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. And of course
then 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.
fascinate me, and leading a troupe taught me a lot about
getting along with people. I cherish the learning
experiences I've 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 to follow.
The main point is to identify
the primary goal; for instance, "To promote positive
interaction and professionalism among group members.”
To do this, everyone needs to practice graciousness and simple good manners at meetings:
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 policy of
respectful behavior gives group members a clear
understanding that rudeness will not be tolerated.
But 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:
- Talk with the person
- If the problem continues, bring another impartial member of the group into the discussion to witness or participate.
- If the problem remains unresolved, then it "goes public" at your group meeting.
In my own troupe, I used this simple method successfully for about two years before dissolving the troupe. 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 of course isn't applicable.
For example, if two students have trouble getting along, the
teacher shouldn't be expected to inconvenience the entire
class while the two cohorts-in-conflict work things out.
The teacher can make this resolution process known to them and
If all else fails and two
people can't resolve an issue at Step 2, they can at least
"agree to disagree" and coexist peacefully. If that
fails too, they may need to distance themselves emotionally,
mentally, or physically.
Keep your statements in the first person “I” to avoid making the other person feel defensive. Begin your discussion 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" - and 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". But 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. But as dancers, we know that what may be difficult at first will get easier with practice - so give it a try!