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Dynamic Relationships

In Our Dance Community

Anthea Poole (Kawakib)
posted 4-29-04, reformatted 1-16-13

Dynamic relationships within the dance community - whether with close friends, casual acquaintances, or dancers we've never actually met - can be either wellsprings of delight or wallows of frustration. Conflicts happen. People take sides. Learning and growing get lost in the shuffle, particularly when conflicts overshadow the classroom. Even in the best of times, the teacher-student dynamic is also complicated by unconscious psychological projections by one or both sides.  Of course, there are the usual ego or power struggles to contend with ...and the heat's ON!

A good "dynamic relationship" is PRO-active, not RE-active. That means taking positive, affirmative steps toward compassionate communication when conflicts arise instead of getting sucked into the energy-depleting whirlwind of acting/reacting or attacking/defending.

We can start becoming PRO-active by using the tensions within our own circle of friends and acquaintances to learn and practice conflict resolution skills. From there, we can take our newly acquired skills into the larger community.

Interpersonal relationships fascinate me, and leading a troupe has taught me much about getting along with people. I cherish the learning experiences I have had with various students and troupe members, even when these experiences were difficult at the time.

For example, not long after forming my troupe, conflicts arose between two members. I quickly realized we needed clear guidelines to resolve such issues before the negative aftereffects disrupted the efforts of the entire troupe. So I began to research group dynamics, conflict resolution and methods to recognize and deal with difficult people, and I formulated a policy. The main points are:

  • Practice graciousness and simple good manners at meetings
  • Greet each fellow troupe member pleasantly; extend the hand of friendship.
  • Count to 10 if someone upsets you; respond calmly rather than blowing off steam or making a sarcastic remark.
  • Voice your suggestions or concerns in a positive way rather than demanding or complaining.
  • Keep negativity to a minimum; instead of saying "I can't," say instead, "I'll try."

These statements may sound like no-brainers, but hostility between two antagonistic people quickly leads to a remarkable lack of courtesy. So the implementation of a respectful behavior policy gives troupe members a clear understanding that rudeness will not be tolerated.

Even within an atmosphere of courtesy, misunderstandings and conflicts can still occur. In those instances, the following "3-Step Conflict Resolution" method can be applied and it describes my role as a troupe leader:

  1. Speak to the person privately at a time when you are both ready and willing to listen to each other; try to work toward a resolution or compromise about the problem. We hope most of our misunderstandings and conflicts will be resolved at this point, but if the problem continues, go to Step 2.
  2. Ask an impartial troupe member (a full member, not an apprentice) to be with you when you have another conversation with the person. This impartial member can serve either as a silent witness or as an active participant to help bridge the communication gap by confirming what each of you is asking or telling the other. You may even want to make notes of specific points as written verification of the decisions.
  3. If both parties are still experiencing conflict after Step 2, bring it up during the "business" portion of a troupe meeting, but let the troupe leader know beforehand so enough time will be allotted on the meeting agenda.  (Note: The problem may resolve itself at this point. If not, I will take full responsibility for whatever judgment call I make at that time. My position is that only if absolutely necessary, I will always sacrifice "the one" for the good of "the all."

In a nutshell:

  • Talk with the person privately.
  • If the problem continues, bring another impartial member of the troupe into the discussion to witness or participate.
  • If the problem remains unresolved, then it "goes public" at your troupe meeting.

In my own troupe, I have successfully used this simple method for about two years. This method has also had some limited success for other people in the troupe. Unfortunately, the members who inspired my creation of these guidelines were gone by the time I completed this project, and our relationships with them have completely dissolved.

For personal conflicts outside of a troupe, Step 3 is not applicable. For example, if two students have trouble getting along, the teacher should not be expected to inconvenience the entire class while the two cohorts-in-conflict work things out. If two people cannot resolve an issue at Step 2, they can "agree to disagree" and coexist peacefully. If that fails, they may need to distance themselves emotionally, mentally, or physically.

Here are some additional communication tips I have found to be useful: Keep your statements in the first person "I" to avoid making the other person feel defensive.  Begin by saying "I feel...", "I need...", "I want...", or "That makes me think that..." instead of "Why don't you-", Can't you ever-", or "You always-." etc.

Use of the second person "you" may sound like a personal attack. The immediate response to a statement that begins "You blah, blah, blah..." is defensiveness: a need to justify and explain "why."As a result, nothing gets resolved.

Avoid falling into the trap of discussing the problem with everyone other than the person who has offended you.

It is very tempting to talk about our problems with someone else, particularly someone who is inclined to favor our side and to reinforce our image of ourselves as "right". However, this type of interaction not only encourages gossip and rumors, it can reverberate over time in ways we never imagined, causing repercussions that eventually get out of hand. You do not have to be in the dance community long before you hear about ongoing feuds between dancers.

These Conflict Resolution Guidelines will help you to resolve issues and misunderstandings before they escalate into feuds. If you feel threatened or attacked by someone, use direct communication to get to the heart of the problem. I am not saying this is easy - it certainly is not. As dancers, we know that what may be difficult at first will get easier with practice; so give it a try!


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