Deborah Grayson Riegel
If you were to see me attempting to slow dance, do the “Single Ladies” hand wave, or even the hora at a bar mitzvah or wedding, you would never guess that I have, in fact, taken dancing lessons.
My first dance lessons – tap, jazz and ballet – started when I was an uncoordinated five-year-old who simply adored tutus and toe shoes. The highlight of my youthful dance career was during my recital at Carnegie Hall (yes, I had practiced, practiced, practiced) when the curtain got stuck and refused to close at the end of our group’s performance. And while I wasn’t the best dancer, I was the bravest dancer, and I walked to the middle of the stage and just kept bowing until the curtain was fixed.
My second set of dance lessons was in my mid-20s at the 92nd Street Y in preparation for my wedding. My then-fiance Michael and I decided that we wanted to learn to swing, waltz and foxtrot together, as a shared activity (but mostly to impress our guests). What I learned most from those classes was that my natural instinct is to take the lead – and that Michael’s natural instinct was to be frustrated and even insulted by that. By the time we finished our lessons, I had learned to suppress my instinct, which made the dancing look better – and also made it so that Michael was still willing to get married to me.
My third set of dance lessons was in my 30s, when I decided to become a professional coach. In coaching school, we were taught to partner with our clients in a way that best served their needs and our coaching relationship – and that this partnership would change and evolve over time. It was called “dancing in the moment” and required the coach to read and respond to the client’s needs, values, goals, obstacles and energy. It was – finally – the kind of dance that I could do, and have done, with hundreds of clients over the past decade.
That dance wasn’t salsa or samba. That dance was being “proflexsponsive” – which is when we are proactive, flexible and responsive to the changing needs and demands of a person, a system, a group or a community. This dance may require us to be brave – perhaps taking the lead even when we’re not entirely sure what to do next. This dance may require us to suppress some natural instincts and take a back seat when we want to be driving the whole initiative. And this dance may require us to use many of the “dancing” skills that I learned in coaching school – active listening, being curious, not knowing, empowering others, being supportive, and much more.
Thirty-plus years later, I don’t remember how to do an arabesque or a dig-toe-step- heel. Twenty-plus years later, I couldn’t foxtrot to save my life. But a decade after coaching school, I am still practicing the dance of being “proflexsponsive” every single day with my kids, my team, my clients and my community. And if you’re a JCC professional, chances are, you are learning to do this dance every single day too.
Deborah Grayson Riegel is a communication and behavior expert who helps corporations, Jewish organizations, and individuals achieve personal, interpersonal and professional success. She is author of Oy Vey! Isn’t a Strategy: 25 Solutions for Personal and Professional Success, and her clients range from American Express to the JCC Association to Toyota and the United States Army. She is head coach at myjewishcoach.com and a J-Talks speaker at the upcoming JCCs of North America Professional Conference.