Tag Archives: mentors

Doing all the jobs = bad idea

So, dudes, I haven’t written anything for like a week and a half, because I have been totally swamped at the studio. Our management team was gone for some managerial stuff out of town, which meant that running the studio was my job. In the week that they were gone, we had two major events, a visiting coach/judge, staff checkouts and exams, and student checkouts. It was INSANE.

I have learned that I can actually not do 100% of the jobs at the studio AT THE SAME TIME – in addition to running everything, I was in charge of making sure new students were being properly taken care of, shepherding our guest judge, taking a pretty intense round of professional exams for the next level of certifications, and, of course, teaching my own students and preparing them for their checkouts.

I have a bunch of things I want to talk about, but I’m on the road right now for family business and I have a crazy early flight. So I’ll just say this briefly: I am really excited because even though last week was a MESS, I think I have maybe got a mentor in the industry now. I need to set things up with this person a little more formally (and indicate that I will be more than willing to put my ass on a plane to come out and do coaching) but I think it’s a go. Yay!

Also: I am going to order these beauties from England and try them. I don’t know if they can live up to the super high standard of my beloved Ray Rose Blizzards, but I’m excited to try them. How stunning are they??! Ray Rose Drizzle, I ❤ you.

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My students often observe on their first or second lessons (especially when I teach couples) that learning to dance is a lot like therapy. Actually, they usually say that it’s harder than therapy!

My job is super awesome, even when I’m doing more marriage counseling than dance teaching. Sometimes you need an external mediator and observer – especially when the pattern of behavior in a relationship has calcified. The most typical thing I see is a couple (usually a long-married straight couple) where one is always on the other’s case about some damn thing or another. It’s so unproductive, especially because the conversations usually go like this:

Blamer: Well, I just can’t  do my steps right because s/he’s doing *this* (demonstrates hyper-exaggerated version of some minor flaw).

Blame-ee: (silence)

Me: Well, maybe the reason s/he’s doing that is because you’re doing x, y, and z, which makes it very difficult for the step to happen. Try this.

Blamer: Oh, wow, that worked so much better!

The default assumption tends to be, I am doing my part just right and trying hard and this person I am dancing with is DELIBERATELY messing up and trying to make it harder for me ON PURPOSE and now I can’t do my part properly.

No. No, that is not what is happening. Stop it. Please stop it, you are not helping. It boils down to this:

You cannot dance the other person’s part.

I think that a lot of partnering issues can be resolved with the following four guidelines:

  1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are trying their best and that the efforts they are making are in good faith.
  2. Value what they are contributing to the partnership. Turns out you cannot do partner dancing by yourself! Even if you are awesome and amazing and free of any fault ever, you need them.
  3. Accept it. (This is a rule of improv, but it works for partner dancing, too). Rather than trying to argue when your partner says, I think you are doing x, or I feel like y is happening at this point, just accept it. Say, okay! What can we do about that? (Even if you think they are wrong. Even if you KNOW they are wrong.)
  4. Solve the problem, not the relationship. Is he getting in your way on the second half of that turn? Are you pulling him off balance with your spiral? Maybe! You know what that is? It’s a discrete and specific problem, not a verdict on your entire history and interaction with that person. Yes, I know. He always does this, that, or some other damn thing. Get over it and fix your turn. Have drinks and bitch at each other later, or go complain to your friends, but keep that shit off the floor.

In thinking about prospective partners, the biggest criterion for me is RESPECT. Namely: will this person treat me with respect, will he value what I do and what I bring to the partnership? A coach once said to me – and this is probably my favorite thing ever –

You can make somebody a better dancer, but you can’t make them not an asshole.

So. True. I have danced with enough people who don’t respect me to know that it makes a HUGE difference. Things will not always go well. You will have good days and bad days, you will fuck up sometimes and they will fuck up sometimes and everybody will have their feelings hurt. But if there is a fundamental respect for each other, that is not the end of the world, and it will not make you feel like the bottom of someone’s shoe.

In other words, we need to take a fucking cue from what happens here at 0:38:

Let’s all try to be more like Riccardo, please! How great is he??

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I believe in you.

It’s awesome to be self-confident. It’s totally great to believe in yourself and have that can-do bootstrapping attitude. It’s a fine line, of course, between believing in yourself and being a self-aggrandizing entitled asshat convinced of his or her own unique special snowflake qualities that are a singular gift to the world at large. But as long as you keep it under control, a healthy level of self-regard is essential.

Especially as a dancer, right? Because you have to BELIEVE when you get out on the floor that you are going to be fantastic, that you are going to win, that you are worth looking at. Because if you don’t believe it, let me tell you, friend, nobody else will either.

But sometimes, even with all of that, what you really, really, really need is for someone else to believe it, too.

And for them to say it.

It is absolutely impossible to overstate the importance of saying and hearing these four words:

“I believe in you.”

Last night I went out dancing with some co-workers – it was the after work, who-gives-a-shit kind of dancing. We fooled around, switched out partners, flirted, got a little buzzed, and generally remembered why dancing is so goddamn much fun. Later that night I was chatting with one of the gentlemen, a long-time veteran of the dance business. He’s seen a lot of people come and go, and knows what the hell he’s talking about.

I had not had a great week. There were the general levels of ambient drama that always pervade a studio, extra personal drama with another dancer leading up to a competition we were preparing for, and I wasn’t teaching a lot of lessons, so I was making even less than my usual high-rolling tens of dollars.

And I was expressing that to this guy, and he took my hands and looked at me and said, “You are going to be fine. You are.”

And I nodded and said, yeah, yeah, no, I know, sure, I will be.

And he cut me off, and said, “I’ve seen you dance, I’ve danced with you, I’ve seen you teach. And you have something that not a lot of people have – you are special, you really are. And I believe in you.”

And it made me cry. It made me cry because I was a little bit drunk, but truly because I was so touched that someone actually gave a shit, that someone bothered to watch me and think about me and didn’t just write me off immediately; that this man, who knew whereof the fuck he spoke, believed in me.

It made a difference. You have to believe in yourself, sure. But sometimes you need an assist.

*                           *                           *

Last week, one of my students had his first session with a serious coach. His session with her was a true learning experience – she gave him things that he’ll be working on for the next six months (honestly, for the rest of his life as a dancer!) – but it was a change of pace for him. It was a jump up the ladder in terms of expectations and difficulty. Not just one rung, but three or four. Afterwards, we were sitting together, going over his notes from the session, and it was clear that he was a little overwhelmed.

“That was a lot, huh?” I said.

“Yeah.” He nodded, looking down at his notes.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “She could have told you that everything was great, that you looked perfect, that you were amazing. But she didn’t. You know why? Because she wants you to be a better dancer. And so do I. She takes you seriously, and she knows that you can do all these things. I know it too.”

“I guess…” he said.

“Listen,” I said, “I need you to hear this. You did such a good job today. You were pushed further than you’ve gone before, and you really came through. I know this will make you better.”

“Okay,” he said, not convinced.

“I believe in you,” I said. “I really do. I believe you are a good dancer and I believe you will get better and be a great dancer. That will happen. I need you to believe that, too.”

He straightened his shoulders and looked at me, and I could tell that he believed it a little more, too.

You gotta say it out loud, or it doesn’t count.

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