Founding Google’s Dance Program with Anna Botelho

Anna Botelho Head Shot for NYC

Today’s guest, Anna Botelho, founded Google’s Dance Program, and told her story at the 2015 Design for Dance conference. She will be speaking at the 2016 conference on April 28-29, 2016. But before we dive into her introduction I want to share a special opportunity. Tickets are now on sale for the 2016 Design for Dance conference. And today only tickets are 50% OFF.  Join us for 2 days in April to learn from and collaborate with our amazing presenters.

Join us for only $99!


Now, onwards with the show… Anna Botelho was a keynote at the 2015 Design for Dance conference and founded Google’s Dance Program. She is now in the middle of building out Google’s entire Arts Program. I think you’ll enjoy this interview.

Translating the Creative Process with John Michael Schert


John Michael Schert (@jmschert) is a ballet dancer who studies and teaches the creative process.

John Michael is a classically trained ballet dancer, having performed with the American Ballet Theater, one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world. He moved on to become a founding member at Cedar Lake Ballet, and for four years performed with Alonzo King LINES ballet.

In 2004 John Michael co-founded the Trey McIntyre Project and served as the company’s executive director and dancer for 9 years. In that time he built a nationally recognized and sustainable arts organization, which toured in Vietnam, China, the Philippines, South Korea, around the US, and which was recognized by publications like the New York Times and PBS. But what is to me even more impressive is the impact that Trey McIntire Project had on local communities, especially in their hometown of Boise, Idaho. The company paved the way for the impact an artistic endeavor can make within a community.

Since the fall of 2013 John Michael has stepped away from his performance career and become a visiting artist and social entrepreneur at the Chicago Booth School of Business where he mentors students and works with faculty to examine the creative process. Recently he has been speaking from stages and consulting around the world on the underutilization of artists and the creative process within business. We met because he was a keynote speaker at last year’s Design for Dance conference.

Conflict Resolution with Dana Caspersen

(Photo: Dominik Mentzos)

Dana Caspersen (@danacaspersen) is a conflict specialist, author, and performing artist.

For more than 30 years Dana has been a creator and dancer with the Ballet Frankfurt and the Forsythe dance Company. Dana has developed an enormous variety of choreographic works alongside the world-famous choreographer William Forsythe.

Additionally, over the last decade, Dana has made a study of conflict and mediation. She has created numerous events and projects that bridge her experience as a performing artist and a conflict specialist – using the physical body and choreographic thinking to enable communication in challenging times.

Josie Garthwaite on Dance, Journalism, and Skill Transfer Across Disciplines


Josie Garthwaite (@redances) lives simultaneously in two very different professions: she is a professional dancer with the ODC Dance company and a Stanford-trained reporter. In this interview we explore how Josie continues to refine both of her crafts, and how they complement each other.

Among other feats, Josie co-founded the reporting collective Climate Confidential. She has a long track record of bringing extremely complex scientific topics to a lay audience. Simultaneously, her everyday work as a dancer involves the practice of creativity and innovation, which she has managed to transfer across her careers.

Sydney Skybetter on Dance, Technology, and Human Interfaces


“Well, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not an accountant, I’m not a chair….” -Sydney Skybetter

Like many of my favorite people, Sydney Skybetter (@sydneyskybetter) has a hard time describing what he does. In this amusing conversation, he describes the common themes between his work as a choreographer, consultant, and technologist.

Design for Dance: dance, behavior and innovation

Design for Dance is an annual conference founded by BJ Fogg and the Stanford Persuasive Technology lab on dance, behavior and innovation. The event, which I now run, is in its third year and will be taking place in Palo Alto, CA on May 7th.

What is Design for Dance?

The conference is a gathering for innovators, health organizations, educators and researchers who see value in getting people to dance more. To be clear, our focus is not “why dance?” (that’s understood). Instead, we focus on highlighting practical solutions and near-term opportunities.

Why this conference?

Ultimately, our hope is to catalyze a rebirth of dancing in our culture and communities. This year we are focusing on the idea of “Dance @ Work” and presenting novel solutions for improving employee wellness and engagement through dance.

Robin Zander’s Guide to Dance (2015)

Over the last year I’ve met an amazing number of innovators, artists, and entrepreneurs all working around the theme of dance. Some of them are going to be presenting at this year’s Design for Dance.

