Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Top five behaviours to avoid

Your unsolicited dance tips are even less welcome when they're accompanied by a big whiff of your dinner.
I think it is safe to say that most social tango dancers want to be in demand. We dance because we love to dance, but it does take two to tango, so we are generally happier when other people want to dance with us and we can thus have more dances. Even if we are the quality-over-quantity type, preferring to dance a few high-level, carefully selected tandas than to dance every single one with anyone and everyone, we feel best when we know the partners we do dance with have enjoyed themselves and are likely to come back for more.

Tango is a shared experience so it makes sense to care as much about the experience of the other as about our own. In short, we should want to be a pleasure to dance with.

There are specific things that make us enjoyable to tango with, making our partners return to us and maybe even spread the word: Solid lead-follow skills, a comfortable embrace, great musicality, nice posture, a sense of fun and an overall way of making our partners feel good about their dancing would top many a list.

And there are definitely specific things that can make us less enjoyable to dance with, things that go beyond our technique and vocabulary. As a teacher and an organizer, I get a lot of feedback from and about the dancers in my community, both positive and negative. In terms of negative feedback, the same complaints come back over and over again, session after session, milonga after milonga, year after year.

If we want to count ourselves among the pleasant, enjoyable, in-demand dancers, we should certainly continue to hone our dancing abilities but we might also want to avoid certain unpleasant and widely unappreciated behaviours.

Here are the top five behaviours dancers complain about (thus ones we all ought to avoid):

1. Teaching on the dance floor. Here it is again. It's the Number One complaint and my personal Number One pet peeve, yet it remains rampant. Believe me when I say the teachy partners in a community are notorious. Beginners may put up with this behaviour for a while, but nobody likes it and it will eventually make you the talk of the town and not in a good way. Have you ever said to someone during a tanda, "Can I offer you some tips/advice?" That is teaching on the dance floor. Do you often find yourself readjusting your partners' embraces during a dance? That is teaching on the dance floor. Do you stop to explain the move your partner didn't execute as planned? That is teaching on the dance floor. Do you find yourself saying to the teachers during class, "Can you explain to my partner how to improve his or her posture/embrace/technique?" That, too, is basically teaching on the dance floor in disguise. Have you ever had several couples pass you on the dance floor while you were stopped in conversation? Were you teaching? No? Good. But you shouldn't have been stopped in conversation either. Unless you are actually a tango teacher and are at that moment being paid to teach someone, just stop trying to fix everyone else's dancing and worry about your own. Even better, immerse yourself in the moment, listen to the music, accept the dancer in your arms as-is and save the conversation for when the music stops.

2. Unpleasant odours. This is an awkward one. It's hard to tell someone he or she has bad breath or smelly armpits. But it's also hard to dance with someone who has very bad breath or smelly armpits. And this is tied for first place among issues we as teachers get the most complaints about from students. No one wants to partner change to the guy breathing his morning and after-dinner breath combined into their faces, and everyone feels uncomfortable when it feels like they've just become the carrier of their previous partner's BO. Sure some tolerance is in order. Anyone can come to class one night after a long work day or a difficult-to-mask garlicky dinner, but I'm talking about the people with that perpetually stale smell emanating from their mouths/bodies/clothes. I know some people are more sensitive to smell than others and we don't always smell ourselves the way others might, but this is a close-contact-with-tons-of-different-people dance. In the hygiene and odour department we should all err on the side of caution.

