Voices from the other side (Part Two)

Voices from the other sideSo I was talking to a friend about my unwillingness to speak up from the position of an audience member (Voices from the other side, Part One), and she told me about her own experiences.

Having left home at the age of 15 in order to train as a dancer in London, and coming from a village in the Midlands, she found herself in a city teeming with people, culture and expectation.

It wasn’t the first time she’d found herself having to meet and get on with new people – there had been a couple of stints working as a chambermaid on the South Coast – but she now had to live, train and study with new people in a new city. And she’d never been the loudest kid on the block.

Childhood for my friend had been characterised by shyness outside of the home, eased only by the joy of excelling at and losing herself in dance (back to that performance chestnut …) When she performed, she could be anything, she could lose herself in technique, the music, the show. When not performing she was, by her own description, a bit of a ‘wallflower’. London was the best place for her, then – she had to perform, she had to socialise and communicate – there was no choice. And she thrived.

Voices from the other side

Years later, my friend turned to teaching dance and running a dance school as a career and found herself back in that Midlands village. And when it came to teaching, she flew. She could relate to children and young people of all ages; she could impart her own expertise in a way that suited all learners; she got them moving, performing, shining and growing in confidence … but when it came to the parents …

Voices from the other side

Speaking to parents on a one-to-one basis wasn’t really a problem, but speaking to them as a group was torture. She described it to me as feeling exposed, scrutinised, judged – why? This rang a bell with me. I remember my son’s first primary school teacher, and I remember marveling at her ability to bring him out of himself and inspire confidence in him. And I remember the shock I felt at her inability to speak to me or any of the other parents with anything like the same confidence. She was practically tongue-tied at Parents’ Evening and you could see, clearly, that there were a million places she’d rather be than there, talking to the parents of the young charges she made so happy. When I talked about this to my friend, she sympathised wholly.

‘Maybe it’s something to do with coming from a level of some superiority,’ she said. ‘You only get nice surprises with children. With the parents, I’m never sure what I’m going to get, and so I become tongue-tied.’

Is this right? Is it purely about the need to be in a position of authority/knowledge/superiority for some of us to feel comfortable speaking to groups of our peers? Or – and this is somewhat controversial – is this one of those ‘comfort zone’ issues? Do we choose to feel less comfortable with speaking publicly in certain situations? And if we do, what caused us to make that decision?

I’m beginning to wonder …