Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Nightmares and a Bad Conscience

Imagine a dancing class in which the subject matter, time, location, organisation, and teacher are such that these conditions occur:

  • Leaders and followers - as booked - are exactly even.
  • All the followers are, at least, competent to a level well above what's needed for the class.
  • About a third of the class have booked as couples, and have the option of sticking together.
  • Exactly one of the non-paired leaders is a complete nightmare to dance with, to such a degree that those students who have also studied martial arts can name the things he is unintentionally doing to the women who dance with him, and the specific art in which each of them is taught.
The unspoken rules of conduct observed among women are, more or less, these:
  • If you booked as a couple you are allowed to hang on to your man, sacrificing opportunities to safety. Only a quite exceptional sense of honour, or a spirit of enquiry worthy of the Beagle, would lead you to do otherwise, and no-one will resent it, or at least not much.
  • Over-seventies are exempt.
  • Everyone else takes more or less her fair share, and will suffer in her conscience if she doesn't.
Frequent rotation keeps anyone from missing too much of the class, but when he's that bad, once is enough for anyone, and after a while it can turn, very gently, into a case of every woman for herself.

I wish I had a pet behavioural scientist, or some sort of pocket omniscient Jane Austen, who could watch and somehow measure and describe the subtle and blatant manipulations of space and attention, the moments of guilt, resignation, and relief, the subterfuge, the acting, the shirking, and the occasional bursts of self-sacrifice with which the women divide up the work. He can't be got rid of, so somebody has to dance with him.

Or you could just film the whole thing from the centre of a high ceiling and speed it up.

Can you tell that I'm suffering in my conscience? One possible game-changing move would be to get one of the men present who is a competent follower to dance with Mr. Nightmare, while one of the followers able to do so switched to leading for a while. But that can't really happen, because dance classes are civilised events, and it could all too easily result in a smack in the mouth.


NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

Why should it be the problem of the students? The teacher should gently tell him that this class is beyond his level; or demonstrate that he should practice martial arts, in which case would probably bring out the best of his potential, but tango is no contact sport. In any case, it is really the teacher's responsibility to maintain the appropriate level and ensure the safety of the students. Why should the student have nightmares or self-inflicted bad conscience? :-)

msHedgehog said...

@TP - One reason is probably that simply throwing someone out, which is what you'd have to do, would cause really serious disruption, and most cases of this sort of thing are borderline and not as obvious as it seems in my description. Usually there is more than one person in any group class who most of the women would prefer to avoid, but usually the preference is not that strong, usually they don't all agree, and the point of the class is to improve people's dancing, so rotation almost always deals with the problem perfectly well. It's just safer for everyone to reduce the harm by spreading it around rather than risk explicit conflict. No-one is actually going to get injured. It's just an annoyance. There are just a few cases where it shades into comedy.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Although I think group classes can still be good, I have almost given up for the reason you describe. I can deal with someone who is an earnest beginner, but dealing with someone who is rough and can potentially hurt me, or someone who is cocky and thinks they are great when they are...not, or someone who has been taking classes forever and never learns anything! I stay with my partner if things are really bad, but he prefers the rotation, so now....staying home or taking privates.
Should the teacher take care of the problem? Probably, but I understand why they are reluctant to do so. But if they knew how they lose students, they might consider it. Maybe I ought to speak up....

Mark said...

It sounds excruciating. And that's not what we tango for. Were the teachers unaware?

At least it wasn't me :-)

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm, I'm afraid I'm with TP on this Ms. H. In a milonga situation, he would be turned down. It would be great practice for women to learn to say no, and for him to hear the word "no".

Anyone who could potentially - even if unintentionally - injure his partner may make for a comical retelling, but no one should be forced to dance with him - especially in a class situation. Any teacher worth his salt should step in and dance with unpartnered students so they get a chance to work on the material. Plus, the teacher should also dance with that student and give him some pointers.

ghost said...

I think the conscience thing is that deep down you really want to say to the guy "Just stop!". It sounds like potentially much misery for other followers could be saved. It sounds like he genuinely believe he thinks he's "advanced" rather than doing this out of some weird form of sadism.

Plus let's be honest, if I ever turn into that, I'd want someone to gently tell me, preferably with chocolate involved.

And in fairness over the years women have told me "what you're doing is a really bad idea" (though so far without chocolate). Given that I'd learnt this stuff, I'm very grateful for this feedback.

Captain Jep said...

The only thing I can suggest is to club together with some of the other women and for each of you to dance so badly with him that the teacher comes over to find out "what's wrong". And puts himself in your place. Maybe you've done that already. At least then it becomes the teacher's "responsibility". He (or she) is letting the guy stay in the class rather than avoiding the issue altogether. At least it allows you to "wash your hands" of the issue.

Another option is to bring your own man :)

No easy answer. Just remember that its only a few minutes of pain and 50 minutes of pleasure ...

David Bailey said...

Probably a silly question, but why didn't any of the students mention it to the teacher?

It seems an obvious case where teacher intervention is required...

ghost said...

The problem I've found with this in the past is it forces the issue to a place you might not want to go. Eg say for the sake of example I'm a woman who's just been subjected to martial arts. A few minutes later I go and have a quiet word with the teacher.

