idocde » Editorial

teaching dance, flying airplanes and surgery procedures

Questions of hierarchy are of importance when we are dealing with complex situations. Complex situations are often made of a whole set of basic aspects we don’t want to miss, occurring in combination with unpredictabilites: events happening at the same time, unforeseen reactions, or other outside factors complicating the issue.

Examples that come to mind for these kind of complex situations are surgery procedures, flying airplanes, and sometimes dance classes.

While teaching dance, we move in a three dimensional web of thinking, moving and sensing, perceiving individuals and the group as a whole, comparing what we perceive with what we want to reach, assessing the reasons for deviation from the goal, setting measures. At the same time students pursue their own goals that you probably are not aware of. They might have a different understanding of the words you use. The interaction among students and the students with you bringing in a whole different set of social rules, expectations, experiences. Not even to start with the individual history of our bodies, our physical experiences that shape our understanding of movement and dance, and asthetic and personal values and many other things, such as the institution who hired you and other outside factors-

Leaning back and reading this, it becomes clear why we not always reach what we want in class. Although the consequences usually do not concern life and death so directly as mistakes of pilots or surgeons do!

Recently I heard an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande on the radio. Dr. Gawande introduced a checklist for surgical procedures, thus massively improving success rates, without actually changing something in a close „medical sense“.

At the base of checklist thinking there is the assumption that humans not only can, but will act inconsistently and fail – even experts. But there is another aspect at least equally important that comes along with the kind of checklists that Dr. Gawande promotes, which is directed towards the fact that several humans work together:

‚Like making sure everyone in the operating room knows each other by name. When introductions were made before a surgery, Gawande says, the average number of complications and deaths dipped by 35 percent.

"Making sure everybody knew each other's name produced what they called an activation phenomenon," Gawande explains. "The person, having gotten a chance to voice their name, let speak in the room — were much more likely to speak up later if they saw a problem."’


So Dr. Gawande draws on shared intelligence by true team work. Still, the number of 35 % dip in complication is quite astonishing, isn’t it? If you look at the checklist (scroll down in the link above), my reactions to the checklink items vary from „well, that goes without saying, doesn’ it“ to „is that really essential in a hectic and pressured situation?“

Of course, a surgery procedure is only partially comparable to a dance class. For once, surgery is very goal oriented, while most dance classes, where learning is supposed to take place, have more aspects of process orientation. Maybe a translation of what Dr. Gawande does into (dance) education would be student centered learning – in the sense that participants in a dance class are encouraged to draw on their experience and capacities, and to use individual learning styles to meet the challenges presented. The overused terminus of empowerment comes to my mind.

I suspect there are equivalents to the points on Dr. Gawande’s checklist for a dance class still unexplored. By that I mean little knacks or ideas that are not necessarily related to the content of a dance class that open up doors and potentials. --

What do you do to get your participants on board, to create an environment for an inspired learning process? Do you use knowledge you gained as an expert in other fields? I am curious to hear, and hope to get some ideas about it at the 2nd IDOCDE Symposium coming up August 1-3 at ImPulsTanz Vienna. See you there!

Kerstin Kussmaul

Idocde founder

July 3rd, 2014