In Dance, are you Self or Others Oriented? – The Dancing Grapevine

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In my experience, there’s a spectrum between being Others-Oriented or Self-Oriented with regards to both dance and life. In dance, these orientations affect almost all our interactions. Generally speaking, Others-Oriented dancers focus on the energy they release into the world around them, while the Self-Oriented dancer is more concerned with what they experience.

Let’s talk more about how this informs our dance relationships.

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As you start to read this, many of you are probably automatically thinking “of COURSE I’m Others-Oriented! I’m not selfish, and I care about the experiences my partners have!” Let’s take a step back from that.

Being Self-Oriented is not a negative. By nature, most of us – including me – are self-oriented. I generally don’t struggle with boundaries, and how I experience dance is very important to me. That doesn’t mean that I lack care for the community. On the contrary, I care deeply for the people around me. But, I’m more predisposed to make sure I’m OK first. When I don’t, I feel unappreciated, frustrated, and lack fulfillment.

A lot of dancers are this way. Most people are in dance because dance gives them something: connection, friends, fame, admiration, fitness, money… the list goes on. Many of these people are also highly involved in their communities in a deeply positive way – but at the end of the day, if they don’t get what they are seeking from dance, they’re left feeling empty or dissatisfied.

In contrast, Others-Oriented dancers are less frequently found in positions of power, but are usually ardent supporters within the community of people they trust and like. They are usually very quick to understand and give deference to other people’s needs without feeling like they’ve given something up. They do struggle with “knowing themselves” and setting boundaries, and are often people who end up very drained or overwhelmed without quite understanding why.

I’ve put together a quiz for you to see where on the spectrum you likely fall.

Generally speaking, here are some traits of Others-Oriented and Self-Oriented dancers:

Others-Oriented

The wonderful thing about being Others-Oriented is that your external focus makes you a prime candidate for community building and including others. You’re likely really good about spreading the love, and are less likely to have a small group of friends you intermingle with. You likely find it easy to share your “whole self” with partners, regardless of skill level, and have a high tolerance for annoyances and bad habits.

You may be the person who is able to connect with those that most others find difficult, irritating, or odd, and help them blossom. You probably also rarely complain, and are generally thought of as a “bright spot” within dance (at least externally). You’re more likely to appreciate being a trusted and liked member of the social community than a good dancer. A compliment from a scared beginner that you made feel safe likely would mean more to you than praise from your favourite star on your basic steps. You know how much it hurts when someone says or does something mean – and you really don’t want to do that to anyone else.

The difficult thing about being Others-Oriented is that you may struggle with giving voice to (or even admitting) the things that bother you. You also may have difficulty knowing what you want or need out of a dance community. Rather than feeling dissatisfied or underappreciated, you’re more likely to feel like you’re not giving enough to be worthy of your status – or simply burned out without being able to understand why.

Self-Oriented

The wonderful thing about being a balanced Self-Oriented is that you know you’re in dance because you want to be there and gain enjoyment from it. You also are likely more willing to leave it if it stops serving you in that way. You’re likely more aware of what make you happy and unhappy.

You are more likely to really commit to training and self-improvement, in order to meet that need that you have to be good at what you do and to improve. The opinions of your partners and mentors of your abilities likely mean a lot to you.

The difficult thing about being Self-Oriented is that you might find yourself to be hypercritical of others – and yourself. While you’re good at knowing what you want, you’re also good at knowing what you don’t want (even if you don’t admit it), and may struggle with the patience to tolerate those things. You may also need frequent reassurance about your skills and worth within the community to feel a sense of belonging.

The True Goal: Balanced Dancers

The healthiest dancers in the community are those that are able to find balance between the two ends of the spectrum. The closer you are to balanced, the more likely you are to be satisfied and a contributing member of the community.

A balanced dancer is one that focuses both on their individual experience and the collective good of the community. For example, they may know they desire praise and admiration – but also make sure to give others that praise and admiration to lift them up. Or, they may know that they desire to be in a position of influence – but also take steps to ensure that their influence is in the best interests of the community.

Balanced dancers also recognize that their boundaries and needs are important, and are good at managing the balance between giving what they can and taking what they need. For example, recognizing that it’s OK to find a perfectly nice person an exhausting dance partner that you can only dance with sometimes. Another example is saying something when someone makes you uncomfortable rather than resorting to passive-aggressive feedback (or, in the alternative, not saying anything and then feeling violated later).

