Love and work are two major pillars in dancing. They both occupy your thoughts and trigger your emotions which then influence your behaviours. You share love and work with others, being connected in various ways.
The development and success in your dancing depend on the quality of your relationships with everyone involved. You experience a variety of relations; with your dance partner, teachers, co-competitors and later on with colleagues, fellow adjudicators, officials and organisers of the events that you attend.
You become you by virtue of interactions with others. It is about you and the environment that surrounds you. As a matter of fact, you can only discover yourself through relations, conversations with others.
Sometimes the relations are pleasant, other times heavy, conflictive and often painful. Being involved in any relation, you have to learn how to navigate complexities of various relations. Basically, you have to balance and manage tradition and innovation.
Tradition and innovation
There is no such thing as a good past and bad present or vice versa. Past experiences and beliefs will always meet new opportunities and options. What matters is that your relationships stay vital by balancing security and stability with adventure and novelty. You mix traditional and known with unknown and unknowable.
In the past relationships were fairly organised around a strict code of conduct, there was a hierarchy of who is in charge, who is dominant and who submissive - younger were differential to older, women were differential to men. Relationships were clearly dictated by duty and obligation. There was very little freedom and not much emphasis on individual expression.
Over the last decades this began to change. Rather than just doing the 'right thing' people started to do what they felt was 'right for them'. Today we have more freedom, individualism, but at the same time we are more alone and more often in self doubt.
Relation-ships or situation-ships as they appear today are becoming vague and not defined. For example, in the past the teacher was a respected authority, but today they can be your friend. Without certain frames you can feel lost, without a reference you find yourself in chaotic relations which are difficult to handle.
Issues like lobbying, cancel culture, pseudo teaching, narcissism, disrespect, misperception of eroticism in dance should be therefore addressed seriously as they bring a lot of pain, suppressed anger and despair to our dance world.
State of ambivalence
I'm sure that you often have mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about your relationships. What you see and believe in today is not necessarily what others made you believe. You can't even judge the decisions you made in the past with your criteria of today.
Start observing your 'love and hate' relationships. One day you love the person, next day you hate that same person. You've felt that already with your parents, you feel it with your friends, it's basically an ever-present ambivalence. People disappoint you tremendously at one point, but on the other hand you know that you've shared so many beautiful moments together and you love them for that.
In every relationship there is a rhythm, there are ups and downs, chatty days and quiet days. The point is that if you hold this tension between love and hate, you can start a 'healing process', you can integrate the ambivalence, understanding and accepting that there is no perfection.
Stay or leave? Integration takes time and patience, otherwise you can just leave. In tough situations patience could be a form of wise action, it creates some space. You don't need to see it as passivity, it can enlighten the situation that you can also just observe and not immediately judge. Be curious rather than furious.
It is not necessarily broken, it can be repaired. Every practice, every lesson, lecture or judging can be repaired, improved.
It's a repetitive circle of 'harmony - disharmony - repair' that we need to master.
How to create more balanced relationships
Learn to really listen. You experience the interaction by listening to the other to understand how it is like to be with you.
It can feel like a new bridge of understanding between the two of you. You live on the opposite sides of the river, but meeting in the middle of the bridge can integrate the beauty and struggles of both sides. The bridge is neutral and it serves as a connection between both sides. Melody in music is the bridge between people and so is dancing.
Be aware that you don't take over the space of another person. A relationship is not only about you or the other person, it is about the shared space that exists between the two of you. Try to create a centre, similar to your own core, between you and the other, so you can both contribute to it, creating a collaborative synergy that works for both sides.
Our profession is extremely multi-cultural. Dance partners, teachers, adjudicators are often of a different nationality, religion, background, gender identity, so they are not only from the different sides of the river, they have to cross bigger distances, even oceans to come together.
What you are learning from others needs to meet with your own beliefs and intentions. Other people define you as much as you define yourself.
Self care in relationships
On your side of the river you may sometimes feel ignored, not seen by others or even unappreciated, wronged, abandoned or let down. And being unwanted makes you feel sad. You know the feeling after a bad practice or competition, when you don't meet your expectations as a dancer, teacher or adjudicator.
When you are trapped in horrible situations and it feels unhealthy, wrong, you need to protect or even remove yourself or at least scrutinise yourself to find out how much 'give and take' there is.
Step outside of constrictions and give yourself permission to see and shape your own relations your way. Start making new boundaries in order to protect yourself. On one hand you need to learn how to open up, on another how to be more protective.
You need both, going towards other people and going away from them back to your own inner world. And then going back to people and applying what you’ve learned.
Solitude is of vital importance because you can filter all that happens in the connections with others. Solitude is your learning space. Go to nature as much as you can, nature will set everything right in your brain.
Connection versus independence
In every relationshipthere are two sets of needs, need for connection and need for independence. Not only that they relate, they also conflict at the same time.
How much connection and at the same time independence is needed for a good relationship? It seems this is an existential question/challenge and a paradox that you learn to manage.
It is relevant in every relationship, especially between dance partners and students and their teachers. In order to raise and educate the current and upcoming generation of dancers with respect and dignity, we should understand that we cannot carry several hats at once. We need to be transparent in each role that we commit to at the time. And only in a community where each profile is an independent yet integral part of the whole can we shape a better future.
In the months to come we will take a closer look at various relationships in the dance world with the intention to discover how to manage them better, restructure, change or even how to reinvent them to be connected in a dignified way.
Source of inspiration
Esther Perel - on-line lectures, interviews and podcasts