Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Followers, "You make me want to be a better man..." or "Do you hear that great big sucking noise?" or "Is that a banana in your pocket...?"

... or "Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

January 9
Originally uploaded by carmen|farrell

The photo should make sense, obtusely, later in the post...

Debbi's most recent post "Feedback vs. Backoff" and Johanna's related post "A Quandry" about a hack/teacher got me to thinking about a prior post of mine - actually I think I have posted it twice now.

It has become my "holy grail" of tango etiquette - "The Do's and Don'ts of Inviting" by Ney Melo.

You will find this (and more) under his Section #6 - The Tanda:

"I truly believe that when women start using their power of declining dances and sending messages, then that is when the leaders will start working to improve their dance. It has to be a system of checks and balances. If we allow mediocre leaders to dance with amazing followers and vice versa, then why would they want to get better?"

This is huge. It works. It worked on me in the early months. It made me want to BE better, to be a better leader, "to be a better man".

I think the organizers of practicas need to make an announcement in the beginning, and then again at a middle/break/announcement point - about proper feedback, and that a practica is all about feedback, and that it is not just about practicing tango, but also about the practice of giving and receiving positive, healthy feedback. Healthy for the individual, the two individuals involved, and the tango community at large. Maybe there should even be a "feedback moment" at all practicas- where the organizer says - "Okay, the next tanda is a feedback tanda - constructive suggestions only!".

Come on people! We are all adults here. Frankly, I'm tired of all the bandying about and beating around the bush and walking on eggshells. Let's communicate! Communication is key. Communication is king!

Come on! Give it to me! I can take it. Help me help myself! Help me help you. Help me, help you. I want to be a better leader. I want to be a better man.

I was really pissed, mostly at myself, but also that no one in my community, not even my teacher, would tell me that my walk sucked in a big way. "Do you hear that great big sucking noise? That's Alex's walk!" (In the words of Ross Perot...) After an EFFING YEAR! A year! Luckily, I realized it on my own and started to take the appropriate steps (pun intended) to fix it.

Debbi's issue might be corrected simply by some appropriate announcements by the practica organizer.

Johanna's issue is a little more delicate, but I think the guy needs to be approached by someone - another male in the community perhaps - probably not another teacher - a community organizer/leader - maybe a friend of the guy - stick a note in his shoe - something - anything - just not silence. I think the guy should be able to take some constructive criticism. Plus, the fact that he is a teacher makes it that much more important to deal with. A community does not need a teacher who is a bad leader teaching new leaders. Or leading new followers for that matter.

Better to not dance at all, versus dancing with a bad leader??? Just say no!

I would like to believe that we are all open to constructive criticism. Just don't take anything personally. Don't take it as a personal attack. Accept it, assimilate it, roll with it, deal with it. It may or may not be accurate feedback, but it came up, and it was given in the spirit of love and caring. If we don't give a shit about someone, do we ever tell them anything? (uh-oh...I just realized something...)

What about the guy I know who got "thank you'd" (by three different women) at the end of each song of a tanda at a festival. At a FESTIVAL no less! Shot down after the first song. Strafed after the second song. Napalm'd after the third song. One right after the other - boom, boom, boom. The guy didn't get it. The women (saying yes) didn't get it.

This guy is not even dancing tango. He dances some bastardized deviant variant form of it. It used to piss me off so much that I wanted to go tell him to his face that the women were all complaining, and that they (we) would like for him to please learn how to dance tango. To ever-so-gently point out that he was not dancing tango. But they always said "No, don't. It will hurt his feelings. The community is too small." Little did they know that I already knew I was going to be leaving the community, and didn't really care. But I never did say anything. I suppose he is still there, having the time of his life, oblivious, dancing his deviant variant. The aggravating thing was that the women were all complaining, but they were all still dancing with him. Still saying yes.

The worst part, in his deviant variant dance, was/is his pelvic lead. I should really call it his pelvic "thrusting" lead. The guy danced like a horny dachshund. It became sad to watch.

And the kicker is that this guy has been dancing for five years or more. Taking classes and workshops like the rest of us. Alongside the rest of us, but never getting it...never improving. He takes the information from the class, filters it through his pelvis, molds and adapts it into his deviant variant dance, and then it comes out, er, it comes out through his pelvis.

