< Back

Andrea Juhan

Take a Partner

Apr 15, 2019

If you have been a part of Conscious dance groups or classes, other forms of movement meditation or group process gatherings, a common instruction by a teacher is - “Take a partner” or “turn to a partner” or “for the next exercise take a partner and stand side by side/in front/behind or sit with them.” Or it could be, “turn to the person next to you and share . . .” or “tell/show the person next to you what you felt about . . .”.

The instruction to “share with others” is given often in almost any learning environment from kindergarten to the highest levels of professional education and conferences. “Take a partner” is such a common instruction that its importance and impact may escape us both as students and/or teachers. Teachers use these types of instructions in service of creating a shared experience between group members, to promote group bonding which will ease social tensions, and to facilitate further teaching and learning.

Not only teachers, but facilitators and organizers of big and small events know that for an event to be successful and for the desired outcome of positive relations, creative engagement, a willingness to participate or buy-in, they need people to feel at ease, open, and friendly. They need people to indirectly and directly be able to “share with others.” As we all well know, alcohol is frequently used as a substitute for this lack of ability to relate or bond with others. Often it is served immediately on arrival to ease the transition into the precarious field of meeting others.

In short, sharing is Breaking the Ice between us and others, and necessary for a creative, constructive, receptive group setting.

In Open Floor dance workshops and classes, as well as educational programs for healthcare professionals and therapists that I both teach and participate in, here are some of the predictable responses that I see:

“Take a partner” — Group members start looking for a known or safe other, overlooking or bypassing anyone new or strange to them.

“Take a partner” — Those not immediately “taken” are wandering around to find someone. If rejection, exclusion or being overlooked hasn’t been too much of a hurtful reoccurrence in their lives, some will continue to openly look with a welcoming smile, confident that they will find someone.

“Take a partner” — Those who have an open wound around not being picked or liked, have a history of being painfully rejected or ignored for much of their early development, may freeze with eyes wide preparing for the moment of shame when everybody will see they are not a chosen person.

“Take a partner” — Two strangers who turn toward and look at the teacher rather than each other. The intimacy of being too close and/or the instructions not being clear enough yet to allow themselves to feel safe enough to risk meeting each other.

“Take a partner” — A few people leave the room for the bathroom.

“Take a partner” — Some folks look down as in “No, I will not take a partner” for a host of probably good and not so helpful reasons.

It is important to note that the conscious dance world, like North America and much of Europe, is for the most part historically and culturally a white environment; therefore, I may see:

“Take a partner” — Those of any racial diversity are likely waiting for the moment where they will be excluded, not seen, placated, marginalized, hurt, or punished.

Equally impactful are heterosexual biases and our history of being a patriarchal male-dominated society.

“Take a partner” — Men look for women, women look for safety in other women, and all genders, perhaps seeking some level of comfort and ease, looking to find someone that might look to be in their “camp”: gay queer, bi, straight, transgendered, and so on.

“Take a partner” — I am tired and drained, so I find someone “easy for me,” whatever that may mean to me at this moment.

In each of the cases above, what I see is preference over presence. I see the part of us all that chooses, based on preference, often preferences we didn’t even know we had.

This is a BIG fricken deal. We have 65 million-plus years of evolutionary programming that has conditioned our nervous system to see difference as dangerous, which of course it can be. However, there may not actually be any danger in our current life circumstances.

What if we used these moments of “take a partner” or “share … with …” as a chance to recondition or retrain our neurobiology? What if we used these moments to learn to be open, less biased, and present with others, to choose possibility over preference? (As a student of mine, Michael Zipkin, once commented on). By choosing presence, we are able to do all of the above.

Choosing presence

What follows is what is meant by presence on all dimensions of embodiment and how presence supports us in choosing possibility over preference when partnering or meeting others that are known to us or are strangers.

Physical presence — I can feel the sensations of my body — comfort, discomfort, tensions, temperature, weight. I notice my gestures — arms crossed, arms open, a social smile, a warm smile, no smile, jaw clenched, looking at my partner, not looking at my partner. With awareness of my body, I can feel and choose how I am physically present in relation to my partner.

Emotional presence — I can feel my emotions activated. I don’t shut the feelings out or down. I have space in my body to notice emotion and stay with the emotion as it passes thru me. I may feel fear, care, like, love, joy, ambivalence, wary, excited, attraction, aversion. I am able to settle myself and choose presence. I can show up with my partner.

Cognitive presence — I can hear the stories in my head that I make up about my partner and the stories about myself in relation to them. Stories like — Do they like me, am I the partner they wanted, this man will surely not be able to meet me, etc. Being aware, I am able to let the stories pass by, choosing presence and curiosity with my partner over the stories I make up.

Boundless presence — I am able to embody the largest possible field of experience or source I am capable of. I am open to meeting this person on a level beyond my identity or theirs by attuning to some commonality we share as humans on the planet together. I am curious about how random it is that given the millions of people on earth and the very, very few of them I will ever even see in my one lifetime — here is this one particular other. I choose to wonder who they are and what they will bring to my experience of life.

Choosing presence over preference means being aware enough of myself to feel all the ways preferences show up in my entire body-mind system, my complete neurobiology, the parts I am conscious of, and even the stirrings of my unconscious habits.

The art of openly connecting and mingling does not come easily to most. It does not come naturally. Cultivating this level of presence is a deep, profound and vital practice. With enough commitment, repetition, and embodied resources, we can learn to take risks, to be curious and excited enough about the possibilities that we choose presence over preference more and more. And when we don’t, maybe we are just a bit more conscious of the choice we made and why.

Used as an embodiment practice, there is great power and potential in the instruction “take a partner.” When we choose presence over preference, it can be:

“Take a partner” — Two strangers or people who think they know each other, meet with openness and curiosity and both are able to show up embodied and present.