The Teacher-Student Relationship: What Is it?

Discussion in 'General Dance Discussion' started by waltzgirl, Sep 12, 2010.

  1. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl New Member

    We've had so many discussions that begin when someone realizes that their relationship with their teacher isn't a friendship or a romance. I thought it would be interesting to discuss what a student-teacher relationship IS.

    Here's my take:

    It's a relationship between two people committed to the same goal: the student's learning. Because of the different roles, the commitment is different on each side. The student is (or should be) more deeply invested in the goal, because the whole relationship exists for the student's sake. The interaction between them is focused, almost entirely, on the student's needs, not only on the material the student is learning but by adapting the teaching to the student's learning style, personality, etc.

    The flip side of that is that the student should not expect an equal investment in the relationship from the teacher; it's not healthy to expect another person to invest deeply in a relationship that's all about you. I'll admit, I love that it's a relationship which is focused on me, but I would never expect it to extend beyond the lesson. That's just not appropriate to expect of another person.

    Also, the relationship takes up a bigger part of the student's life than it does the instructor's. Students generally have one or a few teachers; teachers have many students, each of whom s/he owes the same commitment to. The student should be practicing between lessons, so will inevitably be thinking about the teacher, or at least what the teacher said, demonstrated, etc. , between lessons. It's perfectly possible to be an excellent teacher and never think about a student between lessons.

    Within those limits, however, can exist a very deep and satisfying teacher-student relationship. My (almost 10 year) relationship with my pro goes very deep in lots of ways:

    Above all, we are sharing and enjoying my dance journey together. We share and enjoy from different perspectives, of course, but it gives us both pleasure. He is a good teacher and his teaching has given me dance, a very important part of my life. I am a good student—I respect his knowledge and authority, I never argue or pout, I try my best to do anything he asks of me—and I know he enjoys teaching me. I enjoy knowing that.

    My pro knows my body more thoroughly than anyone else in my life. I'd include sexual partners in that, as their knowledge is more narrowly focused. What they know is just about the only thing he doesn't know! I know his body pretty well, too. I enjoy the physical comfort we have with one another in lessons.

    My pro knows my moods at least as well as anyone I've ever lived with. What's more, he's better at accepting and accommodating them, because he only has to do it for 45 minutes at a time!

    On the other hand, we have almost nothing in common outside of dance. We have totally different interests and are at very different points in our lives. We chit chat a bit before or after lessons and at socials, and hang out together some at comps, but don't go into much depth. Our out-of-lesson relationship is really more like aquaintances who happen to see each other often. I like and admire him as a person very much, but I don't think our personalities would actually work together all that well in any other kind of relationship. Ours is a deep relationship of the kind it is, a teacher-student relationship, and I really value it for what it is.
  2. mop6686

    mop6686 Member

    The relationship is something I've never encountered before. Even in school. It's different there too, because you're usually a lot younger than your teacher.

    You do have a bond, but it's not, at least on my part as the teacher, based on the student's personality, it's based on a shared goal of getting their dancing wherever they want it to be.

    Unfortunately, sometimes what hooks students is your personality and they can start to develop feelings for you. Not necessarily romantic. Sometimes it can seem to students that they are clicking with the teacher, that he or she understands them or that they're speaking the same language. This is usually a combination of the teacher modifying their teaching style to the student and observing off what the student is saying. That's a good teacher.

    Of course there are students I like more than others, ones that maybe I feel like I do genuinely click with, but I treat them no different to my other students. And that's what keeps it professional.
  3. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    I think the answer to this is that it can be any number of things...and it can be either very simple or very complex and multi-layered...and it really doesn't matter what it is as long as both parties involved happen to concur about what it is
  4. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    excellent thread idea, WG... i've had similar thoughts on DF many times over the years. i would think it a very helpful thing to encourage an awareness that the teacher-student relationship *is* it's own thing, it's own form of intimacy, and tho there may be another layer of friendship which exists in some very few of those connections, true friendship is different from the sort of friendly intimacy unique to the T-S relationship.

    there's something called "the seat of the teacher" in yoga which applies here...the teacher centering himself or herself in the mindset of how best to reach into the heart and soul of each student in a way that will be most meaningful and helpful to the student. so there *is* something of the teacher that becomes invested, and the teacher's ability to truly make this connection and provide meaningful instruction provides a genuine sense of reward to the teacher as well -- it's not all just for the student, in that regard. but so many students are filtering through the teacher's life, while comparatively few are filtering through the student's -- the perspective in the relationship is very different.

    and from the perspective of that "seat of the teacher" the teacher is generally more detached, while students' lives can be deeply steeped in the energy of a primary teacher as they open themselves up, set their ego aside, become more vulnerable, and surrender to a learning process.

    the act of the teacher reaching out with his instincts and caring can feel very intimate for the student, because over time it certainly acquires a significant familiarity with normally very private matters, especially in partner dancing. and i think that's where students tend to get so confused and mistake that unique intimacy with something romantic or best-friendy or in some way "special". it might be special, but...in most cases it's just the way a successful T-S connection works & feels.
  5. mop6686

    mop6686 Member

    I totally agree, but when do students and teachers ever discuss the nature of their relationship? I never have, but I've also never needed to.

