Leadership Lessons from Dance – Signals

As I drove to dance practice recently I witnessed an action in everyday life that I then interpreted through dance and translated into leadership. I’m so excited to share it:


I exited off the highway/freeway and turned on my blinkers to alert other drivers that I was exiting. I turned off my blinkers as I merged from the on-ramp to the side street. I then turned my blinkers on again to indicate that I was changing lanes twice. I again turned off my blinker until I neared the major intersection where I was making a right turn. I turned on my blinkers again as I waited to turn right. The car in front of me, however, turned on their blinkers when they were exiting the freeway and kept them on until they turned right at the intersection.


As the person driving behind the car with their blinkers on for several minutes I was unclear of their intentions. I wasn’t sure if they just forgot to turn their blinkers off or if they were intentionally on. The signal lost its power and meaning when left on for a long period of time and became more frustrating then informative. There were several streets and business driveways passed that they could have turned into before getting to the stop light / major intersection yet it was left to my interpretation to figure that out.

I began to reflect on recent dance lessons I had taught specifically discussing the importance of bringing a follow’s hand down after a turn to indicate that the turn was over and to help them prepare their body and mind for the next movement to be led. I also teach to keep the follow’s hand up if multiple or consecutive turns are to occur so that the follow’s know to stay engaged until the hand is brought down again and they can return to the basic dance step.

As I watched the car in front of me with their turn indicator on throughout multiple transitions (off the ramp, changing lanes, driving down the street, and turning at the intersection) it reminded me of a lead in a partnered dance setting. To mirror what the car did the lead would need to prep a follow’s hand for a turn then leave the hand up during the basic step then turn the follow again without any additional indication, signal or preparation. The follow would need to keep their body and mind engaged for a potential turn that could occur at anytime throughout the dance which could get physically and mentally exhausting as well as lead to confusion and misinterpretation.


Whether with car signals or dance signals it is more important to be clear for the other drivers on the road / dance follows then to make it easier for the driver / dance lead. The point of signaling is to communicate one’s intention to others around you so that they can adjust their actions accordingly. Therefore, if the signal is prolonged then it looses its meaning, effectiveness, and could become a liability.

  • Let others know your intentions in a timely manner
  • After an action, or series of actions, allow time for a reset before signally / engaging again
  • Stay ready, stay alert, breathe
  • There is always another lesson to learn around the corner!

Your turn! What are your thoughts, reactions, take-a-ways, or other examples? I always seek to create dialogue so please comment below!


If you liked this blog post please comment and visit others in the series:ย Leadership Lessons from Dance

7 comments on “Leadership Lessons from Dance – Signals

  1. I like it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    When driving around, it is very frustrating to me when other drivers take actions without any signals, assuming that everyone else around them knows what they are doing. You are totally caught off guard and become super confused and even scared sometimes. In dance, it is unpleasant to get turns when there isnโ€™t a signal (communication) or when itโ€™s off beat. Perhaps the lead assumed that the follow would just know that there would be a turn coming. In leadership, make sure that you DO communicate your intentions and not just assume that they are obvious to everyone else.

    Communicate. Communicate.

  2. Good read! Thanks for sharing Dr.

  3. Love these parallels!! ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿฝ

  4. I like the real-life example! Signaling is definitely an instance where catering to the follow is super important.. I had a student on yesterday who would always prep the turn at his own forehead level rather than his follow’s, so I had to remind him that with the prep he’s telling his follow what’s happening, since he should already know!

  5. Awesome analogy. Clear signaling in leadership can be hard to do but is so important!

  6. Itโ€™s sooo trueee especially when it comes to the turns or like a new move that a follow might not be so sure about ๐Ÿ˜Š and it might make the follow confused

  7. I like the analogy! I’m sure all of us have been in the road situation you’ve described where we’re trying to interpret unclear signals. So for a lead who may never have followed and hence doesn’t know what it feels like on our end, this could be a great way to empathize!

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