Dancing with Bosses: Creating new kinds of knowledge about follower-leader interaction.

I read this article and wanted to share how researchers used dance as “a living and embodied interview”, aiming to harness each participant’s entire physical body to create knowledge about the leader-follower relationship. The aim of the study was to consider how dance as creative movement works as a research method when studying the leader-follower relationship.


Dance does indeed appear to be a perfect approach to the interaction-based study of the leader-follower relationship. Dance is about “leading” and “following” – at least when we think of “a dance for two” in a traditional sense or a choreographed group dance. When referring to dance in this article, dance mainly refers to creative movement with a focus on how the participant feels vs what the dance looks like to outsiders. Thus this study is connected to the recent turns in management studies, such as the embodied, aesthetic, and visual turns.

An ongoing theme can be summarized in the question “Why should we be satisfied with mere words if we can harness the whole physical body of the participants to elicit, express and create new and different kinds of knowledge about follower-leader interaction?”

In this post, I want to go over the four leader-follower meta-theories (realities) to further highlight the relevancy of dance as an effective research based method for understanding the leader-follower relationship:

  • social constructionism = Summer = The summer scene represents a social constructionist way of seeing the world. The social co-creation of reality is a fundamental idea in social constructionism. The social reality is constructed in interaction between people through talk and language. Language and words do not describe or mirror the world “as it is”; instead, they constitute the world. The physical world exists, but we always approach it through meanings, which we also have created together with other people. Discussion is seen as a central element constructing the nature of leadership. Thus leadership is not an individual achievement but an interactive process of reciprocal influence between individuals, just like a dance for two aka collaboration.

  • critical realism = Winter = regulated by the power inherent in organizational structures. The characteristics or skills of a leader may be emphasized in this perspective, and the causal effect of the leader-subject’s behavior on the subordinate-object. The leader-follower relationship is not created in interaction; instead, it may be influenced by diverse mechanisms, such as power structures, organizational culture or other forces coming from “outside” or “above”. According to the dance metaphor, even if the actors can choose how to dance, at least the music or choreography may be determined by superior or external forces.

  • pragmatism = Spring = meaningful knowledge is born in practice, and without practical benefit knowledge is of no value. This orientation often underlies, at least implicitly, the recent “practice turn”. This means that practices are not only micro-level phenomena but also affect both organizational level and macro-level phenomena. What is done in the micro-level interactional everyday practices creates the core of the relationship between leader and follower. Applying this approach to the theme of dance could mean that as in a dance for two so also in leadership our relations are based on learned routines. We act and do things as we have always done them. If we want to change the nature of our leader-follower relationship, we should start from small everyday things, step by step.

  • phenomenology = Autumn - starting point is the individual: the individual’s consciousness and experiences. Phenomenology pays attention to the relation between the individual and her/his environment, including the physical environment and other people with their physical bodies, but clearly from the perspective of the individual her/himself. Thus leader-follower relationship, for example, is not only a social or discursive construct, but also an embodied phenomenon. Our assumption is that dance can help us to step aside from our everyday simplifying attitude, in which we take the leader-follower relationship for granted

Further into the article, five “dance stories” are presented to describe how the participants as followers in an academic work setting perceived the leader-follower relationship through dance. Check out the rest of the article here to find out how dance allowed for greater insight into the knowledge of leadership.

Using embodied knowledge to unlock innovation, creativity and intelligence in business