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.