The Grade School Dance

I’ve been thinking about the state of health promotion and design, and in some ways, it reminds me of a grade school dance, hence the name of this post. Hair styled up, make-up on (or cover up for that matter, because who can forget that middle school acne?), and wearing your best garb, a grade school dance can be quite a nerve wracking experience, especially when it comes at the beginning of the year.

At the dance there are streamers, balloons, low light, and inviting banners to set the mood. You don’t really know all the other students, so at first, you stick close to your peers. The wall flowers stand back chatting amongst themselves, keeping dibs on who does or doesn’t get asked to dance. A few teachers encourage the kids to find a partner, get out on the dance floor, and have a little fun…and you and a few others actually muster up the courage to do so. You walk up to someone, ask politely for them to dance, and move to the middle of the dance floor. Yeah, you might not know how to dance but you go for it anyways, wiping the sweat off your clammy hands before placing them on your partner — that moment of physical contact sparks excitement and nervousness throughout your body. Feeling a bit stiff and arms length apart you look around at the other couples, trying to pick up on their dance cues. Not sure what to do, someone starts to take a lead: shuffle forward, shuffle back.

Your feet may feel a bit clumsy but you repeat the actions: shuffle forward, shuffle back. Double checking that your partner’s face is free of any signs of confusion or angst, you continue with the rhythm. Halfway into the song, you feel slightly more comfortable, relaxed and confident, even going so far as to try out a new step or spin, or even drawing your partner in a bit closer. Over time, new rhythms slowly form and you become more dynamic and fluid on the dance floor. Soon enough, you may even try something different by switching your partner or changing the music.

That’s how I see health promotion and design. It’s new territory, no one really knows what they’re doing, and we still have to get to know each other. It may feel a bit awkward or unfamiliar at first, but with time and experience, things come together more smoothly. The art and skill of dancing takes, time, experience, relationship building, and some risk-taking but it seems that right now is the perfect time to take bigger strides and pull each other closer so that we can find new rhythms, patterns and movements that bring health promotion and design to the next level.

I think this quote from Gordon MacKenzie helps sum up some of these thoughts nicely:

On the dance floor, people are not boxed in, and they manage very nicely to avoid tripping over one another. If we are to achieve the quantum leaps the future seems to be demanding of us, we must risk to leave our containers-turned cages and find the grace to dance without stepping on toes.

Others’ or our own.

– Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Page 97

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