Without Dance I Turn into a Frumious Bandersnatch

I have been out traveling – so it has been a while since I last time took time to write. Furthermore, I also needed to step back to let myself recover from my elbow injury from last year. Yet, a lot has happened during the Months of Silence, meaningful encounters as well as the discovery that I am not alone in my pursuit for more embodied awareness in higher education.

The Season of Encounters took off in May with my conference trip to Maribor, Slovenia, where I had a lovely reunion with my favorite English Philology Department in the world, that of the University of Maribor. Once again, Professor Victor Kennedy and Professor Michelle Gadpaille had together with staff and students created an inspiring forum where linguists and musicologists came together at the intersection of words and music. This time the theme of the conference was Words, Music and Gender. Naturally,  Dancing English Teacher was also welcome to share her work on empowering female business students through dance. After all, at the beginning of the history of mankind, music and dance were not separated from each other. The name of my paper was Being Bandersnatch: Business Ballet for empowering female business students. How to be a Bandersnatch? I am of course referring to the frumious creature in Lewis Carroll´s famous poem. I have developed an exercise in class where students are expected to surprise themselves by jumping out from their protective shell: portraying a Bandersnatch with jaws that bite and claws that catch. Surprisingly few can do this with the correct amount of assertiveness. Yet, this is a quality needed for occasions such as when making a sales pitch. As in previous Maribor conferences, all coffee pauses were embellished by concerts and in the evening the academic Keynote speakers turned into punk band singers performing at Vetrinjski Drom club! Quirky, and charming and different from any other conference I have attended.

Trying my wings on the Pyramida Hill

The season of conferences continued with The Future of Education International Conference in Florence at the end of June. This is how the city was described in a letter from author Henry James to his father in 1869: “Everything in Florence seems to be coloured with a mild violet, like diluted wine.” It still is – and I arrived in the midst of the scorching heat-wave of mid-summer 2019. In Florence I presented a joint paper with Julia Huisman from NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and educational innovator Dale Lyon, founder of ExpLearn in Scotland. In our paper we explored an experiential learning experiment with students in Finland and the Netherlands who were simultaneously taking the same Business English course in both countries and meeting in November in Finland, where they got to try Business Ballet and other engaging and embodied activities together. In Florence, I opened my part of the talk with my favorite picture, that of Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a Classical Ballet class. The essence of all learning is to surprise yourself by doing something differently, out of your own comfort zone. That is how you develop.

I had not visited Florence since 1985 and the memory of the city was deeply embedded in my muscles – on the first day I was even able to find the way to my hotel without a map. The art and the monuments are timeless, yet something essential had changed. People visiting the city were i-hunching over their smart phones instead of being fully present in the city. They were there in the cradle of the Renaissance without really being there. With pictures disappearing from Instagram, there would not even be a proof of them having been there in the first place. Therefore, I was particularly moved by Dr. Andreas de Bruin´s presentation Meditation and Art – The Conscious Perception of the Great Works of Painting. Currently, he is based at Münich University of Applied Sciences, offering a course in meditation that takes place in Munich Art Museum. One of the basic elements in the course is that of silent contemplation in front of a master piece. Those conference delegates who had attended de Bruin´s presentation in the Art Education session, soon found ourselves sharing insights into the significance of mindfulness and embodied awareness in an era of digitalization. With AI and robot moving into education, the humans need to become more human.

The beautiful encounters in Florence gave me hope and inspiration to continue my work with renewed energy. The last academic year was a year of silent recovery from an injury, like a frumious Bandersnatch I stayed in my solitary space, seeing my work diluted and crumbled. Now Dancing English Teacher is back more determined than ever to continue working on embodiment in education. I end this post by borrowing the lines from a Walt Whitman poem quoted in Alan Bruce´s insightful presentation at the conference in Florence:

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road . . .

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Angel in a Brown Suit: Business Ballet in Triumph and Disaster

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

                          If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

                          And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

                          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

                          And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

                                                                              ( 2nd verse from Kipling’s poem If)

Some years ago I ran into an Angel disguised as a humble man in a brown suit.  He was moving about in the margins of my workplace, silently observing our quotidian triumphs and disasters. One day he approached me with a poem, If by Kipling. He recited it to me from memory and then asked me to print a copy.  One of those rare and inexplicable encounters that turn out to be life-changing. Boris was his name. I never learnt the surname. Nor did I fully understand his purpose, he was a trainee, even if he had had a long-established career as Physicist in his native country. After our first encounter, it turned out that Boris had a poem for every situation, he knew his Shakespeare and Blake, yet always returning to Kipling. He had obviously encountered his Disasters and he recognized mine where I was standing with my dreams broken and soul bleeding.

