Saturday, 30 May 2009

Soft and light and wrung out like a dishrag

If I'm going to be 'soft' as well as 'light' and 'easy to lead', and other presumably-good things people sometimes say I am, if I'm going to have great connection and energy in the right place, if I'm going to dance to the music, feel good and make my partner look good, I have to give a lot of myself and take a lot of risk. There's a lot of 'feel the fear and do it anyway' in following tango. If I am going to follow properly, I am giving up a lot of control and I am choosing to behave as though I trust the man a lot - sometimes on the basis of no evidence whatever. And if I dance better I'm taking more risk than if I dance badly, because we're dancing tango, and dancing the woman's part well in tango means connecting more, and that means putting myself out there.

I'm not really talking about physical danger. I can generally protect myself from injury (although the high, hard open-side hand is a tough one, especially if twisted). It's really more of a cognitive thing. It's a lot harder on the mind than on the body.

It pisses me off when people don't respect that.

I do still, more often than not, accept direct verbal requests from strangers I haven't had a chance to see dance. The justifications I have for saying yes are adventure, curiosity, and kindness. Sometimes they're just new in town, in which case they're not-unlikely to be better than average, sometimes much better. Often they're perfectly harmless beginners, and a good investment in future dances.

But sometimes they heave my waist to the right, shove my head to the left, bounce up and down, rock from side to side, walk like two-legged drunken deaf spiders with no sense of time, and twist me about with a death-grip.

It can happen. There are ways of recovering afterwards.

Of course I know I am taking a risk. And I have heard it said the bad dancing is all the women's fault for ever accepting verbal requests from strangers. Apparently they could never tell right from wrong without us handing them apples.

I don't think so. Nor do I give unsolicited feedback at milongas; their bad dancing is NOT my responsibility and puts NO obligation on me to spoil my evening even more by being rude and giving totally unqualified, unpaid, and probably unhelpful and inaccurate advice to someone whose reaction I can't predict, except for the fact that I already know from experiment that he's slightly delusional.

In any event, the women are no better - many are clueless, many are dangerous, and as for delusionality, quite a few of us are, frankly, four stops short of Dagenham East on a good day. I don't think our role as Mother Goddess World Police is a functional proposal or productive explanation.

So I would never argue for everyone to use the 'nod' exclusively. I've seen direct, serendipitous requests produce nice, sometimes wonderful, dances far too often. I can always say "no" - and I do, if I've seen the man dance and I've seen he's a menace. Even though my concept of manners then requires me to sit out at least one song, and in most cases the tanda - quite a sacrifice in some cases.

But I do think Ghost has a reasonable take here, and I could probably say 'thank you' after one or two dances a little bit more often than I do:

Learning Tango - First, do no harm: The problem in London is that the tanda and the cabeceo don't really work together. If a stranger wants to verbally ask for a dance they have to accept that by not using the cabeceo they're not entitiled to a tanda. If you use an MJ convention, then you get the MJ result - one dance. Now in MJ you may well decide to continue on and have more dances, that's fine. But you don't take it for granted. Likewise if you start hurting each other it's over. Again you're playing by MJ rules.

On the other hand if you have both used the cabeceo, then you reasonably can expect a tanda. And that changes how you dance. For a start you'll be a lot less guarded than you would with an unknown dancer.

A problem with that is of course that if I'm guarded at all, I'm not dancing tango properly. Really, you have to start unguarded and adjust the other way.

He goes on:

Ghost: What complicates things is that people often refer to it as filtering out people who aren't skilled enough. That's a half truth that some hide behind.

I've watched the experienced women and which beginners / newish intermediates they approach and without exception they're the ones who had agreed to this contract. They not worried whether the guy's been dancing for 10 years and toured the world - they want to know they won't get hurt and that it'll be gentle enough for them to enjoy it.

Correct. Beginners don't know how to do the bad stuff - the worst thing they do is steer with their arms, and I can deal with that. I know one who steered horribly with his arms the first time he asked me, which I think was after his first or second lesson, and a year later he is a very nice dancer, easily in the top 20%, which may not be very difficult for London but is nevertheless truly nice to dance with, and better than some who've been dancing for ten to twenty years. I'm glad I was nice to him.

This bit sounds like a heartfelt point, and brings me back to where I started:

Ghost: ... there are going to be people at a venue who will injure you in a variety of creative and painful ways. How do you deal with them? Well part of the cabeceo is "We are going to dance. This specifically excludes hurting each other and the people around us."

Be honest, does everyone who verbally asks you to dance keep to this?

Unfortunately the ones who don't are urinating in the pool the rest of us are swimming in. And that can lead to people refusing the verbal ask because they've had enough.

There is a bit more to it than that, though. For me, the advantage of using some kind of a nod (I hate using the Spanish word where there's a meaningful English translation) is not that it signals anything very reliably about the dancer. Whether someone asks directly or indirectly is a very much less reliable guide to whether he'll dance well, than is his posture alone. The advantage is the lower risk of asking, and the relative ease of polite refusal. The difference is not between a verbal and non-verbal request, but between asking in such a way that a refusal may be embarrassing to either or both, and inviting in such a way that someone who's not feeling strong doesn't have to choose between taking the risk of getting wrung out like a dishrag, and being unkind.

Now it goes without saying, to me, that in a North-European society where men and women are routinely expected to, and do, treat each other like adults, the border between these two things is obviously not in exactly the same place as it is elsewhere. Nor is it in the same place with different people or in different situations. How direct you can be obviously depends on how likely you think it is that the person will enjoy this dance with you, rather than no-one, how likely you think they are to feel it's unkind to tell you otherwise, how important those things are to you, and what other opportunities you think there might be to ask that person in future. It's just manners and consideration, and having your brain switched on, that's all.

