Early in my aerial training journey, I met this girl named Kristi. She came from a gymnastics background, me from dance. I had better lines, she was stronger. We learned skills at a similar pace. We preferred the same instructor. We had a choice. To watch each other from afar, picking apart the things that made us different, getting jealous because one was better at a skill or got more attention that day in class… OR, work together: acknowledge our opposing strengths and styles, cheer each other on and learn constructively from each other.
Since I prefer to focus on the positive, you can guess which direction we went. Not all training relationships (or any relationships really) go this partnership route. I’ve been involved in and surrounded by relationships that eat away at the people involved and those negative attitudes trickle out into the world, affecting the way we treat ourselves, the people we interact with outside of the relationship and ultimately doesn’t serve anyone well.
Kristi and I have very different styles when it comes to moving in the air. Her gymnastics background gave her an advantage to me when it came to air awareness and strength. My focus on ballet for so many years led me to smooth transitions and lines. Kristi liked super dynamic drops and funky angles; I was more likely to avoid them. While training together for several years we developed a buddy system of sorts. Because we almost always trained together and were of a similar skill level, we learned skills together at the same time. It was pretty inevitable that one of us would say, “I don’t like this one, it’s all yours!” And the other girl would love that skill and make it her own. The enjoyment from watching each other succeed was kind of addicting - it took away the negativity of struggling with a skill we didn't like.
This practice of appreciating what we liked and didn’t like helped us to develop our own style. We didn’t feel the need to do the same skills and one up each other. It helped us to develop others’ abilities as we watched each other grow into our strengths. While we learned skills we didn’t like, we kept learning and we kept pushing ourselves and each other to be better. Because we knew what each of us was working through, we were best able to support each other and keep an eye out for opportunities to grow not only through our physical skill set but also as human beings. We built a pretty strong friendship (Kristi was a bridesmaid in my wedding) that kept us coming in to train even when we didn’t really feel like it because we didn’t want to miss out on what the other was up to, or leave her to train alone.
How can you turn ANY relationship into a positive and supportive partnership? You have to be willing to learn something from everyone. Even if that lesson is how not to do something or how not to treat someone. While learning with Kristi, I could have said, “I hate this skill. I suck at it” and been jealous that Kristi was good at it. What benefit would that have provided? If you’re in this situation, try asking that person why they like the skill. You’ll learn something about them and maybe something about the skill you haven’t thought of before. Or maybe acknowledge that the skill is just not best for you right now and compliment someone else on how well they do it.
Find someone at a similar skill level to you and train alongside them. Trade stories and experiences of your learning journey. Share the things that are hard for you. Celebrate their successes even when you aren’t finding your own. And give yourself a break, we are all human and we rarely do everything right.
Thank you to Kristi for being my training buddy so long ago, you’ve never been fully replaced. Thank you also to Tammy Zarb and Jennifer Pierce for cultivating an environment that urged us to work together. These amazing women continue to foster creative, safe, and supportive environments for growing artists in the US and Australia. I am eternally grateful for the lessons I learned from each of you.