Achieving balance looks different depending on your base orientation. Here are four types of imbalances that often arise:

Trauma, Illness, and Imbalance

Some dancers are in a position where they have experienced something traumatic inside or outside of the dance community that leads to a physical or emotional lack of safety. Others may struggle with a physical or mental illness that fundamentally alters their interactions with the wider dance community – which can also include addictions that can be exacerbated in some groups. These people fall outside the normal scope of being “out of balance”, and should likely seek professional support to help them understand what they need to thrive and grow within their lives and, by extension, their dance communities.

Others-Oriented Imbalance #1: The Burnout

This usually happens after a protracted period as the “reliable one”. They get things done, are always willing to help out, and just are an all-around good resource. But, especially if those in charge don’t recognize that they aren’t really taking care of themselves, this can lead to a burnout.

The Burnout suffers from giving too much – and doesn’t realize it before it’s too late. Unlike the Self-Oriented Paradox, the Burnout doesn’t have the feelings of dissatisfaction driving anxiety; they just… stop functioning. They become overwhelmed, unable to say “no”, and lose sight of why they’re even there in the first place.

Their strategies need to focus on recognizing workloads and balance before they find themselves inexplicably exhausted. For example:

  1. Itemize: If you’re the person who is always getting asked to do things or spends a lot of time on aspects involving community building, make a list. How much of your time is this actually taking? How much of your time in dance is spent on your development, growth, and enjoyment? If it’s leaning too far in one direction, you may need to correct it.
  2. Figure out what you want: Even if it’s not evident, there is something this community is giving back to you. Figure out what it is – and how you can fill that need economically. For example, if your need is to feel important to the community, what expressions of appreciation make you feel good? How much time do you need to spend on that for a good return on your investment?
  3. Ask for it: Lastly, you need to use your voice to ask for what you need – and to say “no” when it’s too much. You really don’t need to give that person a ride home at three in the morning every week if you’re tired and have work the next day. If you enjoy it, great! But, if it’s starting to feel like a chore, it’s time to have a conversation.

Others-Oriented Imbalance #2: The At-Risk

The At-Risk is likely to view the dance community through rose-coloured glasses. Usually, these people also light up the room with kindness and positive energy, and can be the subject of envy. They’re likely getting their (usually unconscious) needs met by the community as a whole, and seem completely content and trusting within their environment. They may not even recognize their own interpersonal boundaries.

Unfortunately, these people often find themselves most at risk for boundary-crossing issues. Their optimism and desire to see the positive can lead to a false sense of security and a hesitancy to set boundaries with other people (if they even know what their boundaries are). And, they can often feel undeserving of their place within the community, truly looking up to everyone around them without recognizing their intrinsic value and needs.

Their rebalancing strategies focus on recognizing and setting boundaries for themselves. For example:

  1. Identify your wants and needs: The first goal is to gain a sense of your own identity, and to figure out if there are any needs or wants that you need to name for long-term success.
  2. Own your strengths and accomplishments: You do contribute to the community, and absolutely deserve the good that comes your way. If you struggle with accepting what people give to you, remind yourself that it is not bad to accept praise.
  3. Set Boundaries, even when it’s hard: Saying “no” and setting boundaries may be very hard for you. Maintain your same care and consideration of others when you set boundaries, but do learn that it is OK to decide what interactions you’d like to be part of – and to tell people when you’re not OK with something. If you master this, you can be a role model for others who struggle on how to say “no” gracefully.

Self-Oriented Imbalance #1: The Selfish

The Selfish is very comfortable in what they want. They’re happy to take steps to make sure they have what they need and desire in the community. They’re very comfortable with their boundaries, and have a reputation for their bluntness. Externally, these are often viewed as the “inconsiderate” dancers. They may not read people’s boundaries well, turn pro’s into dance monkeys, and clique – the thing is, they’re totally fine with this.

What these individuals don’t always realize is that these actions are having an impact on the dance community around them. Their balance has to come from considering their impact on others, and taking steps to make sure they keep their community healthy.

