Monday, 14 June 2010

The Need for Agony Granddads

Once upon a time, one of those men's magazines hired a team of over-80 males to be an advice column; someone left his on the train, and I perused some very entertaining letters and replies, less detailed and more direct than the feminine form of this genre, including an exchange which ended - "If you don't like her, why are you with her? Stop wasting her time!" I don't know if it lasted, and I don't remember what the magazine was, but I thought it was a great idea.

That's the kind of conversation that has to happen for there to be a real, living, fully functioning community. There has to be enough respect and self-respect that one adult male, who has and deserves respect, can say to another: you are doing the wrong thing.

Because it isn't enough for the women to do it. To do that, we have to be in a heavily biased seller's market. And, hello, reality! We're not. Let me take a sad but rather mundane, indeed universal, example from ordinary life:

What he says:

I wouldn't want to hurt you.

What it sounds like it means:

I'm going to think about how I behave towards you, and take care not to hurt you, and if I hurt you accidentally, I'll do something to make it better.

What it really means:

I'd feel quite inconvenienced if you seemed hurt, so will you please be invulnerable; when you fail, I'll look embarrassed and disappear.

And it isn't really something the woman can fix, because she's too directly concerned. She can avoid hurt, by sacrificing joy, but she can't make him behave better, because while she hides her hurts he'll consider them as nothing, and when she shows them, he'll become nothing. The only way it changes, is if he changes his mind about what to do, and we already know her attractions are not adequate to cause that, unless you have Jane Austen write the script. You wouldn't bother making a movie out of it, unless you had her in the credits. It's just too dull.

I daresay it happens the other way round. It's only an illustration of the logic. Over-poetic, perhaps.

In the same way, women complaining about getting hurt will never produce better dancing. Only the fear of looking bad and incompetent in the eyes of confident and effectually dominant rival males will actually do that, in my view.


Anonymous said...

Hello. Interesting post, but I think you are generalising far too much about the way men think.

I am an inexperienced (~1yr) beginning male leader - I can hardly get round the room reliably - but what motivates me to improve is certainly not what other men think. I'm not dancing with them and I'm not seeking their approval (though I'd usually welcome their advice). I want to dance well with my follower, for my follower and for myself.

Perhaps because I'm still a beginner, I'm also afraid: of not 'connecting' well, of disapproval from my follower, of making a bad mistake. Fear is a strong motivator! But fear of looking bad in the eyes of 'rival' males? I hardly think even think of them as rivals (and that's not because I rate myself highly or anything).

Perhaps I'm a little unusual, but I can't be unique. I would suggest that there are at least some men out there who aren't driven by what the other men think. To hell with them! ;)

Maybe this attitude fades with experience, to be replaced by a stronger macho-status approach. God, I hope not.

Anyway: not all men are the same! Just thought I'd mention it ;)

msHedgehog said...

True - but I wasn't really thinking of beginners, beginners are very rarely an issue, unless they are unlucky in their teachers; the problem I'm trying to figure out is more the much harder problem of established dancers who are very persistent and stubborn in their incompetence.

In fact, beginners who are lucky enough to be going in a good direction, and wise enough do so without paying too much attention to other things, are a very good thing in this situation, because they can get to a good level rather fast, and that has an influence on the stubborn.

Thanks for clarifying my thoughts on that.

ghost said...

"Only the fear of looking bad and incompetent in the eyes of confident and effectually dominant rival males will actually do that, in my view."

Unfortunately there's a very effective mechanism whereby we can re-write events in our head. Classic example was a trouble-maker at a concert who had been subdued under half a dozen bouncers. At this point they're literally going to sit on him until he calms down. Although it would be illegal, if they want to break / maim / kill him, they can do so at their leisure. His reaction - "I'm going to kick your asses!" *sigh*

No matter what, if a guy wants to re-write events so they're the woman's fault, other dancers' fault, because mercury is in retrograde etc, no matter how blindingly obvious it is to the contrary, there's extremely little you can do about it in my experience, other than ask them to leave and not come back (or refuse to dance with them) :(

All you can hope to do is educate men who genuinely don't know, but want to.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms H,
I am calling this type of dancer the "repeat offenders". I solve the problem by answering: "no, thank you".

msHedgehog said...

