Monday, 7 April 2008

How to say "shut up and dance"?

Promoted from Comments at Johanna's. I think what I'm going to say also makes sense if you are a man and it is a woman committing the outrageous gaffe of unsolicited instruction on the dancefloor. But no doubt the ball-carrying bloggers will give their own advice.

Tassili said: I have in mind a particular leader who always "instructs" his partners - as a result, we all tend to dread the experience. I don't know if there is way to convey "please, stop intructing, just dance" gracefully?

This is the number one situation in which my prickles go up, and they go up super sharp. How do you say "Shut up and dance?".

I think there's no point in trying too hard to be graceful. When someone is is foolish enough to do this, it is an emergency, and clarity comes first.

This is how I raise the prickles:

  1. Complete, strict, silence. Immediate radical change of expression. Total disappearance of smile and facial response. Verge-of-tears look, if it comes naturally. This will usually cause him to stop talking and lead something else, in which case, fine.

  2. If he continues talking when you're standing still, or actually stops dancing so he can instruct you, say: "I beg your pardon?" to the tune of "did you really just instruct a lady on the dancefloor? I can't believe that a man of your age and intelligence would so far forget himself as to do such a thing. I must have misheard."

  3. If it continues, calmly remark "I don't respond well to advice while I'm dancing socially." This step is optional. Only use it if it fits you. It will sometimes elicit "I'm only trying to give a little help", in which case, say "I would prefer it if you didn't." I prefix this with "Nevertheless," but that might be taking it a little far.

  4. If it still continues, say: "Shall we go on?" to the tune of "if I'm not good enough for you, you can opt out right now and I shan't be offended", and clarifying with gestures towards the seating if you have to. Of course this bit only makes sense mid-tanda. If it's the end, just say thank-you and sit down.

  5. If you get an apology or backtracking, accept it nicely, but without responding to the content of what was said.

  6. Remind yourself again that you will never, ever, instruct someone on the dance floor, no matter how terrible they are.

It's very important to this technique that you don't engage at all with the content of the instruction, even in (5). The content is not the point. The point is that whatever it is, it's out of place in social dancing. That's the idea that needs to get across, not a reaction to the content.

This doesn't happen to me very often, now - I daresay word has got about - but last Friday, (1) worked perfectly. I'd really been enjoying the dance till it happened. We both were. He immediately stopped doing it, apologised at the end of the dance, and said he'd felt the connection was so good he could talk. I said "It's not recommended. I don't respond well to it." He understood, I'm sure it won't happen again, and I'm looking forward to dancing with him more.

If you are a very recent beginner, or less in touch with your inner Lady Bracknell than I am, pretending with a smile that you can't hear what he's saying over the music does also work and is a very safe alternative. Just don't reply or ask questions, because it only encourages them.

But if dancing with someone is not fun, there's no point in killing yourself trying not to offend them. Never be abusive, but self-defence is fine.

Notes: remarks between friends may be different; two words of urgently needed information to the early beginner, delivered with a smile, may be different. But generally speaking, it's not a good idea.


Anonymous said...

You're so cute :-) Good follow-up to an important discussion.

Point #1:
Dancing should be FUN. Cease dancing with whomever if is not.

Point #2:
If your partner is somehow hurting you (embrace way too tight and restrictive; hanging around the neck; etc.), I think it's ok to first try and wiggle a little loose, or politely ask for less squeezing.

Again, I repeat, a polite "thank you" after the first song is the best solution. If the boor/boorette dares asks why, you can explain that you like to choose your teachers.

Tassili said...

Ah, I think I'll try this one : "I don't respond well to advice while I'm dancing socially." Fits my style (the guy told me afterwards that I had a "nice style", mm, ok)
I would not be comfortable, however, to be more radical (even if I admire the guts), because I tend to feel sad and unhappy if I have unpleasant interactions - the feeling lingers, and I have trouble getting rid of it, so I might as well avoid it, right?
In any case, thank you so much for taking the time! :-))

Anonymous said...

I was chatting with someone new to tango (but an experienced dancer) and she was very overwhelmed with all the lore and mythology of tango, its deadly rules and what to do and how not to learn.

Sadly some men had decided "aha - an eager pair of ears!" and decided to take it upon themselves to give her all sorts of rules and advice and warnings upon pain of excommunication and damnation.

She asked me a few times and I like to think my reply was the only appropriate one: "my advice is - don't listen to any advice!".

La Tanguera said...

