Dance and the Creative Couple - Sophia D'Angelo

Ballroom Chat: Episode #42March 10, 2021

Sophia D'Angelo discusses finding herself in ballroom dance and the intersectionality between navigating relationships in ballroom dance and in the real world. Sophia and Samantha discuss her book, Dance and the Creative Couple, and how instructors and students can use the lessons within the book to have a greater understanding of how we communicate through dance.

Sophia practices psychotherapy in Washington, D.C. and has been a life-long dancer with training in multiple dance disciplines. She earned a Masters in Social Work at Catholic University and is a graduate of the International Psychotherapy Institute. She holds multiple United States titles in ballroom dancing.

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Episode Transcript

Our transcripts are automatically generated from our audio podcast with only small modifications for readability. Since the transcripts are automatically generated from our podcast conversation, they will contain errors.

Samantha: Welcome back to Ballroom Chat, the podcast about sharing the dance journey. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today I'm joined by Sophia D'Angelo. She is a licensed psychotherapist with a master's degree in social work. She also is a Pro-Am dancer with many titles to her name in the styles of Showdance, Latin, Smooth, and American Rhythm.

She recently released a book called Dance and the Creative Couple. And as if that's not enough, she's also raised three wonderful children. So today I got the chance to sit down and talk with her all about her book and how we can use ballroom dance and the relationships in our ballroom dancing to explore our own personal relationships and gain a better sense of ourselves. So please enjoy this conversation with Sophia D'Angelo.

Well, thank you so much, Sophia for being a guest on today's podcast.

Sophia: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

Samantha: So I very much enjoy hearing from my guests, how they got started in the dance industry. Did you have a dance background before you started ballroom or was ballroom as an adult, your first entry into kind of this dance world?

Sophia: Yeah, I did have, I had an actually an extensive sort of background in, in dancing from the time I was five or six you know, like all little girls, I started my ballet classes. And then I continued that all the way through middle school into high school and Included, you know, all kinds of dancing from contemporary, lyrical, to jazz. When I was a little girl, jazz was really, really the big thing, and Fauci and you know, was, was sort of hot. And then I auditioned to go to studied all over the country in different sort of Let's say summer programs or more highlighted programs around the country. And then went to college and studied as a dancer for a little while until I got I was asked to be part of a sort of like a young dance troop that was starting to become professional.

And we did a little bit, I did a little bit of that move to San Francisco and then tried to get into a lot of like commercials and industrial shows and things like that. So the career, it was It was sort of short-lived, you know, it wasn't I guess you could say it was professional, but it was short-lived but mostly, yeah, I had been training in some way, my whole life as a dancer.

Samantha: That's amazing. So then life happens, career happens you raise three children and then at what point did ballroom dance come back into your life?

Sophia: Well, so like you said, I had three kids and I was young. I, I had my first child, I think at 20, I was pregnant at 27. So pretty young for today's standards. And really was. Raising my kids and stopped dancing completely. Well, I wouldn't say completely. I just, I just w it just wasn't my focus, but then I was, I was like a substitute teacher and a teacher, and I choreograph things at different high schools and the Duke Ellington School of Arts here in DC.

And then my daughter became a dancer and she was at the Washington School of Ballet and she was far, far better than I was, and really was she went to Michigan to be a dancer. I mean, she got her degree there and so I, I kind of put it on the, on the back burner and. But really was new.

I knew that I was missing something in my life terribly in terms of that kind of expression. And I met up with some woman who just happened to be, I don't know, sitting across from, from me at a table when I was taking my daughter to different auditions. And she said something about ballroom dancing and described this and I can still remember thinking that's impossible that they have that, like, they have these competitions every weekend, all over the country, all over the world. You put on these gowns, you get all dressed up. And then I remembered and it's in my book as well, that when I was a little girl I think it was Saturday nights or whatever, you know, it's all gets sort of conflated.

But when I was a little girl and maybe a teenager, I would sit with my grandmother, who could barely speak English, and we would watch this ballroom show and it was on PBS and it was Ron Montez and Juliet Prowse. And I used to, I was so fascinated by this, the fact that these two people, you know, danced in unison and they just looked like princes and princesses.

And I loved how he, he, you know, Ron described what they were doing a little bit about their relationship and how long they'd been doing it. And we both, my grandma and I were mesmerized by it. And I used to go to sleep just imagining that what that might feel like it almost to me looked like ice skating. And I would, I I've done all that kind of stuff. You know, I ice skated, I tried to do partner ice skating, you know, a lot of things. And I was a musician. I played the flute and, you know, so I was really, I, I just, I think the fantasy of that world was so enrapturing to me that When I heard this, I, I just, I called the woman.

I asked her for a number and I called her back and I said, well, tell me, who's your teacher and how do, and this was in Washington, DC. And I, and she said, Oh, Mike Barris, and you can go ask him. And I went and I went to that studio. And I, I just, I couldn't even believe that you could start taking these classes. And once we did that, you know, leads to, you know, as you know, you know, it leads to the competitions, but that didn't happen for a while afterwards, but that it was really sort of a dream in the back of my head forever.

