The Dancing Centipede
Once there was a centipede who delighted in dancing. At night when the moon began to rise and shed its soft light onto the grassy slope below, Centipede would stretch one of her several beautiful long legs. “Aaaahhh…” she would sigh into the cool night air. And then, she would close her eyes and begin to sway to the music of the nearby stream as it splashed over the pebbles and stones. Slowly, at first, her numerous dainty feet started to move by two’s and four’s and ten’s in a carefully choreographed pattern, faster and faster, until she found herself framed in her spotlight from the moon. Head thrown back, legs outstretched she belted in true Ethel Merman fashion “I’m just a Broadway Baby… 100 legs-each kicking higher than the last, “Struttin’ my stuff…” 100 feet , each encased in a tiny gold slipper, “All over the earth to-night.” Now swinging from the branch of an abandoned hut, Bat wanted to join her – Top hat, tails, and all – but the movements were so … amazing! So brilliant! So dazzling! So absolutely out of his league! He would have to settle for admiration only – and a dream. From the water’s shallows, Frog ribbeted appreciation and Cricket chirped as Centipede executed one multi-legged split after another, finally concluding with a twisting top spiral balancing herself deftly on the tips of her 50th right and left legs, all 98 others tucked one round the other. Goose was absolutely energized by the evening’s performance and couldn’t stop honking “Bravo’s” as she waddled over to where Centipede paused still lost in her moment of artistic brilliance. “Simply stunning,” Lizard hissed and whistled. “Oh, please, show us how you do it,” cooed Dove from a branch. “Yeesss, pleeaassee,” they all shouted. “Tell us! Which foot do you start with? And which foot do you end with? How do you know what to do?” “Quiet, everyone,” said Centipede confidently untwirling herself with ease. Everybody moved closer to hear her words of wisdom. She smiled at the admiring audience in front of her, took a deep breath and said, “Well, first I…” She paused, looked at her feet, moved several of them this way and that.”I…”And, then, she wobbled – ever so slightly – and a curious, confused expression came across her face. From that night on, Centipede never danced again.
(Adapted folk tale)
Although the talented Centipede was baffled into paralysis by questions exploring her technique, had she studied NLP, she probably would have danced after that night and,what’s more, she could have learned how to share her skills with others. How can this metaphor be useful for teachers to learn about NLP and to share insights about behavior? Many teachers-and students-are like both the Centipede and her Admirers. They have a special skill (the Centipede) and, still they desire something more (the Admirers). They have a knack for doing some things well but suddenly become confused and stumped when trying to explain or analyze performance. What does that imply about skill or talents and, also, the thinking processes? How conscious are we of what we do? Is a particular skill inspired by the gods or is it a habit developed over time by persistence and practice? Viola Spolin, the American artist-educator and author of several books on improvisational theatre techniques for children and adults, strongly objected to the concept of talent as a special genius. Spolin insisted that each of us, at birth, has a capacity to experience and as we progress through life, we either expand that capacity or we limit it.
The Dancing Centipede