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Animated Edition - Spring 2002
Counsellor, coach or workshop leader?
Duncan Fraser asks whether workshop leaders have anything to learn from Carl Rogers, the founding father of counselling
The night before my first interview for this article, when my head was full of thoughts about what makes a great workshop leader, I was taken by friends' daughters to their stagecraft classes in the local sports centre. The leader had clearly worked their way through the school, was heavily product-driven, had little child-centred focus and imposed inappropriate moves on the participants' bodies within a fairly strict regime. It was a stark reminder of the issues I was to write about.

My recent work on leadership in the arts, public, private and voluntary sectors had led me to Carl Rogers the founding father of counselling, who, after many years of innovative work, attempted to describe what he believed to be the essential tools and attributes of the counsellor/psychotherapist. His seminal article on the Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change, was a revelation to me and provided a rich model for so many aspects of life that over a period of a year I began to wonder whether they did not cover everything from talking to your family to leading a community dance workshop.

I wanted to make comparisons between the fields of counselling and community dance development. There are some key differences: counselling is mostly one to one and there is no 'product' or defined outcome. There are key similarities too: the 'qualities' of the leader and her or his relationship with the individuals and group are central to the process; there is a need for regular work not one-offs and the personal growth which can take place in all concerned is commonly agreed (1).

So, what did Rogers have to say? He once found in a darkened cellar a lone potato with long straggling shoots reaching towards the light from the tiny window and used this as an analogy: we all desire to be who we can be - a fully functioning, growing human being. He characterized this drive in us all within relationships.

'If I can create a relationship characterized on my part:

  • by a genuineness and transparency, in which I am my real feelings
  • by a warm acceptance and prizing of the other person as a separate individual
  • by a sensitive ability to see his world and himself as he sees them.

'Then the other individual in the relationship will:

  • experience and understand aspects of himself, which previously he has repressed
  • find himself becoming better integrated, more able to function effectively
  • become more similar to the person he would like to be
  • be more self-directing and self-confident
  • become more of a person, more unique and self-expressive
  • be more understanding, more acceptant of others
  • be more able to cope with the problems of life more adequately and more comfortably.

I believe that this statement holds whether I am speaking of my relationship with a client, with a group of students or staff members, with my family or children. It seems to me that we have here a general hypothesis, which offers exciting possibilities for the development of creative, adaptive, autonomous persons.' (2)

I wanted to push the idea further to see whether the 'conditions' were present in workshop leaders in dance and how useful a model it provided. I talked to three of the most experienced and accomplished practitioners in this field: Tracey Brown, Jane Mooney and Iryna Pyzniuk.

First, what are these conditions and how might they apply in the workshop context?

1. 'Two persons are in psychological contact.' (3)
We have all seen the leader who remains in their head and not in the space or in the relationship with the participants. Iryna said: 'If I've never met the group before, I really need to build human contact with all of them as individuals from the start - chatting to them, finding out about them - breaking down the strange person/figure of authority role. I look at and into the group - what are they thinking of me - they smile back we have had that moment - they might be my friend - I clock those who may find it difficult so I spend more time with them.' Tracey establishes this contact by 'being there from the minute the first member of the group arrives until the last one leaves. You need to be relevant, patient, acknowledge everybody, understand and know them inside out. Know what they want, understand the mood of the group and most of all listen.' Jane believes that the psychological contact is qualitative: 'I need to be present with them in the here and now. It's the quality of the relationship - it's the way you walk into the room, eye contact, being beside them, saying "you look fantastic, where did you get that top?" the way you ask people to sit down, the language you use, to noticing the way they move - it must be personal. They need to feel valued. It's the sense of personal worth and prizing the relationship that gives them the enthusiasm to come back.'

