Social Dance: Welcome Chance Intrusions!

How can improvising in social dance improve our ability to be adaptable?

Photo by Byron Stumman on Unsplash
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Date Added: 
May 2019

Relationship to Ambiguity

Richard Powers, the legendary social dance teacher at Stanford, has a website where he's collected some of his thoughts, philosophies, and musings on social dance.

In the short articles titled "Social Dance to Succeed in a Competitive Marketplace" and "Welcome Chance Intrusions!" he stresses the importance of adaptability and "lateral thinking" in social dance, lessons he also believes apply more broadly to life.  In dance, you must quickly adapt to new partners and new situations (deciding your next step based literally on where you are in the moment, not on some pre-determined plan, or a rigid definition of legal/illegal moves).  

There is ambiguity/choice in what step or variation you can perform next, which is empowering and exciting, as are chance intrusions, or deviations from the norm. Dancers make meaning from and delight in not knowing what wonderful thing could be created next.




I took "DANCE 46: Social Dance 1" this past year, and I can say these principles definitely apply in my work outside of the studio. Richard Powers has been teaching social dance for over 40 years, and these topics have been a core part of his course curriculum.




I think spending part of a class having an outside guest do a mini dance lesson could be a great way to expose students to the ambiguity created in this art form.

Social dance also provides a rich context for discussion questions, like:

  • How does being either the lead or follow influence the dancer's perception of ambiguity?
  • How does being a social context, surrounded by many other dancing couples, influence your decisions or reactions?
  • What techniques and skills prepare dance students to go from dance lessons to being confident in a real-world social dance setting?  How does that translate to how we might prepare design students for real-world projects?

Design Abilities Used

Social dance is a ongoing mix of reading your partner (perhaps someone you've just met!), adapting to the music, trying new steps, and thinking one step ahead as to your next move.


Submitted by:

Divya Gupta
Divya Gupta
Masters Student in Electrical Engineering, student

Design Abilities Used

Learn from Others (People and Contexts)
Experiment Rapidly
Design Your Design Work
Learn More about Design Abilities 


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