Samantha: Yeah. Was, was the fantasy of it the thing that kind of drew you? Was the competitive end the thing that you got excited about? Was it just self-expression? Cause I know from, from also growing up in dance, like there's just this intangible feeling when you hit the stage and you perform. It's like your whole body comes alive and you feel more awake. And that for me is what got me into ballroom dance. So I'd love to hear kind of like what, what was it about the way that ballroom dance is structured that got you in the door and then kept you there for as long as, as long as you've been competing?

Sophia: I will say 100%. It's about the performance and the connection, to be able to dance with a partner. So all the dancing I'd done was singular. Contemporary dance, you're by yourself, you know, and even Max and I joke around, he's like, you know, you're in your, you're like dancing alone, you're in your own head.

You know? And I realized, I go back into my old training of just as long as you had your counts and you were with, you know, people just, weren't doing a lot of touching. So I think that. 100%. It's about performing because for me I could still see myself as a little girl where my father would put me out into the middle of like we'd have, you know, aunts and uncles in a circle and then the music would come on and my dad would get out and he would dance with me to some music in the sixties.

And I forget, Chad and Jeremy, or something like that. And it was always my adrenaline. Just something about being out there and performing. And then as I was performing throughout my life, I really gravitate towards that feeling of, of ex. Like I even say in my book that it's, it is a way for me to express something I cannot in words. And it feels like another person comes alive when I'm dancing and something. It is enlivened. And so it is not about the competing. And I've always said, if there, if, if I could go back and just perform, I really would. And that's why I really, and I love you know, doing showpieces and the, you know, doing theater arts, because it really is just this one piece it's performed and yes, you know, you're, you know, you're being, you're competing, but I sort of don't.

I am not a hundred percent focused on the competitive part of it. It is part of it. Of course. I don't like losing. I do like winning, like anybody else. I've lost enough and I've won enough. But I think that it is really most definitely the performing and that's why it works really well with, with Max too, because I think he's, he really loves the, he likes being in the like in the dance and like doing really good dancing and not really paying too much, not putting so much importance on the winning or the losing, but just really being a good being the best you can be as you know, As a dancer.

Samantha: Yeah, definitely.

Sophia: So, yeah, that's why I'm there.

Samantha: I love that. So coming from again, she said kind of taking care of yourself, being very much a solo performer, you know, being responsible for you and your dance and your performance now navigating this partner relationship. I do want to kind of pivot to what you talk about in your book, because obviously.

You are a psychotherapist in your, in your career. When we do ballroom dancing, we have to navigate a lot of relationships, a lot of interpersonal communication. So for you, what was the biggest hurdle or the biggest learning experience that you first had when you joined kind of this partner dancing atmosphere?

Sophia: I think. I think the real learning curve for me was exactly what exactly what it is, partner dancing. It re it required that I really listen that I listened to his body. I listened to, I look at his eyes, I understand the communication and that I'm not In my own world, dancing at my own time, in my own way, that it's, there's a responsibility that you have as a couple to work together.

And I used to, I often liken it as I'm talking about in smooth Like a three-legged sack race, you know, it's really complicated to, to move with another person's body in the way they move. Right. So he's the teacher I'm learning to move the way he moves. All of us are doing that. You can have, like, even Max knows, you know, I have my own way of moving and I can do that when I'm separated from him.

But when I'm with him I have to understand his stride. His timing, every leader or follower or whatever, you know, every partner has a way in which they move. It takes years for you to meld that together. So it's fascinating. And it's the same thing as I write in my book I believe the ballroom partnership can be very similar to our coupled relationships because it requires us to be in rhythm with each other, holding your, knowing that you have your rhythm. He has his, we don't give up our self to some, we don't lose ourselves into someone else, but we do have to listen carefully in our coupled relationships to the way in which that person lives their life, you know needs to be cared for.

Needs space, you know, our boundaries to same thing as in our dancing, which is why there's a boundary, there's a frame, there's a setup. There's, there's intimacy in it. Meaning there's a there's proximity of your body, which is close. And in a coupled relationship, it's oftentimes, you know, it's, then there's real intimacy and it's close, but it has to be with respect. The way in which people are intimate, it is very different, but even in ballroom dancing, it's different. So when we need to be listening to those relationships, the what one is asking of you.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. Do you find that you take your training from couples therapy or individual therapy when you're training people how to navigate different relationships in their real life, and you apply that then to your ballroom? Or, or do you find that actually you're doing kind of the opposite now where you're taking lessons that you're learning on the ballroom dance floor and now, and helping use those examples to navigate then people through their personal relationships? Do you find that it's intertwined or that there's kind of this reciprocative nature between the two lessons?

Sophia: Right. It's a good question, but I, I feel that I have done more listening to the way in which the ballroom symbols and explanations and how I'm while I'm being trained. It elicits some sort of information to me about me or about a couple I'm working with or, and, and then I can bring it to them in a digestible form or an, a symbolized form. But I'm always Max and I had, I actually, hadn't really funny moment cause he said, well, that's going to be, that's going to be the title of your second book.

And one of them was that yesterday we were doing something very complicated and I was going to turn to, I was spinning and spinning and it didn't necessarily work because, because I clenched. I clenched, you know, really, really tight. And so he said, he said, the next title of the book is don't clench.