    Even the idea of having to discuss the nature of your relationship with your student seems a little too personal for me. Though it's definitely a good idea to acknowledge any feelings you feel that could escalate and eventually damage your relationship and the students dance progression.

    It's so complicated, because many different teachers operate with different rules and boundaries. I do not socialize with students outside the studio, but I know plenty of teachers who do and it seems to work for them.

    Because the relationship can be anything I think it's best not to assume anything about the relationship and for the student to take the lead from the teacher, as it were ;)
  6. mop6686

    mop6686 Member

    Excellent point! Within the first two minutes of a dance lesson you get to touch a stranger more intimately than you do most of your friends. Even unconsciously this is breaking down all types of barriers in the mind and the body. And if you do this several times a week along with acting out the romantic characters of the dances with someone you "click" with, it can effect you. We're only human :rolleyes:
  7. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    my general rule is; if it ain't broke, don't mess with it...generally that is an indicator that expectations are at least compatible... I agree that there is no need to discuss the nature of things unless one is beginning to find oneself at odds with what they think should/does exist and how they interprete it not aligning with what they are on the receiving end of....
  8. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl New Member

    But I do think it is helpful for new students to be aware of what a student-teacher relationship actually is. Saves a lot of heartache. May be better not to hear it from their own teachers, but somewhere like DF.
  9. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    completely...I so wish I had been forewarned of the possibilities...so much so that now my process is that I establish ahead of time that there will be no relationship beyond the lesson and no expectation beyond my dance education...and when knowing certain aspects of the teacher's personality happens to make me feel somewhat more attached, I make a very deliberate point of dismissing it...
  10. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl New Member

    Interesting. I'm pretty deeply attached to my teacher--as a teacher. Who he is as a person is an integral part of that; the feelings are just all focused on the dance relationship.
  11. flashdance

    flashdance Active Member

    I'm not that close/on a personal level basis...

    Don't get me wrong, I love her dearly and think the world of my dance teacher. But it's a kind of deep respect more than anything...

    Sometimes I can sense she is frustrated with us as a group and other times she's great to be around.

    God, I fancy just going giving her a hug after typing that! Sigh :(
  12. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    WG..I think that is a perfectly viable scenario...just not one I am willing to entertain
  13. I'm not currently in private lessons and don't have a regular teacher (though I think I may have recently found someone I want to work with), but I was taking private lessons with someone over a period of about three years. I did feel a pretty strong personal connection to my teacher, and it must have been mutual to some extent, since there was one point where she made very clear that she was interested in speaking with me as a friend. I was the one who backed away from that (at the time anyway) because I was afraid of becoming too attached to her (since I already felt some attraction). In fact, before that point she said something like: "You always rush out of lessons and don't stick around to talk like most people." I did this partly on purpose since I didn't want to turn her into a surrogate friend or girlfriend, but I may have inadvertently made myself intriguing to her by keeping up some sort of boundaries.

    Eventually, those boundaries became blurrier and the relationship took on more of a dimension of friendship. I very nearly fell in love with her, though that might have happened even just as a result from the time I spent with her in private lessons. Fortunately a girlfriend came along at the time my attachment to my teacher was making that relationship too messy, with me going from having been remote to being excessively clingy and demanding. (I think some of what I was feeling and doing was in response to my teacher's becoming more remote, but I think that had more to do with her unhappiness with all the work involved in running a studio with her husband, along with the strain that was partly creating in her own marriage, than it did with me. However, at the time I didn't know how much pressure she was under and how discontent she had become with her whole life.)

    I don't blame my teacher. She was pretty young (younger than me by a decade) at the time and still maturing. She may have been playing with fire, but I don't think she fully understood her own power. Things worked out in the end. Maybe my feelings for my teacher helped fuel my learning process, even if it some point they became an obstacle. I will always be grateful that she taught me dance, which included helping me get past a fair amount of nervousness; but I admit that in some way I still love her as a person in ways that go beyond that. And yet, the lasting gift she gave me was definitely teaching me to dance.
  14. Oldgeezer

    Oldgeezer New Member

    A teacher is only as good as his/her students, "In the eyes of others" a competitive teacher will look to their students to help make his/her name amongst their peers, I assure you they will be thinking of them, a teacher will have lessons they look forward to and others they don't. Besides their also is the financial side, you pay, they are able to teach! As for the relationship, teachers are normally good pros who know where the line is and when not to step over it
  15. ChaChaMama

    ChaChaMama Well-Known Member

    I think the dance teacher-student relationship is an especially complex one, and NOT primarily because of the nature of dance, but because of the nature of the industry.