A common part of many of these conversations have included the question “where do I start” for someone new to dance. It is easy for those of us with some background in movement to forget how scary it is to begin. To begin to tackle this question – for the novice just wanting to learn more – I’ve put together a curated guide including videos, people, products, and new ideas. I’m pleased to share Robin Zander’s first ever Guide to Dance (2015).

Robin Zander's Guide to Dance from Robin Zander

I’m sure I’ve missed dozens of people, products, videos, and innovations I absolutely should include. Please suggest them in the comments or send me an email with your ideas. W will be accepting applications for speakers for Design for Dance 2016 in a few months. In the mean time, if this Guide to Dance is useful, share it with someone you’d like to dance with more.

¡Buena suerte!

How You Can Learn to Dance (and Why You Probably Should)

I started dancing in my early 20s, about the time my peers were pairing off into their chosen careers. While my 20-something peers didn’t condone dancing, I grew up in a town where football was king, and pick-up trucks pulling donuts in the High School parking lot was considered an excellent form of after school entertainment. To say that a man dancing was socially unacceptable is to mistakenly called getting covered in rotten eggs (which also happened) a slightly uncomfortable experience.


But my humiliation around dance didn’t stop with the lack of my peers’ judgement. I’m pretty sure I was my own worst critic in my first ballet class, surround by beautiful, experienced ballet women, wearing corduroy and completely unaware of the french techniques being described. Somehow I survived my childhood, and my college ballet class mortification and have only danced more every week in the ten years since.

I share these early experiences so that you, the reader, might understand that you don’t have to be born in a culture that accepts dancing, to be able to dance. I hear regularly, when asked what I do, some version of admiration followed by self-denial. “That’s great that you dance so much. I couldn’t ever, I have two left feet.” This is my manifesto and the message is simple: you, too, can dance. And you probably should.

Doubters, read this first:

Beginners Start Here

The way I learned to dance need not be the way you go about beginning. I don’t recommend getting egged, or doing ballet wearing corduroy. Instead, start simpler.

The 7 Simple Steps To Dance

Congratulations, you just danced.

I am organizing Design for Dance, a conference put by Stanford University’s BJ Fogg and the Persuasive Technology Lab. If you are interested, sign up for my mailing list and I’ll keep you apprised of the details!

What Blues Dance Has Taught Me About Being A Sensitive Man

I will begin this conversation about blues dance with an introduction to the dance form. This NPR interview by my friend Lindsey Lee sums it up beautifully. Blues dance, more than any of the other dozen or so dances I have tried, fosters connection between partners.  I have learned, literally, to be more sensitive. For an American male, this is a lesson worth learning.


When I tried blues dancing for the first time in 2011 I had sweaty palms, couldn’t breathe, and almost certainly looked the part. That was almost seven years after taking my first dance class but up until 2011 I had only ever been a solo dancer – breaking it down among break dancers at Portland’s Goodfoot or taking modern dance classes at ODC. The idea of taking responsibility for another person’s movement – especially a charming, attractive woman – and getting her to do moves like everyone else on the dance floor…? Impossible.

Probably what drew me back after that first nervous night of blues dancing was the friendliness and forgiving nature of most of my partners. I stepped on toes, lead my partners into other dancers and generally made a fool of myself. But once or twice that first evening I lost myself in the music and the connection with my partner, and I returned to the dance venue for more of those intimate experiences.

Dance has the capacity to teach us to listen to another person, subtly, delicately and intimately in a way that most people never get – or perhaps only experience through intimacy with a lover. In a litigious world where nearly all physical contact is sexualized, we rarely have the opportunity to learn how to touch with delicacy. Especially for men who might have little other experience with physical connection, learning how to touch a dance partner and learn to lead without pressure is one of the most useful lessons I know.

What Makes Dance Go Viral? (I Will What I Want)

In the last 5 days more than 5 million people have viewed this video of American Ballet Theater controversial soloist Misty Copeland perform in an advertisement for Under Armour.

Her performance and sheer physicality are stunning. But there is more to this exceptional piece of viral advertising than just good dancing.

In stark contrast, my friend and teacher Robert Dekkers’ company Post:Ballet performed a several exception pieces of contemporary ballet, including a World Premier, all at a full but not sold out Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

I’m excited that Misty has gained even more notoriety. If the best in the world in an industry aren’t noticed, those below them certainly aren’t going to be! I’m also not disappointed that Robert’s company wasn’t more well received – from their intended audience Post:Ballet received rave reviews.

