Courage to Dance

Remember the little ditty “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t”?

I’ll bet Dancing Man felt like a nut, for a short time, anyway.

Looks kind of like the Harlem Shake, right?

Why do you think Dancing Man makes us uncomfortable? I think it is because ultimately, we fear being judged and then alone, wiggling our naked belly (or bared soul) for all to see.

In a few days, I will join the other Eisenhower Fellows (both USA and International) in Philadelphia for a kick-off orientation. The session facilitator sent us some pre-read (or, in this case pre-“watch”) material and the Dancing Man video and commentary came to my inbox among the excellent articles recommended. The common theme? Directive leadership: outdated and ineffective. Instead, success comes from collaborative, community energy generated when people trust each other.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are you embarrassed by Shirtless Dancing Man? I was, a little bit. I thought, “C’mon man! Nobody wants to see that! Sit down and put your shirt on!

But then, Fully Clothed Follower showed up. And I thought, “Hey, good for that guy!

Then I watched, intrigued, as a flood of followers came into the frame, dancing and whooping with joyful recklessness.

Then, I felt a tiny flash of fright. (Are we going to dance at EF orientation!? Yikes!)

I’ve noticed in some business environments, empathy and compassion for others is out of vogue, while self-promotion and arrogance is appreciated as powerful—so much so that those who exhibit servant leadership can be derided as weak, feeble or out-of-touch. I’ve even been directly advised to be “more aggressive and talk loudly, or these guys will decimate you!” Are we so riddled with self-doubt that we must prove our hegemony constantly (especially to ourselves, lest we lose control)?


Leaders who “go it alone” end up depleted, angry and bitter. Energized, effective leaders sow the seeds of freedom and encouragement, to reap a harvest of creativity and continuous progress. Energized leaders know that two brains are better than one—especially when those two brains come from entirely different perspectives.

“Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.”

~Jack Welch

When the ground shifts from terra firma to quicksand; when selfish politics and jockeying for power robs my spirit, leaving me gasping, I try to engage actively in the service of others, embrace and enjoy differences, enable and nurture creative freedom and revel in the new growth I see. Pretty soon, I’m re-energized, growing and back on track—and so is my team.

My son had a high-school teacher, an Episcopal priest, who strode around the classroom, waving his arms passionately, black cassock flying, as he lectured students. (Yes, it was a public high school and he was an incredible role model of unabashed moral behavior). He boldly told his students that the gifts they’d been given in life weren’t theirs to hoard, protect or flaunt. Gifts weren’t given for personal advancement. Gifts only thrived when you gave them away.

A gift of acceptance. A gift of collaboration.

A gift of confidence. A gift of community. A gift of success.

It all starts with the courage to dance.

MNP and USA Fellowship class of 2013

Eisenhower Fellowship Class of 2013, including both MNP and USA Fellows



2 thoughts on “Courage to Dance

  1. Polly,

    I love this quote: Gifts weren’t given for personal advancement. Gifts only thrived when you gave them away. That is so true.

    I am enjoying reading the blog—It sounds like you are having a great trip. How long are you gone?


    • That teacher was an amazing man. I’m here on an Eisenhower Fellowship, so in Japan for three weeks total. I love your blog! You’ve helped so many people understand food in such an intimate way. Thank you for what you do!

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