Monthly Archives: March 2014

Partnership Patterning

In life as in dance, a true partnership is difficult. How so? Well, let’s start with the meaning of partnership. It is defined as a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal. Hmmm . . . that doesn’t seem that accurate a definition relative to how most partnerships work.

It is infrequent to see a relationship where there is mutual cooperation and mutual responsibility between the people involved. It can be difficult to achieve. However, most of us don’t put in the effort to ever achieve it. It is easier to go with how we normally do things. To keep in our rut of comfort so that we don’t have to increase our complexity. It is natural to seek the path of least resistance. It is easier to maintain our old habits, no matter how maladaptive, than to try to develop new ones.

In our physical behaviour, our brains map out patterns of movement  so that things done repeatedly become autopilot, as we colloquially call it. This allows us to not have to think about what we do everyday. Here’s a scenario to solidify the concept. You normally drive a standard vehicle. You don’t realize it, but you manipulate the car everyday without thinking about it. This goes unnoticed until you borrow a car that is an automatic. When you go to manipulate the car, you automatically – no pun intended – reach for the gear shift that is not there. Your brain and body went into the pattern for driving that you use most frequently. You might laugh it off or feel slightly confused that you reached for something that was not there. This is a pattern generated by the brain to increase simplicity in our life and it happens without thinking about it each time we do that behaviour.

The same thing happens in our social interactions. We may have learned maladaptive behaviour from our family and friends. Behaviour where we manipulate those close to us. Behaviour where we try to exert power over another. Behaviour where we put someone else down in order to bring ourself up. This becomes like the pattern generator for physical manipulation of the standard vehicle. We know this behaviour, we have engrained it, and we use it without thinking.  How many times have you thought to yourself, I keep repeating my past. This is what is happening. We are reverting to the pattern that is engrained.

The lucky thing about our brains is that they are plastic. We used to think that brains were static and unrepairable once they reached adulthood. The contrary has been proven. We are capable of learning new things in our adulthood. We can actually train different parts of our body to have a sense that it normally would not have. For example, there is research being done successfully showing that people who are blind are able to start seeing through their tongue. It sounds very science fictional, but it is happening. If we can retrain body parts to take over where other body parts have failed, it is possible to train ourself into a new pattern of social behaviour that is more productive, kind, and functional.

If you struggle at keeping partnerships, take a look at the progression of those partnerships. Evaluate if there is a pattern that leads to failure of those partnerships. Ask those who have worked with you (coaches, judges, other dancers) across multiple partnerships to see if they can identify where things keep going wrong. Yes, you may have had a run of bad luck and you didn’t contribute at all. Truthfully, that is unlikely. Facing our short-comings and errors can be difficult and uncomfortable. Learning anything new can be as well. You always have a choice to remain in your pattern or to create new ones.  If you keep repeating your past, you can choose to design your future and make the changes you want so that you can create lasting and healthy partnerships.

Me vs. You vs. Us

In the dance world we harbour fairly big egos. There has to be some sense of ego to want to put yourself out on the stage to be judged whether officially or through side comments by spectators. Egos help us to have the courage to expose ourselves to these situations.

They fire the desire to compete as well. This can be healthy when it pushes us to better ourselves. It can be unhealthy when it becomes in-fighting. It’s one thing to have an ego and be a soloist. It is another to have an inflated ego and be a partner or part of a team. If our ego inflates to the point where we feel it is me against everyone else, that is harmful in the partner and team environment.

We  have to remember when we step on the stage with others, we are exposing ourselves together. People are going to remember the partnership or team more than they will the individual. Those spectating are judging based on the relationship and precision between performers rather than rooting for an individual.  If one fails, the others do too. That’s the nature of the game. We truly are in it together.

If there is a variety of calibre in one group, the dancing has to be matched between individuals. If there is a long term professional on the team and a newbie, the spectator need not know the difference. If someone can lift her leg to her nose and the remainder can only lift their legs to their belly buttons, the belly buttons will win to make the team look the same during precision movements. This is part of how teams work in the sense that we are in it together.

It can be hard to watch when your team has put their heart and soul into a precision piece and it falls apart on stage – be it in different styling between individuals, different heights of tricks, or different interpretations of the music. Anything that is different in a precision piece will show up. It takes meticulous practice to produce a precision piece that is just that. Precise. There will be imprecise performances along the way and that is part of the learning process. It can be an ego bruising situation, but every hiccup teaches us more about how we can be better together. The hiccups need to draw the team closer to go forward as a stronger group. It just takes patience and putting the ego aside. Learning this is half the fun of team participation.

Colouring Inside the Lines

I remember when I was a child, colouring was torturous. I know it was a way to keep me out of my parent’s hair. Good for them for having a way to distract me rather than just television. It did occur to me how ridiculous it was to colour in someone else’s creation. What was the point? Ok, there is a point. It does create discipline. It does have dexterity building merit, but man is it boring.