Like, you know, and so I just I'm laughing about it because I think to myself, You know then, so I take something that he'll say, or that we're doing. And I think to myself, well, you know, that's so interesting because I have a, I can have a couple that is struggling mightily with ways in which they're interacting. And it's because they both sort of clench, you know, they get really tight, they close up, they, you know, they're, they're not going to go anywhere there, you know? And when you do that, so, so just, this is an example. So when you clench, when you're dancing, you can't really move you, you can't freely just give, you know, let your body go, right.

Same as in the relationship I thought to myself, I was thinking about someone and then I thought, you know, they're clenching. They're not, they're not, you know, they're not releasing enough into like, all right, let me just here, let, okay. Let me, let me listen for a second instead. It's you know, it's already, so I think that's. More of what I doing at the moment.

Samantha: Yeah. We've mentioned it a couple of times across various episodes from last season that for those of us that are instructors, when we work with couples, a lot of the time it's like 90% couples therapy and 10% actually teaching them how to dance. And for a lot of us, myself included, I've now hit the point in my career where I was like, Oh gosh, I wish I took more psychology classes in college so that I would feel a little bit more prepared to go into these situations? I think a lot of it comes down to realizing that communication is not necessarily where it needs to be or should be, or could be. And trust is not really there between the partners. So for, for those of us that are in an instructor capacity that are trying to navigate using lead and follow, using connection, using partnership as vehicles for these couples to explore their actual relationship. What tools, what resources should we be seeking out so that we feel better equipped walking into those lessons?

Sophia: Yeah, you are. You are one of many Judges and coaches and teachers that have talked to me since the book that say the exact same thing that, that 90% of it is really working with couples and the issues that they have. You know, of course, I'm going to say, read my book because one of the, you know, there's, there's other, there's other things that, of course you can, of course you could read, but you know, honestly I think that.

That any sort of, sort of in self-help self-awareness you know books based on either couples or individuals are, is going to be fantastic for anybody to, to read and absorb, listen as a therapist. This, my belief is that every therapist I feel strongly about every therapist should be in therapy.

So. It's very much like if you're, if you are working with couples and you're in people and individual concerns, then, then I would suggest that you do a lot of work on yourself. That you, you know, the best therapists are people who have been hurt the most, who have struggled a lot in their life, or have experienced a lot of tragedy actually, or trauma.

We go into it. We don't go into it. Most of us don't go into it because we somehow think on high that we're, you know, that we know something other people don't know, we go into it because we've either been injured and it's very healing. It's extremely healing to sit with someone and know that you've been there. Know that in some way, some form or fashion the way that I see, you know, human beings is that it doesn't matter what your story is.

If you have desire, hunger, sadness, loss you know you know, excitement joy, passion. Those are just then. We're all, we're all on the same playing field. We just have different stories. That's all, we just have a different narrative, but you know what love is. I know it love is, you know, what pain is. I know what pain is. So we're all the same. So I would. You know, I w I guess I would say that as it for you as a teacher Working with others that you look deeply into yourself and, and, and put yourself in that person's shoes. And what does that feel like and what are they trying to say to you? So you know, like the various parts of my book really, really talk about my book.

You know, centers on you know, discussing boundaries. And so I, I even, I sort of, you know, like the, the frame and the importance of it, or connection and contact or boundaries, communication, femininity, musicality, rhythm. So all of these things, if we're paying enough attention and listening to our couples and then listen to yourself, it will really guide you, but you have to do the work yourself.

So that's the hard part. I mean, you have, you have to sort of know more about yourself rather than just, you know, just sort of spewing out something that you might think might help them because they're directing people is hard. It is. It's actually quite hard to direct people in the way you think it should go. Cause that may not work for them. So you can, one of my things, I would suggest also, always asking what they think would work for them so that their partner can hear it. And so just like in dancing, how we have to listen to the music, you can't. I, it was, I, I loved it. It was somebody, and now I forget forgetting who it was, but it was an older gentleman I remember.

And he said, I asked him what annoyed him the most when he watches competitors. And he said, when they're dancing to their own music, when they're not dancing, to the music that's playing.

Samantha: Yep.

Sophia: So it's the same thing, you know, as I write in my book that it's very frustrating when a couple is having a difficult time to not be listening to the words that person's saying and be only listening to the words in their head. So.

Samantha: Yeah, no, I, I like that. One of the exercises that I do is, is kind of this blind trust. When I'm working on lead and follow between a couple where I have, you know, a wide practice hold, I have one partner close their eyes, and then I have another partner gently guide them around the room just forward and back, left, right. No spins, nothing complicated, just walking. And then I ask each of the partners to essentially tell us what were they feeling? What were they thinking? What were they noticing? And then I have them switch roles. So that way the follow has the opportunity to lead and the lead has the opportunity to follow so that they can feel what they're asking of their partner while they're dancing.

And it's always very interesting to me, the words that different couples choose to use and what different couples hone in on. And it's almost never about the dancing itself. It's very, it tends to be, well, they felt very strong or, or they felt very distant. They felt overbearing. I felt like I was getting pushed. I felt like I was getting pulled. I couldn't hear you. I couldn't feel where you were at, like, huh. Interesting.

