hours of talk and 15 minutes of pause gymnastics. Or worse, 8 hours of talk and 0 minutes of movement. However, the body deserves to be taken seriously. It deserves to be given space. As dance therapist and psychologist Päivi Pylvänäinen pointed out in her lecture in reference to the trendy phenomenon of Mindfulness, “there’s no mind without body”.  Yet, the body also seems to scare and you can easily dismiss it. Until one day you find out the hard way about its existence. Or, alternatively, you can choose a wiser path and dance out into space as you used to do in your childhood.

I first met the organizers, Riitta Saarikko and Pirjo Salo, at an unforgettable Essential Motion course in Helsinki in summer 2013. The third member of the organizing committee being Regina Skogberg, also an Essential Motion practitioner. When I first got to know that they would arrange an international seminar with Rosen therapist and Essential Motion founder Karen Roeper as keynote, I rushed to sign up. This was something that couldn’t be missed. So, after a hectic autumn I find myself jumping into the train to Tampere. My hip is aching and my chest is rigid as stone – so it’s aboout time to get moving. Karen speaks for 5 minutes and then continues with a 2,5h Essential Motion workshop, inspiring us all to “unleash the power of investigation” when exploring movement. There’s nothing right or wrong – just the joy of darting out in space together with other moving beings. Karen asks us to choose a quality that we will carry with us throughout the session. My quality is “softness”. And in pair exercises I find myself approaching an older woman who seems wise and warm. Afterwards it turns out that she really is a grand-mother to a two-year old and I spontaneously shout out that I’m in need of a grand-mother as well. At the end of the workshop my conclusion is that after only 2,5 hours together, I trust and know these people in the room better than many of my colleagues after 17 years in the same workplace. Such is the power of moving together.

I could share so many insights, one interesting aspect being Jaana Laukkarinen’s lecture on the topic of the managers body, a machine or a friend: “Johtajan keho, kone vai kumppani” with frightening examples of the body failing as a result of not being able to read the signals from the body on time. Jaana herself being a great authority on the topic as she used to hold managerial positions in the industry, also internationally. A particularly memorable workshop was Päivi Pylvänäinen’s dance therapy session where I found an exquisitely beautiful hand and started a mirror improvisation with the owner of that hand, a lovely petit lady, again older than myself. We also ended up being paired for hide-and-seek – so fun, so light, so joyful. Drew Leder claims in The Absent Body, that many people do not even recognize their own hand from just a small sample of photos of hands. Incredible! I never even found out the name or profession of that lady with the beautiful hand movements, yet, that moment of dancing together meant a lot to me.

There is so much more to write about, Ulla Kleberg’s Qimotion session that was filled with kindness, or the art therapy workshop where we worked with our own names and memories. Not to forget the breaks when there were many meaningful encounters with encouraging people, everybody immediately understanding the point of Business Ballet and Dancing English Teachers. “Yes, you are in your own tribe here”, said they. I realized that I’ve been for many years defensive about using arts-based methods in a business university. I don’t need to be. It’s wasted energy to explain about Business Ballet to somebody who is absent from the body, somebody without the capacity of understanding the importance of embodiment. So maybe I should drop the explanations and just be what I am and let my work speak for itself like rings on water. I love working with the students though, and I’m grateful for my Business Ballet group in Porvoo, and my Sales Presentation students in Pasila. I feel that now I finally have the tools to share what has taken me 41 years to learn about the body, ever since I entered ballet school in 1975. The people at the seminar also rejoiced with me when I told about the exchange student who recently told me in class that she had chosen Finland and Haaga-Helia since we offer my Business Ballet course. So all my efforts and challenges have not been in vain. At the beginning I mentioned the quality Karen Roeper asked us to cherish: for me it was “softness”. I am tired of fighting, I need kind fairy-tale grand-mothers to cradle me. I don’t want to move about like a hedgehog any longer.

Painter/Dancer Monica Gorschelnik with Dancing English Teacher

Painter/Dancer Monica Gorschelnik with Dancing English Teacher

I wish to end this post with a eloge to Swedish painter and dancer Monica Gorschelnik, born in 1946 in Finland. Even before I knew that she was an artist, I was enthralled by her radiant aura. And then she surprised us all with a dance performance when we thought the seminar already to be over. Such a rare moment of wordless beauty beyond time and space. Touching the atoms in our bodies. Finally, I am home.