But there is something more going on here.

Who is the intended audience?

First of all, who is the intended audience? Misty’s Under Armour ad is targeted at populations who can relate to her: anyone who wants more from their bodies, who has been told no, has overcome an obstacle of any kind. The message is designed to be internalized by a wide audience. Under Armour just comes across as the backer – an organization the audience can trust to back their winning underdog.

Post:Ballet addresses contemporary issues, but does so artistically. The narrative of the final piece in this season’s show “ourevolution” shows a progress that can be equated to human evolution, and leaves me personally feeling inspired while considering our species future. I’d call that a successful performance! And yet, even I am more likely casual recommend Misty’s performance.

Misty’s performance is the ideal length for spreading: short. But when intermission came at the Post:Ballet performance I had a moment of feeling cheated, thinking that the show was only a “paltry” 50 minutes. Misty’s performance is also free, whereas I paid $25 for an evening of Post:Ballet.

Changing Perspectives

It is easy to see why Misty’s performance has been viewed (and largely admired) by 5 million, whereas Post: Ballet has not gained thousands of new adopters. It is easy to tell the story of Under Armour’s success and Post:Ballet’s predictable audience. But what about the reverse? What about the controversy around Misty and reasons why Post:Ballet isn’t gaining audiences like Beonce (who was also performing in San Francisco the same week).

Misty is a controversial figure in and out of ballet. Even within this specific performance I can see some reasons for concerns. Either she is a genetic abnormality (arguably the case for any dancer at the highest level) or she is unhealthily low on body fat. I have hear a lot of comments about her “beautiful physique” but simultaneously her calves are bulging with muscles to a degree I have only ever seen on collapsed Olympic sprinters. What kind of message does those calves send to already physically insecure viewers?

In contrast, Post:Ballet’s piece “ourevolution” could well become a draw for a younger audience looking to express themselves. While the dancers are extremely talented and experienced professionals, they are relatable and led by a young Artistic Director. For a young, affluent San Francisco audience looking for expressive outlets, it is conceivable that they could find such in a company that promotes itself as being what comes after ballet.

As a dancer and advocate of many of the benefits that dance can bring I’m left with more questions than answers. (To anyone who knows me and my love of questions, this will come as no surprise.) But I see a dilemma if we want there to be more local high quality performances and performing artists.

From these two performances it is clear that physical prowess speaks to us all. And there are some smaller stories about viral growth that are further reinforced: small spans of attention are easier to engage than large, the experience of awe is one that spreads. I’m glad that Under Armour and Misty are promoting dance, and that Post:Ballet puts on live performances for me to see. Beyond these facts, I’m curious what the future of dance will hold.

What are your thoughts?

3 Reasons Why You Should Dance

Dance had been around for as long as humans have inhabited the Earth, and is common in cultures around the world. Unfortunately, we currently live in a world that doesn’t promote dance and particularly in the United States dance isn’t viewed as especially beneficial.

Fuse Dance Company

Dance as Expression

Dance is among the most deeply ingrained forms of expression we humans possess. We live in a world that is increasingly disconnected by the very nature of our interconnectivity. Digital communities and channels allow us to communicate instantly around the globe, which is an amazing asset and simultaneously dangerous: it is sometimes easy to forget that we are physical beings. There is no human without a human body. We get used to expressing ourselves through our words and voices, and don’t consider that we could do so in a larger way through our whole bodies. Dance serves as an easy way for aiding physical communication. By use of more than just words, faces, and voices, dance allows us to communicate more fully, often first discovering and then expressing through more thorough use of ourselves.

2007 4
My first experience performing was with fire in college

Dance as Exercise

When we think of exercise what usually comes to mind is gyms and treadmills, or if we are lucky cross-fit and sports. But there the conversation ends. Maybe we play a sport, or actually enjoy running, or are among the fortunate few to have been able to take a childhood passion for football into an informal adult league which we squeeze in among a busy work schedule. But even though our physical bodies are fundamentally a part of ourselves, for most people physical activities are secondary to the main activities of life. In short, our bodies have become a burden.

When Practice Makes You Worse

I was on the dance floor, having repeated the steps half a hundred times. The beautiful woman opposite me was still smiling, but it wasn’t just my imagination: the corners of her mouth had started to turn up into a sneer. The teacher to my side, said “No, like this!” and demonstrated one more time. It was a simple dance movement, a Swing dance step that thousands of people know by heart. I tried, and failed – again. I just couldn’t get it.

