These Tricky Emotions


This picture of me at The Mob Museum is an apt representation of how I feel about this particular truth: not happy.

It was something I always knew.  I never tried to deny it.  Perhaps it was almost too obvious, so well blended into my dancing that it didn’t bother me.  Unfortunately, the emotional force behind this just hit me a couple of days ago.  Now, I feel the need that every writer feels.  The need that says “Come hell or high water, I have to write about this.  Like, right now.”  This blog is largely positive and personal.  It will remain that way, but I will not stifle my emotions.  I’m going to pour my heart on the page and have no regrets.

I was listening attentively to one of the studio’s co-owners as we sat in a meeting he must’ve had countless times with countless people.  I want to try to be a ballroom instructor, nothing new. And, I had finally worked up the courage to ask for a brief meeting with him.  Long story short, the studio isn’t doing any preliminary training programs for potential teachers, but my name is on the board if something does happen.  That isn’t what’s pertinent to this post.  He said something that struck me.

Despite the no-fraternization policy, we do become friends with our students.

Arthur Murray studios have a no fraternization policy between teachers and students.  That means no interactions outside the studio.  No emailing, Facebook friends, lunches or dinners, phone calls, texting.  Nada.  I understand why this policy exists, and it doesn’t take a business man to explain it.  I respect this greatly, which is why my insides gave a slight start when our co-owner used the term friends.  “Really,” I couldn’t help but think, “friends?”

I loathe to disagree with him.  I love him dearly because he is an affectionate gentleman whom I see as a fatherly figure.  Add the decades of experience that I lack, and my reticence is clear.  Yet, I must respectfully disagree: I am not friends with my teacher.

Friend, like the word love, is thrown about carelessly.  I’m certainly guilty of it.  That’s why I’ve become so sensitive, perhaps even hyper-sensitive.  There are different levels of friendship, from affectionately mutual to brothers from different mothers.  But let me be clear.  Friends of any sort aren’t contractually or professionally bound to stay away from each other outside work.

Yet, dancing literally presses us against one another.  Things are bound to get emotionally blurred.  Hence, the guard of no-fraternization.  This also explains why it’s odd, maybe even wrong, to actually grieve or mourn a teacher that leaves.  I mourned when my previous instructor, Nick, had to leave because of health issues.  A member of my family called me out for my tears, calling my emotional response inordinate.  It seems harsh, but there’s truth to it.  I never really knew Nick because I only saw him when I went to my lessons.  Seeing the light and shade of another person is gained by seeing him or her in different environments.  That’s how friendships are born and made stronger.

And, you see, my desire for friendship with my teacher is what’s been hurting me lately.  It is the naïve but understandable expectation of wanting to know him more.  How about just sitting down for a real chat?  Is there any chance to connect outside of dance?  I know the answers to both those questions.  No.  I am a paying student.  When the lesson is over, it’s over.  Time to move on to the next person.  There is no time to linger.  This is a business interaction at its essence, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.  Of course that doesn’t prevent my emotions from feeling disappointed, even offended, by what they perceive as a lack.  Thus, I often cry from loneliness, even though dancing is supposed to be the last thing that makes me lonely.

Do not be mistaken by thinking I do not care.  I do, and that’s why it hurts.  I get attached when I shouldn’t and desire when I should abstain.  It’s no different from my relationship with my college professors.  Or, the fact that parents should not be their child’s friend when raising them.  So, where does this leave me and my teacher?

At this point, it doesn’t leave me anywhere.  I just know more.  I know my heart twinges whenever he calls me his friend because it is a word I refuse to take lightly or in a “you-know-what-I-mean” fashion.  I know I wish I could call him my friend and dance partner.  I know that I truly care for him and he hopefully for me.  I know that I desire to distance myself emotionally in an effort to preserve myself without becoming cold or mean-spirited, though that is a selfish thing.  I know that if I am to be a ballroom teacher at an Arthur Murray or similar franchise, this is a lesson I must hold close.  I know that people can love and care for one another and not necessarily be friends.  I know that I will continue to pray for the good Lord’s guidance in this matter.  I know that I am a student; Tommy is my teacher; and that all of these emotions are more complex than I want them to be.

