All relationships are unique, and as such so are all pro/am student-instructor relationships. Mine is no different. I think all pro/am relationships are tricky, and I think it is mostly luck that some of us are able to find an instructor that is able to work with our learning style, support us as partners, and has a compatible personality.
I am very lucky.
I started working with my instructor 2 1/2 years ago first at a franchise studio, then from a year ago with him on his own. It’s been a tricky two years and we have had definite ‘ups’ and equally strong ‘downs’. Twice I seriously considered switching to a different instructor. Both times after looking at the options I decided to try to work out the issues to stay where I was. So far, so good.
I am going to try to describe our relationship, but please keep in mind, this is my perspective as the student, and that doesn’t mean it matches with my instructor’s perspective. He may see our relationship completely differently, and may not even realize that I see things as I describe them.
If I were to sum up our relationship in a word, I would choose ‘clinical’.
It might seem like a strange word, but I do see my relationship with my instructor as being similar (with some very marked differences) to that I have with my doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, fitness trainer–pretty much any professional for whom it is appropriate to touch me, and discuss details of my body.
There is one very big difference, and this is where I struggle the most. Dancing pro/am involves not only my instructor touching me to correct me or move me to the correct position, but also means we dance together as a partnership–so there are times when I also have to touch him. Indeed, in standard closed position, we maintain contact from chest to thighs in every dance. Do do that with my doctor or physiotherapist.
We also (at least I am working on) make and maintain eye contact while we are touching–also not part of the normal ‘clinical’ relationship.
So those are two marked differences which I struggle with, and it wasn’t until we started working on connection and eye contact lately that I began to understand why.
You see, while I have no issues with my instructor touching me, I don’t feel comfortable touching him. I feel like he gives me very specific directions on where to touch and when and I find myself often worried I might do something wrong and go outside those boundaries, so even when I have ‘permission’ I am very…tentative. I don’t want to…well accidentally grope him for lack of better words. I think we would both know it was an accident, but I don’t even want to risk that.
I think part of the problem is that we have never really talked about it. I think when we do routines, or he tells me to place my hands here or there, he just assumes I am comfortable with it. In reality, I feel like I should apologize after every time I have to touch him. I think it actually surprises him a little when he does realize that I am concerned I might offend him, but we don’t ever discuss it.
I need to take a moment to do a shout out here. I have been following ‘Beautiful Girl in the Ballroom’ for quite some time, and it always amazes me how Stef’s dance life and what she posts seems to always marry up with issues I am struggling with at the same time. In this post unsung-hero, Stef talks about enjoying Ivan’s body. When I first read it, I didn’t quite get what she was talking about, but now, with the work I have done in the past two weeks, I completely do.
One things I enjoy about reading Stef’s posts is how open Ivan is…to well everything. For myself, it would be very overwhelming to work with someone like Ivan but based on Stef’s posts he is about the opposite of my instructor. But it did get me thinking and realizing that perhaps things are a little too closed for us.
Getting back to my relationship with my instructor, I have mentioned I am a pretty closed person generally. Although I am not sure if ‘closed’ is the right word. Conservative maybe? Uptight? I think all would work, to be honest. It’s very rarely that I allow myself to relax, even though I may enjoy myself very much. My lessons are and I expect them to be very structured and ‘down to business’. There is a lot of work to do in lessons and I want to make sure it gets done, and my instructor is very similar in that way–very professional, and down to business. Clearly, it works for us.
But also, clearly there is an aspect to dance that is missing from regular lessons. I notice it myself mostly in latin because it is not as restrictive as standard–where we have to stay in hold and I am mostly looking away to the left. In latin, there are all sorts of holds and moments where ‘extra’ touching is necessary, and eye contact is also needed.
One of the reasons this is so on my radar, besides the recent work we did on the open cha cha is because coming up soon in the overall lesson plan is doing ‘detailing’ of my competitive latin routines. We have all the routines and have competed with them twice now (although some were modified slightly from the first time to the second), but we haven’t had a chance to work on the detailing (which is what we call the combination of styling, arms, eye contact, performance etc.). Right now, they are a series of very technical steps we do together. We need to add the ingredients to make them full dances.
And that means more eye-contact, more touching, more openness. More fear, terror, and chances I might accidentally do something inappropriate.
But on the other hand, that is what makes the routines more fun, playful, flirty full of character and such a joy to perform. That’s that second challenge I gave myself when I decided to start dance, so time to just take a deep breath and jump.
First step will be to get passed feeling like I have to apologize whenever I touch–even if it is completely a part of the routine. That means talking to my instructor, who, for simplicity (and taking a page from Diagonal Wall), I am just going to call ‘boss’ from now on. When it comes to my dancing, he is the ‘boss’, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wish me luck tomorrow for my performance!