    -There is the educational part of the teacher-student relationship, in which the teacher is the authority figure/knowledgeable one, and the student(s) the acolyte(s).

    -There is the business relationship, in which the student is the customer with certain expectations about what services will be provided. (This goes double for pro-am.)

    -There is sometimes a friendship on top of that, with its own set of pleasures and complications. One of my dance teachers co-threw me a baby shower along with another student at the studio. She did not have to do that to be a good teacher; that was something she did as a friend. My other teacher and I happened to be flying Southwest on the same flight to OSB. I was not competing. Yet he sat next to me and showed me clips of some of his favorite world pro show numbers on his laptop. Again, that is not something he has to do as a teacher.

    I have increasingly come to the conclusion that relationships like this work best if you compartmentalize the different aspects of the relationship. But I will stop before I accidentally write a book.
  16. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    rather personal coach..

    That´s the same for me and my teacher. But there is a difference. I am a tango dancer. And for a guy learning tango this all means that the attitude to life changes during this process. So the teacher is more kind of a personal coach. I really had trouble dealing with teachers. I ran out of classes, or provoked and challenged. Think, I had difficulties to accept my weak points (as well as in my feet, or character). So I used to toil with accepting true authority. For years I learned on my own (and actually began teaching), because I could not find a teacher (let´s say my Jedi master) but instructors in great numbers. Two years ago I found one, and I became what is called an in-door-student in the martial arts.
  17. wonderwoman

    wonderwoman Active Member

    From the perspective of someone new to dancing who tends to be very passionate about it, it is very easy to become emotionally attached to a teacher. I was totally infatuated with my first teacher and crushed on every other one I had. Right now I have a salsa teacher who is the most wonderful caring sweet person and an outstanding teacher and dancer. Am I completely level headed around him? Nope. I'm honest about it so I am able to laugh about it with him and ease that tension. He is so supportive of me and I'm at my best with him. I have actually written down numerous quotes from him that I go back and read again when I can't talk with him. It's great to have your teacher tell you sincerely they are your number one fan. It doesn't always have to be 100% business. Our lessons usually go well over the hour I've paid for because we finish working what we start on.

    I happen to be dating a dancer who is not my instructor but is an instructor. It will be interesting to see if we can avoid the soap opera of our tiny salsa scene.
  18. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    it can be complex...or it can be simple...I have had complex...and it was painful...

    I go out of my way to keep it very simple now...I won't say that I have no attachment to my pro..it is a friendly and pleasant dynamic except when the nature of the work makes it otherwise (lol, like today), but I think it would be a stretch to call t a friendship...and frankly, I think that is why it is so successful...

    I think everyone has to choose a dynamic that they can live with...I am simply not in a space to be open to that with any teacher...probably ever...and I don't see that as a loss...
  19. TangoRocks

    TangoRocks Member

    Well, it all depends on the teacher and the student and at what point in the students' dancing life they meet, IMHO. I was very attached to my first ever dance teacher, to the point that in a few crises situations with studio management when I was a newbie, the only thing that kept me at the studio was her presence there. Even with the infamous non-fraternization policy, I considered her my friend, at least within the boundaries of the studio and studio sponsored events, and she knew my moods and things about my life not known to many people. She was also able to modify her teaching style to my very non-conventional learning style (which I noticed when I took lessons from other teachers) and kept me on the straight and narrow when I despaired about my inability to master this or that and came close to quitting dancing a number of times. Did I have a crush on her? Maybe briefly, a few years after I met her (it takes me a little time to get to know someone--not really into instant-crushes, lol) but by that time I was already hooked as a student/dancer and enjoying my lessons immensely, so the crush didn't really matter and it didn't last long in the first place.

    Now, I've had other teachers since her, and while I do like the majority of my other teachers, the same intense relationship is not there with them. Maybe it's true what they say, that you'll never have another "first" dance teacher, but I am more businesslike with my other teachers, including the ones that are not bound by silly non-fraternization agreements.

    Just my two cents...
  20. anntennis

    anntennis Active Member

    I was extremely attached to my first dance teacher when I started dancing four years ago. I could not wait to the end of the day to rush to the studio and take a lesson with him. I took many private lessons just to dance with him. Sometimes, not often, every few months or so , I still go to that studio, even though it is far from my home , requires car tolls, parking, etc , but I still go just to dance with him and talk to him , and feel wonderful in his arms and charmed by his artistic personality all over again.
    All the other teachers that followed were stronger technically and more skillful as teachers and instructors, some of them are well known and established in the dance community, and I believe I learned significantly more from other teachers, but I have never developed the same form of attachment or adoration or almost “first love” feeling for any other teacher, no matter how good they were and how many lessons I took with them

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