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Poetry of the Articulate Body: 2B + C= poor presence

Presence is a technique that can be learnt. The Swedish choreographer Helena Franzen calls this “poetry of the articulate body” – a controlled body being completely present in time and space.

This autumn the timing for my Beam Me Up for Presence could not have been better for the TOBBA16 group of international tourism students in their first semester. Apparently, they had already witnessed some poorly performed presentations and they were just about to give an important presentation on their semester projects. Thus I caught the students at a very attentive moment for introducing my recently developed equation 2B+C = poor presence. In sum, don’t stand like a body guard with hands clasped in front of you, nor stand like a butler with arms locked behind your back – butlers are supposed to be invisible when they are not serving tea. Finally, don’t ever use your body as crutch (any form of clutching your body in awkward manner).

2B + C = poor presence

2B + C = poor presence

In this picture you see charming TOBBA16 students demonstrating the 2B+C-poor presence model in the Porvoo Campus lobby. Notably, posture suffers from clutching the body.

How do you then achieve full presence? The mental trick is to imagine the perfect snapshot of yourself even before you start speaking. The same applies to the ending on the performance: don’t rush off the stage even if you felt uncomfortable. Gradually, after lots of practice, you might find yourself even loving the stage so much that you don’t want to walk off. Additionally, always make sure that you have enough space around you into all directions – this gives your performance volume.

The perfect snapshot of yourself

The perfect snapshot of yourself

Finally, presence can be as simple as in the picture with TOBBA16 demonstrating strong presence in the perfect snapshot of themselves.

Needless to say, that it is of paramount importance to catch the students at the beginning of their studies by offering them access to performance skills workshops. I’ve heard many older students complain about the number of low-quality presentations they have to listen to during their studies. Sadly, even if students often put a lot of effort into the content, the delivery is impaired by poor posture, wrong placement and inadequate staging. All these easily avoided if having the opportunity to take a hands-on performance skills workshop upon entering the studies.

This academic year I am dividing by teaching between Pasila and Porvoo Campus. In Pasila I’m working with third and fifth semester students in the Finnish Sales Programme. These students are very open to adopting my advice for improved performance: You don’t sell unless you are fully present. I have the privilege of meeting the Pasila groups over a longer period of time, which makes it possible to go into further detail in mastering the stage as well as more intimate negotiation situations. As teacher, it is very rewarding to witness the development in students from week to week. After all, they understand that good presentations skills will make all the difference in future business situations.

Meanwhile, the new Campus 2.0 curriculum is under development in Porvoo and it is time to consider key competencies together with the practical implementation of these. Hopefully, the learning camps will include a solid package of presentations skills workshops as well. After all, it takes two years for the body to unlearn bad habits, so one can never start too early with this type of training. Too often we forget that presence and presentations skills have to do with good technique, thus these workshops might accidentally be excluded from the curriculum, while this should be regarded as important as for instance ICT skills. Yet, we can all tell a good performance from a bad one. So why not start from a simple piece of advice: “Don’t use your body as crutch” as demonstrated by the Degas ballerina below?

Body as crutch

Body as crutch

 

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A Pianist, a Hiphopper and a Prince: The Importance of Theater in a Business University

”If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” (Sir Richard Branson).

When the Director of Culture Center Grand, Porvoo asked whether Porvoo Campus students could contribute with some program number during the occasion of Swedish celebrity journalist Herman Lindqvist’s lecture on Swedish-Finnish history, I offered to stage a theatrical interlude based on historical Porvoo. Honestly, I had no idea of how cumbersome the process of creating a 15-minute performance would be, yet, I have always lived up to Richard Branson’s motto of first saying yes, then only afterwards figuring out how to proceed with a seemingly impossible project. Moreover, I was convinced that a theater ensemble could be formed on Campus.

