There’s Being Friendly, and Then There’s Being Friends

WARNING: You may not like what I have to say.

My topic today is potentially awkward and maybe even controversial. But it needs to be addressed, for all those just getting started on their pro-am ballroom journeys.

After I published The Business Side of Ballroom, I heard from someone who reads all of my articles, but she told me that this one in particular really resonated with her. She could relate to the professional and personal lines getting crossed. She works as a Lutheran pastor, and part of her job is acting as counsel or emotional support during difficult times in people’s lives. During a crisis, she becomes very involved in someone’s life, which includes sharing intimate moments. It’s easy for someone to feel like she is a close friend, but in reality, she is their pastor, not their friend. Once the crisis is over, she has to move on to the next person in need. She said to me, “there’s being friendly and then there’s being friends.” It’s an important distinction that people don’t always recognize.

This comment made me think back to my first teacher. I was extremely hurt when he dropped me as a student, but it was mainly because I thought we were friends, and a friend wouldn’t treat me the way he treated me. I can’t help but think I would have saved myself a lot of pain if I had maintained a strictly professional view of the relationship, regardless of how friendly he acted.

Part of the job of a ballroom teacher is to be friendly. Students need to feel comfortable and enjoy their time with their teacher if they’re going to keep coming back. So teachers will ask questions to get to know the student, lend an ear when something is bothering the student that is distracting from the lesson, or joke around with the student to help them feel at ease. It isn’t all cold, calculating business strategy though; teachers do enjoy getting to know and spending time with their students! Teachers love witnessing their students overcome failures, celebrate successes and grow into better versions of themselves. They love being a part of their students’ lives.

But does that mean your teacher is your friend?

While trying not to sound too harsh or blunt – no, it does not. Your teacher is your teacher. A guide to greater knowledge and skill.

Can your teacher also be your friend?

Sure. But first and foremost, your teacher is your teacher.

If you are reading this and wondering if your own teacher is your friend, the answer is probably no. You shouldn’t have to wonder if someone is your friend. But if you still think there is a chance, ask yourself this: how much of the time spent with your teacher is paid for by you? I wish I would have asked myself this question with my first teacher, because the answer would have been 100%. If the only time spent with your teacher is on lessons, group classes or practice parties, they are not your friend. They are just your teacher.

It sounds weird and almost wrong, doesn’t it? Just like the Lutheran pastor and her parishioners, students may share very personal things with their teacher, whether it’s challenges in their lives or struggles with inner demons. You share intimate moments while dancing simply because your bodies are in close contact. Surely, those things qualify the relationship as a friendship! But they don’t.

The physical contact is required to learn ballroom dance, which is what you’re paying to learn. The sharing of personal things comes naturally as you form an emotional bond with your dance partner, which is also necessary to dance fully.

Just because your teacher isn’t categorized as your friend doesn’t mean you won’t form a close bond with them. How many more times can I emphasize how transformative ballroom dancing is? You will need your teacher for more than just learning steps and technique. You will need them for emotional support when things get hard (and trust me, the further you go in dance, the harder they get!). You will develop a personal connection with them simply because they will be the one who is there to witness all of your awkward, uncomfortable and yet incredibly rewarding growth. Your teacher will become an extremely important part of your journey.

But it’s your dance journey that they are a part of. Friends share in your entire life. Teachers have to move on to the next student once your dancing time has ended.

It’s not a bad thing that your teacher isn’t your friend. You and your teacher may be friendly, but in the end, teachers are there to fill a different role in your life than friend. Some might say it is a higher role. As your dance partner, your ballroom teacher will guide you to a greater version of yourself! Just think about that for a moment. The personal growth/development industry is a multi-billion dollar empire! And you can get that coveted development while learning to dance. That is awesome! I am grateful every day that I have Teacher to guide and support me on my ballroom journey. I have done things I never thought I could do and experienced successes I never thought I could have. Isn’t that enough?

I believe if new students were more aware of their teacher’s real role going into ballroom dancing, less of them would get hurt and end up quitting because of misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations. It is my humble hope that I have eliminated some of the confusion today.

As always, happy dancing!

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11 thoughts on “There’s Being Friendly, and Then There’s Being Friends

  1. Natalie says:

    SUCH an important distinction. My partner and I are self-taught/peer-taught, so I’ve never had this trouble with ballroom, but I took tennis lessons in high school and I had a terribly confusing experience in which I couldn’t make the distinction between a friendly teaching pro and my friend. Like you said, I could have saved myself a lot of grief by understanding the true nature of our relationship: student and teacher.

    Fantastic post. Rock on!! 🙂

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  2. The Thespian says:

    This is one of the reasons that I prefer to dance with another amateur, since that means we can be real friends and sometimes even hang out and do non-dance related things, like eat lunch together. Also having an amateur partner has allowed me to have a male dance instructor, which really helps me learn my part from someone who dances in my shoes, so to speak. 🙂

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  3. Cuttingline says:

    Well said Katie… While I, being a teacher in another subject, never conflated the relationship as friendship, I have had other emotional turmoil… Which is just the bumpy part of being human. I think I am going through a particularly bad patch right now from another, equally emotional setback as the confusion you write about. In this case, my teacher said something so utterly insensitive and devastating that for over a month I have seriously been renegotiating these choppy waters. I know I’ll work through it, just Not with That Teacher. It is also a reminder to myself, as a teacher, how comments meant to be helpful (Really? Did I just hear that???), can been taken 180 degrees opposite of their intention. Language, emotions, so messy. So dance beyond the mental into the ethereal pleasure of floating on your feet through you own effort. Yes.

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  4. Monty Savage says:

    Thanks for the great read , you are dead on , I was lucky enough to run across the book Ballroom Dancing Is Not For Sissies , It’s written by two married dancers that are both Psycologist and dance togather ! The book deals with the relationships between teachers , students , husbands and wives , the problems and how to deal with them . I would have never guessed this was such a big issue , but it’s why many leave the dance floor ! Thanks Again !

    Liked by 1 person

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