2. 'The first (client) is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.' (4)
Congruence means being 'real' and in tune with who you are, where you are, where you are going. Incongruence could translate in a number of ways in the dance field. First, the attitude of those in a school encountering dance for the first time. Iryna describes it as 'you know from their state of mind whether they are on the edge. You expect them to be nervous and suspicious asking questions. What is dance? Why are we here? Who is she? Can she do the splits? Can we take the piss out of her?' In counselling, the client is generally seeking help with a specific issue. Dance development can clearly develop congruence in the participant but whether they are knowingly incongruent at the beginning is debatable.

3. 'The second person (therapist) [in our case workshop leader] is congruent or integrated in the relationship.' (5)
This is of course the ideal and something therapists work on continuously. Iryna says 'you need to be aware of yourself, in the moment, how you are, how you feel - I sometimes feel that the way I react isn't my natural personality. If something irritates me my first thought might be to put them down, but obviously I make myself aware of it and consciously switch it off.' Jane feels that 'being congruent in a workshop is the same as in life - it isn't separate. You bring yourself, striving to be congruent, to that situation. If it's different to your "way of being" in life then it can't work.' Jane also thinks that in her current one to one work there is a physical congruence or centeredness and that her role is to encourage the client to his or her own awareness of that state physically, mentally, aesthetically and emotionally. Tracey believes that 'it's vital that a workshop leader knows who they are - you need a head perfectly balanced on your shoulders before you work with those who are vulnerable - you need to be stable and the same - consistent in that relationship.'

4.'The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client.' (6)
There are many ways to describe this, respect or non-physical love (Agape) for those with whom you are working. Iryna thinks 'this needs hard work - it depends on the client - if they are getting on with it, enjoying it and being creative I think of them as my friends.' Tracey says she has a 'fondness for them - an admiration - based on how far they have progressed - their increased energy - the fact that they don't talk about each other negatively' Jane believes this needs careful attention: 'It's about respect for the client, valuing that person with an equality in the relationship - prizing them for who they are. They are not my friend and the emotions of like and dislike need to be set aside as they can lead to a sense of success or failure. When you are younger you might need that whole "if I like them they will like me" - but now for me it's much more than that. It's about the still centre between memory and desire.'

5. 'The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference and endeavours to communicate this experience to the client.' (7)
The workshop leader needs to operate from the participant's point of view, their background, cultural experience, motivations and history whilst always respecting that they act 'as if' that person and never 'as' that person. You are not them - and it is the richness of the interaction that enables development and growth. Iryna feels 'it is based on mutual respect - you're not better than them - just because you've been on the planet longer, doesn't give you any authority. Respect is really important - if I break it by sarcasm I can't expect them to respond to me.' Jane tries 'not to feel anything, I try to keep open - and honest - it's hard, both distancing and understanding.' Tracey asks: 'Why are they there? What are their motivations? I need to be aware of their background, to understand them, to use appropriate language and to listen in different ways - although how do you do it well when you see 1000 people a week?'

6. 'The communication to the client of the therapist's empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved. (8)
The client or participant is aware of your empathy and your prizing of them. Iryna is not sure it needs to be a conscious awareness as 'a successful product can come out of different approaches.' Jane believes its success comes out of this varied approach: 'I hugely vary what I do depending on the group. You need the courage and the honesty to do that. If you are present and congruent you absorb the energy and know when it is working. In my individual working, depending on the stage of development of the relationship with the client, I will constantly check and confront it if it's not working.'

What became clear in the process of discussing this model was the similarity of issues, which are shared between counsellor and workshop leader. We often go innocently to counselling to be 'given the right answer' and to be told 'how to do it.' The person-centred counsellor is rigorously trained to encourage the client to find the answer for themselves. The continuum, which runs from totally non-directional counsellor, through mentor and coach to totally 'telling' instructor, is paralleled in the workshop. Iryna candidly said 'if in a month's time I have a show then my interaction is much more directional and yes, I might tell them what to do.' This raises many interesting, difficult and much rehearsed arguments about process and product. Are we then prioritising the aesthetic eye of the audience above that of the participant/performer?