Little did I know then what a thriller I would be facing this spring. We had a fixed date, 27 April, and a specific request of producing a performance in Swedish about Swedish influence in the history of Porvoo. The beginning looked promising, since I had been approached by an international business student who was looking for theatrical activities on Porvoo Campus. Naturally, I immediately casted him as Russian Emperor Alexander I. The second person to join the performance was a Vietnamese Hiphop dancer, soon to be followed by a student pianist trained in the classical French conservatory tradition. At some point I also thought of my colleague who happened to own a Renaissance Prince costume. He kindly agreed to join the performance in the role of noble messenger to King Gustav Vasa of Sweden. Finally, a French-speaking exchange student was pleased to play the part of Académie Francaise delegate. However, at this point the project came to a sudden halt – there were no Swedish-speakers volunteering, nor any women. “Not my cup of tea”, was the general reaction to my rigorous attempts of recruiting more people to the cast. Thus, the script featuring Porvoo from Medieval times to modern days had to be rewritten several times in order to meet the constant changes in casting. Meanwhile, the performance day was approaching and I lost my sleep. Yet, a cancellation was completely out of the question as the reputation of Porvoo Campus students was at stake. Miraculously, less than two weeks before the performance the cast was finally ready. Without any Swedish-speakers in sight, at a very late stage I was joined by my Swedish-speaking colleague as leading lady. We had two full rehearsals on Campus and by magic we saw a tanzt theater performance gradually taking shape from all the fragments we had been practising separately.

Grand rehearsal

On 27 April, at 4 pm the whole cast was finally standing on the Grand stage. The Swedish aspect was strengthened even further by two spritely 10-year old girls, my colleague’s daughter Saga and her friend Selma, who brought girlish energy and enthusasm to the performance. We only had 1,5 hours of dress rehearsal, and then everything had to be in place. Needless to say, the auditorium was sold out to last seat. After all, journalist and author Herman Lindqvist holds super-star status among elderly Swedish-speaking Finns, so people had travelled from far to listen to him. This surprised our international cast, but also boosted our adrenaline to maximum levels. Yet, our ensemble had to wait through Herman Lindqvist´s one-hour talk before it was our turn to take the stage. Finally, everything went perfectly – with very little preparation we managed to deliver a multi-cultural musical dance show where both performers and audience enjoyed themselves. We could all be very proud of our contribution.

Grand Renaissance family

At this point someone might ask why a business university should be engaged in theatrical activities. What can theater teach business students? Theater is about ensemble work, focus and commitment. It’s about showing up to rehearsals, about not letting your team down. It’s about not chickening out, but stretching yourself beyond your limits when facing a sold-out audience. It’s about stage presence and about reading your partner’s mind. Naturally, all these skills are required to succeed in doing business. Finally, and most importantly, it’s all about the joy of being creative and inventive together.

At the end, our theater ensemble was reminiscent of those Medieval street theater ensembles, where people of different talents joined forces to very quickly put together a performance. Similarly, on Porvoo Campus the time to rehearse a performance is very limited. Yet, a miracle can happen when you put together a pianist, a hiphopper and a prince. Thank you Ismail, Adam, Son, Anna, Tatiana, Youssef, Laura, Amanda, Khanh, Ivan, Saga and Selma for the fantastic moments in Teater Svenska Rummet. It was pure joy working with all of you – we did it at the end! And seldom has there been as much laughter on Porvoo Campus as during our rehearsals. In our case thirteen, the number of cast members, turned out to be our lucky number. Hopefully this was only the beginning of theatrical activites on Campus. Any serious university needs a theater!

Teater svenska rummet cast

 

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On the Etymology of Attitude

After recently having come across some very poor attitude in some groups of people, I started researching the etymology of the word Attitude. This is the definition I found: 1660s, via French attitude (17c.), from Italian attitudine “disposition, posture,” also “aptness, promptitude,” from Late Latin aptitudinem (nominative aptitudo; see aptitude). Originally 17c. a technical term in art for the posture of a figure in a statue or painting; later generalized to “a posture of the body supposed to imply some mental state”. AttitudeIn other words, attitude is something fundamentally physical. Moreover, in classical ballet Attitude is the most difficult pose to master. It demands extreme turnout in order to look beautiful.

Attitude also makes me recall my late ballet teacher, Prima Ballerina Margaretha von Bahr, who recently passed away at the age of 94. She had a firm opinion regarding Attitude: if it did not look right to her discerning eye, she would shout out in a harsh voice: “that looks like a dog taking a pee”. Having been the first western ballerina to dance on the stage of Bolshoi in the 1950’s, she had the authority to say so. That’s why I came to fear that conspicuous pose so.