Ever since, the poem has helped me to keep developing Business Ballet.  More than once have I been frustrated, feeling that I’m not getting anywhere. Yet, once again I’ve stooped and picked up my worn-out tools to redesign my unique method. Moving from small triumphs to the next level of recognition. Currently, the Business Ballet course is not offered at my home university, however, this autumn I was instead invited to teach a one-credit Business Ballet course in the Studium Generale programme at Hochschule Heilbronn. Dozent Kiviaho-Kallio was my title. Thus my method experienced a small-scale international premier with a very motivated group of students from the ICT, Process Technology, Business and Tourism Degree Programs.

Hochschule Heilbronn students

It was rewarding to see the progress in stage presence over the course of the weekend. With a small group of seven students, the perfect number for work on embodied awareness, I could give hands-on guidance for each individual. I was particularly happy that my international break-through took place during an Erasmus exchange to Germany, since I have fond memories of studying Ballet methodology in the prestigious Palucca Schule Dresden in summer 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Heilbronn October 2018

In November we had a joyful group of 35 student over from NHL Stenden, the Netherlands, visiting Porvoo Campus for a week of intensive studies. Naturally, their schedule also included a glimpse into Business Ballet. Prior to coming to Finland, the name of the workshop had evoked suspicion if not even some ridicule: “What? Are we supposed to jump around in tutus?” Maybe I should have included a statement from two years back given as course feedback by a fellow Dutch exchange student:

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.

Nevertheless, the Dutch group had the chance of testing my method that borrows ideas from dance pedagogy in exercises and how instructions are given. Basically, as ballet teacher I don’t hesitate to give direct feedback on posture and placement to help students to be more three-dimensional and express themselves better. As a matter of fact, ballet teachers can be extremely rude despite the elegance of the art. My Pas de Bourrés have been likened to “walking in chicken shit”  by legendary teacher Robertjohn Lange and my Attitude Croisé was once compared to a “dog taking a pee”. I would never forget that! Naturally, my Business Ballet instructions would be more considerate, yet quite to the point as well, when for instance asking people not to lean to their hip or gluing their arms to the body when speaking on stage. Several Stenden students approached me with positive feedback, telling that they had never received so concrete tips on how to improve their stage performance.

Stenden meets Haaga-Helia 2018

Stenden meets Haaga-Helia 2018

Over the years I’ve met lots of support. To begin with, all those brave students who chose the course with the strange name. Once, a student kindly advised me to change the name of the course into “Presentation Skills” in order to attract a bigger audience. However, by naming the course Business Ballet, I wished to signal that this was an approach that deviated from how presentation skills are usually taught at universities. Over the years my network has also steadily grown by getting to know tireless practitioners of somatic methods: Riitta Saarikko, founder of the Home in the Body network; Katri-Liis Vainio, international Voice Pilates coach at the European Parliament; and finally, international dance film director Ricky Carranza, who landed on Porvoo Campus like a Deus Ex Machina in a Baroque spectacle. Primarily, Ricky entered Campus in January as business student but soon found himself in the midst of making a film about Dance in Business. Somehow ideas tend to spread like rings on water and the right people find each other in the Cosmic dance.

Those were the Triumphs of this year. And now to the disasters. One always seems to be lurking behind the corner, ready to jump out as a Bandersnatch in Alice through the Looking Glass. Yesterday I gave an optional lecture by the name “I’m Not AI News Anchor Zhang Zhao: 10 Tips for not boring your audience to death”. This was in defense of human imagination and creativity. When looking into the human being with an electronic microscope, you fill find out that we are all dancers on a nuclear level with dancing proteins, molecules and DNA in a complex choreography. A robot, on the other hand, is just made of simple plastic. I was inspired and well-prepared for the lecture and guess how many students turned up? Two! Harri and Kim from our Aviation Business program. They are wonderful students and we had a nice time with philosophical reflections. Yet, the minimal attendance was nothing but a disaster.

Lecture with Harri and Kim

So here I’m once again standing with my worn-out tools, ready to start rebuilding things from scratch. Back in my memory Boris, Angel in a Brown suit, is passionately declaring from memory:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; And treat those two impostors just the same…”

And I’m planning where I will take Business Ballet next.