So I really do think that, you know, as, as your book is a testament to, there's so much overlap between. What we do in our day to day and what we can explore and what we feel in our ballroom dancing. You have different coaches for different styles. Obviously those relationships are going to be different because they're different people and human beings have different relationships with each other. With each of them, how did you, in a general sense, navigate that first interaction? And from a student perspective, what are you looking for with a coach that says this is a positive relationship? This is going to be a helpful relationship. This is going to set me on a path to achieve the goal that I would like to achieve.

Sophia: Well, yes, I do have like, definitely different coaches and have had sort of the same ones for, for many years. So we built a relationship and what I, why those particular people are so important to me is because they've they have tremendous respect for me as an amateur. And they listened to what I, who I am. So, you know, they know that I I'm a perfectionist, but I also want to be the best that I can be. And so they, they respect that and, and I would never, I would never tolerate feeling degraded or insulted, and I don't think there's a place in this world for anybody to feel that way. So I have felt that way at times, and then wouldn't, you know, return, but with anybody who now, you know any of my partners and I go to would be somebody who really honestly respects me and the, the way that I danced and actually sees who I am.

Not, not who my competitors are. The other ladies who, and most of these ladies are my friends. So, you know, I'm, I'm not her, you know, I'm not, and I, and I can't be her or my body is, is going to do that and it's not going to do that. So we just need to be seen and actually I would just stop right there and just say, just need to be seen, like in all ways, you know, people just want to be seen.

They want to know that you are, are really that you understand who they are. All, all, all of us do.

Samantha: Yeah.

Sophia: I had this one, this one fantastic This lady, I think it was Anne Alvarez. And she was in when I was studying in London for a little bit. And she said something I think it's her and I, I could be wrong that it might not be her, but it and I have it in my book, so maybe I'm wrong. But this is this famous line that I even used with patients, which is that never overestimate that people believe they exist.

If you think about it for a second, never overestimate that people believe they exist. Right? So sometimes so it's, as an example, if you walk into a room and everyone says hello to everyone, but they forget to say hello to you. There is a part of, there is a part of all of us, which wonders, do they know that I'm here? Am I here?

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah.

Sophia: So, you know, and, and of course our dancing is like one of the biggest statements of, do you know that I'm here? And then you're like, you better. I'm here. You know, it's one of those, it's one of those. And you know, it takes a certain kind of personality, like all of us. Which is actually cool. That is actually a part of my book too, about like the different personalities that I think are or the personality that comes to this form of art and sport, you know? So anyways, I just thought that was funny.

Samantha: Yeah. Along the way, lines of the different personalities in our sport, we have a lot of people with, egos, and then we have a lot of people with no ego. I feel like it's kind of these, these two extremes. And I wonder if there's a part of that, having talked with a number of individuals over the years, if that is not necessarily a trauma response, but a response to feeling like they weren't seen, enough early on. Like I need to project myself out there because I have a deep set insecurity that no one knows that I exist.

Sophia: Yeah. So I think there's a lot of ways that we can, that we can look at this too. I think that I think there's really healthy narcissism. There is there's really that you can't really survive unless you're a little narcissistic and narcissism doesn't have to be evil. You can't, you can't, you can't get up in the morning and put on your makeup and look without being like, you know, you know, I like that.

I like what it look like. Or, or the narcissism of, you know, just like, yeah, this is about me. Yeah. I, yeah. I want the whole audience to see that, you know, I want you to see my foot, my leg, you know, whatever. So there's a healthy narcissism and, and, and then there's an unhealthy narcissism, right? So then there's something where it becomes really insular.

And it's, and it's like that, you know, one's ego can be just too, too, too big and inflated, and then it becomes sort of all about them. Same thing as in our couple. There's, there's somebody in the couple that maybe is taking a lot of space. So I think that, you know, there are a lot of personalities that come into the ballroom, but really w like in any, you know, anywhere in life, there's lots of different kinds of personalities and different reasons why we come to this, right. But I, as I said, in my book, one of the things I did notice over the years was what, what kind of people were, what kind of amateurs. I'm going to speak about amateurs now because the pros have a very different, you know, maybe they were, they were there it from a country that they started dancing at two.

And, you know, as part of their life. And I think it is very different culturally, it's different, why w why the professionals become professionals. But, and it's of course their job, but for amateurs, I sort of saw that there were a lot of very hurt very hurt people. And I mean hurt, like they've gone through a lot of tragedy. Look, I, you know you know, I write it in my book so I can say it here. You know, my son is a cancer survivor and, you know, at eight and he had bone cancer in a very rare cancer. And there are different things in my life that have happened that have been really heartbreaking and, but I found that a lot of my friends also had real true heartbreak, you know, true heartbreak and or cancer survivors themselves.