That means that you can accept the basic principle of not embarrassing people without insisting on some arbitrary procedure. There are lots of ways of making an indirect or partly indirect request; I use a wide variety myself, and which of them I choose depends on many things.

I'm not quite sure if the above is a coherent argument for anything at all. I'm not feeling very Krugmanesque today. But I do think it follows that if for your own reasons you prefer to ask directly, you ought also to want to make quite sure that you're taking responsibility for the quality of your own dance, and regularly checking for apples in your pocket.

So I do say, with Ghost:

Play nice.


ghost said...

Hmmm, this made me think which is always a good thing. I have the underlying assumptino that people who use the cabeceo are more considerate dancers.

Now clearly there's an arguement that they're more experienced - the cabeceo isn't usually taught in classes so
a) it takes a while to find out about it
b) it favours the sort of people who go looking for such things
c) it then takes a while to actually get the hang of using it.

But you make a perfectly valid point; "experienced" does not mean "good" or "considerate", often quite the opposite.

So I mulled....

...and relised this which surprised me a lot

For about the last nine months I've been working on dancing primarliy by walking small. Sure there's boloes, but I've been going back to basics. I've also been using the cabeceo for social dances (except with people I know). Here's the weird thing. In the last nine months I can't remember a single dance where the woman was dangerous?! And I dance at Negracha. Literally my sole complaint has been a few women crushing my right arm with their body weight. I know I danced with dangerous women on a regular basis before this. :puzzled:

Now it could be a statistical anomaly like the tango songs with lyrics, of which suddently I have heard a LOT lately. But I can't help wondering if there's something else to it...?

msHedgehog said...

You're not wrong - I wouldn't want to be absolute about it, it's just another aspect. It wouldn't be very surprising, for example, if people who had high expectations of their own dancing also had high expectations of their own manners, and considerate, thoughtful dancers were considerate and thoughtful in the way they asked. And viceversa, which is kind of where I end up. But also:

- The change in your style is a visually obvious one, and
- The dangerous ones are perhaps by definition (don't know exactly what the definition is) not currently interested in dancing small, so they may have stopped seeking dances with you.

Of course, if it was the same women and they danced differently, then you might conclude the the small style is less inviting of dangerous behaviour. But that's not what it sounds like.

ghost said...

True, absolutes are dangerous; gotta say though I’m surprised at how big an effect it’s had.

Makes sense. Almost by definition women accepting the cabeceo will have seen me dancing first and so will either go “Ekk BORING!” or “Yum, yes please”.

Thinking about people I dance with through invites from friends, the smaller style calms things down a bit, but won't stop a determined whirlwind.

One interesting observation on women dancing differently. I did catch the comment of one lady as she ushered her friend towards me “He’s a good gentle dancer, you’ll be fine” – I saw her physically relax and she followed what I led, whereas I suspect she might have “tried to hard” otherwise. So you ladies can help matters in ways that don’t involve apples….

I would be interesting to see what effect and how much, if any, was caused for a woman only using the cabeceo for an evening.

Game Cat said...

Some observations:

1) Users of the cabaceo tend to be experienced dancers who are deliberately selective in their dance partners (which together is a fairly good indicator of consideration and dance-ability). Not always of course (exp <> quality). So, trying the cabaceo in the first instance already filters one into a particular population one may be interested in.

2) Big vs small steps in a milonga. I don't think one is particularly better than the other...even considering the practicalities of a crowded milonga. Both can be used to express different things in the music, so one should be able to lead/ follow both. If the steps are big, one should just take fewer of them in a crowd. What I do object to in a leader is when they take steps of any size into my dance space. And for followers, those who always default to their regular stride length, rather than listen to how long you want to step.

Ms H - very relieved you were okay after the slip.

londontango said...

I have read this post several times and can't get over how analytical one can get about Tango. Interesting, in that in other aspects of my life I am very analytical except for Tango.

1) IMHO cabeceo does not necessarily mean experience or necessarily good, but it does lead more in that direction. I had been cabeceo'd at the dome recently and had some pleasant dances with a man from Holland that I had never seen before, but it got worse for me the more apart we danced, which was his preference. He wasn't a bad dancer, just that our preferences were different. I really enjoyed dancing with him in the close embrace.

2) Although I prefer to be cabeceo'd, I will accept some dances if asked directly even if I haven't seen the person dance. I don't mind taking chances occasionally. If it doesn't work out, I note it in my mind for future reference. I am always polite if I refuse unless someone gets snarky with me. I say no thank you or not right now thank you. Most of my friends (regular dance partners) know that they can ask me directly.

3) I am a woman and have no hard rules when going out to dance except that I like to do what I want to do when I want it. If it feels right, then I go ahead. There are some men I don't get good vibes from and the thought of dancing with them can make my flesh crawl. And I am still nice to them when I say no thank you.

@ Ghost
I am glad that you are using small steps. I used to dance large when I first started and then was taught by one of my dance partners the benefits of dancing small. Also, other things happened with the music that I hadn't noticed before when using large steps.

@ Gamecat
The size of steps are a personal preference and one must adapt to the space on the dancefloor. I just like the connection that smaller steps offer.

@ Ms H.
I like your thinking and observations. Hope you are not in too much pain. I just injured myself in a children's playground after coming home from the pub the other night! Nice bruise.

msHedgehog said...

Hello everyone!
Yes, interesting responses.

@gamecat and Londontango thanks for the good wishes, it only hurts when I touch it now and it doesn't look too bad! Bagged frozen peas are a wonderful invention.

Jo A said...

Lovely phrases. "our role as Mother Goddess World Police"