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9 thoughts on “These Tricky Emotions

  1. Sweet Alaina – You”re not the only dancer frustrated by the distance enforced between students and teachers at franchised studios. I heard quite a lot about that when I was interviewing people for my book (Thinner, Fitter, Happier: Dancing Will Change Your Life!). Both students and teachers weighed in on the issue. My personal opinion is that it’s the distance that creates the magic. You see Tommy at his very best; you don’t see him when he’s hungover, or smelly and sweaty, or in a bad mood. He seems wonderful and desirable – the perfect guy. But he isn’t. He’s a real fella with flaws and maybe a few habits and quirks that would be a turn-off for you if you were allowed to see them. The price of the pleasant illusion you’re under while at the studio is frustration and perpetually wanting more. There is no free lunch. If you were allowed to see T. Outside the studio, you might find that the bloom left the rose quite quickly. Then, your dancing would not delight you as it does now. Or, you might start dating T. That would end in a breakup or marriage. Either way, that sweet bubble you’re in now would pop. That warming little candle in your heart would be snuffed out. It’s best as it is, Alaina. Truly.

    • You’ve articulated the reasons for the no fraternization policy better than I ever could. And I’m certain the dancing isn’t the only business that’s figured this out. Thank you for being so gentle in reinforcing what I’ve always known. Of course, knowing the truth doesn’t mean it gets easier. Sometimes it gets harder.

      I just want to clarify something concerning Tommy and me. I’ve never had any romantic aspirations. Actually, just typing the phrase “romantic aspirations” makes me cringe a little. There’s too significant an age difference, so the frustration I’m dealing with is one that deals exclusively in friendship. I’ve been friends with men that have at least a decade on me before, so my emotions want more from this situation.

      The struggle between our emotions and reason is difficult, no? The ancient philosophers recognized it.

  2. I sort of agree with you but I’m not quite fully on board. It can certainly be very jarring to walk off a great lesson where you’re on a bit of a high and then have the teacher just say “sign the book” and run off to their next lesson. Kind of leaves you with a “what just happened here” feeling when it would have been great to have just talked a little bit.
    And, they may not meet your definition of a friend, but it is a complex relationship and they can still be an important part of your life. Call it a bond or something else but there is something that does develop. I’m not shocked at all that you would grieve for a teacher who leaves. I don’t think that’s wrong in any way. Yes, he might have been a complete jerk in real life but that doesn’t mean he counts for nothing and that you shouldn’t be sad when he left.
    You said it best when you said people can love and care for each other without being friends. Reducing down to just a business might work for some but it won’t work all the time. I know I made fun of the four different types but the larger point is still valid. We all have different needs and styles. So I would worry if you try to totally shut off these emotions because I think they’ll find their way out.
    There are no easy answers. It does trigger some complex emotions. But if you care about him and he cares about you and you’ve got a connection, then just enjoy it for what it is. It can still be special even if it isn’t what you consider friendship. Of course, I know that is easier said than done.

    • I appreciate your kind words and advice against totally shutting down. I’ve been mulling it over for a few days, and I know I can’t just shut everything down because the relationships built through partner dancing are different from other business relationships. If I could just rid myself of these silly expectations, I’d be fine with my affectionate emotions.

  3. See, this is something that wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if you were at a non-franchise studio. There are lots of independent studios all around where I live, that rent floor space to instructors who want to teach. Because the independent instructors are basically self-employed, they can be friends with the students. I have had lots of long conversations with instructors, and studio owners, about all kinds of things other than dancing. I’ve attended classes and workshops where these instructors are there working on the same things that I am. Some ladies I know are friends with their instructors online, and they talk to and text each other outside of their lessons. In some ways, being an independent instructor requires you to maintain that sort of relationship with your students. At a franchise, they usually try to keep your relationship more with the studio than to the individual instructor. That’s why you dance according to a predefined syllabus, and if the instructor leaves or you move to a different franchise studio, another instructor can step in and, knowing how far you’ve progressed in the syllabus, pick up right where your old instructor left off.

    Is it better to be an independent versus a franchise employee? I’m not sure. There are benefits to both. But being a real friend and knowing things about your instructor’s life is possible if you are outside of the franchise world.

    I know a lot of people who write in the Ballroom Village are members of franchise studios, so I just thought I would throw in what it’s like being an independent agent… 🙂

    • Thanks for that perspective.

      Franchise studios are all I’ve known, and there are definite benefits. Which is why it irks me whenever independent agents, mostly students, rag on franchises like Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire.

      That being said, I know there also benefits to independent studios, most of which you’ve just listed. Unless the real need arises, I’m not going to look for another studio, but I’m not above trying to go independent.

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