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The Business Dance: What leotards and pirouettes can teach business leaders Featured

Sarah Lanzon is a professional dancer who has made her professional debut in 2006, when she was chosen to choreograph a 30-minute performance for the opening ceremony of the Euro-Med Congress of Radiographers held in Malta. Since then, Sarah has taken her dancing career to new heights and has recently started her own business which is based upon her passion for dancing and helping others.

Sarah Lanzon has been dancing for as long as she remembers; yet when asked to pinpoint the moment when she decided to become a professional dancer, she says that the decision emerged in a very spontaneous manner. After having successfully completed her Russian Ballet Society soloist ballet exam at 16 - one of the youngest candidates ever to sit for it - she felt it was only natural to take her dancing career further and two years later she enrolled at the Northern Ballet School in Manchester, where she studied a variety of styles of dance performance.

After completing her academic studies, Sarah moved to London where she applied her dancing skills in a variety of settings where she could help other people improve their lives. She was asked by businesses to teach their employees stretching exercises, correct posture and preventive techniques to avoid injury.

Having dedicated a significant amount of time doing voluntary work in Malta, Sarah also decided to apply her dancing skills in therapeutic scenarios. While in London, she also worked at Parkinson’s UK, an organisation that supports people with Parkinson’s and researchers searching for a cure for this debilitating condition. She fondly recalls her experiences of watching patients and their carers; often wives and husbands, dance together and having fun. She thus became aware of the power of dance to improve one’s life.

In April 2013, Sarah hosted an intensive dance retreat which focused on body awareness: helping people become more aware of tensions in their bodies and through this awareness begin undoing bad posture habits that lead to back and neck problems, which are very prevalent in the local population.

A month later, following the success of that retreat, Sarah moved back to Malta and people began asking her for more classes that would teach them about body movement and injury prevention. Deciding to embrace both the artistic as well as the therapeutic aspects of dance, she founded ‘Plethora Dance’, an organisation whose name reflects the manifold application of dance as well as the great variety of styles.

Besides creating the choreography for dance productions and working alongside engaged couples on dance routines for their wedding day, Sarah is regularly engaged by companies to offer health and safety classes to their employees and teach about movement efficiency and measures to reduce neck and backache due to standing or sitting for long hours. She demonstrates how people can become better at caring for their body through stretching techniques and better awareness.

Sarah Lanzon also offer specialised dance classes and physical therapy sessions for people with disabilities or mobility problems. By tailoring her approach to the specific needs of her clients, she provides a service that uniquely addresses their needs not just from a weakness perspective, but more so from a holistical one. This is not unlike the emphasis on individualised customer service and tailored solution that characterises innovative businesses.

Indeed, one of Sarah Lanzon’s key competencies is her ability to focus on the person standing before her as a whole organism. To illustrate this point, she offers a comparison between a specialist who examines a patient complaining of a painful knee by looking at the knee only, whereas she would look at the person as a whole and take into consideration other possible causes for this condition, such as flat arches due to an incorrect walking technique. Having a narrow focus when looking at problems, even business challenges, is often the cause of much frustration for leaders. Taking a wider perspective and thinking in the long-term rather than the short-term often allows unseen possibilities to emerge.

Business lessons from the dance floor

During our interview with Sarah Lanzon of Plethora Dance, several similarities between dance and business were raised. Here we summarise eight of the most salient points that emerged during the interview:

• Naturally, a life spent dancing causes one to become very sensitive of their body. Sarah’s first lesson to business leaders is not to neglect their bodies, despite the stresses involved in running a business.
• Becoming aware of one’s body can be as simple as closing one’s eyes and mentally scanning their bodies from top to bottom for tension, such as clenched jaws or hunched up shoulders.
• One’s body is one’s ultimate source of energy. Take care of it by stretching and exercising regularly.
• Think holistically -- physical fitness is only one side of the coin, emotional well-being is equally important, particularly when working in groups or teams. Sarah believes that a company should at least be united in its vision, if not necessarily in the methods to be used.
• Stretching does not apply only to the body; stretching one’s organisation may involve taking bold moves that open possibilities hitherto untapped.
• Challenge people if you need them to be creative. Giving them the trust to explore their ideas will reap benefits not only in terms of innovative ideas but also in improved team spirit and morale.
• Focus on the positive. Every system has strengths and weakness, just like the human body. Channelling your energy in building on the positive can help you gain confidence and unlock solutions that help you to tackle problematic areas.
• Study ideas in fields that are very different than your own. An interdisciplinary approach provides the right mix of ideas and perspective that can precipitate creative solutions that are impossible to reach otherwise.
This ability to look at a given situation holistically is complemented by Sarah’s tendency to build on a client’s strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. A lesson learnt from her experience in dance is that the body very often has opposing areas of strength and weakness. An area of stiffness in the body is usually accompanied by another area that is more flexible. By highlighting and building on a person’s strength, she lays the groundwork that provides the self-confidence necessary to tackle problematic areas successfully.

When focusing on strengthening any weakness, she points out the importance of regularly reminding the person of previous success. This not only encourages a person towards further growth, but also serves to place any temporary setbacks or flatlines in a wider context of continual improvement, a suggestion that is just as relevant in the therapeutic setting as in the business arena.

Sarah Lanzon already had a clear idea of the work that being self-employed and launching one’s own business involves thanks to her parents and many of her relatives who were in a similar situation as she is nowadays. Although she was never directly involved in her family’s concern, she appreciated the lengthy hours that attend being self-employed. As founder and director of her own company, Plethora Dance, Sarah has had to take several decisions of her own including overseeing marketing and administration work.

Sarah says that she learnt many lessons about running one’s own business after she founded Plethora Dance, and although she does not have a mentor, she was and is always able to depend on a wide network of friends and relatives who support her and provide her with any guidance needed when facing any challenges.

Her family were instrumental in this regards, as were relatives and friends who also run their own businesses. Naturally, she also mentions her boyfriend as a source of emotional support that helped her work through some of the toughest challenges involved in setting up her own business.

Whilst Sarah has often had to deal with many aspects of her business on her own, she regularly collaborates with other dance professionals or entrusts people she deems appropriate for the job at hand. She explains that although she is the one calling the shots when designing a new choreography, she always empowers others to explore their creativity and come up with original artistic visions that they can build upon collaboratively.

In closing, the step that Sarah Lanzon has taken of owning her own business was as graceful and carefully thought out as one of her pirouettes on stage. Her business acumen has been uniquely shaped by her dancing background, blending both areas seamlessly, which is proof of the effectiveness of her interdisciplinary approach both when interacting with clients as well as in managing her own business.

Last modified onTuesday, 16 December 2014 11:50

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