My attitude toward colouring inside the lines carried with me through my life. I could rarely follow those who told me I could not or should not do something. Setting boundaries on my exploration of life was a difficult thing. If there was a reason, e.g. electrocution, I could see why they wanted me to heed their warning. If there was no imminent physical danger justifying their recommendation of “do not”, it was hard for me to resist the temptation to do. The risk of emotional danger was never a stumbling point for me either.

This has allowed me to have a colourful life as it has been described. I don’t like reinventing the wheel. Colouring outside the lines is not reinventing the wheel though. Colouring outside the lines leads to innovation. Most things I believed I could do, I set my mind to, and it was done. Even if it bucked what everyone else was doing. This allowed and allows for innovation in my professional life.

In my professional life, I am free enough to try new things. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out. Whether that be a contract with a company, a strategic alignment, a new venture, even a style of dance I want to try. Even asking for something that I want – the worst that can happen is I am told no. Often though, these things do go the way I want and then amazing things come from it that wouldn’t have happened if I had been scared to try it.

Maybe as humans, we are generally fearful. I think there is fear to step out and be an individual – doing things your way without worrying what society will think. I think there is fear to stick your head above the crowd with a new idea – again there can be back lash from society for doing so. I have had it happen and I am not alone in it – when you set yourself apart in anyway, there are those who want to see you fail. Is that a fear based decision on their part? Maybe. Is it a jealous thing? Maybe and I think jealousy comes from fear about our own shortcomings.

Being fearful, maintaining the status quo, and jealousy are all choices. You have a choice to be what and who you want to be. Maybe that is a person who wants to be generally accepted by society. That’s ok. Maybe that is a person who stays on the cutting edge and follows their true path without worry of what others will think. That’s ok. Maybe that is a person who hides in the corner because of pathologic fear. That’s ok. The point is be who you are and don’t apologize. Live life true to you and you can’t go wrong. You may actually go very right.

Who Is Right?

When teaching dance, I am often asked if what some other teacher said about a way to do a certain move is correct. I always find this an awkward communication because the person asking is usually looking to find fault in someone who taught them previously. I do not believe that there is a 100% right way to do each movement in dance. This seems to be a shocking answer when I give it.

How can it be that there is not a 100% correct way of doing something? Let us look at that. How many bodies are designed exactly the same way? None. How many people learn in exactly the same manner? None. How many people have learned from the exact same combination of teachers? Once you have been around the dance block for a while, not very many.

There is something we have to understand. There are different ways to accomplish good results. Each teacher will have a different way of teaching something. Each teacher will have a different background of knowledge. Each teacher will have a different understanding. Each teacher will have a different way of conveying information. The same thing applies to each student.

Within each genre of dance in my community, there are multiple schools of thought from multiple professionals who have taken the lead in their genre. My advice to those asking the awkward question of who is right is to find the teacher who helps you to dance in a way that feels and looks best for you. The person who may be regarded as the top teacher in your community may not make any sense to you. They may have a huge following of students who get what they are trying to convey, but that may not apply to you. That is okay.

Your job as a student is to learn. One thing you have to learn is who is best suited to teach you. If you find a teacher offends you every time you learn from them, you will not be comfortable attending studies with them. If you find a teacher who is asking your body to do something that you cannot do and is putting you at risk for injury as they are not respecting your boundaries, you will be tight when you are trying to dance because your body will go into a protective mode.  If you find a teacher who does not communicate with language at the level you understand, you will feel unintelligent.

Finding the right mix in a teacher is harder than you might think. We get attached to our first teachers and it can be difficult to try others. In divided communities where some teachers preach they are right and everyone else is wrong, it can make you feel like you are cheating on your teacher by visiting another’s class. The best teachers I know give their students freedom. They are confident that they will attract those that benefit from their services. I want to teach and learn with those with whom I have synergy. Though dance at higher levels is an investment of work, it is supposed to be enjoyable. Evaluate how you feel in the classes you take. Take a few classes with other teachers in your genre. You might be surprised at how wonderful someone else’s approach is for you and see there is more than one right way.

Finding Partnership IV

I think once we have hit twelve years old or earlier, we all start to carry baggage. This translates into all areas of our life unfortunately. I do believe it is about the lessons we learned and trying to not repeat them. Using some caution in life can keep us out of trouble. If it makes us phobic to come close to repeating those errors, it can be paralyzing. That’s when it becomes unhealthy.

I see phobias in dance partnerships often. I have had previous partnerships affect me. I have had partners purposely hurt me because they were angry with my disobedience. When you have someone with anger issues and they have a physical tendency, that can translate to harming their partner’s body. You can imagine that having someone maliciously harm your body – the body that you may make a living with – can have long lasting effects on your trust in partners. If you see a hint of the personality type in someone you are working with, your guard is going to come up. They may never get to the point of doing you physical harm, but that warning system we all naturally have becomes activated. It is worth paying attention to and at least keeping in the back of your mind to watch for further warnings.