Well, I don't have trouble getting feedback... but off the floor, or during class. I remember an experience with a leader who was really poor, when I was really beginning, but I already had a clue of how some stuff should feel. He would not stop trying to force me to do things during the tanda ("now do a boleo, don't you know? it should be like this... " etc). At some point over the course of the tanda, I said to him that I really didn't appreciate his teaching me, and that, if he didn't stop, I wouldn't dance with him anymore. He tried again. And I woke out the floor, at that very second...

Alex said...

You could also twist to the positive and say something like "I would love to hear some constructive feedback, in a practica, but not here thank you...let's just dance..."

AJ said...

I agree that teaching on the milonga shouldn't be the norm. However, I do sometimes give feedback and advice - but I always ask her if she wants to hear it. I am more likely to offer this to recent beginners.

Is the aversion to feedback because of inherited rules about what one should or shouldn't do at a milonga? If we start with a blank sheet of paper would we come to the same conclusion?

What's the problem with giving & receiving feedback - even if it isn't a compliment? In any team, perhaps a sports team, perhaps in a work situation, feedback is important. It is important that each member of a team should be aware of what other members think.

In dancing, the couple are a kind of team - with a shared goal of having dances that we both enjoy. Without feedback there is a much lower chance of achieving the goal. I don't go to practicas, only to milongas, so the discussion has to take place there or not at all.

A follower I REALLY enjoy dancing with is such a gem, that I would risk being called "boorish" or "rude" for the chance that I might discover a new "gem" after some "polishing". If there is a partner I don't enjoy dancing with, I could simply not ask her to dance again. However, I think THAT would be the odd thing to do. If I am thinking of doing that, I may as well discuss technique as I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Also, she would at least be aware of why I stopped asking her.

I find it very odd that the situation can arise such that a dancer can have no idea why someone refuses to dance with them - they are left to guess why that might be! -very strange I think. Why not communicate! "It's good to talk" as they say!

By the way, this is not a leader v. follower issue. In the past, I have received unsolicited feedback from followers. It is never pleasant to be criticised, however in the long run some of those have helped me to become a better leader.

Anonymous said...

Ah AJ, where to begin...

1. The issue is NOT that constructive feedback is a bad thing. But there is a time and place for everything.

1a. We cannot assume that the person we are critiquing respects our opinion enough to warrant receiving said feedback from us.

2. A milonga is where folks go to have fun, not have their moves broken down and analyzed.

3. Being instructed ON the dance floor AT a milonga is NEVER ok.

4. If you enjoy dancing with someone but wish they would change/fix something, and you have that kind of relationship with them... chat with them at the snack table/water cooler.

5. Just because something bothers US about THEM, doesn't mean it's THEIR issue.

6. The point of tango is that we have to adjust to everyone we dance with, or just don't dance with them. Them's the rules.

7. Even if we're dancing with a steady partner, instructions, comments, feedback, etc. should happen off the dance floor, 'cause between partners, the comments tend to lead to arguments, and no one likes to be around those.

msHedgehog said...

Thanks AJ for presenting those arguments, because I think they're important. Here's what I think.

Unsolicited feedback is not a gaffe because it's against the rules. It's a gaffe because it's hurtful and embarrassing in the context of social dancing, and is something that should be reserved for a context in which it is not hurtful or embarrassing. That context is when you are the teacher the person has chosen to be taught by, or you are someone else the person has specifically asked for feedback.

It is absolutely OK, I think, for someone not to know why they're not being danced with; if they want to know they can ask, and it is their choice and responsibility whether to investigate, and they can do so at a time and in a place and by a method and from a person of their choosing.

Jodie said...

As a general rule I am in agreement that instruction on the dance floor is a no-no. I think it totally spoils a dance, and is also rather an arrogant thing to do.

However, I agree with AJ that, if you don’t like to dance with someone, leaving them to guess what’s wrong might not be fair to them – personally I am far too shy to ever ask a man why he doesn’t seem to want to dance with me – I just couldn’t do it! I also think many men would be uncomfortable with me asking such a direct question and would defensively brush it off without actually saying, “Well you lean too heavily” or whatever. However, I do think this kind of thing should be a VERY rare occurrence, and should be delivered gently and politely, when a dance has finished, and only after asking whether the person would like some feedback (if they say no, then respect that).

I was one of those followers who once gave unsolicited feedback to AJ (assuming he’s the AJ I know, anyway!). It’s something I have never done before or since (as I said, I am very shy). The reason I did so on this one occasion was that I have always enjoyed dancing with him due to his lovely musicality, however something he was doing was hurting me a lot. It was a case of either point out the pain or never dance with him again – and I wanted to dance with him again! So I took a deep breath and told him. I have to say, I felt dreadful about mentioning it though, so guilty!