What is then wrong attitude in a business school? It is to reply “No I can’t do it” when asked for a small favor such as participating in a two-minute flashmob or in refusing to help peer students with some simple task in their project work. I also call it “ass glued to chair”-attitude, my apologies for the graphic language! The right attitude is about volunteering, carrying furniture, giving a hand in the kitchen, cleaning up after an event… This spring we have enjoyed several successful events, most recently the Alumni Night and the gala dinner at the Leading Passion Conference in April. The favorable outcome of both events was the result of so many people showing the right attitude throughout the process.

This spring I have also come across wonderful attitude in the people who volunteered to join the cast for the Teater Svenska Rummet tanzt theater production “Finess och Takt: Borgå svenska historia på ett ögonblick” that will be performed on 27 April in Theater Grand Porvoo. I was already contacted in January by the director at Grand who requested a performance in Swedish from Porvoo Campus on the occasion of legendary TV-historian Herman Lindqvist giving a lecture on the Swedish-Finnish legacy. Of course I immediately agreed to contribute with a miniature play. However, it turned out to be surprisingly difficult to put together a cast for this production. Early in the process I had an actor, a classical pianist and a hip-hopper joining, but we still needed more people. And where were all the Swedish speakers? I’m still asking that question on the eve of the premier of the play. Incidentally, we will have a play in Swedish, French and English with a multi-national cast. In Shakespeare’s words, all’s well that ends well. Against all odds, we finally managed to form a theater ensemble on Porvoo Campus! And what a brilliant and beautiful cast it is, including talented and enthusiastic people from several continents. People with the right risk-taking attitude for succeeding in business!

Grand promotion

Three years ago my lovely Russian friends, film director Pavel Resser and wife Ludmila Elkonina walked in on Porvoo Campus and declared that we need a theater here. Yes we do! And voilà, here it finally is! I wish you were here with us – I know you are in spirit though!

Pavel and Ludmila 17.3.15

 

 

 

 

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Clown or Cool – the latest turns of Dancing English Teacher

Recently I attended a lecture on self-branding by social media expert Zaki Azedani of Zakisome. One of his main points was that you need to brand yourself in order to obtain business opportunities. Being a representative for Generation Y, he shared this insight with genuine authority. So, how credible is it when middle-aged teachers tell young students to brand themselves? Over the past year I have increasingly often started calling myself Dancing English Teacher rather than Senior Lecturer, just for the sake of testing my brand and for setting an example to my students. Initially, I noticed that some people representing my own Generation X tended to regard me as a funny clown not to be taken too seriously. On the other hand, my students took my dancing introduction with curious interest. It all culminated in a new student declaring a couple of weeks ago the following: “I think you are cool” (this was after I had complained to Zaki Azedani about the clown label that seems to stick).

Looking back at the past year, I have written one peer-reviewed journal article, published another article in a professional magazine for English teachers in Slovenia. Not to forget the article I wrote for Creative Academic Magazine at Manchester Metropolitan University. Furthermore, I’ve given one experimental workshop at an international academic conference, as well as produced a semi-professional tanz theater performance at the business university where I work. Last August I also gave a creative workshop to communication managers from major Finnish companies and organizations. All these activities being related to my unique Business Ballet method that I have been developing for the past 17 years. So the question is, how much do I have to accomplish in order to be regarded an expert rather than a harmless clown, or at its worst, a delusional megalomaniac with a futile mission?

Well, for a long time the clown mask was a convenient disguise when working with unorthodox artistic methods in a business school. However, now I don’t need the mask anymore. I know for certain that I have a valuable contribution to the business education community. In my Business Ballet courses I have witnessed shy students develop into masters of stage performance. And I’m proud for all of them. This is a skill that makes a difference in the business world. Last Friday and today I had the wonderful opportunity of giving two workshops to a group of Japanese students from Osaka Gakuin University. Naturally, in the first “Beam me up for Business – Presence and Performance” session we started with embodiment and kinesthetic awareness – only later moving on to speech practise. And hour by hour I saw the students grow in confidence, until being able to take articulate possession of the stage. In the case of the Japanese group, I was the only teacher they met during their two-day stay at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, so I had enough time to go deeper into my method. A great reward to me after all these years of working in solitude. Many times it would have been so much easier to just stick to conventional Business English teaching.  OGU Outward focus

