The Story Behind Stanford University’s Design for Dance

The impact of a simple call with BJ Fogg, PhD

It was a rainy February afternoon in 2014, and I found myself on the phone with BJ Fogg. His first question: “What can I help you with?” Of course, as a long time behavioral change enthusiast, I knew of BJ Fogg but I had no idea he would be so generous.

BJ Fogg, PhD is the director of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology lab. He and his lab hosted the 1st Design for Dance conference in 2013.

It quickly became evident that the half-cooked notion I was calling to propose wasn’t worth the effort. Instead, he proposed something entirely different.

“You should speak at our conference.”

It turned out that BJ and his lab were putting on the 2nd annual Design for Dance conference, an event at the intersection of behavior change and dance. As a long time dancer who has also worked in a variety of other fields, BJ thought that I would be a good presenter.

Design for Dance 2014 happened Stanford University

I was blown away by the other presenters, including people like Deborah Cohan of operating room dance party viral video fame and TED presenter Ben Weston. At the end of the conference, BJ took the stage and made a predication. He suggested that 20 years from now people in the US will be all be dancing, as a part of daily life, on average 5 minutes each day. I heard this prediction and decided to help make it a reality.

Looking back at the presenters and attendees from Design for Dance in 2014 I can only agree that the skill sets of dancers around the world are diverse and underutilized:

Some of my favorite presenters from the conference in 2014.

Over the summer of 2014 I helped David Ngo, the previous director of the conference, with fundraising and planning for the future. We learned that there was a lot of interest among practitioners to bring dance to a broader audience, and in companies to bring movement to their employees.

In August 2014 David decided that he needed to focus more specifically on his behavior design consultancy, and nominated me director of the Design for Dance conference and brand. I continued to organize throughout the fall. By November, my work was clearly returning results because BJ was receiving queries from clients and colleagues along the lines of “are you teaching dance, now?” Seeing the need to emphasize his lab’s focus on research, BJ offered me ownership of the Design for Dance conference series and brand. He told me that he believed there was no one better to further the mission of Design for Dance going forward. I was flabbergasted, and flattered.

On May 7th, 2015 I orchestrated the 3rd annual Design for Dance conference. We ideated on the theme of #DanceAtWork.

List of speakers from Stanford’s 3rd annual Design for Dance conference.

We had 100 attendees from all over the country and all over the world. On short notice health care professionals and dancers flew in from New York. Someone came all the way from Paris just for the day. A graduate student in Tokyo who studies dance and design sent his regrets for not being able to attend.

Anna Botelho, founder of Google’s “Danceplex,” spoke on why Google built brand-new dance studios on the Mountain View campus. (The answer: because Googlers wanted to dance and healthy, happy employees is good for business.) Stanford professor Aleta Hayes led the audience through a series of interactive activities which she also applies within Stanford’s d.school. Aleta also talked about what it was like to perform with in the renowned Paris Opera House. This gathering of diverse speakers and attendees then brainstormed ways to bring more dance and movement into daily lives and business practices the world over.

Anna Bothelo on how she convinced Google to build a dance program.

In the months since the conference, I have spoken personally with dozens of attendees who have implemented what they learned at the conference. Among others, two members of the design firm Cooper who have begun putting on daily dance breaks and dedicated a room in their downtown San Francisco offices specifically for dancing.

If you want to connect with the on-going conversation that has continued in on theme of #DanceAtWork, request to join the Facebook group where those discussions are happening.

A movement exercise from the 3rd annual Design for Dance conference.

This last year serving as Director of Design for Dance has been an honor (and a lot of work!). From meeting with consultants at Undercurrent who are helping clients to build offices that encourage transparency to learning about the teaching ballet dancer John Michael Schert is engaged in at the Chicago Booth School of Business, I have heard incredible stories of dance and behavior change principles being applied across disciplines and industries. I look forward to watching and supporting the next generation of dancers, designers and consultants bring more health, collaboration, and creativity into the world.

Interested in staying tuned? Join the Design for Dance mailing list. Or connect with me on Twitter and let’s chat.

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