Category Archives: Partnering

Love Me

Admittedly, self-love is not a skill at which I excel. When complimented, I shrink because I feel I have somehow deceived the person. I don’t feel deserving of praise. I’ve had a brutal awakening bringing my self-deprecating behaviour to my attention.

I have known many dancers who truly love themselves. They are confident in what they do even when they are far from perfection. They are confident to learn in front of others. They are confident to put their ideas out even if unsure how they will be received. Sometimes their confidence doesn’t match their ability, but it is truly admirable.

My family was devastatingly critical. This lead me to push to be more in everything as I observed so much lack. This was a benefit to my educational goals, business goals, and career fulfillment. It forced me onto the cutting edge of technology and knowledge, to the point it was addictive.

Achievement solely fuelled my self-fulfillment. Anything  measurable was useful  – how far could I run in how little time? How many certifications could I put on the wall? How many satisfied patients could I create? Quantifiable achievements were my route to temporary happiness. Those achievements never satisfied, akin to highs that quickly wore off and left me lower.

Because of my lack of self-love, human connection was craved and hardly achievable. I knew as a youngster moving around that connection was severable and unreliable.  I have hid from connection. I am trying to amend this.  The past few years have taught me much about choosing connections. Not everyone is who they seem, so fishing carefully for friends and only keep a few close is key.

My greatest failure in life has been relationship. I have easily cut ties when relationships went sideways. It’s recently I have realized I want to fight to maintain connection. I am seeing this is what life is about.

There are moments when I feel connection: when I tell a story through dance that moves my audience, when I spontaneously move with another body, when I teach my students. These are great moments of connection that satisfy my soul. My goal these days is to increase connection. Find common ground with more people and start to move forward with people by my side rather than checking in with them when struggling. I am ready for collaboration and it is terrifying as it’s a vulnerability that could go madly awry and devastate me. However, life is not worth living in safe-mode. So I am taking a chance and putting myself out there to receive connection. In doing so, I hope to find my ability to accept kindness increases, especially from myself.

Delicate Partnering

There is a beauty in partnered dancing that cannot be achieved as a soloist. There is a physicality achievable between two bodies that cannot be achieved by just launching yourself. The portrayal of relationship story is simpler when there are two dancers involved in the portrayal. Partnering has its benefits. It also has its drawbacks.

The drawback is the need for the partner. Once a choreography has been made requiring physical interaction of partners, that requirement has to be fulfilled to be able to present the work. This creates a vulnerability between partners. How? If one partner loses interest, becomes injured, travels, gets tied up in a day job, the choreography cannot be used as designed. Another dancer can be substituted of course, but the time to get the next dancer ready can be large and exhausting, let alone stressful.

So how do you protect your investment in a partnered relationship? It is tricky. Having a commitment to the partnership is certainly a starting point. Setting up the amount of time that will be dedicated to the partnership is next. Keeping each other on track for maintaining these commitments is important. From there, a lot is left up to fate.

Dancers are vulnerable creatures. There is a risk factor every time we step on the floor. A misstep could end up in a break. Training can result in stress fractures and over-use injuries. Another dancer could injure us, including your regular partner. That’s just by keeping your feet on the floor. Add in the factor of tricks, props, and dancers who may not be paying adequate attention to their surroundings, and it seems like a battlefield.

We know that our career could end in a split second. That is part of the joy of the dance career though. There is risk. There is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. There is trusting another with your safety. There is demise that could be around the corner. As such, our time in dance is precious. It can never be taken for granted because the nature of it is exactly the opposite of it.

Conflict Resolving

Yup, there is going to be conflict in our world. Whether it be with your family, romantic partners, professional partners, or yourself, we are going to experience conflict at some point. Sometimes great things emerge from conflict. Sometimes relationships are destroyed with conflict. However you slice it, conflict is an important part of life.

Why do I suggest this? If we bottled up all of our feelings and never confronted ourselves or others, things would get rather uncomfortable. Think of a time when you were upset with someone and you tried to keep your trap shut about it. How did that work for you? Did it make your stomach turn? Did it make your crazy for days? The more you tried to burry it and not think about it, did it just keep knocking at your brain until you paid attention?