Anonymous said...

jodie - good point.

wat to do if you are in actual pain or bodily danger - but still want the leader/follower to improve and to dance with you in future ...

Alex said...

Everyone should carry their own little suggestion box with their name on it to the milonga and people can put little notes in it...

koolricky said...

Well, I get asked quite a few times for instruction on dance floors. If I can describe it briefly (10 sec) in between two tracks I will, just to give an idea of what should be done. If I see it will take more time I prefer to do it after the tanda, outside of the dancefloor, but again, only briefly - I don't want to spoil either my night or someone else's.
What I hate is when people ask me for advice in the middle of a song and want me to explain to them right there and then. I had an awful experience some time ago with a lady that kept saying she wasn't up to my standards and then (mostly because she was focused talking and not dancing) kept asking me "how should I do this move that you've just led?"
I rarely give any kind of feedback without being asked for. I only do that with a very select amount of people who I know extremely well. They do that with me as well.
If the thing is to complicated, then it would have to be done elsewhere. Not in a milonga.

msHedgehog said...

@koolricky - I think *asking* someone for instruction while dancing socially is so, so thoughtless, most of all when the person is a teacher. It's like rabbiting about your health problems as soon as you find out someone is a doctor. How awkward!

Anonymous said...

Any talking - beyond "I love this song" - is superfluous WHILE dancing.

Unless you are in a class or at a practica, folks asking for instruction while dancing are in the same dump bucket as those who give it.

msHedgehog said...

It occurs to me now that I ought to point this out: it's very, very difficult to understand something that's said to you verbally, and follow at the same time. No matter how good the lead is. Following takes a lot of concentration, and listening to the voice and listening to the lead simultaneously is barely possible even when both are uttering platitudes - still less when either of them is at all challenging.

AJ said...

Rules, rules, too many rules - especially from Johanna, whose comments I find very prescriptive. In fact they are as prescriptive as the leaders who insists that the follower should dance HIS way - no other way is allowed!
The reality is that there are all sorts of people interacting in a milonga. They are interacting as consenting adults! There is no need for EXTERNAL rules to govern their behaviour - only INTERNAL rules such as:

respect for others,
treat other people as you would like to be treated.

The reality is that my decision to offer advice is based on instinct - depending on how I am interacting with the follower. Most welcome the offer of advice. Some followers I meet have hardly taken any classes - thay have learnt mainly at milongas from experienced leaders.

Anonymous said "don't listen to any advice". I couldn't disagree more. I say "listen to ALL advice, think about it, then make up your own mind"

Referring back to Johanna's comments:

7thApril #1: No wonder there are so few tango dancers. In London, a city of 8 million there are only a few hundred. More understanding, nurturing, advice is what is needed.
1. In London there are hardly any practicas - most people I know only meet at milongas. So that is the place for discussion.
1a. I agree, but that doesn't mean that I can't offer the advice - it may be useful, it may not be.

The sort of advice I'm talking about is not about "breaking down every move" ... and why does it matter exactly where the interaction takes place? As koolricky said, I am mostly talking about the sort of advice that can be given between tracks, in which case there is no need to leave the dancefloor. If the follower really wants more of a lecture (and believe me some do) then we need to go to the hall outside (if I think she is worth the investment).
It might be their issue, it might not be - without the discussion no-one will be any the wiser! And again, the reference to the rules! where did these rules originate? (I am genuinely interested)

Jodie - I believe I am the AJ you offered advice to. Thank you for that - if it wasn't for your comment, I may well still have that bad habit! Also thanks for the compliment.

Anonymous said...

AJ, I love a debate :-)

"No wonder there are so few tango dancers".

Perhaps it IS because of people like me. Or perhaps it's because of the avalanche of "experts" offering unsolicited advice... Or perhaps it is because Tango communities everywhere are incredibly small when compared to salsa or swing communities. In Los Angeles - a city slightly larger than London, our active community is likewise only a few hundred.

As to the rules, whether we like it or not, life is governed by "rules", many of them unspoken. It's how we can all get along. But perhaps a better word is guidelines.

Also, I think it's important to remember the original thread of this post, which refers to unsolicited advice.

I am, in fact, one of those dancers who learned by dancing, not from classes. Advice from fellow dancers was critical feedback for my learning journey. Yet even at my greenest, there were times when the feedback was so poorly timed, so poorly worded, and/or from somebody who desperately needed to take a good look in the mirror, that it verged on insulting.

THAT's the sort of feedback I think we're discussing. Besides, it's just a matter of courtesy to ask "may I offer an observation?" before actually offering it.

Anonymous said...