Had these issues been explored through music the answers might have been very different where most work with young people is based on a received repertoire and no matter how person-centred you are it is either an E flat or it is not! This is one of the richnesses of dance for me as a process.

The quality of the feedback is clearly also critical to both counsellor and workshop leader. Iryna feels that 'some of the time, especially with a new group, participants will seek approval just to keep the relationship going - to check the trust is there they check I respect what they are doing - when they have made something they want me to comment - it's to do with them building their confidence - they think there is a right and a wrong answer.' For Jane it is about the way that feedback is given: 'The results depend on the questioning - you are trying to raise a consciousness - encouraging them to be present for themselves and know and feel what "right" is without telling them. Sometimes it might be a suggestion "try the foot there" until they feel what it is, but I am constantly checking self-awareness with the client or participant.'

Counsellors struggle with issues of 'dependency and transference. These can apply too in the workshop. Iryna believes it changes over time: 'If they are new to dance they will want reassurance that they are not making fools of themselves - it is important to give the reassurance that enables them to push their own ideas further and become trusting of their own judgement.' Tracey feels 'they look to the leader for inspiration, motivation, energy, humour, a role model. Some participants say "we feel safe when you are in the room" - they remember the one-hour with you, it's the one-hour of the week when they have that kind of relationship. But you must be careful not to get too involved - some can crave the attention which they don't get elsewhere and will lie to get it.' Again not uncommon to the client/ therapist relationship.

Jane believes it 'important to review the outcomes constantly - if you are really honest it will throw up an imbalance in the relationship - my "way of being" would encourage me to reflect on my own behaviour and ask whether I am encouraging dependency - if the parent child relationship is the wrong way around I ask if something equal has gone. If they think you have the answers you have to find a form of questioning that enables them to find their own answers - to communicate with me - they have to find the words - you reflect and keep unpacking - encouraging their consciousness whilst not ignoring what you see with your eyes.'

Any qualified counsellor will be accredited and must not only be on their own therapeutic journey but also constantly supervised. Would it not be nice to think that there was a similar support structure for those in the community dance field?

The processes then are very similar. What impact does this have on the way we learn how to workshop? How many training courses would dream of using these psychotherapeutic techniques? Jane said at the end of our interview 'gosh, if someone had told me all of this when I was training I would have said - hang on I'm a dance teacher - isn't that enough?'

Clearly though the rewards from developing the person-centred approach are considerable, they are experiential and difficult yet rich and profound. We should be celebrating those in dance who do it well and encouraging those in the training field to take a wider look at their roles in developing a fuller way of being.'

So, I wondered why my friends' children return week-in week-out to their classes ... now there is another article in the making.

Duncan Fraser, adviser, consultant, mentor, writer and broadcaster.

Tracey Brown, Iryna Pyzniuk and Jane Mooney were interviewed in December 2001.

Tracey Brown, leader, Dance Development Programme, the Community Dance Apprenticeship Scheme, and the Volunteer Programme, Rubicon Dance and of international exchanges with the USA, Romania and Australia. Former community dance worker, Ludus Dance Company.

Jane Mooney, chair, Dance UK and board member, Northern Ballet Theatre. She provides Pilates/injury prevention programmes in her Lancaster studio alongside professional development support for artists. Former artistic director, Ludus Dance Company and Suffolk Dance National Agency.

Iryna Pyzniuk, education manager, English National Ballet. Former company animateur with Rambert and freelance animateur with Cheshire Dance Workshop. Founder member Transitions Dance Company. Completed an MA in Ballet Studies at Roehampton Institute.

References Rogers, C., The Carl Rogers Reader p 221, Constable & Robinson Publishing Ltd, London, 1961

2. Rogers, C., On Becoming a Person, pp 37-38, Constable & Robinson Publishing Ltd London, 1961.

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Animated: Spring 2002