A lot of the women, a lot of them. Losses of family members, children, no children to know if they wanted it, and that was, and it was, you know, something that was painful. Let's just say, so people came to, I think people come to it with a real need for one, to feel to feel reconnected with themselves and to connect with another person, to be cared for, to be watched over, to feel this incredible escape and expression. And I know that when I'm dancing, I will tell you, there is nothing else in the world that's going on. I mean, even through this pandemic and I couldn't dance for a really long time, I, my guys are in California. And so now I, you know, I, I, I go back and forth between California and DC and so it would be months.

And of course, even just because I didn't want to get close at all. But the, when I'm dancing, there isn't anything else that exists. You don't feel pain in your body, sometimes you don't. It's the, it's the most unbelievable thing. I think it really triggers something in your brain that just is a tunnel vision. And w this escape is captured that way. And so if you've come from, if you've had pain in your life, what better thing than to, you know, hear the music? Lose your mind in it, you know, like be, you know, sort of focused and, so I think a lot of us come to it for that reason.

And then some of us are performers, right? Who are like really loving it. Some people, some of my friends have never performed or danced a day in their life. And to them, it is off the charts, nerve wracking. You know, like they just throw up before they go out or, you know, we all, we all make jokes about that. We all get a little bit sick in some way before we, you know, before we compete. But for many of us do at least so.

Samantha: Yeah.

Sophia: We all come to it for different reasons or it's similar.

Samantha: Yeah. Circling back to talking about the book, you mentioned that there was a section on musicality. How do you see the relationship between musicality rhythm, the body movement tying into our sense of self or our sense of connection with others?

Sophia: Right. So one of the things, that I know about, not know, but that I feel, about. Musicality that I've learned a lot from through Max is, is to hear the, to first really understand what music is, the timing of it, the phrasing of it.

And that, you know, you have eight and 16 and 24. You have these, you have this buildup until there's a crescendo and that your musicality is that you can play within the bars of your music. You can slow something down that's very fast and you can speed something up that's very slow. So what you're doing is I guess what he's been teaching me and the dynamics of it is to be able to play within the music, using your body.

And in a couple, I think, and I've taught and I have a couple in my, so you know, that I, I go back into the treatment room and I, and I talk about couples actually, you know, while it's happening. So you can see this couple that's completely out of rhythm and they, they just can't seem to find their the, the, they can't find the beat within themselves.

They can't understand their own personal rhythm. They're not listening to each other. So sometimes I'll play music for them or I'll have them just like you did, which was really, really brilliant. Which is to actually have them, I don't touch my couples, but I'll have them if they, if they agree to it, that they can move almost with their eyes closed and just move back and forth. And start to pay attention to what is their rhythm and what's their own personal music musicality. How did they, how do they begin to pick up speed? You know, when they I guess you would say. How do they, how, how do they listen to the music, which is essentially sometimes it's words, but also it's their bodies.

Can they pay attention to a body action? So I don't know, you know, there's a whole therapy around body movements. Like when people are sitting close to each other, are they leaning in, are they leaning far away? Are their arms wide open. Are they closed? Those are all, those are all incredible signs that we don't want to miss.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. From a student standpoint I can tell fairly well if a student walks in and they have their arms crossed or they're very hunched over and they're very tight, like, okay, what happened today? How, how was your day work day? Are we, are we bringing stress from work? Are we bringing stress from home? Is it emotional? Is it intellectual? How can I use the next 55 minutes of your dance lesson to help relieve some of that? So when you walk out of my lesson, We're breathing a little bit easier. We have an open chest. We have our head up a little bit higher. Kind of an undoing some of the outside stress by getting our, our selves moving in a more positive way.

Even if I can't address, you know, what the CEO dropped on your lap at four o'clock before your five o'clock dance lesson.

I want to, I want to explore a little bit Positive and negative signs from a students, or it were positive and negative signs that a student should be aware of when they are seeking out dance instruction either for the first time or for the 50th time? What are some red flags that we should be aware of or some gold stars that we can look for to know that this is a positive environment that we're working in or a negative environment that either we should feel absolutely capable of walking away from, or being your own best advocate to change the situation that you're in?

Sophia: Right. So I think what you're saying is also, you know, your, you know, your instructor, your teacher, your partner, because that's, that's how I hear it. Yeah. So I'll start with the positive, which is that you know, I have the utmost respect for the teachers I've had, who and who ask me questions. So Max and I will joke about it, but he'll say something like, can I just ask you a question and I'll say, yeah. And he'll say, he said, I just, I want to understand why you do that. Why you? So, because we and he'll even say, you know, we each have our own go-to ways in which we move, but I just am curious, you know, like when you move your head like that why? You know.

You know, and I'll say, well, you know, actually when I was a contemporary dancer, there was this, or when I'm in ballet, you know, you always move your arm with your head or whatever. So there is something, I guess, that he has respect enough to first say, to ask me. Is there something in you that, that relates to this movement this way? Cause I know I keep trying to tell you to do it this way, but it's not, you know, it's not working. So let me find, let me find out why, why you know why. So I think one of the things, so the red, the red, the good red flag. I feel, I mean, my personal opinion is this curiosity on your new teachers part. And I've had some new teachers and I have some new, a new teacher now coming up in Latin and you know, the, his, his willingness to look at literally who Sophia is and not like a cookie cutter. But let me just see, let me see what your strengths are. Let me work on those strengths and to be to be open, to be honest, I mean, all of those things, but mostly I, it always goes back to just the respect.