Heilbronn Studium Generale


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Cast out from Courage: A letter to my dislocated elbow

”Our arms start from the back because they were once wings” (Martha Graham)

Wing-broken due to a freak accident in Tallinn five weeks ago. I could fall into despair since at the moment I am unable to fly. Or, alternatively, I can take this as a learning experience. For the first time I understand how it feels to dwell inside a body petrified by fear. When my dislocated right arm was put into a cast at Tallinn Central Hospital, I realized that also my mind ended up being sealed inside a cast.  Upon teaching Business Ballet, I´m always asking my students to step courageously into space, and now I suddenly find myself tiptoeing with short and fearful steps, scared of falling down at any given moment. Truly, courage is something very physical. Courage starts from being able to use the full range of gestures in space. Courage is synonymous of open focus of the body.

My summer started off gloriously with my Silver Swan dance performance to celebrate my 50th birthday at my work place. Naturally, the music was the Dying Swan by Saint Seans. Maybe I was challenging my faith, little did I know that my summer would end with my silver swan wing transformed into a rigid duck foot.

Silver Swan

Dying Swan indeed! Sadly, it will take long before I’ll be able to return to ballet class. However, this is also an interesting state that can be regarded from a metaphorical angle. In my teaching of embodied awareness, I often encounter people with body and mind trapped inside an invisible cast, unable to use their full range of expression. In the Finnish language “olla kipsissä” (being in a cast) refers to a rigid mental state. Thus, in the midst of these dire circumstances, I’ve discovered something very valuable for the future development of my Business Ballet method: the concept of the courageous body. Ultimately, the point of making business students move in class is to get rid of the invisible casts that hinder communication.

Throughout my childhood and teens I trained ballet semi-professionally and after finishing high school I was appointed Ballet teacher at my alma mater. After a few years of ballet teaching, I entered Helsinki Theater Academy to qualify as dance teacher. Those 43 years of practicing an extremely difficult discipline has made my body courageous. My 50-year old body has been shaped by the extreme stunts I used to be able to perform in ballet class. I always loved the Grand Allegro at the end of class, flying across the studio with big Grand Jeté jumps. Frankly, today many of those stunts are impossible for my middle aged body, yet, I still carry them in my muscle memory. This boldness is reflected in my pedagogical approach, I´m constantly looking for new openings and undiscovered grounds. Yet, all this came to an abrupt end when I found myself lying in an ambulance on my way to the emergency room of Tallinn Central Hospital. The pain made  me contract and focus inward. The cast around my arm immobilized my mind as well. This was my personal Ground Zero. A total stop.

My dislocated elbow in a cast


Throughout my dancing years I’ve been complimented for my Russian-style ballet arms. I miss the fluidity of my right arm. What a joy it was to sneak away on early July mornings to take Ballet morning class while the rest of the family was still asleep. An exceptional summer it was with eternal sunshine. The hot weather made me feel embodied and fully alive. Since it was also football World Cup summer, I’m recalling an anatomy course I attended at the Theater Academy in the mid-90´s. The lecturer claimed that Finland would never have a premier national football team, since our children grow up being entrapped in winter overalls half of the year. I can see his point: the harsh climate makes us disembodied under a thick layer of winter clothes. In reference to a body in discomfort, Drew Leder presents the concept of dysappearing body in his book The Absent Body. In other words, we only become aware of our body once it fails us. On a deeper level, I feel that my injury was meant to happen, as a reminder of a body that has been too strained by stress and worries over the past years. It was time for me to stop. If the brain does not understand to make the body  come to a halt, the disregarded body will dysappear, in other words, appear in a dislocated state – be it in the shape of a dislocated elbow or a twisted ankle. Apparently, there is a profound wisdom in our bodies.

