I Run My Dance Troupe Like I Run My Relationships

I Run My Dance Troupe Like I Run My Relationships October 11, 2016

Holy crap, I’ve been directing a dance troupe (Indy Tribal) for over three years now. It’s hard work and I don’t always succeed at it, but here’s what I’ve been doing that I think is a good idea. Unsurprisingly, I also try to enact these principles in my relationships, and the crossover seems pretty intuitive.

An Indy Tribal performance. Photo by Raven's Aerie, September 2016.
An Indy Tribal performance. Photo by Raven’s Aerie, September 2016.

Again, I’m still figuring all this out, but here’s a list of overlapping principles that I try to enact ethically with my dance troupe as well as with my personal and professional relationships.

  • Honesty. I don’t lie to my dance troupemates, nor to anyone I’m in a relationship with. I also take care not to lash out or be needlessly cruel with the truth. Dancing with people – especially in a style like ATS® which requires a lot of trust to communally improvise – does mean starting from a place of honesty, willing to be open about who you are and what you’re capable of. Same with relationships: you need to know where you are and what kinds of emotional energy and time you have available in order to relate to someone on a regular basis.
  • Transparency. Especially in a performance troupe, I try to be transparent about which gigs we get and why, and if there’s money, where it’s coming from and where it’s going. This is closely tied to honesty, but it goes beyond the idea of truthfulness to encompass the concept of informed consent: people need to know what they’re getting into in order to be able to fully consent to doing it.
  • Accountability. I trust my dancers to call me out on it when I’m being absent-minded or overly critical or otherwise messing up as troupe director, and similarly, I hope they know I’m coming from a place of good faith when I say “Hey, your posture needs work” or “Maybe you’re not ready to perform with that prop yet.” It’s not a competition. It’s not about sniping or me taking them down a notch. This is not a power trip for me. Rather, it’s about mutually co-creating an experience that lets everyone grow and learn, with me at the helm because I happen to have more experience in this one regard, but that doesn’t make me a superior human, it just means I’ve done more of this type of thing so I’m in charge these few hours a week in the studio. And it’s the same in relationships; I expect trust and truth-telling, not power plays.

Of these, honesty and transparency also appear in the 12 pillars of polyamory (for everyone). Accountability isn’t in that post, but the concept weaves in and out, especially when discussing the importance of open communication and trust. Having a list of what’s important in relationships – whether professional or personal – seems like a neat idea, but this is the first time I’ve really sat down to examine the common ground between my dance relationships and my personal relationships.

See also: An Open Letter to My Dance Students


However, it’s not like we get a lot of education around relationships in general. Teaching about healthy relationships as part of comprehensive sex education is empowering, and yet we don’t do it on a cultural scale.

There might be people who manage to have incredibly healthy personal relationships while having screwy, toxic professional ones, or vice versa. Goodness knows I’ve met some folks who seem to be good at managing their careers even when their personal lives are a mess (I’ve been that person at times).

But in general, I subscribe to the “how you do anything is how you do everything” philosophy. It’s important to strive to be ethical and compassionate in all our relationships, even when we fall short. My troupe has a list of guidelines that we all try to adhere to, though as troupe director the biggest burden (setting the tone, and enforcing the guidelines) means I have to try hardest of all.

Is running a dance troupe a lot of work? Yes. So is being in a healthy relationship in any other sphere of life. When donewell, however, it’s totally worth it. Watching people blossom and grow is one of life’s great rewards, and my hope is that in talking about this, I’m giving people food for thought in how to help make that kind of trusting growth happen in different areas of life.

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