Nelson Mandela Was A Dancer

At his birthday celebration on July 18, 1999, Nelson Mandela surprised Johnny Clegg onstage and told the crowd, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world…and at peace with myself.”  Then he joyfully invited them all to join him in the dance.


Finding that quote this weekend and seeing the video filled my heart with more love than I thought possible for the man who became my hero the moment he took the world stage at this inauguration as the President of South Africa in 1994. He was 75 years old.


His story took my breath away, as it did millions around the world.


When he pointed out the idea that “it is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us,” he left an indelible mark on my soul that changed me in an instant. (It was years later when I learned that he was quoting Marianne Williamson; for me, those words will forever belong to Nelson Mandela.)


As I join his family and the rest of the world in my grief at his passing, I also believe with all of my heart that he richly derives his rest from this world as he claims his place in Heaven. He taught us everything we need to know about freedom, personal responsibility and peace—now it’s our turn to carry on the work he spent his life creating.


In 1994, Nelson Mandela danced into position next to Viktor Frankl and Helen Keller as my greatest role models, in my lifelong quest to develop what Arianna Huffington has coined as The Third Metric: the qualities it takes to develop a life worth living. I call it the ability to Dance into Your Power.


Although I only just discovered the evidence of his passion for dancing, and finally saw his Madiba Jive—in my mind, the man has always been a dancer.


Madiba is Mandela’s clan name; calling him that is a term of greatest respect, as it connects him to his tribe and his ancestors. The Madiba Jive is the term for his dancing that was coined at his inauguration when he “shuffled a few steps in perfect time” despite the ravages his imprisonment had wreaked on his body. The sight of his dancing and that radiant smile simply enriches his legacy for me—and I’m thrilled to have discovered the name of his dance!


In my imaginary conversation with Madiba, he smiles that radiant smile at me and agrees that “dancing is a state of mind.” Those of us who dance will tell you that the agility, flexibility and rhythm we’ve developed as dancers transfers over to everything else we do.


Madiba personified every element of the practice of Dancing into Your Power:


  1. He held three Empowering Beliefs:
    1. He brought about what he thought about. By doing this consistently for decades, he transformed himself, his country and our world.
    2. He believed that he had what it took to end apartheid in his lifetime—and he did it.
    3. He found the gift in the obstacle of 27 years of imprisonment, without his family, home or friends. That gift was the person he’d become—a world-changer and peacemaker.
  2. He developed three Resourceful Abilities:
    1. He walked his talk with integrity, which fueled his ability to put his life on the line for his beliefs. He was willing to fight when it was required—and just as willing to forgive—so he could inspire and build a unified South Africa.
    2. He learned to partner—even with his former enemies. His willingness to invite those who hated him to dance with him transformed all of their lives.
    3. He danced with whatever showed up, through horror and torture and loss, to freedom, forgiveness and unity. His dancing left us with the Madiba Jive, along with all the ways it can be used for peace and freedom.
  3. He took three Focused Actions:
    1. He used what he learned to adapt, to grow and to inspire others all over the world.
    2. He shared what he knew with everyone—his supporters, his enemies, and those of us around the world who he would never meet.
    3. He created something new: freedom for all people in his country and a new conversation about freedom around the world. Madiba created the one thing that only he could create.
    4. As important as it is to honor Madiba’s life at his passing, there will come a time when this event will fade from our everyday awareness as the media moves on to other “breaking news.



Despite what the media does, we can make sure that Madiba will continue dancing in our hearts. He lives on forever when we dance the steps he taught us—when we put the Madiba Jive into action every day


What will your world be like when you do that?

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