 

Clown or cool? Well, actually I don’t care anymore. I’m happy when I see students leave my workshop with good posture, confident gait and a smile on their face, ready to take possession of the world. In an era of technology and smart-phones, I have seen postures get worse – so there seems to be lots of work out there for Dancing English Teacher. One of the greatest inspirations during the past years have been Associate Professor of Social Psychology Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School and her famous Power Posing exercise. Whenever somebody looks at me in disbelief, I drop the name Amy Cuddy into the discussion. Today my Japanese group left Helsinki with the word “Power!” – so now they have a life-time tool for being more confident as performers as well as in everyday interaction. I as a teacher need no more validation.

And the latest turns of Dancing English Teacher? Currently I am co-writer for an article that is part of a PhD thesis. In April I’m contracted to give a Business Ballet workshop at the International Staff week and, finally, in May I’ll do internal staff straining at Haaga-Helia. So, clown or cool? Well, maybe still a little bit of clown – and any actor would know that the classical clown is the hardest part to perform. Usually you need a lot of life experience to make a good clown. So cool, yes! And definitely clown – as I often find adult seriousness dull and uncreative.

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Partiture of Presence

Recently I crossed the Porvoo Campus lobby during a project dissemination session. I did not stop by to listen, since in a fraction of a second I had drawn my conclusions on whether to stay or not. And I decided not to. Why?

  1. Lobby. During my years of teaching on Porvoo Campus I have only once witnessed a speaker succeed in the Porvoo Campus lobby. Bruce Oreck. As US Ambassador and body builder he had enough mental and physical muscles to fill up the entire space with his presence during his talk on risk-taking. Interestingly, he used the whole floor space during the talk instead of just standing in one spot on that ridiculously small stage. 1288628993142[2]

RULE 1: Consider choice of space carefully when planning a session of student presentations. A lobby is a challenging space for anybody without stage training and the message easily gets lost if the space is too big while the speaker is too small to fill it.

 

  1. Locked knees. Are you aware that you should not lock your knees while standing on stage? Locked knees lead to locked hips which in turn lead to locked shoulders. The result is a lack of flow that hinders the message of getting through.

RULE 2: Use a lot of training to unlock knees, since in intimidating situations knees tend to automatically get locked. It takes a long time for the body to unlearn certain unhealthy habits. Feel the fluid in the knee socket.

 

  1. Hands. What are those awkward gestures supposed to mean? Why are your hands so uncontrolled? Why are your arms dangling like dead leaves?

RULE 3: Hands are not an isolated entity. Hand movement starts from the shoulder blades and arm sockets and the chest should be fluid as well.

 

  1. Horizon. Why are you looking down at your feet? Why is your head hanging?

RULE 4: You should gaze over the horizon at all times and keep your eyes alert and alive. Don’t seek for support from the floor. There is nothing but dust to be found there.

 

  1. Audience skills. Is this a funeral? No? So why are you all looking so petrified with fear?

RULE 5: When an occasion such as a project dissemination is turning into a funeral, as audience, do something about it. Tap dance, sing a song, do some pause gymnastics – make everybody laugh! A teacher should be there to support the students if he/she sees them freeze. After all, there are lots of ways to make students defrost in an intimidating situation.

 

So now we have a simple partiture for a successful presentation. Only now are we ready to actually start sharing ideas!

My Business Ballet method is a lot about training the body into an autopilot mode for presentations and sales and service situations. The brain understands in a fraction of a second the point of not locking the knees or not looking at the feet. However, the body is painfully slow to learn. Locked knees make you tilt backwards, thus you feel “safer” as you get further away from the audience. Similarly, dropping your head and looking at the floor makes you avoid facing your audience altogether. Naturally, this all makes sense, the body possesses ancient mechanisms for dealing with fear. However, the audience will perceive this as poor presence and will most probably reject the speaker as somebody not worth listening to. That’s why we need to train the body to cope with intimidating situations such as public speaking.

