To Dance is to Relate: Understanding Relationship Patterns

“‎Dancing is not just getting up painlessly, like a leaf blown on the wind;

dancing is when you tear your heart out and rise out of your body to hang suspended between the worlds.” ~Rumi

It doesn’t take much time of being in the belly dance world to become aware of the drama that arises and may affect the enjoyment that comes from being in a rich emotional space as a dancer. Often the creative nature of what we do is blamed, or the fact that it’s mostly women, or some combination thereof. I believe it has way more to do with how we enter relationships with other people. Does it ever feel like you are simply running into the same people over and over again? You might be. It may be that you continue seeking out a relational pattern that isn’t helping you, and/or you might be surrounded by jerks.

As dancers we have a lot of creativity, emotions, and in one way or another I would guess that most dancers want to be seen and respected for their abilities. Yet often I hear or read dancers saying things like, “what other’s think of me doesn’t matter.” Which surprises me a bit as it’s nearly impossible to be in a world of people and not have what they think influence you in one way or another. By nature human beings are organized to be a part of community, family, and relationships. This drive for connection ensures our survival and many of our bodily processes and emotions are connected to how we relate. Lots of great chemicals get stimulated in our brain and we want to repeat that rewarding process as much as possible. It’s healthy when it’s with people or a person who are operating in a healthy relating way. It’s destructive when the other person is operating at a level that is only about their needs.

Most people have had some sort of relationship or family trauma in their lives. Along the way to being an adult we may have gotten mixed messages on how to communicate, relate, and be in relationship to other people. I don’t mean a love relationship, I mean just figuring out how to be around other human beings without wanting to run away, light them on fire, cling to them, or any number of other dysfunctional outcomes. I’m familiar with both the healthy and unhealthy in my personal, professional, and dance life. So much so that I’m noticing that I’m getting more attuned to picking up on clues that a potential dance relationship may wind up heading in to toxic territory.

When we are looking for a dance community to be a part of, our relational issues are inevitably going to shimmy up to someone else’s and the result may vary. You may find your life long best friend(s) forever, you may wind up with that uncertain feeling where you aren’t quite sure what’s wrong but something doesn’t feel right, or you leave and never want to go back. If the latter two situations come up, take some time to pay attention to that. Sit for a few moments and pay attention to where those feelings settle in your body. For example: do you feel tightness in the chest, heavy hearted, tight throat, clenched muscles, or nothing at all.

Then think about how it would feel to have the dance relationships that you want. What feels authentic or satisfying for you about what you want from dance and how you want to relate to other dancers? Now compare the feelings and sensations from the awareness of what doesn’t work and what does. This awareness begins a process of your developing a strong relationship to yourself and making choices about how you relate to others. It’s pretty true that you can’t change other people, you can change how you respond to them and how much of them you allow in.

This insight can be useful to get curious about the patterns that arise in your life around relationships. When engaging with your own self-inquiry, be nice to yourself. Remember that you relate the way you do based on your history. Sometimes you may be trying to heal yourself when engaging with toxic people over and over again. I highly encourage you to do some reading about navigating toxic people so you can identify where you might get stuck while relating to them. I feel that it is important to say that no one needs to put up with bad behavior from another person in the dance community (or any other part of their life). Ever. The more people who stand up for how they want to relate to people and be treated, the less impact the difficult people will have as their available pool of victims shrinks.

Although sometimes I’d like to have the toxic folks put on an island somewhere. Or a comet.

*NOTE: If you are struggling with relationships I highly recommend getting involved in some sort of self-work that helps you. There are many forms of therapy, meditation and self-discovery practices that are highly useful. I’m not a therapist, however a considerable part of my recent education did intense discovery on underlying psychology of trauma in relationships. If you are curious or would like some resources I’m happy to share.*