Not dealing with things that bug you in a relationship will lead to a great deal more bugging than you bargained to receive. Sometimes we see it as easier to just walk away and let it go, but that is more often not what happens. The above happens and it is such a waste of energy. One of the best things that happened in my life was a change that made my mental energy reserves be fragile. It is a frustrating state to experience and it doesn’t seem to be going away after 2 years. The silver lining of it is that I have no ability to waste my energy on anything that doesn’t deserve the energy.

To what does that lead? Well, if something isn’t sitting right with me, I speak up right away if I can. There is no point in me stewing over something someone said or did to me that I didn’t like if they are someone who is going to remain in my day to day life. I may step back rather than have a knee jerk reaction, but I am going to address it as soon as I can. Then it is off my mind and they can deal with their side of it however they like. I have spoken my peace and can move forward. If I don’t stand up for myself, it will stick with me for a long time and then I feel resentment toward the other person. That is not their fault. Often the other side did not even realize that their offense was that big of a deal or had that great of an effect. Setting them straight allows for healthier future dealings.

How does this apply to dance? In this realm, we have to have a fairly thick skin. We are putting ourselves out there whether at the competition floor, studio, stage, or company event. By working with others whether a partner or group, we are putting ourselves out there as well. With that vulnerability, someone giving us a sideways glance can be enough to offend or hurt feelings. Having the courage to clarify allows for extinguishing a heated situation quickly and allowing yourself to move forward quickly so as to not waste precious rehearsal time. Don’t make yourself sick dwelling on the small things. Address them quickly so you can move forward and maximize your energy for the good things in your dance life.

Of Men and Mice

When interaction with other humans happens, no matter how awesome things have been to date, there is bound to be conflict at some point. How this conflict is handled speaks volumes about a person. How it is handled when you have to continue to deal with the person speaks even more.

In the ballroom world, there is often a male dominating attitude towards partnerships. This is news to no one in this realm. It seems to come out most in the least accomplished dancers in the mix. I am not sure if it is a need to prove manliness or just insecurity while being lined up and judged against others. It is palpable at times and I have experienced it first hand throughout my history with this group.

The domination can come out it in subtle ways that are ignorable at first, but eventually add up to a detrimental amount. Sly comments about the girl not following, being heavy, not being sexy enough, not being feminine enough, being too aggressive and the like are usually the start of the domination in these insecure men. Small putdowns to break her spirit a little at a time seems to be what is happening – whether consciously or not – it happens a lot. From there, it can turn into putting down a partner within a group, yelling at a partner in private or on the dance floor, walking away from the partner during practice, etc.

We have all seen it. If you are a female in this realm, you have likely experienced it first hand. Why do we continue to let this BAD behaviour continue? Is it because those we learned from modelled this BAD behaviour so we think it is just part of the game we have to play to succeed in this field? Is it because there is a shortage of male partners in the dance world and so we will take what we can get no matter how BAD the behaviour? It is because we are supposed to just shut up and listen and be a good girl? All these justifications seem like b.s. to me. They seem like justification of BAD behaviour because we don’t have the energy to fight and try to change the realm to be a healthier place. Often when we speak up, we are in a position to lose our partner, so having a voice carries risk.

Beyond the BAD male behaviour, I see BAD behaviour on our side of the partnership as well. It is often starts as a defence mechanism. Then it can turn into passive aggressive behaviour because if we don’t actually vocalize our malcontent, then we can’t get in trouble for our description of the problem. I also see descent into a pissing contest of who can behave the worst.

Who wants to work with someone who is going to undermine you then state “but we’re supposed to be a team”? I often see little team work when this BAD behaviour creeps in. I often see a broken spirit dancing with a demon trying to make it through x number of months she’s promised herself to win some trophy she has convinced herself will bring her happiness if she can just stick it out.

