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Gilded Serpent presents...
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 16
Teacher Student Rivalry
by Mary Ellen Donald
Originally published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing column.
This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.

Revised for Gilded Serpent April 8, 2006

"After all I did for her, why did she turn on me that way?"  "I'll show her that I can do just a well without her help?"  "I'm so tired of having to deal with her pettiness and viciousness?"  Do you feel any connection with the exclamations above?  No, I wasn't taking about your mother or your daughter, but I just as easily could have been. 

I'm talking about you and that teacher or student of yours who now is your bitter rival. 

If none of this seems to apply to you, stay with me anyway and perhaps you can help a bellydancing friend see more clearly what she is doing in relationship to others.

Before speaking directly about the bellydance teacher-student rivalry, I'm going to present a psychological framework through which you can explain some of your actions and those of others.  Consider this notion - that your behavior is directed either by your Needy Self or by your Secure Self.  When your Needy Self directs, here's what happens: you feel pushed to act in certain ways. 

Although your Needy Self might deceive you into believing that you are making choices, you really are not very free to choose. 

When you take care of your genuine needs in a reasonable way, your Secure Self is in charge.  When you take care of your deep unmet needs - needs for recognition and self-assertion - in an irrational way, your Needy Self is in charge.  This Self deceives you into believing that you can satisfy those unmet needs by relating to others through the major role that it prescribes for you such as The Martyr, the Super Mom, or The Manipulator.  Your Needy Self will seek out relationships such that your favorite role and that of the other will be compatible - Super Mom and The Helpless One, or Critic and The Inadequate One, and so on.  Although you and the other person appear to be communicating well, you never touch each other genuinely - you are strangers, each primarily concerned with living out the drama which your Needy Self prescribes.

When your Secure Self directs you, here's what happens: you can share with and care for another person genuinely. 

You are aware of a wide range of alternatives and you actively choose among them.  You have an inner sense that you are alright.  The theatrics you engage in are for fun, not for emotional survival.  You can be kind to an emotionally needy person.  You also feel free to discontinue a relationship with such a person when his needs push him to intrude too much in your life.

Given your own particular spiritual, hereditary, and environmental history, you will tend more toward the direction of your Needy or Secure Self.  For sure, both will take their turns with you.  Time will tell which one will take the upper hand more often than not.  With this framework in mind, let's look at the bellydance teacher-student relationship.  Let's assume that they start off both directed by their Needy Selves - the teacher: talented, dynamic, seemingly strong, on the opinionated side - the student: bright, with good ability emerging and promise of great potential, but suffering from self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy.  The student attends many classes, is invited by the teacher to do some shows with her, and if there's a troupe, she's in it.  The two seem to be close.  (Remember the limitations on one's ability to genuinely relate to another when under the direction of the Needy Self.)  Then one or both of them changes.  Notice what this does to their relationship in each of the instances below.

1. The teacher begins to open up more to the direction of her Secure Self.  Consequently she pulls back from her Super Mom role. 

She lightens up on some of her harsh criticism of others, and is less intensely involved with her students and troupe. 

The student stays under the direction of her Needy Self.  She resents her teacher's letting go of the role compatible with hers.  She clings to the sense of strength which she got from identifying with the power she previously perceived in her teacher.  She feels betrayed and soon finds some pretext for violently breaking away from the teacher.  Quite often she begins teaching and gathers pseudo-strength from denouncing her teacher.  The teacher has no need to engage in such viciousness and simply tries to go about her own business, somewhat sad inside that their relationship soured as it did.

2. The student begins to open up more to the direction of her Secure Self.  She recognizes her own ability and feels excited about asserting her own creativity. 

Given her own genuine strength, she doesn't need to gather strength from her teacher's power and negativism. 

The teacher continues to be directed by her Needy Self.  She senses that the student no longer worships her nor desperately needs her as she did in the past.  She sense that their role compatibility is crumbling and feels uneasy about it.  She herself feels pretty inadequate when her role support wavers.  Soon she will find some pretext to eliminate the student from her fold.  She will gather the other students tightly around her and try to bind them together with denunciations of the wayward one.  Meanwhile, the student might have independently been removing herself from the fold before she was expelled.  Because her Secure Self is in charge, she has no need to engage in vicious attacks against the teachers.  If she begins teaching, she will build her reputation on the positive talents she has to offer rather than on an anti-teacher campaign.  She will probably feel some sadness about not being understood by the teacher and the others but won't dwell on it.

3. Both the teacher and the student remain under the direction of their Needy Selves.  Something goes wrong in their role balance.  The teacher might overplay her Super Mom role.  The student might try role hopping and attempt to come across as the authoritative one. 

They both feel threatened by the imbalance they experience - threatened because they aren't getting enough satisfaction for those unmet needs. 

Because their struggle for need satisfaction takes place on such a primitive level, they can't deal with such upsets rationally - all they know is how to split apart dramatically, violently.  Each probably feels that she got rid of the other.  The student probably begins teaching and scurrying around trying for performance opportunities.  Both openly denounce one another and gather followers on the basis of their negativity toward each other.  They feel bitter and betrayed and become downright vicious.  They haven't learned anything about themselves or about the other.

4. Both the teacher and the student open up more to the direction of their Secure Selves.  Neither has to cling desperately to a role. 

They talk openly about the progress that the student is making and about what abilities she ought to develop before teaching or leading a troupe on her own.  The teacher encourages the student to go out on her own,

feeling confident of her own ability to stay in business even with her student out there as competition.  The one doesn't have to be always strong and the other always weak.  They find that they like each other rather than need each other.  Of course they will experience some jealousy, fear, self-doubt, and pettiness - but they will go beyond them.  Based on what they have learned about themselves, they can form genuine relationships with others more easily.

As you probably know, those who are the closest have the greatest potential for mutual hatred.  This holds true within the bellydance profession as well.  Look at the bitter rivalries that exist between competitors at all levels of the profession.  My guess is that you will find that most of these rivals were very close at one time, if not teacher-student, then partners of some sort.

I'm not offering simplistic solutions for very complex problems.  I have just scratched the surface of the problem with this analysis.  The framework I have presented emphasizes the dynamic between the Needy Self and the Secure Self, and the threatening nature of an imbalance in roles between needy people. 

My hope is that this framework will enable you to take a fresh look at an old problem. 

If, after applying the framework to yourself, you are concerned about how one shifts from the direction of the Needy Self to that of the Secure Self, be comforted by the fact that most people are struggling with this question in one way or another.  People do change.  They change as the result of working through interpersonal crises, by practicing meditation or other forms of spiritual renewal, or by persevering in counseling or psychotherapy.


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