I used to strap on tango shoes and “dance in the moment’ for real two or three times a week. I loved the sensation of moving around the dance floor with a graceful and skilled partner. And I endeavour to dance in the moment metaphorically in my professional life every time I coach someone in life/ business. It seems this little phrase, and the opportunity to actually live it, is part of my daily existence these days.

Dancing in the moment is one of about 40 skills identified by The Coach Training Institute as necessary skills for a co-active coach, of which I am one.

The textbook definition of dancing in the moment says that:

Coaches are dancing in the moment when they are being completely present with the client, holding their client’s agenda, accessing their (the coach’s) intuition, and letting the client lead them. When coaches dance in the moment, they are open to any steps the client takes and are willing to go in the client’s direction and flow.

I was reminded how much I love this particular skill last week as a participated in a skills building call on this very topic. These calls are hosted by Coach Ben Dooley (www.bedo.org) and stimulate lively and nuanced discussion among coaches and coaches in training. Ben himself dances in the moment in his personal and professional lives. On a coaching forum, I read about Ben’s trials and tribulations of returning to ballet after what was a long absence. Very shortly after he signed up for the class, he twisted his ankle and had to “dance in the moment” with his injury and the pain and disappointment of not being able to follow through with his intention to dance ballet.

In coaching, the idea for me is to dance with my clients through the various issues that are important in their lives. This dance can be a powerful and beautiful thing. At its best, it goes something like this: I ask a question to help the client come up with a topic for the session and then I give them the lead. As I listen with curiosity and intuition, I might realize that if I let them keep leading, they will take us to the corner of the dance floor that they know all too well—maybe it’s fear, resistance, old habits, limited thinking. Like in tango, at the moment I feel that we heading in that direction, I make a decision to follow them there or take the lead back for a time, sometimes very gently and sometimes with a jolt that lets them know I am leading. Interestingly, while there are times when going into the corner clearly won’t serve the client, it is not always easily apparent what direction to take. So as coach, I use my intuition, my listening and my training to guide me. After all, going to that corner can be full of rich learning and it can also be slippery enough to cause us to fall. Often we won’t know until we dance on over and see what is there. And despite where we go, and even if we fall, as long as the metaphorical music is playing, we keep dancing with whatever is there and trust that it will take us somewhere, or more precisely, it will take us exactly where we need to be.

In tango, the leader, often male, is always in charge. Yet this doesn’t mean he controls the entire dance. The most intriguing moments arise when he gives the follower time to embellish. In an improvised dance like tango, the communication that goes on between partners through all the senses, and particularly touch, sight, and hearing, is incredibly powerful. For dancers (tangueros/ tangueras), when there is true connection it feels magical. For spectators, the intensity, passion, and aliveness is stunning to witness. In fact, the connection is so strong and the dancers so in tune, most non-tango dancers cannot believe the dance is not choreographed in advance.

As a coach, I am hired to be in charge, deciding when to lead my client and when to follow. It’s a dance that is improvised with every response, sigh, pause or tear. It requires safety, trust and faith between coach and client. The results are often unexpected and rich.

On the real dance floor, dancing a tanda (usually a set of three to five songs) to beautiful music with a gracious and skilled leader can be an end in itself. In coaching, there are bigger goals at play and the dance is simply a way to get to them. If a tanda represents the client’s issue of how to communicate effectively with their partner, for example, and the whole milonga (the actual place where people dance) represents all relationships in their life…what is equivalent to the bigger picture of the client’s whole life? Metaphors be damned, it’s the everything, the every dance. It is the essence of the quality of life the client wants to live and how they want to be in this life. It is much bigger than a dance, and yet it can be as graceful, intense, and fulfilling as the best tango.

Leading, following, connecting and dancing a life of intention…does it get any better than this?



  1. jantango on January 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Dance gives us a way of expressing ourselves and being in the moment. I like what Gabrielle Roth (The Wave–Ecstatic Dance for Body & Soul) says: Your soul wants to express pure energy in the moment. It’s not about how you look, it’s about how you feel. What ever you’re feeling, surrender to it, move with it. If you don’t do your dance, who will?

    I live and dance tango in Buenos Aires.

    • Lisa on January 20, 2009 at 9:30 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. It’s the first to my blog so I want to mark the occasion! I have been to Argentina a couple of times and really love Buenos Aires. How wonderful that you “dance your life” there.

Leave a Comment