Your existence is located between your individual world and the world that surrounds you. In this article we will focus on the space between your world and your dance partner's world, its dynamics as it varies from safe/peaceful to turbulent/dangerous, how it can be creative or destructive.
You can learn to build up your dance partnership in a way that will combine a sense of stability and safety with a sense of adventure, challenge, excitement and inspiration; an environment in which you will grow as a person and as a dancer. Mission impossible? Not at all, but it requires some work and persistence.
Dance is not what you do, it’s a place you go with your partner, a place for connection, creativity, playfulness and intimacy. That's why you don't find your partner, you choose your partner to travel with. You choose a person that you feel you can connect with, trust, work well together and manage the challenges that accompany any creative process. So why does it become so difficult at times?
The weight of expectations
At the very beginning of a new partnership there are many expectations on the plate. You desire to have all in one, a partner with whom you will experience at the same time connection and freedom, the bond and separateness.
When the connection with your dance partner is safe, it feels close, stable, reliable, with minimal threat and quite predictable. The degree of closeness and the bond that exists between the two of you, so called intimacy, can vary. But losing that closeness will disrupt the balance of your relationship.
On another hand when you become too close, you might start feeling that there is not enough space for you, that you can't breathe as your space is being invaded, boundaries blurred... everything feels too known, too certain, fixed or boring. Additionally, in any long term relationship there is a possibility to start owning the other person and taking the partner for granted.
Deep down you start wishing for excitement, new challenges, you want to discover more or you simply desire greater freedom. It becomes necessary to give to each other enough individual space. You both have different needs, interests and areas to be improved. There are many ways to satisfy and develop them individually, be it by taking a private lesson on your own, going to a ballet or gyrotonic class.... Keep investing in your own quality.
Being okay when alone is of a big importance. You can spend more time practicing on your own. It is a good way to drop some weight of self-criticism. Being disconnected on purpose can help you to reconnect with your partner with greater insight, becoming firstly a better master of your own world.
Holding on to yourself and staying connected to the other starts as a model in childhood and needs to be mastered through life. There could be a beautiful balance, like being at the same time self-absorbed and generous.
This is never a permanent state. We all experience disagreements and fights, the tensions that sometimes appear out of the blue, contradictions that make us feel the need to fight or run away.
It is a skill to know how to engage in a conflict or how to avoid it. You can communicate with curiosity and collaboration or with defensiveness and suspicion. It may be your usual pattern, a habit, but truly it is a choice. You can choose to fight or flight, staying or going away, facing a problem or avoiding it.
In case you will face it, it’s better to be curious rather than furious. In a way, fighting is a must, but what really matters is the repair. To repair can be interpreted literally as ‘re-pair’, to engage with the unknown with trust and hope again and again.
You can fight or disagree about power and control, respect and recognition, closeness and care - the actual topic is just a story. What lies behind the story is what is to be discovered. Behind the anger there is often hurt, behind the criticism there might be something that you want or wish or need.
You can always externalise the problem, make it look like somebody else’s fault. You may perceive yourself as 'never' guilty or 'always' guilty. The fact is that your partner may have a completely different experience behind what just happened. How to resolve that?
First you need to learn to speak about what you feel and not about what the other person just did to you. A bad fight is a negative escalation, normally followed by attack, blame and defence. So the catch is how to turn this around so that you and your partner actually hear each other.
How to listen when you are in a difficult situation? You will probably stop listening very soon, as you are already preparing your answer. It is very difficult to stay in the conversation when the tension is rising, because your ability to listen lasts only a few seconds, maybe a couple of sentences. Listening skills are the way to resolution.
Mind that in the dance world there are many partnerships where partners come from a different culture, background and often don’t speak the same language. Beside that, every person is involved in the conflict situation differently, depending on your temperament, upbringing and patterns that you've learned in your family. In any case, conflict creates a kind of contraction, there is less flexibility, you may feel stuck or overwhelmed. What to do then? How to turn from a conflict to empathy, how to hear another person?
If you can shift from negative escalation to reflective listening, from reacting to reflecting, then you might turn a fight around into constructive conversation. It helps if you have an expert helping mediate and guide the process. A good coach can do that. Every conflict can lead towards understanding.
In case of an emergency, here are some suggestions.
Start with an apology. Say to your partner that you are sorry, that you know you’ve reacted in an inappropriate way. Take responsibility for what you did.
If the situation feels too intense, walk away, cool down for a while and come back when you feel more ready to really listen to your partner.
Share your experience with another person that you trust, reveal what you think or feel was the cause of your behaviour. Learn to deal with your own guilt and shame.
It helps if you try to keep your relation in perspective, evaluate it on a larger scale then daily fights. Also give value to the history that you’ve created together with your partner so far.
The fight as such is not a wrong thing to do, but you should mind the difference between a constructive and hurtful one. Your dance relationship is a lens, it tells the story about your values, behaviours and attitudes.
What can you bring into in a relationship?
What you can contribute to any relationship is a sense of respect, of being valued, recognised and accepted. By bypassing neediness and expectations and focusing on expressing yourself, it will make you feel as a co-creator of the space that you share and this in turn could stimulate your partner.
You can bring in your dance relationship various qualities, starting with equality, knowing that both can affect desirable changes.
Empowering your partner rather than seeking power over them will give birth to shared power or common power, which leads towards creating something together, it will become a goal directed power.
A feeling that you can can give and receive trust is like a good soil for a flower to grow.
You can recognise and validate your partner's identity in a way that will make them feel that they truly matter to you.
A good example to recognise the dynamics in shared space between two dancers is when you have a chance to observe your dance partner dancing or improvising with another person. How two dancers, who normally don't dance together engage in that kind of experiment tells you about their degree of involvement, readiness to respond and share, both adopting an attitude of courage with sole intention to give the best in that moment and make it work; a beautiful mixture of freedom and responsibility. You may see your partner with new eyes, as playful, passionate, responsive, cooperative, witty, charismatic...
To really see and accept the uniqueness of the other person requires an open and humble heart. What you create inside yourself will nurture others, therefore a relationship is what exists in the space between you and the other.
Source of inspiration
Mick Cooper - “Existential Therapies”
Conversations with Mr. Peter Townsend