What do I do if they won't do anything? I've now changed it from plausible deniablity that's the teacher's unaware, to the teacher just doesn't care about me. Or what if they tell the guy and he ignores them. Are they going to actually chuck him out?

Also the longer this goes on, the more the women are going to worry that the teacher won't do anything.

NB - some teachers will read the riot act.

"£10 for whoever brings me xyz's teeth after the freestyle" announced from the stage by a teacher coupled with a *look* from me that suggested I was catalogueing the various ways to accomplish this, got someone to start behaving PDQ.

But again it can easily ruin the whole atmosphere of a class. I've seen a guy actually tut because a class had overun by a whole 5 mins and he wanted to practice!

BTM's sig I think says it all

"Lord, make me an instrument of your dance;
where there is dissonance, let me sow musicality;
where there is unsteadiness, balance;
where there is uncoordination, connection;
where there is nuevo, traditional;
where there is traditional,alternative;
and where there is lack of respect, DB with a baseball bat!"

msHedgehog said...

For the case I'm actually thinking of, I should say that I've left out important information to protect the innocent and the guilty from pointless embarrassment. It would make a difference, but I won't add it in comments, either.

Otherwise I'll try to explain what I think about the points above.

Generally, a non-exceptional problem doesn't call for exceptional action, and this is not an exceptional, or even slightly unusual, problem. It's completely routine. Throwing someone out is exceptional. So it's not gonna happen.

Anyway, the time to disqualify people from participating in a class they have paid for and want to take is beforehand, not during, and if you're going to do it, you have to have some authority or basis for doing it.

If the problems are completely irrelevant to the content of the class, and couldn't possibly be solved in any one class, any attempt to deal with them during it disrupts the whole class for everyone. The basic problem only disrupts things for each follower for a short time, which is much less serious.

A class is not a milonga. In a class, you dance with everyone and they dance with you, no matter how bad you are. It's not my right to judge who else gets to participate; only whether I myself participate. Just because I think he's Mr. Nightmare doesn't prove that's true in any objective sense, or that anyone else thinks so, although I may imagine I can make a pretty good guess.

Refusing as an individual without an exceptional reason that distinguishes you from everyone else there, automatically passes the problem to whoever in the class is least equipped to deal with it, which is selfish and inconsiderate, and women know that we need each other, and we need peace in the house, far more than we need to avoid this fairly trivial and routine problem, which, if it can't be solved by the stronges among us, wouldn't be solved by us passing it to the weakest.

Direct refusal is a much heavier burden than the problem itself. I realise that's not true on Planet Nice Man, but that's the fact in the world women actually live in. It's the way it is, and it's not going to change, ever.

Problems like this are visually apparent, so I don't think it would occur to anyone to tell anyone. If it exists, it's already known.

If a regular class suffers from this problem then of course people who find it annoying will stop going, and it will end up populated by people who find it trivial. For a one-off, I don't think there's anything at all irrational about what people actually do, which is what I've described.

I don't hold strongly to those views, but that's the way I think it works in reality.

Tangocommuter said...

I don't understand. 'The unspoken rules of conduct observed among women are... Everyone else takes more or less her fair share, and will suffer in her conscience if she doesn't.' You don't observe these rules in a milonga, so why observe them in a class? You are under no obligation to dance with anybody at either. Dancing with a bad dancer who isn't inclined to try and improve, simply encourages bad dancing.

It's also possible to stop and ask if he could please help you with the class material. & ask again, if necessary, and ask the teacher to help him if he doesn't. But this shouldn't be necessary. If someone is that out of order, the organisers/teachers should take the problem in hand and go over the class material with him until he gets it right... or leaves.

msHedgehog said...

The rules are completely different in a class and a milonga. You go to a class to learn, and the others present are your fellow students. You DO have an obligation to them, in my opinion, an equal obligation to what they have to you. It's like being at school. Otherwise classes couldn't function at all.

msHedgehog said...

Those things work, and people commonly do them, if the class material happens to be relevant.

We know what the tradeoffs are for us. The choice we make is to do what we do and not one of the alternatives. I think that frequent rotation is an adequate response.

Anonymous said...

Were the moves like the ones at around 2:10 in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxqti4H1RDA ? :)

ghost said...

On re-reading the original post it does remind me of Terry Pratchet's witches.

I guess that's the answer - you need a Nanny Ogg or Mistress Weatherwax in the mix to sort things out.

The video would certainly be interesting, especially as the idea of rotation in tango tends to mean literally "just change partners", rather than say "all women move round one man". There's definitely scope for a complicated version of musical chairs.

Notably in Ceroc classes where women are usually moved round in order depending on how many are over, while the men are inside their heads working out how to lead the moves, the women are working out where they'll land. The most common avoidance technique is to go and get a drink. A more subtle one if the situation allows is to give the first guy a big hug like they haven't seen him in years so the women behind you have to overtake you and end up in their place. There's probably others...

ghost said...

PS Now I remember - you can watch the "video" by having a fixed partner. That way when everyone else moves, you just stand still and watch. That's when I started noticing all these machinations at Ceroc.

msHedgehog said...

@yabotil - nice satire, but their technique is far too good to mimic the real thing convincingly ;)