That solves nothing, because they're dancing with somebody else, and will continue to do so, since this is not a seller's market.

I can probably afford to have people slag me off as a stuck-up snobby bitch; not everyone is ready to take that.

Notice again how we've come round to it being the woman's responsibility, as in the last post. And as on the Tube adverts, which will NEVER end with the words " ... will be prosecuted." Because that particular advert can't happen.

ghost said...

"Notice again how we've come round to it being the woman's responsibility"

Two possibilities which come down to the same thing.

1. It's the organiser's responsibility. I believe Andreas and BorderTangoMan draw clear lines about behaviour at their milongas and enforce them. The lines exist in the TPG but thankfully no-one's interested in crossing them. Ultimately it's simple. If everyone plays nice, everyone gets to enjoy it.

2. It's the Elder's responsibility

Basically your Granddad concept. This is fine, but it needs to be understood that he's going to be backed up. If he takes you to one side, has a talk and you ignore him, there are going to be consequences.

Otherwise it's pointless.
"Do you know that women repeatedly tell me how much they dislike dancing with you? Please stop doing xyz."
"Or what?"
"Or they'll keep on disliking dancing with you?"

He goes away thinking "Jerk. he's just jealous because women love dancing with me!"

Captain Jep said...

I dont think complaining to the organizers will have much effect. Unless the leader's being blatantly unpleasant. You cant expect an organizer to ban dancing that is simply "poor".

It's also very difficult for community elders to step in. People who are pig headed rarely listen to men OR women. Anyway most men wouldnt presume to teach another man what to do. Unless again he is being blatantly unpleasant.

Even if they do make a comment, odds on he will laugh it off. Along the lines of "she'll come back to me". Or "everyone has their own style, dont they?"

In my view the only way it gets resolved is for the women to get aggressive about it. Stop following his lead unless it's clear. Walk off the floor if he becomes aggressive. Once a woman makes it blatantly clear to him that he is being unpleasnt then the men can step in. With force if necessary.

msHedgehog said...

Nobody seems to have considered an important part of what I said: that I presuppose the existence of someone who not only has, but deserves, actual general respect. Now, I don't have anyone in mind, and there's a reason for that. But when there is such a person present, everyone knows it.

(I'm not talking about violence, incidentally, that would be silly: I'm talking about talking, not necessarily even direct. And I'm certainly not talking about hiding behind "I've heard X from women"; I'm talking about "what you're doing is wrong".)

ghost said...

On paper I agree with you. I can think of specific people and situations where it works remarkably well.

However the Elder doesn't exist in a vacuum. Part of this role is to have the best interests of the group at heart. And the group has to respond to this.

It's not a matter of
"Will you stop doing this?"
That implies an actual choice. Sure there may be a threat added to it, but the person may still decide it's worth the cost / risk or that the threat is empty.

It's instead "You will not do this".

But there will always be people who'll go against or ignore them, hence the phrase "young, dumb and full of *** " (Some people never get past this stage). Otherwise the Dalai Lama would have created peace on earth by now.

sadly I've seen examples of this over and over again. The net result in situations where there's no "get out of here now" mechanism is usually that either
- the trouble-maker has an epiphany and plays ball, often becoming a devout supporter
- the trouble-maker drifts off and goes somewhere else
- the Elder drifts off and goes somewhere else, often followed by like-minded people in the group

msHedgehog said...

Yeah, Ok, now we're getting closer. There's nothing wrong with youthful dissent, anyway. But there has to be something to dissent against, and currently I'm not seeing that.

I don't think it's actually strictly necessary for the elder to *be* elder, as long as he has some style.

It's also not necessarily (and I think you're saying the same here) a "don't do that". The strong but positive example that Anon1, for instance, would be looking for, might be more important.