It really does, because on the other side, on the negative side, I would say, and I've been, I've been there as well. Any sort of mimicking or Sort of thinking as if what mistake you've made was done on purpose, there is actually this thinking that you did that. Why would you do that? Why, why would you do that? You know, it's sort of on purpose and, and it always boggled my mind. Like if you think I want to do this wrong, because most of us, most of us amateur women are perfectionist and very talented. And highly respected in their fields.

I don't even know that I've come across one in the 12 years that I'm not that I'm not describing accurately right now. So you're not talking about, you really talking about very accomplished women and men. So why in the world would any of us go into something, and, and, and feel so embarrassed that we know, you know, it's like this I can not do, feels horrible. So I would always say to the teacher or the coach, please don't please don't look at us like we're like, we really mean to do that.

It's really not something our body is knows how to do, or we haven't done it since we were 12. We don't know that your foot, you know, I remember it was like, you know, when I was a bronze dancer, the concept of the heal lead was beyond me, I couldn't believe that as a ballet dancer, that anybody would want to see my heel. I mean, it was like, I just thought they were lying to me. You know? Well, you have to get into my head to understand, you know, I didn't not do a heel lead because I'm an idiot. I just didn't understand. I didn't know what to do. So

Samantha: yeah

Sophia: I guess, you know, I, you know, I, I, the way I hear your question also is so that as, maybe, as other teachers are listening, that, that they can hear how, how desperate, how much we really do want to do well. Every single one of us and that, that you have to come to this relationship thinking she wants to. She, I mean, for the most part, right? Maybe some people don't want to, maybe they leave it, but I think you also lose people. I've heard lots of women, you know, more women than men, but a lot of women who are so discouraged and just feel like Just feel stupid and they'll turn, you know, the turn on their heels and go, and I don't blame them

Samantha: well, and my concern is always do students that have been with an instructor for many years, even know that what they are putting up with is unacceptable. Right? If you have an instructor that is yelling and berating and constantly pointing out what you shouldn't be doing, but not encouraging what you should be doing, that is not okay. At least in my, in my mind.

Sophia: Yeah. I think it's a slippery slope. I mean, I'll be honest with you. I I've been there and I think it's a slippery slope and I'll, and I'll tell you sort of the, what my own personal opinion, personal opinion, which is that for me you know, I know this just sounds so crazy.

You really, really want to have him be proud of you. You really, these all of us, we really want to see the look in the eyes. When we don't win, or when we make mistakes, I can tell you, I mean, from a lot of people, I will never say everybody, but I'm just, I'm going to give you like an, a majority of my friends and people that I talked to, we feel, we really feel bad. Like it makes me cry. We really feel bad. Like you actually, a lot of us turned our teacher and just say, I'm really sorry. And. And then we get, you know, this thing, you know, like, look, don't dance for me, you know, dance for yourself.

But you know, we represent him. We want this guy to feel really good, a lot of us do. We want to feel good, but we've, I know that many of us feel just so upset that we messed up or something happened or, and so the, so the problem is, is that That you can be lulled into that thinking that he, because they do, they, they, they care a lot about their, our teachers really do care about how well we're going to do, but, but don't forget that that's really, that's a you know, it's a dangerous place to be. Right. So you can begin to think, well, he's saying that because he really cares. But if you're yelling at somebody and you're saying that was the dumbest thing, or you dork or whatever you say to that person, then you you're undermining this relationship. And now it becomes sort of an abusive relationship, which is the same in our couple. So I've had many women or men, believe it or not. I've had men who have been abused. Who, often will say to me, and, and I've said this to, I don't even know which is, they didn't mean it. They really did it. They, they, they, they, they, they yelled or got, use that language because they wanted the best for me.

Samantha: Yeah.

Sophia: No, that's just not okay. It's just not, okay. Look, we all lose ourselves. Nobody's going to be perfect. And everybody in the height of something, you know, you've heard you've been on the floor when, when your teacher will just go move, you know, because you're off time or something and you're in competition. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about like afterwards, like the berating and the berating, and I've seen it and I've heard it. I've, I've, you know, experienced it at different times. And you know, you get, you can be lulled into really believing that's okay. That, that person really cares about you.

Samantha: Yeah.

Sophia: Every, you know, every experience is different, so I won't, I don't want to make it a huge, you know, but.

Samantha: Yeah, well, and it's, and it's interesting too, the power dynamics in the relationship, right? Because it, and in one sense you have the student teacher relationship where the teacher has the information. They are the instructor, they're the leader, they're guiding this relationship and the student feels like they are looking up to them for guidance, support, reinforcement assistance.

In the same time though, and maybe, it's because I'm a female instructor, maybe it's because my own personal way of coming through the dance sport industry, maybe it's just me as a person. Cause I, I, I have come across other instructors that have had similar experiences. I actually feel like the power dynamic has switched. Where I feel awful if I do not get the best result for my student, because I feel like I have failed them somehow. Or if they leave the room in, in a negative mindset, I did something wrong where I couldn't meet their needs in the moment.