We ladies of the ballroom need to ask ourselves why we put up with this. We need to ask what we are going to do about it. We need to ask ourselves if it is worth it. If this were a romantic relationship, would we stick it out or would we walk away before our spirit is intact. The men of our ballroom world need to stand up and say that this behaviour is not ok. I know many of them would interrupt a man berating a woman on the street, but they turn a blind eye when it happens within the walls of a studio.

We want to bring a new and younger generation into this world. These young people are part of a generation that is finally starting to see women as equal to men. If we bring this new generation into the studio and the actions state that women are far lesser than men, is this something that will help build our community?

It’s time we start working with our dancers with the attitude that women are equal to men, that their experience is valid, that their ideas are valid, that their worth is valid. This will lead to a generation of partnerships that are stronger because both partners feel respected. This will lead to a generation of female dancers that do not put up with abuse in the dance relationship. This will lead to a generation of male dancers that will only be able to keep partners if they act like decent human beings. Doesn’t that sound like a better future for ballroom dance than propagating the past and present relational behaviours?

Working Together

Finding a partner that I can dance with is one of the beautiful parts of my world. Finding a good match is not an easy task, but, when it happens, it changes my life. There is a sense of belonging. There is a sense of excitement. There is a high that happens so intensely, little else in my life can compare.

Being able to be synchronized and dance with another body gives a sense of connection. Being able to create with another body is another task all together. There are many things that can prevent this from coming to fruition. Difference in physical capacity can seem like a barrier, but it often can be overcome. Depending on the nature of the work, emotional capacity can be a bigger barrier. Not being able to set aside the ego is another.

If two dancers are brought together with different knowledge – this happens often with those who have trained in different fields – the physical capacity can be an issue. This is especially true if you have two dancers who have different singular  backgrounds – say partner dancing vs. contemporary dancing. Ballroom dancers are used to creating movement from the upper torso connected to another’s torso and arms. Trying to create a lead by moving a person with any other type of lead can be uncomfortable for a partner who has not done this. Same goes for a contemporary dancer who is used to freedom in movement with or without a partner. Transitioning from that into a type of dance where you remain upright and are lead with stricter rules can be a culture shock. There will be moments of great discomfort for each of these dancers. The difference in the way they express themselves physically can make for interesting work to witness.

How a person moves and deals with psychological discomfort can predict the outcome of the partnership. If the discomfort comes out as hostility which it often does, that is a deal breaker. This hostility can manifest as anger toward the partner, name calling, putting the other partner down to make up for the bruised ego, or simply frustration and shutting down. Learning a new dance form in front of another dancer, especially one you respect, can be tremendously stressful even for the most accomplished dancer.

Putting the ego aside is essential when learning. There is going to be discomfort, especially if working with someone who is an expert in what you know nothing about. This is compounded further when you are an expert yourself in a dance form and then feel awkward in your usually kinesthetically superior body. The ego destroys many potentially synergistic partnerships. I have had it destroy my own in the past when I was younger and more stubborn. Age has granted me patience with my partners and myself and I can better identify when my ego is being destructive in a rehearsal setting.

If two people from different dance worlds can learn to take the best of each other’s worlds and share knowledge without judgement, it can make for beautiful work. It can also make for a beautiful learning experience. We can’t all know everything. We also can’t grow in our dancing if we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to be exposed to experiences outside of our comfort zone.

Best Partnerships

I have been one of the most fortunate girls in my city to be hooked up with an amazing dance partner. He is amazing on so many levels and I am so thankful everyday I have the fortune to work with him. I don’t know what I did so right in this lifetime to happen across him, but thankful is just the tip of the iceberg on this one.

Over the years, I have worked with many personality types. There are always going to be ones that I get along with better than others and vice versa. I can be a pain for some people to do deal with simply for personality, creative, and physical differences. There is nothing wrong with that and it will happen in any relationship or workplace. This is half the fun of the work in which I engage.