I'm not saying any of this would always work, I'm just saying that the women without backup is guaranteed not to work.

ghost said...

Yup. The Fonz for example is a good "Elder" who isn't that old, doesn't threaten Richie and Co with violence, but helps guide them through Happy Days. Once he tells them
"Hey. You don't do that - it's not cool"
there's no question; they're not going to do it.

Ultimately you want the whole community to work in sync. As soon as you start to "leave it to them" it starts to break down.

Another version I'm fond of that I think illustrates another aspect of what you're saying.

msHedgehog said...

Hmmm. I prefer the Fonz line to the Aikido line.

So, the current working hypothesis is, we need a Fonz. Sounds quite reasonable. Anybody got the Not Cool clip?

Anonymous said...

Personally I think the women are the key, either by positive feedback to ease up the medium dancers, or by negative feedback by denying dances to really bad dancers/manners.

I believe women aren't playing their role here in the UK and especially in London. There is no market because they're too desperate for a dance.

If they were choosier, trust me, the men's level would up up up.

Tango en el Cielo said...

@Anon: "If they were choosier, trust me, the men's level would up up up." I agree, this should in theory happen. But your comment reminds me of a counter-observation years ago in London. There was a weekly milonga where the cast of Tango por Dos arrived after their show (in the days when both Zotto brothers were in it). Suddenly all women's attention was on those men. We were either dancing with one of them, or waiting our turn to dance with one of them. Or admiring their dancing. The mediocre local men, who normally would dance all night with the best women, despite not having improved their own dancing for a long time, were suddenly surplus to requirements. Great! So I thought they would, for once, take a turn sitting out and would be inspired by watching some really good male dancers. It would make them up their game I thought.
But you know what happened? The surplus men rapidly disappeared into the bar next door, where there was a TV with some football or something on. and then they went home early. They did not sit waiting their turn, like we women do week after week. And it certainly didn't inspire them to up their game in the weeks that followed.
I think that, in addition to the massive imbalance of numbers of men v women who dance tango in London, there's also a huge difference in the general level of motivation to work hard to improve. Something to do with the lack of male dance culture in this country, perhaps?

Tangocommuter said...

I think the analysis is really clear. She mistrusts him, based presumably on prior experience of him or of others. But she seems to believe, perhaps wrongly, that her (unspecified) 'attractions' aren't adequate to enlighten him, that only the intervention of Jane Austen, only the impossible, like a deus ex machina, could help her. I wonder if believing that is going to help her.

But the connection to tango. For women to improve, must they really fear looking bad and incompetent in the eyes of confident and dominant rival males? Is this really how all women feel in milongas? They might fear looking incompetent to other women, too, and likewise, men also fear looking bad and incompetent to women and to other men. It's part of the social discourse. On the other hand, don't women, like men, simply aspire to enjoy themselves more, to become more skilful because they enjoy the dance and the music? & are males necessarily confident, dominant and rivals? Aren't partners dancing together... well, partners?

Captain Jep said...

@TangoinCielo Interesting people's perceptions. My perception whenever I go to Negrachas is that I will be sitting out for much of the time. Partly it's because Im not known there (as a leader), and partly also that as the evening wears on there always seem to be more men than women. Anyway.

Also, I'm not sure you can blame the guys going to watch TV. They probably did watch the pro dancers for a while. But so what? The local dancers would have rationalised ten ways from Sunday how they didnt stand a chance. We're not Argentine, we're not famous etc etc. It certainly wouldnt spur them on to improve themselves.

@MsH I still think you overestimate the influence that any community "elder" would have on the dancers in the community. As the first Anon says, male dancers are far more concerned about the opinion of the ladies. That's where IMO the influencing has to start.

Flor de lino said...

Tangocommuter: Does enjoyment make us improve? I don't think so... Neither is improvement a certain path to greater enjoyment.

However, it is perhaps too simplistic to look at it as a dichotomy between enjoyment and competition. I think there is a third category, something like self-discovery or self-betterment if such a word exists. The desire to explore one's ability, to take it to the limit given external constraints (physical, financial etc). Perhaps this is the attitude that is lacking.

msHedgehog said...

