Written by: Kirsten Williams; Edited By: Gioel Gioacchino and Anna Wohlrab

Dance with a balloon and discover what it really means to get in sync with someone.

Our experience using this technique:

During RecrearMagnify 2016 in Colombia, we were graced with the presence of Elissa Marshall, an awe-inspiring dancer, yogi and all around great person (see what she is up to on Instagram!). For the last five years, Elissa has worked at El Colegio del Cuerpo (Cartagena de Indias, Colombia), a community space created for youth to approach the expressive and artistic dimension of the human body, through Contemporary Dance. Elissa was tasked with facilitating our intercultural group of social innovators through a 3-day personal development course. People were either excited or down-right terrified about having to dance – even asking themselves ‘what does this have to do with the conference I signed myself up for?’. So we were pleasantly surprised when one exercise after another challenged us to connect to one another in entirely unexpected ways. One of these exercises is what we dubbed ‘balloon mirroring’.

We reused the exercise months later in a course on Participatory Action Research. We were surprised to see how beautifully people interpreted the meaning of that exercise for them. It was about coming into harmony with others, they said. It was about deep listening –the kind that goes beyond words.

Research and Development:

What are we trying to understand about the community?
We’re exploring what it means to get on the same page with others and what kinds of obstacles get in the way of that.
Why is it important for the community’s development?
Through this exercise, we want to underline the importance of getting in sync with people not only in terms of ideas but also in terms of emotions and ways of being. We really need to observe people before we launch into in-depth conversations. When we’re doing research, this means creating a space to come closer to others before probing with more technical activities and questions.
At what stage(s) of the research cycle is this method used?
Community Building, Reflection. 

This is a good exercise to do when you’re mid-way through team building processes with your local researchers. Since there’s dancing involved, this kind of exercise usually features after the group has already dedicated some time to getting to know one another. It’s a great opener to pair with further exercises on active listening.


What do I need?

Balloons! And some great music (ideally without words) to inspire people. We have personally loved using some classical music because it allows them to lean into the ‘absurdity’ of the exercise a little more.

How long does it take?
It’s a good idea to do different rounds so not everyone is dancing at the same time, but also so people can observe one another. Overall 10-15 minutes and an additional 10 for the debrief.
  1. Blow up some balloons;
  2. Get people in pairs and give each pair a balloon;
  3. Each pair assigns an A and B person. Tell A’s their only task is to dance with the balloon to the music. They cannot hold the balloon between their hands but they must always maintain contact with it. Meanwhile B’s are instructed to try and mimic the movements of A as gracefully and in harmony as possible. They should try not to look directly at A but rather, glimpse them from the corner of their eye as they move. This is a dance after all!
  4. Play music for about 2 minutes. Then ask them to switch roles.
  5. After they’ve had some practice, you can ask for three pairs to do the exercise in front of the rest of the group while the others observe.
  6. Repeat so that everybody has the chance to perform.
  7. Debrief on the experience. You might ask:
    1. What did experience dancing with the balloon?
    2. How did it feel to mirror your partner?
    3. What did you learn from watching others do the exercise?
    4. What do you think this has anything to do with research?
  8. You might want follow this exercise with an exercise/reflection on active listening.

Benefits and Challenges

What are the benefits of using this technique?
It’s a great way to build people’s confidence and trust around one another. It also challenges people to reflect on how do they normally connect with others and what it means to be a deep listener in the context of research – going beyond listening for ‘ideas’ but also tapping into your ability to perceive others and respond.
What are the challenges of using this technique?

Since it’s dance, it can be uncomfortable for some people. It also might be more challenging in an environment where there are people with disabilities or older people (that being said we had a 60 year old rock it in our last course!). If there are disabilities involved, include rolling chairs or other items.


How to adapt the technique
You can use this exercise simply as a fun icebreaker!
Tips and Traps :

It’s a good idea to practice dancing with a balloon. Try it out yourself and then bring other people – your friend, roommate, mom, partner, whoever!

Here are a couple of songs you could use for this exercise:

Milonga del Angel – Amarantos Quartet

Opera Barcarolle – Jacques Offenbach


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