Most of the students who have attended my Business Ballet course claim that the course should be compulsory, as stated by a student on this video. I tend to agree, presense is very much about technique. You can learn to be more present as speaker – yes, even to enjoy it. Undoubtedly, you cannot perform a piece of music without studying the partiture first, nor can you become a good speaker wihout understanding the notion of “Partiture of Presence”.

Finally, I choose to end with a heart-warming statement by a student who came to the course with no particular expectations:

Another nice day in the class. Feels kind of sad in a way that this course is almost at the end already. I’ve enjoyed it so much and in the process learned a lot about myself. I think everyone should take the class, since it’s important to know how to present yourself in the classroom, in public, inside a meeting room. Where ever really, because you don’t have to have a “presentation” per se to know how to carry yourself, make yourself convincing for an example in the field of business. You can improve your presence in your everyday life too, to improve your relationships and carry yourself more gracefully, make others take you more seriously. I’ve learned a lot and this course has given me a lot to think about for my future presentations and everyday situations. So thank you! Hopefully there will be other courses similar to this as well, would love to participate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mustio Manor – Homo Mobilis was here!

This year my autumn term started with flying colors, or should I rather say with dancing steps at Mustio Manor, where Dancing English Teacher had been invited to give a kinesthetic workshop to Finnish business professionals from various fields of expertise. The Finnish name for Mustion linna is actually even more grand as the word “linna” stands for chateau. Take a perfect August day with cliché-blue skies and a classical Palladian garden and you will have the perfect mix for a movement-based team building workshop. Upon my arrival at Chateau Mustio, I was first greeted by a sculpture portraying the antique goddess Diana. I took this as a promising sign as I recently had learnt that Queen Kristina of Sweden (1626-1689) had been fond of the art of ballet and even performed in the role of Diana. The setting soon turned out to be even more promising when I met my group of business people and they announced that they had stayed long enough indoors and were longing to get out into the sunshine to explore the splendid premises.

Mustio Diana

For once I had enough space to move about – acres of green lawns specked with occasional ponds, pavilions and fine art. This was as close to Jane Austin and British noble estate as you can get in Finland, you could even expect Mr. Darcy to materialize at any moment from behind the oak trees. Yet, even more inspiring than all this finery, were my students for that one afternoon. Over the years I have thought a lot about the concept of Homo Ludens, the playing human often mentioned by Professor of Educational Psychology, Kirsti Lonka. Additionally, it should be noted that the human being is very much Homo Mobilis, a moving being – there is an intrinsic need to move. As goes for Mustio Manor, it was not at all difficult to get the group of business professionals to explore the world through movement, both individually and in groups. We even managed to put together a choreography involving everybody as well as living sculptures in smaller group with the classical garden serving as pastoral stage setting. So for three hours we mainly danced and rediscovered the joy of darting into space and exploring the world through all senses.

As a matter of fact, I had prepared a 3-hour theory lecture on the body in communication – just in case. However, people did not wish to stay indoors for too long and hear me talk about the benefits of movement, they wanted to get out to dance, to move and to walk precariously on a rickety bridge to contemplate the beauty of the famous pink water lilies of Mustion Manor. They wanted to feel the benefits of movement in their bones and muscles. Once again I ask myself, why is there so much Logos in our education, all the way from primary level to adult training? Why are there so many unnecessary words at the expense of other means of communication? Why don’t we leave more space to the imagination? Luckily there are other educationalists asking the same question. I recently published an article “Beam Me Up for Business: Porvoo Campus Playground” in Creative Acadmic Magazine, UK, in a special issue on “exploring play in higher education”. So I don’t feel alone anymore with my questions, quite the contrary, nowadays I get lots of positive response for my work with kinesthetic learning when I meet people outside my daily context.

At Mustio Manor I had the privilege of having an observer present during the entire workshop, my hostess for the day, who has shared her insights in her Haaga-Helia teacher training blog, kindly letting me to share it here. Thank you for being brave enough to invite me! It was a true joy to take Dancing English teacher outside my usual context – I could even say that Homo Mobilis was here. Don’t worry, I did not leave such a tag on the pedestal of that goddess Diana sculpture. It is just imprinted in my kinesthetic memory, my skin still remembering the perfect summer day in late August.

Mustio

 

 

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