@Tangocommuter: I don't understand your analysis. What it sounds like it means is how she interprets it - and consequently puts all her energy into maintaining the relationship, making whatever sacrifices are available, until the overwhelming evidence of actual events tells her what it actually means. That her attractions are insufficient in this case, for whatever reason is simply the unalterable fact. Therefore it's time to stop bothering. NOT time to continue telling herself that it's all her fault for not trying hard enough. The Deus ex Macchina (e.g. Mr Darcy's suddenly growing a sense of proportion) doesn't happen in reality. That's my point.

Anonymous said...

Knowing that you are not the best Leader in the world and trying to become one of the best however unobtainable should be every mans quest. If they think they have achieved the level where they cannot improve or become a better and more understanding leader then they are mostly dillusional.
The only way to improve us leaders is to refuse to dance and take a little time to explain that although as a person you have nothing against us his style of dancing (explain what ) is why you won't dance. So, he may not be your dance partner for the next year or so, but if enough ladies tell him the same thing, so what. Maybe if he is not up his own backside he will go and sort it out.

msHedgehog said...

@last anon: your logic is impeccable, and maybe I would do that for a good friend: musing on some of the comments above, I'm seriously considering it in at least one case.

But generally speaking in my view the milonga is not the place for explicit feedback, it is as rude to ask for it as it is to give it, I am not responsible for other people's dancing and they are not responsible for mine. We're certainly delusional if we start saying that most of the women are in any position at all to be choosy; certainly not enough of us to make a difference.

I think the things suggested by Commuter and Flor above make sense: and I'd like to observe that they DO actually happen. Just not very often.

Now, if I had a few million quid to buy a centrally located house with a good wood floor, a spare room and a bit of soundproofing, I think I could probably arrange for some leadership round here.

ghost said...

Looking for points of commonality, it occurs to be that one thing TPG, Andreas, TSL, Les Cigales and the Salon Room at No 33 all had was that the organizers made themselves very clear ahead of time to the dancers about what they were trying to achieve.

So if the Organiser says that floorcraft is important, then you can reasonably expect that people who feel
“However hard I try, my floor-craft can be atrocious.” will go somewhere else. I still think you need some guidance on hand, the Fonz figure if you like. Adrian did this at 33, right? So for example if someone's never heard of lanes (understandable in London) but genuinely think that floorcraft is just about not colliding with other couples, then they'll need someone to tell them, otherwise they'll be causing chaos despite actually trying not to.

ghost said...

@ Anon

"Knowing that you are not the best Leader in the world and trying to become one of the best however unobtainable should be every mans quest."


Maybe I dance tango because I'm looking for a girlfriend

Maybe it gets me out of the house

Maybe I really want to dance Lindy but I haven't realised because I haven't tried it yet

Maybe I'm not really into tango but I go because my wife is

Maybe I just plain don't have the resources to become that good

Maybe I just plain don't have the physical resources to become that good.


My understanding, which may be wrong, is that MsH is complaining about things that can be fixed reasonably easily such as poor floorcraft and mutual respect. I hope MsH is not requiring that all men be forced to dance with each other for 7 years before being allowed into milongas, after passing the requisite tests naturally. 'cos if they are then there's going to be an equal culling of women. Which will leave a handfull of dancers in the milongas, which will then close due to lack of business. I'm not loving this solution.

There's nothing wrong with being "good enough". The important thing is having a good definition of what "good enough" actually means.

LimerickTango said...

@ First Anon.
You are not at all unusual. Given its minority interest status tango attracts the independently minded.

Part of this problem lies with the current instructor:student model. If we actually learned tango from our peers like in the early practicas then what you suggest might work. But we do not, so it won't.
The instructor cannot single out an individual for correction in a class because it is incredibly bad for business. What is needed instead is a culture of taking private lessons where the instructor can say directly to the leader "if you twist my axis like that you hurt me and if you do it again and cause damage I'll sue you for loss of earnings". That might straighten things out.