Challenges of Dance Grief and Moving On

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DanceSport Photography

A few months ago I went to my private lesson as if it were just another day. I was mentally preparing myself for all the goals I wanted to accomplish within the two hours I had, and was eager to meet with my coach. When we met, he took me aside and told me the last thing I ever expected him to say:

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“I’m moving.”

I went quiet; completely confused. I was suddenly aware of a feeling I could never put to words: Abandonment. He assured me his life changing decision had nothing to do with me, but that it was something he had to do for himself. Even though I listened and understood, it never changed the way I felt — completely abandoned.

DanceSport Photography
DanceSport Photography

The Stages of Grief

Like in several aspects of my life, I have experienced grief. I’ll never know what I’ll feel until the moment it happens. And for me, the hardest part was not knowing what to do about my feelings because I’m torn between so many different emotions. Everyone experiences and expresses grief differently, but I found these stages (originally proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross) very helpful when it comes to managing my grief:

DanceSport Photography
DanceSport Photography

Denial

I was stunned. For the first few moments, I didn’t know what to do, think, or feel. All I could do was absorb what he had said and try to make my brain compute. My brain was trying to wrap around all the words in an attempt to understand, but for the first few minutes I wasn’t able to because I felt as though I’ve been slammed into a freight train. All I could think of was, “This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening!” and “I can’t believe I won’t be dancing with my coach anymore.” And in all honesty, I didn’t want to admit this was actually happening. I couldn’t imagine dancing with anyone else. I invested so much time and emotion into someone who was also very much willing to do the same with me. It’s hard to let go of someone who believed in you and motivated you.

DanceSport Photography
DanceSport Photography

Anger / Confusion

When I realized what was actually happening, I began to form coherent thoughts. “Why is he leaving? Did I do something wrong? Am I that bad of a student? Where is he going? Who am I going to dance with now?” All these questions popped into my mind and they hit me like a tornado, sending my thoughts into a whirlwind.

Unless you’ve made your coach’s life a living hell, (and I KNOW that was not the reason my coach left) you shouldn’t worry. There is no need to be afraid to ask questions about the situation, but take their position into consideration. More than likely, they’ve been dreading this moment to tell you and know you will take it hard. Lashing out in anger will not only make you seem irrational, it will only make your coach feel worse. That feeling of abandonment is natural, but making it your reality is not realistic. Don’t let your emotions disregard their their reasons.

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Depression

When my coach announced that he would be leaving, I felt an empty pit inside me grow. I felt desolation and desperation, and I couldn’t imagine anything or anyone filling that emptiness. I grew mentally and emotionally weak, which in turn affected me physically. During my two-hour lesson that day, all I could do was cry. In the beginning, I did my best to restrain my tears but they brimmed until I could hold them back no more. I did the best I could to keep myself together, but had to stop several times in between lessons because I couldn’t bring myself to continue. All I could think about was all the work we had gone through together, and how I felt it was all a loss; pointless, at this point. Why should I keep working on my routine if he’s just going to leave? Why should I bother booking lessons with him anymore if I’m not going to see him again? These were the thoughts that ran through my head, and weighed heavy on my heart. Needless to say, the news ruined the rest of my week and placed me in a gloomy state. I had just lost someone who, I believed, invested so much into me emotionally, mentally, and physically. It wasn’t as if he were just some passing acquaintance; he was my dance teacher and my friend. Someone I felt I could trust and could not be replaced.

DanceSport Photography
DanceSport Photography

Acceptance

It took me a while before I could bring myself to accept the truth: My coach was leaving. Whether I liked it or not, it was happening. Of course I panicked at the news; Who was I going to continue dancing with? My worst nightmare is having to start all over again with someone new because after all the work I’ve done, I’d have to start from the beginning again. And after having gone through so many instructors, having to constantly find new ones was exhausting. I was looking for a committed dance relationship– not someone I had to worry about suddenly leaving me. Like all breakups, whether good or bad, we have to move on. Luckily for me, my coach had set out a plan for me. He already planned to hand me over to someone he truly trusted would have the best intentions for me, and was also a skilled dancer. Knowing that he had thought of me in this way, rather than letting me worry about who my next coach would be, gave me great confidence that I would be taken care of. I wasn’t just an abandoned puppy; I was going to a good home.

Not everyone will be as lucky as I to have a coach that is not only looking out for my best interests, but to take action and make those interests happen. To those who are afraid to take the next step toward moving on, I say this: Be adventurous!

It’s scary having to introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know what you’re capable of on the dance floor, but you’ll show them; Trust me. I know how you feel. All the hard work you went through with your coach hasn’t gone to waste, and this is a great opportunity for you to continue learning and growing. take what you have and move onto the next best thing. Most likely, you will cycle through many different instructors in your life and perhaps relive these stages of grief more than once. Because of this, you should appreciate your time with them, learn what you can from them for as long as possible, and honor them by becoming the best dancer they believed you can be.

Author: Emily Chen
Photography: DanceSport Photography
Exclusively for Dance Comp Review

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