I believe it's never acceptable to offer feedback at a milonga. Never. Even just to offer - to say 'are you open to feedback?' or 'can I suggest something?' - is enough to ruin someone's evening. Even if they say no, that tanda has been spoiled. A moment ago they were having a lovely time; now they're left with the feeling that that person wasn't actually enjoying dancing with them at all. And that's a horrible feeling. Tango is an emotional business. We open our hearts every time we go to the milonga. So what's meant as helpful feedback can feel like a personal rejection.

Besides, it's frankly rather arrogant to assume that your feedback is good. We're none of us perfect. The tango world contains a lot of people with a far higher opinion of their ability and understanding than is warranted. We should all have a little humility and keep our advice to ourselves. Especially with beginners, who don't have the experience to tell whether advice is good or not. Even the teachers never teach at a milonga - what makes you think it would be a good idea for you to do so?

I've received feedback from AJ. It was clear that it was kindly meant. But it still upset and confused me. With the benefit of hindsight and a few more years of experience, I also now know that it was advice particular to his style of dance and personal preference, and not advice which is generally applicable to all dancers. If I'd known that at the time I would have argued the opposite case in detail and lost no sleep over it. But I didn't, so instead I just fretted for days as to why I was being told the opposite of what my teacher had told me, and whether that meant that everyone secretly hated dancing with me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, that's what I was laboring to say. That we go to milongas to have fun. We take class - or go to practica, or get together with friends in our living room - to practice and get feedback.

msHedgehog said...

Before we go on - although that might well be the end - I'd like to thank AJ for his reasoned defence of a view somewhat different from mine. It has made this thread a lot more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

AJ said...

Ms H. - thank you for the congenial words - careful - you might encourage me! - perhaps that's what you want :-)

I think it is a real tragedy that so many people who try tango don't take to it. I would guess at least 95% fall by the wayside. They never really experience "the connection" and therefore they don't real "get tango". They will probably never come back. I am doing my bit to reduce this dreadful statistic.

Anonymous said " can feel like a personal rejection".
Perhaps you're right in some cases, but compare that sort of "rejection" with the REAL rejection of "no thanks, I don't want to dance with you because you're not good enough" which I believe drives so many away. If a follower is young and pretty, she will always get dances and this will often give her a false sense of how good she is. Otherwise, if she doesn't "feel good" to leaders then she won't be asked so much.

I think the teaching of beginners is often not good. I regularly meet followers who have been taking regular lessons with certain well known teachers and yet they don't really have a good grasp of the basics and no idea of "the connection". Another flaw which will prompt me to offer advice is if she is stepping before or faster than me and pulling me forward. The choice I have then is to either not ask her to dance again or to offer advice. I prefer the latter and I think the majority of beginners I offer advice to welcome it.

Anonymous was also concerned about the contradiction between "styles" - but that is inevitable. Anyone who takes pre-milonga classes with various guest teachers will have this conflict all the time. It is up to the individual to sort out what is appropriate for her and reject what is not.
My preferred style is "close embrace", "parallel shoulders" with a "shared axis", but I don't usually dance that style with beginners.. With Ms. Anonymous I may have offered to teach her that style and presumably she said yes. Incidentally, I tried "close embrace" for the first time when about 3 months after I started tango. I wasn't particularly enjoying my tango at the time and could have easily given up. During a dance a follower "took control" and said "why don't we try it like this" and we danced in a close embrace - she gave me an unsolicited lesson in close embrace.

Ultimately, what I am saying is that unsolicited advice / feedback / teaching is not necessarily a terrible thing. It depends - on how it is done and the people involved.
I agree that the type of "verbal leading" where a leader is TELLING the follower where to put her feet is not great. Even so, I don't want to be so arrogant and tell the follower involved what she should do. Surely she can decide for herself whether to accept the offer to dance next time.

msHedgehog said...

@AJ - this has been very interesting. The only factual thing I can bring to this is that in my own case, it's the people following your argument who have presented me with serious difficulties to overcome, most of all in the early stages, and people who follow Johanna's who have helped me overcome them. That, of course, does not prove that the same would apply to everyone else, or indeed anyone else.

Psyche said...

Incidentally, I'e just discovered the handly little 'recent comments' thing in the sidebar. I hadn't realised this debate was still going on! Here, I mean - obviously it continues to rage in the tango world as a whole.

Anyway, I see the question of styles has been raised, and this of course is a subject I have plenty of opinions on! So here's my twopennorth on this aspect.