So I feel almost like in certain situations, the teacher, student relationship is actually flipped where, I am trying to do the best for my student. I want the best for my student. I want them to succeed and their opinion, their feeling, their results directly impact how I am able to succeed or fail in that endeavor.

Sophia: Yes. And I, I want to I'll I know I'm going to add to that because I realize it all of a sudden it dawned on me. There was this moment when I was when I was dancing with one of my teachers early on and we were at Ohio and he got really, really, really quiet, really quiet. And I, I kept going up to him and saying, are you okay? I mean, what's what is going on. I mean, just like, and he would put his music in his ears and then I asked another pro and he's, and I said, I'm just worried. And you know, I don't, I don't get it. He said, you know, You know, we get nervous too, and he might need, this might be his way of, you know, he, he wanted me to win Ohio, you know, that's a big thing to try to want. Right.

And we were sort of new together. And I, I did, I realized, you know, there's this way that a lot of professionals come off, which is like, look, I've done this a million times. I got it. I got it. I got it. Truth, truth be told, you know, when you go to hold their hand, you can feel right away. Are they a little nervous? Are they holding you a little tighter than the normal? You know, and as I write in my book, you know, the hands really tell all. How, how you hold each other's hands, give you a lot of information. But you know, he was nervous and he needed in order for him to get out there. And also he's up against other pros, that are, there are also as high quality as he is. But he needed just that moment to get himself focused. So I needed to respect that and understand it. And that's what you're saying also is this, you know, it can switch, but we don't always see that. We don't always know that. And, but I think this is a good way of saying it, which is yeah.

You know, just understand that he or she is having their own moments.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Sophia: And I know people will say yes, but you know, we pay you and everything, but that's not that that's not accurate. If you can pay people to do a lot of things, but they still are human and they have their own adrenaline and their own worries. Is she going to, did I teach her well enough to be able to know, you know, that floor craft? To get around, you know, things of that sort. So, yeah,

Samantha: definitely. Definitely. So I mentioned earlier that you are dancing in multiple different disciplines, show, dance, rhythm, Latin, and smooth. Do you find that you navigate just based on the rigors of the specific dance style, do you navigate those relationships differently for the dance, with your coaches? How do you What mindset do you go into for each of them? Is it similar or is it different?

Sophia: Oh, I think I, yeah, I think it's exactly the same. I mean, I don't, yeah. I don't think that in terms of, you know, do I, do I think of the D I mean, we know that the dancing is actually very, very different, but I mean, the, my mindset is exactly the same. It's you know It would be funny if you had one of my teachers here and they'd be like, yeah, no, she's I, you know, I'm I don't even know how to, how to put it into words, but.

You know, I take it, I take it very seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously. But I do take it seriously. So when I come in, you know, I want to be ready and I want to, and I want to be working and I don't want to, I don't want to chat for like three hours, you know, I want to, I want to work and I want to And I want to get really good coaches in there.

And I want to, I just want to, yeah, I don't think that I change one style doesn't mean anything. It's just another way of me expressing it. It's just another form of expressing what I want to say or who I am as a dancer. So yeah. But I will say that in each style I'm working on something different.

You know, the, the focus of what I'm working on is, is different. So the area, yeah. So, you know, it could be dynamics and one, or maybe I'm, maybe I'm stronger in one and, and the other one needs way more. Well, they all need technique, but maybe one needs, you know, massive amounts of technique or something, or like in theater arts, it's really about you know, I mean, learning how to do lifts. I mean, that's, that's a completely different.

Samantha: Yeah, well, and the level of trust I imagine would have to be much more in theater arts, because you are, I mean, it's, it's higher risk, higher reward kind of situation. Whereas in smooth you have full body contact. We get that in Bolero, in, in rhythm, but otherwise your Latin and your rhythm dances are really either a more open frame or, or one hand or two hand connection.

So the points of reading off of each other are obviously different. When you go into a theater, arts routine, or you begin the choreography process for the theater arts, you mentioned earlier that obviously you have your own way of moving. You have your own previous experience with all of these different dance styles. What are you aware of and how do you kind of navigate the different avenues that theater arts can take so that you feel comfortable in your own expression and the way that your body moves?

Sophia: Right. And is it, is, it is super complicated actually. And I am going to be working with somebody new this year. So I'm very I'm excited. And I'm going to be working with Victor de Silva. And so I think he's going to teach me the ways in which my that, that, how to understand lifts. But, you know, I love this style of dance because it allows me more freedom. So there isn't like, as you know, there's not really a set way of doing it, like in Latin or smooth, you know, your head must be this way or whatever. It's, it's, it's the way in which the two are going to be moving together, but it does require, I mean, this is, this is the complicated piece.

It requires tremendous trust. And then, and I, and I want to learn really the knowledge of how, how that lift is created. So I even remember when Eddie Simon was teaching Michael and me lifts in the very beginning when we were both just, we just had this idea, maybe let's, let's try this, you know, and I wanted to stay with Michael and you know, do some other sort of dancing and what Eddie taught us was that the lift begins before the lift. Which was a really a new concept. Right? So it all begins even for the man, his, you know, and your, your eyes are connecting your eyes. I write this in the book too, that it's this moment that you have to make sure that he's trusting you. You're trusting him. It's going to happen. Here we go.

