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


About Pia Kiviaho-Kallio

Dancing English Teacher holds an MA in English Philology and is a certified dance teacher. She takes interest in introducing dance and movement improvisation into vocational business studies. Dance is a shortcut to embodiment, kinesthetic awareness and efficient team work. Thus, business students benefit from dance and movement studies.
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