There are three main hygiene/smell issues that come up, and some pretty easy solutions for all of them:
  1. Breath. We all need to eat and can't necessarily brush our teeth every time we put food in our mouths. But brushing after meals and flossing every day go a long way toward keeping your breath bearable. Then, when you're going to be in close contact with people like you are in tango, have a supply of gum, mints or other breath fresheners handy. Also, do not mouth-breathe when dancing: Breathe through your nose. And finally, just in case, don't talk and dance. As previously stated, it's bad enough manners to share your unsolicited advice during a tanda, but if that advice is combined with a big whiff of your evening meal it's only that much worse. Keep your mouth closed while you dance and your partner will never know you had garlic bread with dinner.
  2. Body odours. Dance for three hours in close contact with dozens or hundreds of other dancers and you will get hot and sweaty, guaranteed. And then you will share your hot sweatiness with other hot, sweaty people. So please shower before you go out and always wear freshly laundered clothes. Moisture brings out all sorts of buried aromas, so make sure whatever you're wearing smells good wet and dry. And wear deodorant. Good deodorant. Always. This being said, try not to over-compensate by overdosing on your favourite scent. Some people are sensitive or even allergic to perfume and we teachers get a lot of negative feedback about heavy-perfume wearers, too. (Also, please, please, please wash your hands after you go to the bathroom! I have witnessed not one but several milonga-goers – men and women – not doing this, which I find inconsiderate and outright gross.)
  3. Sweat. As asserted above, you will no doubt sweat while you are dancing. If you sweat more than the average person, you can plan ahead and bring an extra supply of shirts to change into during the night. I know a few dancers who do this, and it is very much appreciated by their partners. If you run out of dry clothes, but you still really want a tanda with one of your favourite dancers, try offering the option of open embrace.
3. Rude invitations. There is good reason cabeceo has become king in recent years. The non-verbal mirada-cabeceo invitation method is a mutual-agreement system that evens the playing field. Like the dance itself, it's not always easy to learn and master this part of the game, but it really helps to avoid awkward situations. In my opinion it's still OK to ask verbally sometimes, like when you're already in conversation with someone or when you want to dance with a friend or regular partner who you know enjoys dancing with you. But inviting verbally puts the invitee on the spot, so if you are going to ask outright, you should be prepared to gracefully accept an outright refusal. Remember that the dance is about the enjoyment of both partners, not just yours, so it's just as important that your partner want to dance with you as vice versa. If you are going to walk over and ask verbally, choose a moment when the person at least looks like he or she wants to dance. Not, for example when he or she is in the middle of an intense tête-à-tête with someone else. Tango is very much about reading body language, so we should be in tune to each other's both on and off the dance floor. In any case, try to avoid what a colleague of mine once referred to as the "grabeceo," i.e. grabbing a dancer by the wrist or hand and just pulling her toward the dance floor. Also avoid inflicting "shotgun" tandas on people. You know, the ones where she just walks up to you and says, "You have to dance with me tonight." This is frequently done by intermediate-level dancers who always want to dance with much more advanced partners. Students do it to my male teaching colleagues quite a bit, and the guys really don't appreciate being put on the spot like that. If thy aren't in the mood for the dance it puts them in the position of being "nice" and dancing what is unfortunately known as a "pity tanda" or else feeling or appearing mean by refusing the person – who might very well resent them for it. It's a no-win situation that leads me to the next complaint on my list:

4. Rude refusals. Some people are new to the tango social scene. Some people are shy or socially awkward. Some people might be visiting from a community where mirada-cabeceo is not widely used. There are tons of reasons why you might get an invitation you didn't really want in a way you didn't really like. But there are ways to refuse a dance without being rude or mean or making the other party feel small or stupid. "Not right now, thank you," is kinder than a cold, flat-out "No," for instance. Or if you want to make the point that you strictly adhere to the cabeceo system, you can explain it: "I would be happy to dance with you a little later, so I'll look for your mirada/cabeceo in a couple of tandas." No one should feel obliged to dance with people they dislike dancing with, but there's no reason to be snobby, hurtful or mean when you turn someone down. People can get really crushed by cruel rejection and I've known more than one to go home in tears after a rude refusal or otherwise insensitive comment. There's always a way to be kind, even to those you perceive as unworthy of a dance with you.

5. Bad floor craft. There are dancers who outright bash into other couples without a second look; those who stay on the spot when the traffic ahead has advanced half a kilometre; those who manage not to actually have accidents but take up way, way, way more than their share of space on the floor; the lane-to-lane zigzaggers; the circus acrobats; the couple stuck in 2005's nuevo craze; the back-stepping addicts and, of course, the talkers and "advice" givers. I often think we should stop referring to tango as a couple dance and put much more emphasis on the fact it's a social dance. Learning to follow the ronda, stay in your lane and make decisions about what moves to execute based as much on what's happening around you as on the music or your in-the-moment whim are an integral part of tango. I think many teachers could emphasize these points much more, underlining their importance and making them part of the overall learning process. (It's like learning to drive; you need to learn to operate the vehicle, but it's equally important to know how to navigate in traffic and obey the rules of the road.) However, part of this boils down to individual personality. In our classes, my partner and I are forever reminding students to stay in their lane and not cut in front of each other, but there are always a couple of incessant speeders or zigzaggers who consistently ignore our instructions and cut around whoever is in front of them no matter how many times we tell them not to.

All this being said, people make mistakes. We need to accept and even embrace the fact that we are all human and therefore flawed. Sometimes an invitation will be awkward or a dance will be sweatier or chattier than we might like. If it's the exception and not the rule, try to move past it and don't be too harsh or judgemental.

But if you're not getting the dances you might like, look not only at your skills but also at your behaviour and even your hygiene. You will shine so much brighter as a dancer if you polish the whole package.

Related articles:
Codes of conduct to follow

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