Dating the Competition

November 30, 2014

You admire each other in convention classes. You enjoy watching each other compete and perform. You start talking, and you hit it off. You exchange contact info, and you keep in touch. Soon, you realize you have a crush—or something more. The only problem? You train at competing studios. Is your relationship doomed from the start? What if your teachers disapprove? What if your friends accuse you of being disloyal?

Going out with someone from a rival studio can make you feel like you’re living a real-life version of Romeo and Juliet. Here’s how to give your star-crossed relationship a fighting chance.

(Photo by Heidi Ann, courtesy the Di Lellos)

Communicate with Each Other

“Acknowledge the challenges in your relationship up front,” says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who often works with dancers. “For instance, if you feel jealous watching your significant other do a pas de deux with someone else, admit that. You need to be able to talk about what’s OK and what’s not OK.” Going over the tough stuff ahead of time can make it easier to handle those situations down the line.

Stay Committed to Your School

When “So You Think You Can Dance” alums and professional ballroom dancers Ashleigh and Ryan Di Lello, now married, started dating, they were dancing for rival schools in Utah: Ashleigh for Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, in Orem, and Ryan for Brigham Young University, in Provo. Ryan remembers initially feeling an unspoken sense of disapproval from his director, so they both worked to show they were still devoted to their home studios.

“Your director needs to know that you’re not sacrificing your commitment to your team,” Ashleigh says. “When I stepped out on the floor, it was competition time. I was there to dance my best, even though I was also cheering for Ryan.” How can you prove your commitment? Don’t miss classes or rehearsals to hang out with your boyfriend. Show up on time. Give every bit as much to your studio as you did before you started dating your significant other.

The same advice applies to your friendships, too. “If your peers are critical of who you’re dating, make it clear to them that you still value their friendship,” Kaslow says. “If you don’t want to choose between your friends and your partner, show them you can find a way to have both.”

Celebrate Success Together

Part of being in a relationship is celebrating when your partner succeeds. That can be hard if their win resulted in your loss. “A major challenge in dating a rival is that you want to beat them, but you’re also happy if they win,” Kaslow says. If you’re the loser, make an effort to congratulate your partner. If you’re the winner, be respectful of your partner’s disappointment.

On “SYTYCD” Season 6, Ashleigh and Ryan both made it to the Top 6. “We were competitive—we knew there would only be one winner—but it was still special to have a built-in support system,” Ashleigh says. One of the season’s most touching moments came when Ryan asked the audience to vote for his injured wife, who couldn’t perform the week of the Top 8. “She’d worked so hard,” Ryan says. “I’d been in the bottom; she hadn’t. She deserved to be there.” His gesture of love went viral, and voters sent the couple through to the finale.

Remember What You Share

It’s not uncommon for two dancers to fall for each other. After all, “you share a passion,” Kaslow says. “A partner who is also a dancer understands that life. He or she knows why you can’t always go out on Friday nights.”

But chances are, dance isn’t the only thing bringing you together—and it’s important to share experiences outside of the dance realm, too. Early in their relationship, Ryan and Ashleigh talked about partnering up for competitions, but they ultimately made the decision to stay with their other dance partners. “We said, ‘Let’s just date, so we can focus on our relationship and keep dance out of it,’ ” Ryan explains. “So even though we shared a passion for dance, we fell in love with each other for all of the other reasons. Dance was just the cherry on top.” And that’s how their Romeo and Juliet story turned into happily ever after.