AJ's example of the kind of feedback he offers is to me a classic example of why such feedback can be confusing and unhelpful unless given carefully. He seems to prefer the more 'milonguero' approach of there being a little pressure between the couple, which you can think of as the woman giving a little resistance to the man's step, or letting her step be powered by his, or giving him weight, or being very 'present', or however you want to think about it. Anyway. The salon and nuevo teachers I've had lessons with (and we're not talking the kind of dodgy guys that AJ is concerned about, we're talking really top quality, well known and highly respected dancers), both group and private, have all advicated the opposite of this, and get very cross with me if I'm giving them any pressure at all. They all want me to *go*. Some of them tell me to actively run away from their embrace. They're exaggerating there a little, but the point is they'd rather I ran away than gave them any kind of resistance at all. (Usual disclaimer - there are no absolutes, and there are vast differences between different couples even within the same broad style group.)

So, AJ's cited advice could be very confusing if given as an absolute. And this is an important point for me - there are different ways of giving advice, and some are much better than others. For me, if AJ were to say 'This is how it's done,' he would be just plain wrong. What I feel we should all say is something more accurate - 'This is how I like to do things.' Because there are many different ways of doing things, and we should respect each others' choices.

Actually, I don't personally approve of advice given in the milonga at all. What I'm talking about really is advice at practicas or discussions in classes. 'You're doing that wrong,' or 'You should do it like this,' or 'It's done like this,' or 'In tango we do this,' are all wrong, wrong wrong, and deeply mistaken. Let's say things like 'I like to do this, would you like to try it?' Or 'When you do this I feel that...', or 'I wonder whether it would be helpful to...', both of which make it possible for the couple to explore the problem together and figure out a solution together. And while AJ's right that there are plenty of teachers who don't manage to teach the 'basics' well, it's still important to present your preferences as your preferences even when talking to beginners, because they need to know that your way of doing things is not the only way. I was half crazy for the first year of tango until I understood how many different ways there are of doing things. Let's try and spare future beginners this stress. The problem is not exposing them to different ideas - the problem is presenting your ideas as the One True Way (which most people do by accident entirely without meaning to).

I'd like to say more, but I have to go meet someone. Oh - but I do want to say I know what anonymous means about the let-down. Noone wants to discover that the person they've been dancing with has not spent the last tango thinking 'Ew, there's too much pressure in his arm.' You want to feel they were just enjoying it.

Psyche said...

And now I'll add that personally I'd *much* rather someone just didn't dance with me than chose to point out my 'flaws' in the middle of a dance. It's *much* less painful.

Limerick Tango said...

I thought someone had vaguely brushed on this, but I can't find the particular comment now.
There is the scenario where you may be dancing with someone who is at their first or second milonga and you feel they may need cluing-in, e.g. they feed christians to the lions here.
I would, however, only offer this kind of advice to someone I had worked with in a class and new it was their early days. That is if I manage to untie my tongue. I find dancing uses an entirely non-verbal side of my brain and can render me quite incoherent at times.

msHedgehog said...

@limerick - I'm with you - I find it almost impossible to listen to the lead and the voice at the same time. I have to turn off the language-processing to follow properly. I suspect it's because I'm using that bit of my brain for the music - but this is speculation.

Nilly said...

Late in the day but oh that's a topic that makes me itch:
- A milonga is not a place for a lesson. Period. If you're so eager to spread knowledge to the masses, start a blog, write a book, teach your own classes, produce a DVD... Otherwise put your ego in a bottle or quit tango, the two of them really don't mix.
- No one should bear with the unbearable. If the dancing or the attitude are not nice, thank the person and walk out at the end of the first song, not the 3rd tanda. What is this thing with tango S&M torture? Be kind to yourselves first. Of course never dance with this person again!
- Adapt your dancing to your partner, and the "best" should level with the "lower". Tango is musicality and connection, not a steps competition. Absolute beginners can give a lovely lovely dance with just basic steps and a good sense of the music. If you follow that rule, no explaining of the lead/step/move is needed.
- Gear up in dancing with the songs. Start easy (even pro with pro), and build up as both dancers assess how/where they are in terms of balance, axis, position, comfort etc. Gear down when it gets messy.
- Did I mention walking out if it's not nice?
- Oh and do warn others. The only way the "during the dance teachers" will stop is if they don't get an audience.
- finally if a follower doesn't get the lead, it's up to the leader to clean up his act: not lead the move, try to be clearer, lead something simpler, whatever. Or thank her and walk out.

Finally, about beginners, if you're such an expert, then the best thing you can do is shut up and just give them the best dance of their life composing with whatever tango vocabulary they have. A good dance is worth a million speeches. By leading or responding beautifully you will help them stretch their dancing beyond what they thought possible, and hopefully help build them into great dancers. Which will mean fabulous dances back to you in the future ;-)