Reverence at turning 50

I started this post several weeks ago, slowly typing word by word with my left hand. Over the weeks I have felt my arm get better millimeter by millimeter. For long, I did not have an idea of where my writing would lead me. The recovery seemed to be a hopelessly long process, and frankly speaking, quite distressing and not very uplifting to write about. Until something magical and totally unexpected happened! I had finally been appointed a physiotherapist by my travel insurance and entered the clinic with just a time scheduled for the appointment. Upon meeting the therapist, I immediately recognized her as very familiar-looking. It turned out that we had spent the summer 1990 in Palucca Schule Dresden, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I was there to attend a course in Ballet methodology for ballet teachers and she was a talented young ballet student.  That summer 28 years ago stays in my memory as a world long lost. Occasionally I have returned to Dresden in my thoughts, to those weeks when DDR was changed into West Germany just over night. When earth colours were replaced by garish plastic kitsch in the stores. During all the turmoil, Palucca Schule remained intact, following the tradition set by its founder, avant garde dancer Gret Palucca, that of providing an educational mix of modern dance and classical ballet in order to bring up generations of well-formed dancers. Maybe it was here that I first understood the value of blending and mixing disciplines, eventually paving way for me becoming Dancing English Teacher in a business school. So at the end, my dislocated elbow enabled a joyful encounter with my past. And my recovery is in very good hands, soon I will be able to fly again!

Arms that were once wings

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The Sealed Room of the Heart – or Of Robots and Men

I borrow the first part of my title from Swedish actor and singer Thorsten Flinck’s song Hjärtats slutna rum –  a song about a father and son not connecting. About a son standing mutely next to the sealed room of his father’s heart. Yet, it turns out that there existed a door that could have been unlocked to interconnect the sealed hearts of father and son.

A week has passed since taking part in the Pesso-Boyden System Psychomotor  (PBSP) seminar organized in Helsinki.  A week of heightened awareness and gratitude for having had the opportunity to experience something truly valuable and of rare beauty.  As I see it, fundamentally PBSP is about unlocking sealed emotions in the body. In my dance teacher studies in the mid-90’s, I recall a Dutch lecturer who made us unlock emotions by touch. However, upon walking into the PBSP seminar I did not exactly know what to expect, even if I had been previously introduced to the theory of the method. I was soon to find out that the two PBSP days would be extremely tough, since the method takes the participants directly into the fundamental questions of human existence. We all seem to be scarred by rejection and feelings of unworthiness. Burdened by the sadness of not being accepted as our unique selves. On the other hand, participants were connected by a quest for authentic voice and a profound wish to heal. Finally, I was over-whelmed by the kindness, respect and authenticity I experienced in the group of almost strangers who felt like a long-lost family to me.

Upon returning to work on Monday morning, I was invited to attend a lecture by an expert in robotics. The contrast could not have been any bigger from the true emotions I had experienced during the Pesso-Boyden weekend. In the lecture I learnt how Artificial Intelligence will rapidly take over more and more fields in society. There was an example of a lonely pensioner who had happily hugged a robot for two hours as there was no friends or family in his life. Apparently, this was a care-taker robot that responded to touch to a certain extent. There were other examples, such as universities where part of the teaching staff are robots. Where are we heading from this point? As teacher and human being, I need to be connected to myself in order to encounter my students who are young adults. As human, I bring my life experience and intuition into these encounters. I strive to be present in the moment and true. Looking back at my own university studies, I recall with warmth my teacher Père Bethune, a Dominican monk who taught us French translation – and about life. He was old, hunch-backed and wrecked with pain, and a passionate human being. The word Passion comes from Latin passio that stand for “pain”. A robot cannot be passionate because it feels no pain, its emotions are mere algorithms. Its touch is plastic.

This spring I have been invited to teach dance workshops at Laurea University of Applied Sciences at a course called “Luovuus ja toiminnallisuus asiakastyössä”, created by Dr. Kaarina Marjanen, specialist in music pedagogy. All the methods used in the course are derived from arts pedagogics: music, dance, photography and drama. The purpose is to prepare nursing and social services students for authentic encounters with their clients/ patients. For having the courage to see and touch where there is the most need for solace. It has been a true joy teaching dance without any obligation to wrap it into labels such as stage presence or embodied business performance skills. Students have danced together for the joy of dancing and connecting.  I firmly believe that this type of course would also have its place in a business university: in a world of digitalization and robots we need to have the ability to connect to ourselves and to fellow human beings on a profound level. To be compassionate and authentic. In other words, we need to become less robot-like, since we cannot compete with the cold perfection of Artificial Intelligence.

I entered my teaching career as Assistant Ballet Teacher at a very young age. This year I’ve been teaching for 30 years. The Pesso-Boyden System Psychomotor method has given me new insights into my life and profession. Thank you organizers Riitta and Pirjo and all the participants for everything you shared and for the precious moments we had together.

Teaching beginners ballet in the early 90’s


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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.”



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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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