Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Shut up and dance

Lire en français

I've said it before and I say it again: No teaching on the dance floor.
I feel very strongly about this, as anyone who knows me or has read my blog post on the subject knows. People go to a milonga to dance and enjoy themselves. The best tangos are those during which you get into that zone, that total live-in-the-present, abandon-all-thought meditative state of being. Which is impossible to reach if your partner is constantly telling you what to do -- which nobody likes, so why do people insist on doing it?
Tonight, I witnessed some teachy behaviour that was truly above and beyond, and I decided to finally do the ladies a favour and step in. But I guess no good deed goes unpunished, and things got a little ugly.
We were at an outdoor milonga that my school organizes, and a dancer who is notorious for both his lack of dance skills and his constant teaching on the dance floor (funny how those two things so often go hand in hand) was doing what he does best, over and over again.

Painful to watch

I first saw him dancing with a beginner student of mine whom I quite like and who works hard and follows well, and I cringed to see him literally giving non-stop instruction to her for the whole tanda. Later he invited someone else, who is gradually easing herself back into tango after an injury, and he literally stood there giving her advice and instruction for a good five minutes BEFORE EVEN STARTING TO DANCE. It was painful to watch -- so much so that another woman was frantically motioning to this woman not to dance with him -- and in the end she didn't, lucky for her.
A couple of tandas later I was on the dance floor and I saw a woman walking away from him and he was angrily yelling after her something like: "Well, fine, if you don't want to learn, go sit down!"
She did just that, but the situation just did me in.
I -- known for being too nice, too soft, too gentle if anything -- decided it was finally time to put my foot down and have a talk with this man who makes me and so many others cringe every time he enters a milonga.
So I waited till he was alone, went over, smiled, said hello and pulled him discreetly aside where no one would hear our conversation. As gently, as diplomatically as possible, I told him that while he is free to do what he wants, I had received several comments about him teaching his partners, and that since women don't enjoy being instructed throughout a dance, maybe he could try dancing a little more and teaching a little less.
His response was: "If women don't want to dance with me, they don't have to," and then he continued with the priceless comment: "If they don't want to learn, they don't have to dance with me."
To which I responded, "But you're not a teacher."
To which he replied, "I don't have to be a teacher to teach."
Well OK, then. I told him I disagreed, but that that was probably a conversation for another time. Then I said that I, for example, being a teacher, could teach him while dancing, but that I wouldn't because it is not done.

From bad to worse

And at that he pretty much flipped. He said that HE could certainly teach ME a thing or two, and continued to inform me that I am nil at dancing ("nul" in French, the language in which this all occurred), that I am a terrible leader and a terrible dancer, that I don't follow the music and so on. Realizing that this conversation was going from bad to worse I just said "OK," and walked away.
Of course, as he is a person who always has much to say, he followed me and continued his rant, to which I replied, "I didn't insult you and you didn't need to insult me. The conversation ends here."
That good samaritan who had given the warning gestures not to dance with him was nearby, got involved and got herself insulted also, though not quite as thoroughly as me.
I really didn't want to say anything else -- after all, it takes two to tango and there were much better tangos out there than this ridiculous dance -- but when he told me that he was just telling me what he had thought of me for many years I couldn't resist. I said, "Yeah, well, I won't tell you all the things I've thought of you over the years."
On that note he finally left, but not without accosting some poor woman who was just arriving to tell her that I had told him not to give "feedback" to his dance partners so he told me how I am just the worst... and then he told her that he doesn't dance with her because they have no chemistry! Lucky for her, but in that moment I think she really didn't know what had hit her.
Of course this man will no longer be welcome at my milongas, and my milongas will be better for it.
But his was just an extreme example of all too common behaviour. And just as it is ironic how the teachiest dancers are often the worst, those who are ready to dish out unsolicited advice are often the least capable of accepting any advice themselves.

You are not the exception

This one moment was a situation that blew way out of proportion in an instant, but I use it as another opportunity to plead with all the dancers out there: Please, please, please do not teach your partners!
There are people who will read this and think they are the exception. That they have truly valuable things to teach those poor little beginners because blah blah blah. But if that is what you are thinking, I am telling you that you are NOT the exception. And neither am I. I am a teacher, but I do not teach during milongas because that is not what milongas are for! And regardless of how much dance experience you have, you are not there to fix your partners or to be fixed yourselves. If people want fixing they will take classes and they will get advice and instruction from real teachers with the skill and experience to back up what they say -- in an appropriate setting.  Just because you have more experience than someone else doesn't make you a better dancer, and it certainly doesn't qualify you to teach. In fact, if you are the one with more experience, you should be the one who is capable of adapting to your partner's skill level.
For the peace and pleasure of all involved, the next time a dance is not going as you had hoped, slow down and see if there is anything YOU could do to make things easier for your partner.
And then just keep quiet, enjoy the moment and dance.


  1. Idn't that why there are practicas as distinct from milongas?

    1. Yes and no. While a práctica is more informal than a milonga and allows stopping to work on a step and some verbal communication between partners, it is not a venue for any amateur dancer to start correcting and instructing his or her dance partners.