These phobias can also affect our ability to open up to a partner and let them in. When you have two people working together to tell a story, the story is more realistic if you can dig deep and show some of your experiences in your performance. It does not necessarily entail vocalizing the experience to your partner. I actually find that less vulnerable than expressing it through my body because it can be speak to my partner and audience in a way that I could never put into words. Speaking through my body also can awaken emotions that I had buried. This is part of why dance is cathartic for me.

How do we move past previous partnerships into new ones? I think it is a process. There has to be a period of adjustment with each new partnership. There has to be some proving to each other that you are trustworthy. You are placing each other’s career in each other’s hand. That is a vulnerability not seen in many career paths or relationships. If you have qualms with previous partners that you hold onto, a frank conversation with your new partner will not hurt. Knowing where your vulnerabilities lay that require protecting can help the other navigate with you into a healthy new partnership. Partnerships are difficult and they take work. When you end up spending more hours in the studio with someone than you do your friends or romantic partner, it’s important to make sure they are a healthy and safe part of your life.

Why oh why . . .

We are often asked why we dance. I could ask you why you breath, walk, swallow. For dancers, it is just a natural part of life. I do it because it completes me.

Why we get into dance is often a better inquiry or at least makes for a more interesting story. I wanted to step into a different social network. Where I started, it was the biggest activity club available so it seemed like a good place to make new friends in this new life that I newly stepped into. I enjoyed watching dancing when it was incorporated into movies, in specials on CBC, and in live productions. It made me dream of the freedom I witnessed in the dancers before me. In the club I joined, the first class I took had me hooked. There was this feeling in my body that was unlike anything I had experienced before. I was high for the whole evening following and barely sleep that night. My brain kept going through the motions and my body kept feeling that sense of exhilaration. Every class, this pattern of unrest continued.

From there, it just took off. The more I studied, the more I wanted to know. The more people I met who shared this common interest, the more I had a sense of belonging. A sense I had not had in the past. In my past, I had not experienced much stability. Not with my parents, not with my living situation, not with my goals. I had always felt like I was tiptoeing above the earth, but never putting down roots. Being part of this group of dancers that really were addicted to this activity, I had a social group I could go out with during the week and weekend and have a blast. I still have no other outlet in my life that could replace that.

I have heard that dancers are born. I do believe this. Many a kid has been dragged kicking and screaming to a class and never liked a moment of it. Others have danced around their life for as long as they could walk and never had a formal dance class. Then there are the adults like me who discovered dance past when most do and fall head over heels in love with it. It eventually becomes that they can’t imagine a day without at least thinking about dance. Adults who find dance get a choice in the matter. They didn’t start because a parent forced them. They started because they made a choice and now they have a fuller life because of it. How lucky are we to dance?

To be or not to be (abused)

I have realized recently that a partner I have worked with over the years has a pattern of abuse with those he is in relationships be it professional, personal, or romantic. He was returning to abusing me as a professional partner. I had to make a decision. I could have just walked away. I could have just said you suck. I could have yelled at him for all he has done to the community. Instead, I gave him an option. I didn’t want to present an ultimatum. I wanted to present an opportunity to continue working together. The conditions of that working relationship would have to change though if it were to remain intact.

I have had abusive partners before – working and romantically. It’s a strange situation to realize you are in. The reason for that is it sneaks up on you . . . not really though. When it has happened, I have always known that something was off from the beginning. Yet, I chose to ignore that voice of reason that was telling me to run away as fast as I could. Even though I knew that something was off, I tried to work through it for pride.

I do believe in redemption and second chances because I have been presented them in my life and have been grateful for the opportunity to redeem myself. This is why I presented the opportunity for change with this partner. I did not want to continue working in a dictatorial relationship. One where I was being punished though I was not being bad. Whether I was a good dancer or bad dancer in his judgement was polar opposite from day to day.

Being told by someone that you are an embarrassment to the genre when you are actually and admired dancer in that community is confusing. Does he see something that the rest of them don’t? Does he see something that the world class coaches ignored or were blind to when I worked with them? It doesn’t seem like it could be possible. This is how abusers work though. They push you off your centre, sometimes in a subtle way that introduces the slightest doubt. Recurrence of this pushing accumulates those doubts exponentially to the point where you doubt everything. If you are in a situation where you are just down about everything, this can break you. I am lucky that I do have points of reference within this and many other communities who told me I was ridiculous to be believing a word he said. Especially with his known history of abusing partners.

His reputation with partners is that he disposes of them like tissues. I have been told that I am being overly generous even giving him a chance to make it to strike three. I agree to an extent. If boundaries are set, it can provoke change. Likely being the narcissist that he presents as, he will likely choose to just walk away. Dance is a privilege. Yes, it takes work. It takes health as well – mental, physical, and emotional. Having a partner push me off of my game with mental abuse takes away from this privilege. If he doesn’t smarten up, I will be choosing to walk away. The chance awaits him. Let’s see what happens . . .