Every Wednesday morning my routine is the same. Every Wednesday morning, I set an alarm for 9am, hit the snooze button three times, and roll out of bed by 9:15. Then I throw on clothes, make breakfast, and walk to my 10am class. I take off my jacket and shoes and sit on the studio floor. When we hear the music over the speakers, we know class has begun. We warm up for the first 5-10 minutes of class by stretching in our spaces, equidistant from each other, while music is playing in the background. Usually the first song is something calm, flowy, but still with climax. Think Adele’s song for the old James Bond movie.
Then after a few minutes, we hear the song change, accompanied with the words "partner up, stand equidistant from the other partners" from our loud, outspoken, blunt British professor. We know what to do by now. We partner up with another actor, facing our partners. One partner leads and the other partner follows. The "leading" partner does a series of exercises to stretch and warm up and use their body and the "following" partner mimics the "leading" partner. We hold eye contact the entire time. We never talk. Talking is not allowed during the entire morning. The only noise in the room is from the speakers. He yells at us again and the song changes to a cheesy, American song! Songs like Dancing Queen by ABBA, Tainted Love, Run the World by Beyoncé, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, and so many more crazy songs. There's something about the volume and the complete and utter cheesiness of the songs that makes everyone want to DANCE. Then after some time, he yells at us to switch partners again. It's a whole new playlist every class period and I swear each song builds on the energy and cheesiness of the previous one, making us want to build on the energy and cheesiness. I have never shaken my behind more times than in that studio, every Wednesday morning.
After a few rounds of partners, he will yell "two groups of five". There are ten people in my acting intensive, so this means make two groups of five people. We get in two large groups, equidistant from each other. Next one person becomes the leader for the entire group and the rest of the group mimics the leader’s dance moves. Then gradually, somehow, without talking, the leadership role shifts to someone else. Any person from the group, whenever they feel like it, can start doing completely new dance moves and the rest of us eventually start following that person. Sometimes you can see a lag in snatching the leadership position and it’s really difficult to lead. It’s a vicious cycle because usually the current person leading leads for a very long time, making the rest of us not want to lead. My best guess is that we are all afraid to take that leadership position because we are afraid to be the leader too long, we are afraid that we will run out of dance moves (you can only boogie and do the shopping cart move so many times, right?), and we think we will embarrass ourselves or seem uncreative.
The goal is to redirect the energy acquired during warmups to scene work later, become relaxed and comfortable in the space with all of the people dancing like clowns and dancing queens. This group dance exercise with a leadership position that flows from person to person is really interesting for me to analyze, especially because at Olin, we work in groups the majority of the time.
There is one group during my time at Olin that has seemed to function without a leader, my User Oriented Collaborative Design “UOCD” group of five. We were friendly with each other and knew each other’s names, but somehow at this small school, I had not interacted with them much before the group formation. UOCD is a class that incorporates people of all majors to design products for a user group. For the first few weeks, I would describe us as meek to make decisions. I think we were hesitant to be bold because we were not familiar with each other yet. Right before the end of our first sprint, we began taking leadership on different things. There was not a single person that consistently led. Similar to the dance boogie warmup in my theatre class, the leadership shifted positions. If two or three of my team mates went on a user visit, then they took leadership on making the persona board for that person. Mainly we were good at dividing tasks and group discussion. Sometimes we were assigned many long papers, several on each topic, on topics such as framing, personas, scenarios, and user visits. We used a suggested style of homework for the class where each one of us reads all of the papers for one topic and then delivers a breakdown of the content to the rest of the members. It felt like all of us were talented designers and when there were decisions that needed to be made, we would discuss. Leadership would flow between us and usually the person who did the reading on the topic would refer to the reading as supporting evidence. We were really good about blending all of our ideas into a product. I felt because the leadership position shifted from person to person, depending on the subject and the day, we were all leaders.
Shaking my tail feather to Dancing Queen in this group circle every morning reminded me so much of this group. In my dance circle on Wednesday mornings, I was forced to pay attention to all of my peers in my circle. I noticed their looks and their body language. If one seemed confident and eager, then they were about to lead and I should wait for their instruction. If one looked scared, then I knew that they were thinking about going next. If someone else was doing other dance moves, then I should follow them because they wanted to lead. If the current leader seemed wide eyed and scared, then they needed help and I would try to pull the leadership. If I was the leader, well then it was continuous crazy dancing. I think my favorite dance moves to whip out are: the shopping cart, the jive, the move your head to the right and move your head to the left, the sprinkler, and the hip clock pop, in order of favoritism.
It would be really interesting to have some groups at Olin perform this exercise. I wonder how, if, and why leadership dynamics would shift. This exercise has enhanced my body language expression skills, my observation skills, made me more confident in my ability to hold leadership, and literally think of new dance moves on the spot. It also makes you more energized and comfortable with your group because, well, you all just saw each other dancing like maniacs to old pop songs.