Last March, while preparing for my colleague Brook Thorndycraft’s webinar series Ripples and Rumbles: Subverting Leadership, she asked me about the metaphor I used for my webinar –“Dancing with Power”. Dancing – a joyful, carefree, sometimes sweaty bit of fun – isn’t something most people would associate with the word power, right?
I had to go back almost 20 years to pinpoint the moment I first used it. I had left a senior level leadership position in health care to work on the ground with grass-roots community groups working toward gender justice, and I was making a presentation to a local group of agencies advocating for women-specific mental health resources. The title of my presentation was: “My Dance with Power: What I have learned and what I still need to learn.” I spoke about how, at a fairly young age, I stepped into leadership roles with increasing authority and influence. I adopted the leadership paradigm I grew up with, one seeped in more masculine energy and patriarchal ways of being. It left me exhausted and isolated. But working alongside women’s groups to get them access to funding, my relationship to power and how I used it was shifting. I had started dancing with a different kind of partner, one rooted in building relationship, listening with deep curiosity, and co-creating with women’s groups. I was connecting more and more with personal, relational, and collective power. I was inviting more feminine ways of knowing and being in my work.
The diverse team of women I spoke to that day and worked with over the years helped me develop an intersectional feminist analysis to power and systems change. They were teaching me a different way to think about and do power.
Today, Dancing with Power is still rooted in that first experience of dancing with a different partner and shifting power. It has taken on other meanings, too – some I am still exploring. Today, I complement my feminist systems change analysis and understanding of systemic power with Julie Diamond’s Power Intelligence® framework. Dancing with Power is about recognizing that power is neither good nor bad, that we all have power, and it’s what we do with it and how we use it that determines our impact.
As Larissa Conte describes, “power is the capacity to move energy through a system.” When we think about power this way, then learning to dance with our power is critical to the impact we want to have. We need to see our own power, understand our relationship to power, be aware of our blind spots, and how we can misuse power. Depending on the context, we can change dance partners. We don’t have to depend on one source of power. Our ultimate dance partner is our own power – our personal power – our inner compass, our sense of self, the courage and belief we have to overcome obstacles, the discipline to stay in the struggle, our resilience –these all make up our personal power.
Dancing with Power is also about our embodied sense of power. Where and how does power live in us? What shapes do our bodies take when we stand in positional power confident about who we are and what we are doing? What energy lives in our bodies when we lose our ground and get triggered? How does our embodiment of power impact those around us?
At a deeply personal level, given my life experiences, Dancing with Power was a way for me to step boldly into my own power, reclaiming my voice and agency.
If you are a leader interested in learning more about your Dancing with Power, I will have a new offering, with an on-line or in-person option, starting in January 2024. Using Social Presencing Theatre and Julie Diamond’s Power Intelligence® Framework, we will excavate our unique Dance with Power. If you are interested, join the waitlist here and I’ll email you when registration opens.