Gioel Gioacchino and Anna Wohlrab
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.
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.
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.
Blow up some balloons, get people in pairs and give each pair a balloon
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!
Play music for about 2 minutes. Then ask them to switch roles.
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.
Repeat so that everybody has the chance to perform.
Debrief on the experience. You might ask:
You might want follow this exercise with an exercise/reflection on active listening.
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.
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.
You can use this exercise simply as a fun icebreaker!
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
No additional resources for this technique…
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