And then the lift begins just before the lift in a sense. So these are all really they're I think they're fascinating, but the way that I can dance allows me a lot more freedom. You know, that I'll be able to, you know, that I can bring in anything from jazz to, you know, jazz, contemporary, lyrical, you know ballet. And I, you know, I love that. I think, I think it's so fantastic. You know, it's great.

Samantha: Awesome. Well, before we wrap up for today, anything that you want to make sure we touch on anything that you want to make sure our listeners are aware of?

Sophia: Sure. I think I was I think I just, I had this little thing that I wrote in the book that I thought was kind of interesting. Then I just said sometimes it surprises people cause they see therapy and dance is very different, but dance is art in motion for expressing emotion in relationship and therapy is art in stillness for understanding emotion in relationship. But ballroom dance and couple therapy are similar in that they are just variations of the art of being in touch with a partner.

So I guess. You know I'm hoping people will read the book, but I also, and I'm hoping that it, that it awakens thoughts about themselves in this way, that when, and this is how the book started for me, when someone was giving me an instruction and. So I'll be a little bit more candid about it. It was when I was really learning how to be working in closed hold and I always had my body sort of pulled away and I was afraid that I was always going to trip Max.

My feet would get in the way. My body was going to be too heavy on him. I was in the, you know, in the very beginning and he used to say, what is it that you're afraid of? When you're, when, why can't you get closer to me? Because actually it will help me. If you're closer, we're going to move better. If you're further away, we're not moving together.

So what I did was, and I guess I ask people when now as if they read my book that you begin to think about when, when someone asks you that question, pose it in a, in a question to yourself about, I wonder, I wonder if I am afraid to get too close to people. And I wonder if I am afraid that I'm always going to trip someone. I'm going to be in their way. I'm going to do something to be more intrusive to them, but then I don't get what I need. Then I'm just not going to get what I need.

Right. So, cause what I need is to be able to dance better and to be connected to them. So. Not to get too, you know, to, to sort of self-involved that way. But I'm, I'm just asking people to think more so that they're, they're having like a dual relationship what's going on in my relationships in life, but what's going on here and isn't it funny that he's asking me that and I'm, and I am having a problem right now and you know, I'm not saying me, but let's say the person I am having a problem in my relationship. So. I guess I would say that, that that's the hope is that, that the book awakens thoughts like that.

Samantha: I love that. I love that. Yeah. Hmm. So, so, so much that I want to dive into deeper there. But I also want to be very respectful of your time. So Sophia,

Sophia: you can ask, I'll let you know, you can ask.

Samantha: Well, well, I, I do want to kind of go do you want to ask one follow-up question to that because as you were, as you were reading that lovely description about dance and therapy and ballroom dancing and couples therapy. I just had a flashback to a moment that I had with a student previous, where we were talking about lead and follow and we're dancing in a Pro-Am setting and I'm trying to get him to be, that strong leader and be comfortable with that leader.

And he said, well, I'm, I'm worrying about you. My mind and my focus on my attention is on what you are doing. And I, I looked at him and I said, but we're in a relationship and we can't be in a relationship if you can't take care of yourself first. And he like walked away and had this earth shattering moment. And it was suddenly like, Oh no, I didn't mean to go that like deep with you. It was just, I need you to know your stuff before you can take care of me.

Sophia: Yeah. Yeah. So that's then that, so actually in the book as well, when, when I say that you really do, you have to, you've got to be on your own two feet, but you also have to be a partner. So you can't lean on a person and you can't, you have to, you have to have your own space, your own boundaries and your own frame, you know, say, you know, isn't, it's interesting that, that, you know, for a man and a woman in closed hold, you know, you're sort of pushing him away, but you're connected in your body.

And that is really what we're doing. We're connected, but I have my space and you have yours and we need to, you know, navigate that together. But it is really, it is very interesting. And, and, and it goes to show you that we are really always, he's concerned, you know, he's concerned about where are you and are you going to be okay? And am I going to be too much for you? And so these are all really, really good questions. Good questions for sure.

Samantha: Well and I love the fact that you put it all in writing. Hopefully there will be many more books to help us kind of guide and guide that understanding and open up more conversations between dancers about these topics, because I think it's so important.

Sophia: Well, thank you so much for having me. Thank you for inviting me. It's really, it's been a pleasure talking to you and, and an exciting, I hope I hope people will find my book interesting. And we'll go from there, right?

Samantha: Yep.

Sophia: It's a journey.

Samantha: It's a journey. It absolutely is.

Thank you once again, to Sophia for being a guest on today's podcast, if you want to follow along with her dance journey, or if you want to pick up a copy of her book, Dance and the Creative Couple links as always are in the description down below.

Once again, I'm Samantha, I'm your host with Love Live Dance. You can find all of the podcast versions of these episodes at and you can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. If you like these types of videos and you want to see more interviews with amazing guests, please do make sure that you hit the subscribe button, turn on the bell for notifications and give us a thumbs up. Maybe drop in the comments something that you appreciated from this conversation as well.

As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.