"If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.”
This article will address mostly teachers/coaches to co-create healthier and more effective relationships with their pupils. Relationships between teachers and their pupils can be emotionally intense and often preoccupied. By creating a more stable platform inside yourself you will navigate through discomfort better and begin to accept tensions as a way of growing.
Unhealthy attachments can put every relationship to the test. Consistent introspection will help you understand the nature of your attachments and the impact of subconscious transferring of feelings and thoughts.
It's like a marriage, when it doesn't work, you can divorce and start looking for another partner. Or you start looking for solutions and save the marriage. In dancing you have even more possibilities, you can change a partner, teacher, club, team, or even a country in order to find the “ideal”environment. The question here is what kind of change is necessary at the given time, external or internal? The moment you start working on yourself, your perception of the external world will change as well. Only with greater insight and understanding of yourself can you build quality relations with others.
As an educator you need to know what your exact role is, what you are to the dancer - a regular or a guest teacher, a trainer, a specialist like technician or choreographer, a coach or a mere political supporter. Each of the profiles mentioned will build a specific relationship for both sides. Knowing what you want to achieve together will help you choose the right actions.
But there are teachers who subconsciously want to live their unfulfilled dreams through their pupils, they might aim at success, medals, recognition and fame. In those cases the relationship is about the teacher and not about the pupil who, in a way, could serve just as a tool for a teacher to achieve personal goals.
And there are dancers who subconsciously search in their teacher for a mother or father figure, protector, supporter, helper or even life partner or a lover. It happened to me when I was 18 years old. My teacher became my "father" that I missed, sober and supportive, my guide, my idol, later on my life partner, all in one. Thinking back, I know that I was madly in love, not capable of resisting the relationship and distinguishing personal from professional.
In any relationship there is a cast of many characters, some strictly professional and others quite personal. Ideally we would understand our role, the degree of involvement, required distance between ourselves and the other person, wearing a professional, not a private hat. How can we make this happen?
Who owns whom?
Teaching and parenting have a lot in common, but they are not the same. Parenting is personal, whereas teaching is a professional job. However, both relationships have a potential to become the holder of all the stress that arises out of daily, intense life duties or training. The younger the dancer, the more the teacher is seen as a second parent.
A dancer's needs change with growing, and so does the required form of satisfying those needs. From one teacher, a dancer will eventually want to expand their relations to a team of various teachers. Like in life, children continue the journey from parents to friends, to intimate relations outside the family towards total independence, when one day they become stable in their autonomy.
Can you accept that as a teacher you feel abandoned when “your couple”, “your bambinos” wish for more space and greater freedom? You can utilise fear to establish authority and control, you can condition your pupils in various ways, trying to build up ownership and power over them. Even if all this is done in good will to help the pupil, the outcome will be poor. A pupil without autonomy will never develop the resilience which is necessary for a long term career.
You cannot even own your own child, let alone somebody else's. Children are not born to you, but through you, therefore a good teacher will walk hand in hand with a pupil towards the desirable destination. And when it's time to let them go, you have to let them go.
It's difficult to let go of "your" couples when they outgrow you. I remember how that felt for me, when a couple I trained for 10 years suddenly decided to work with someone else at a different club. I felt sad and betrayed that they didn't "honor" all that we've been through together, the countless hours of my support and coaching. But now I can see that that was just my attachment taking hold. I clearly see how their choice was correct in pursuing what was a next step in their development - they went on to win World championships and started their own dance school. From today's perspective, I understand how it really should only be about the pupil and their development as opposed to me fulfilling my need of being needed.
How you deal with attachments and separation depends a lot on your very early childhood experiences which influence your way of connecting with others as an adult. The so-called "attachment behavioral system" guides you in your patterns and habits of forming and maintaining relationships. For example, if your parent left you or you lost or never knew your parents, you might struggle in situations when you lose a couple.
Those who received support and love from their parents are more likely to be secure, competent, easily engaged in any task and see others as supportive and cooperative.
But how come that at times you lack self-confidence, feel anxious, even aggressive and see others as a threat rather than a source of support? By suppressing emotions and developing defence mechanisms you somehow manage to survive, but wounds, even short experiences of inconsistency or negligence from your parents in your very early childhood, are likely to stay imprinted and will affect your relations in adulthood.
Transference and countertransference
Sometimes it is difficult to understand why certain people instantly attract you and others might annoy you, you can feel an unreasonable dislike for a person.
Recently I was teaching for the first time a youth couple who are good dancers. The girl suggested working on partnering skills as she felt that her partner is too physical and she complained that "they" don't feel each other. The boy agreed on the subject and we started to explore various solutions. Nothing that I suggested worked for her, she would consistently give me feedback saying that she feels bad. I noticed that I started to doubt my instructions and felt a bit angry and annoyed. However, I suggested to her to take a few minutes just for herself and reflect on whatever might be interesting new information for her and add some of her ideas. In the meantime I worked with the boy. After inviting her back to the process, I asked her not to judge the situations as good or bad, but just try to explain in what way she feels different from before, telling what she had discovered. She started to be involved in a non-judgemental sense, perceiving small differences and it worked.
Later, when I was reflecting on what had happened, I came to some interesting recognitions. First, I stayed focused on the process and gave the freedom of discovery to her without judging her. Second, I managed to put my feelings "into brackets" and didn't transfer back to her (countertransference) what she was subconsciously projecting on me. Apparently the girl was transferring old patterns of behavior onto a new situation. When dancers meet a new teacher who reminds them of someone from their past (parent, teacher), they subconsciously assume that the new person has similar traits and characteristics. It is possible that the girl's parents or home teacher were constantly helping her, until she was happy and she therefore never developed the courage to find a solution on her own, being truly involved and owning her decisions.
As a teacher you have to be very aware of your reactions to various projections of your students (positive, negative or even sexualised) to prevent emotional entanglement.
Without doubt the teacher is responsible to be the one who shows the way to the pupil, sets the rules and boundaries, goals, guides and supervises the process and reviews the work.
It is a constant search for balance between responsiveness and demanding-ness. The right balance will acknowledge high expectations as well as support, discipline on one hand and warmth and empathy on the other.
The teacher can inspire and guide a pupil through the profound journey of self-discovery only when they are encouraging self-reliance in their pupil rather than fostering dependence.