Selfish-Imbalanced dancers benefit most from strategies that lets them quantify and analyze their impacts on the community, and understand what is in their best interests long term. These dancers can bring themselves back into balance by:

  1. Considering Impact before Action: Think about how words or actions may impact others around them before acting on those impulses. Isn’t it wonderful if you can avoid upsetting someone and dealing with all that drama? If you struggle with body language or social cues, it may be worth talking to a therapist, coach, or trusted teacher about
  2. Think of the Long Term: Having a good reputation among people will help you and the community. People like dancing with those that they like, and putting some conscious work into establishing a healthy community actually benefits your investment in the long run.
  3. Conscious Giving: Find strategies to give to the community without sacrificing your enjoyment. Maybe it’s monetary; maybe it’s a concerted effort to dance with at least 2 beginners per event. Maybe it’s making a conscious effort to smile and be nice when you’re turning someone down, or asking a stressed organizer a question.

Self-Oriented Imbalance #2: The Paradox

Sometimes, Self-Oriented dancers wish they were Others-Oriented. In an effort to be “better”, they try to be more giving to the community while ignoring or suppressing what they want or need. This leads to the Self-Oriented Paradox, which is easily summed up as the intersection of repression and denial.

These dancers are Self-Oriented, but have a strong awareness of the interpersonal aspects of dance. For many, they often don’t want to be Self-Oriented because they see being Others-Oriented as more desirable and good. So, instead of accepting that they are in dance because of what it gives them, they try to adopt an Others-Oriented persona by repressing their voice and denying the “selfish” parts of themselves.

Often, this leads to a deep feeling of dissatisfaction because it magnifies feelings of dissatisfaction and underappreciation that unfulfilled Self-Oriented people already have. They may deny that they are jealous, or find reasons to ‘blame’ others for why they are defensive, reject dances, or stick to a small group of friends. After all, if you can justify your behaviour, it feels a lot less like that icky word ‘selfish’.

Sometimes, Paradox dancers also derive a large amount of their self-worth from what they perceive others think of them. Getting praise, encouragement, and attention from outside sources helps to fill the void for a short amount of time – until the praise runs dry for a spell, and you’re left feeling empty again. They may also need to critique or criticize themselves or others frequently, and strongly desire to be a community-chosen authority.

These Self-Oriented dancers need to understand that honouring themselves and their needs is very important to a healthy dance life – but that doing this kindly is just as important. Some attempt to start this journey, but they do it by using tools better suited to a true Others-Oriented dancer. Some great tools include:

  1. Acknowledge your Wants and Needs: You may resist acknowledging your wants and needs because they feel “selfish”. It’s OK to want attention, admiration, or skill. These are natural, and while some are treated as “less than”, all can be a perfectly acceptable desire if the actions surrounding them are positive and kind. Own the parts of yourself that feel selfish, but…
  2. Resist the Blame Urge: …be careful that in your quest to acknowledge all aspects of yourself that kindness and understanding are forefront. It’s easy to overcompensate to “I don’t care what anyone thinks! I’m honouring myself!” but the truth is… it does matter if your desires, boundaries and wants unnecessarily start hurting others. For example, it’s OK to ask for less thumb pressure (even 10x), but it’s not OK to start passive-aggressively rolling your eyes at that partner, or inconsiderately snubbing those that aren’t on your “favourites” list.
  3. Find Self-Made Synergies: You’re already aware that giving is an important part of the community’s sustainability and happiness, so find ways that what you give can match up with what you hope to receive. For example, if you desire admiration, give in ways that allow others to see and appreciate your openness and kindness. Regardless of the strategies that you choose, realize that at the end of the day you’re responsible for making sure that you find what you need to be happy.

Understanding where you naturally fall in your perspective – and the ruts that you can become trapped in – can help you to honestly self-assess and make improvements to your dance happiness. Remember: there is no shame in being self- or other- oriented. Both aspects are important to a happy, wonderful dance life and community.

One thing I like to use is the “but” approach. This means identifying a direction you can grow in or a habit you have, but recognizing what you need to do to balance that out. Here’s some examples:

  • “I’m really good at seeking out good dances for myself, but I need to remember to spend some time dancing with those on the sidelines, too.”
  • “I’m working on vocalizing my boundaries better, but I need to remember to be kind when doing so.”
  • “I’m really glad that I can contribute to the community, but I need to remember to also do things that benefit my own growth and needs.”
  • “I really struggle with insecurity and jealousy that displays itself through criticizing others, but I’m working on intentionally recognizing these urges and saying something nice about them instead.”

Where did you fall on the spectrum? Are there any strategies you feel would benefit you? Leave them in the comments, or share on your wall.

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