The characteristics that I have seen work best for me and generally are as follows:

1) similar work ethic – I am a beast when I train. I can push through almost anything even if I am tired. This is a strength and a weakness in myself as I can push things too far. Having the fortune to work with someone equally beastly is important to me. I have seen the same ring true for less beastly people. Having mismatched work ethics quickly leads to resentment and often the demise of partnerships.

2) similar goals – I am not okay with just being a prop in a show. I want to create and be part of pieces that expand the mind, bring the community together, and further me as a dancer. I don’t want to do what I already know if I am working for someone else. Even in my own pieces I want to break what I know into something more beautiful and challenging. Having someone with similar growth goals is important to feed the motivation in a partnership.

3) similar presence – being part of partnership where one person outshines the other can be a challenge. If they are equally talented, but one partner has more presence on the stage than the other, it can look like one partner is less talented and disappears into the background. I enjoy partners who actually are stronger than me in presence as it makes me find new ways to dig deeper in my expression internally. This doesn’t mean bigger facial articulation or movements, but the projection of myself. By the time we hit the stage, the presence should be closely matched with the weaker pulling up their socks to match the stronger.

4) similar investment – this includes finances, time, and life dedication to the art. If both have to invest money into training, it is easier to share the load if both can invest equally. Sometimes this also means having to invest in how to raise funds through combined effort as well. Time investment can be a huge disparity. If one has relational, work, and other interest commitments heavily beyond the other, trying to find time to come together to work on mutual goals can be difficult. Hobby versus professional investment to the art is another sticking point. For short term projects, this can be less of a concern, but in the long-term for a partnership to work, the commitment level has to be similar in quality.

Sitting down outside the dance floor is important before making a commitment to a partner. Dance partnerships end up as similar commitments as romantic relationships so you want to set them up right and make sure the chemistry is there to make it work. Coming into a meeting outlining points pertaining to the previous discussed can help determine if this partnership will work. Can there be negotiation, give and take, and leeway on all the above. Of course. The general dance morality of both partners have to be similar though and that meeting can help be a determinant.

Partnerships and Such . . .

Why is the idea of a new partnership so tantalizing? I can taste the excitement in my body whenever the opportunity comes up. It doesn’t matter whether it is in dance, business, or personal relationships. The excitement is still the same every time.

Maybe this means I am a people person more than I thought? I used to always think it was easier, smarter, and more enjoyable to be a soloist. That has been the thought since I was little. I found ties to others confusing, more often disappointing, and quite frankly a nuisance. I think I still had that excitement when those partnering opportunities appeared, but I was guarded against them because it seemed they were more likely to fail than succeed, so why get attached?

Maybe I am growing up and becoming more insightful? I still value my alone time. I think that is my personality. If I don’t get that time in my own head and physical space, then I start to feel crawly and overwhelmed. Like the world is trying to steal my essence. I need that time away from others to recharge. To reconfigure who I am and want to be without the influence of other’s ideas. Maybe this is selfish in some people’s eyes? For me it is survival and the healthiest way that I can deal with my situation.

I have been told before that I don’t let anyone support me. Honestly, feeling supported is a scary thing. There have been few times in my life where I needed support. When they did happen, the support quickly dwindled away and friendships and relationships were lost. It was not that I was overly needy during those times. I was still standing on my own two feet. The topics of those periods were rather heavy and scary. Apparently, they were scarier for those witnessing on the outside than my experience on the inside.

That dwindling of support reinforced my childhood instinct to be independent because I did not feel I could rely on people. In those periods of need though, I was so sure that these were people I could count on. They were people who had counted on me to support them when things went awry in their life. The reciprocal support was unfortunately not meant to be. Nor was a long term relationship with those people after the suffering period had passed.

Because of all that, I have approached my relationships since with a different attitude. I don’t know what tomorrow will hold for myself or others. This is the fun of life. I could be dead tomorrow and so could they. So in today, I am going to enjoy those who are part of my life. I am going to make the most of the connection I have. Tomorrow they could be gone metaphorically or literally, so I am not going to lay my happiness in their hands. I will just find happiness in what I glean from knowing them.

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.

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.