I went to bathroom to splash some water on my face. I had come out to try a new type of dance as a fun experiment, and here I was stressed out and making zero progress.

As I stood facing the mirror, I thought for a moment about practice. I imagined all the times I had failed to learn to flip. And those times attempting the gymnastics giants when I had fallen on my head. The frustration of doing tango poorly in Argentina or of feeling out of place practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In that moment, something gelled and I realized that most of what we know about practice is wrong.

Here are some of the ways that my practice was actually making me worse:

Fuse Dance Company – On Creating Community

In August 2012 I met with a friend and spent an hour talking about how to improve our dancing and create a community. Out of that conversation we have built a dance company. I wrote about my dance company before and excitedly showed off our first performance. The process of training 2-8 hours every week for a year has me thinking about community.

First, though, our recent performance:

Introducing “Fuse” – San Francisco’s first Fusion Performance Company

In August 2012 I met with my casual acquaintance Todd Elkin with the thought of co-founding a performance company. In September and October we danced together and met with several possible candidates to join us in founding a dance company. Since November four of us have been learning and developing Todd’s choreography. We debuted at Mission: Fusion and Shades of Blues in December 2012 in San Francisco. Enjoy!


Dance Education: A dialogue

The following from a conversation I had with a dance teacher I really like. The best (and most challenging) ballet classes I’ve ever taken. Topic is the application of the Anat Baniel Method and Feldenkrais for professional dancers. I think the ideas also apply to all high-level athletes.

What I am interested in hearing is what you have done and are doing in terms of your Feldenkrais training, what you intend to do with that training and how that would translate to a dancer’s education on an ongoing basis.

Is that all?  I’m glad you are starting small.  If you were to ask all of the hard questions all at once I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Anat Baniel was one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ pupils and studied under him from the early ’70s until his death in ’84.  Since then she as founded the Anat Baniel Method, continuing the evolution of the Feldenkrais Method under her own name.  Anat is widely regarded in the Feldenkrais community and is also the mother of a close friend.  In my life I have encountered a small handful of instructors (in a diverse set of fields) whose process of instruction – quite apart from the material itself – is truly exceptional.  (While we are on the topic, you are one of those few.) Anat is one. At its essence her topic is learning and thus how she teaches is, of course, exemplary.


After many years, last evening I again dabbled in the “the dance” as I once heard Argentine tango described. While I had planned to continue today’s post with further discussion of the muscular sets which the fitness industry usually ascribes to the core, I cannot help but throw in last evening’s revelations.

Other links will described more accurately and in greater detail both the general attributes of Argentine tango and the somatic-sensory experiences of the dance.  My purpose in bringing tango into the discussion is begin to broaden the discussion and understanding of thoughtlessly used terms towards definitions which may further not only general intellectual understanding but also an individual’s personal and physical experiences.

From the moment I stepped onto the dance floor last evening I knew that something in my own awareness had dramatically changed since the last time – years previously – I was a tango floor.  Without being told, I knew that the most important aspect of me in the dance was my relationship to my center of gravity.  (I attribute this new awareness to my training under Anat Baniel and will elaborate in some later post on how that training has changed my perception.)

As my friend and colleague, Pilates master practitioner Connor Aiken, has pointed out on several occasions, “center of gravity” is a term echoed in different words throughout many different traditions.  Center of gravity is how science describes the area approximately two inches beneath the navel.  Joseph Pilates described this zone as the core.  In Hinduism the same region contains the sacral chakra.

Regardless of the name, it was my own connection to this zone and through me to my partner which dictated the quality of each dance I shared last evening.  If I was not fully connected, my partner, regardless of her (or his) prior dance experience, felt it and our dancing suffered.  However, on those occasions where I wasn’t too distracted by dance floor traffic negotiations or stepping musically to pay attention to my center, I experienced a degree of groundedness and a clarity of physical communication with my partner which is unique in my dancing experience.

Center of gravity, core, sacral chakra, or one of a dozen others; what matters more than a name is how we choose to use the area.  I suspect that many on the tango floor last evening have considerable more use of their cores than do those work tirelessly in a gym to build the appearance of a beautiful abdomen.  This is not to say that building the ubiquitously desired six pack cannot run in concert with greater body awareness.  I would merely encourage exploration – not necessary just of tango – of any form of movement which allows connection to this intriguing aspect of the human body.