Experiential Learning Activity – Dancing

The purpose of this experiential learning activity (ELA) is to demonstrate?

  1. Sometimes unpredicted behaviors take place in cross-cultural settings.
  2. They may even occur abruptly.
  3. The observed behaviors may appear normal or strange.
  4. We may or may not be able to predict them.
  5. It may feel uncomfortable to participate in the behaviors.
  6. Participation will require adjustment.
  7. Likely any attempt to participate will be appreciated by locals.
  8. It may begin to build a foundation for relationships.
  9. Even though we think we understand the form and function of the behaviors, we may not understand their meaning.

Inform your training group that you plan to use an experiential learning activity (ELA) to demonstrate adjustment in the cross-cultural setting. At this point do not give them any details related to the ELA.

Perhaps using your laptop computer with small external speakers (or any other suitable device) begin to play a type of music. It works well if the music has an international flare like salsa, tango, or European waltz. Once the music is playing, turn to the group and say, “Do you want to dance with me?” Beckon them with your eyes and hands. While you beckon them to join you, slowly dance befitting the style of music.

What will happen next? Who knows! It depends on the individuals in your group. Two or three may join you. Sometimes no one will. Or, many may get up from their seats and join the dance in the middle of the room as did training participants at SIETAR Argentina in Buenos Aires.

After about three or four minutes of dancing, whether anyone joins you or not, begin to jump straight up and down. Do so without changing your facial expressions. Do so with confidence as if this transition always happens. Say to the group, “This is how I dance the salsa” (or whatever type of music you have chosen). Continue for a minute or so (to observe the reaction of other dancers and the observers). At this point the ELA ends.

How to debrief? Note that the questions below follow the pattern of learning suggested in David Kolb’s Circle of Experiential Learning (1984).

  1. What did you see?
  2. What did I do? What did others do?
  3. How did you feel?
  4. To what degree were you caught off guard?
  5. Why did you or did you not join in with the dance?
  6. Do you know how to dance the salsa?
  7. What transition took place (of course, referring to the jumping up and down)?
  8. Did the transition catch you off guard? Why?
  9. How did you react to something that seemed “strange”? How did you adapt?
  10. Did you want to correct the behavior? Was it wrong?
  11. At what point would you have joined in the jumping up and down?
  12. In what ways does the activity relate to living and working across cultures?
  13. Why are we caught off guard interculturally?
  14. What CQ capabilities relate to our reluctance to dance?
Dr. Laurence Romani, Assistant Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics

I want to thank Dr. Laurence Romani for introducing me to this ELA. She is a researcher in cross-cultural management at the Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden). She also helped with the draft of this blog post. Dr. Romani writes, “Something to remember from the exercise is to ‘keep on dancing’ by maintaining the interaction/dialogue with the Other. The most important thing is not whether people dance well or not…it is that they keep on dancing even when things get strange, this way, they maintain a dialogue, an exchange, a communication and thereby a possibility to learn and collaborate.”

If you decide to use this ELA, let GPC know how it went and what you learned about the learning process.