Perhaps this is harsh, but my feeling (at the time) was if his feelings got hurt and he left tango forever, then so be it. This guy had a habit of showing up to new beginner classes and dancing with the newbie followers. My position was this this guy was singlehandedly driving new followers from the community. They had to be thinking - "If this is what tango feels like, if this is the type of man I will be dancing tango with here, then I'm not coming back to this..." or something along those lines.

Ultimately I told the followers (who were complaining) that if they would not let me say something, and if they were not going to say anything, then they should stop their complaining and dance happily with him. Basically, they all converted, en masse, to open embrace with the guy. Thereby thwarting his pelvic/thrusting/humping lead. They danced milonguero with everyone but him. Perhaps he got the message after all.

I did my part as a member of the community and started showing up at the beginner classes to dance with the newbies, too, to offset the damage being done by this guy. (And to help - to be the teacher's "assistant".) It got to the almost comical point of the teacher sidling up to me, nondescriptlike, pointing someone out and whispering to me, hushed, "Go dance with her, she's been dancing with Mr. XXX too much, you need to go purify her". After dancing with these noviates, they would almost invariably say, appreciatively, "Ahhhh, so thhaaat's what it's supposed to feel like...", like the light bulb was lighting up over their head.

But then I left the community. I'm sure Mr. XXX is still doing his "thing". And still getting all the dances he wants.

My point is someone within the community should be able to say something to these people - something constructive, polite, kind, gentle - but to the point. Perhaps not in the heat of moment. Perhaps in an anonymous letter of cut and paste magazine letters - ransom letter style. What about the person with chronic bad breath? What about the person with chronic B.O.? What about the horse wrangler who comes to class right off the ranch, without showering? What about the touchy/feely pelvic leading lech? What about the guy making inappropriate and failed "romantic" (perverse) whisperings into follower's ears? What about the guy dancing with the banana in is pocket? What about the full blown pervert who has taken up tango with his only goal being to get laid?

Okay, so once again, I see that I have digressed "off point" - veering off of the "just say no" topic, to more overarching community-wide issues.

God, apparently I had some pent up shit to say on this subject...

'nuff said...

Here's Ney's article in its entirety...focus on Part 6...for this post...

Tango Etiquette - The Do's and Don'ts of Inviting :: by Ney Melo :: 07/24/2006

I have been thinking about writing this article for a long time, after having experienced many humorous and not-so-humorous episodes at the milonga. Many of us get caught up in learning the steps of the tango and then we get to the milonga and we don't know that there are certain unwritten rules about inviting and accepting or declining dances. While the 'cabeceo' - or inviting people to dance with eye contact and a nod - is alive and well in Buenos Aires, we live in North America and as such our customs have to adapt. (It would be great if the cabeceo were used here because it empowers both men and especially women to dance with the partners they most want to dance with. But the thing is, the cabeceo only works when everyone does it.) Therefore, I've put together a list of "rules" that, if somewhat adhered to, will make the milonga enjoyable for men and ladies alike.

The first and last tango of the milonga experience have a significant meaning in the mind of a milonguero/a. Ideally, you'd want to start off on the right foot; you'd want to begin dancing with a capable and smooth partner in order to prepare for the long night of dancing that lies ahead.

But just as a good partner will raise you to the next level, a horrible partner will knock you down a few notches. The saying among milongueros is that it takes two good partners in a row to knock out the effects of one bad one. Therefore, be careful about who you accept or invite as your first partner. The last tanda (a set of tangos) also has a significance. In Buenos Aires, it is said that you usually dance the last tanda with your lover or a potential lover. I take a more casual approach to this rule and I think that one should dance that last tanda with their significant other unless agreed otherwise. If you are single, then it's open game whom to dance with. However if you are dancing with someone whom you know has a significant other at the milonga, and the last tanda is announced, it is a nice courtesy to ask them if they need to go dance with that other person.

Typical scenario: a lady is sitting down at a milonga and is approached by a gentleman who then invites her to dance. Rather than reject him outright, she says 'no, not right now', that she is tired, taking a break, waiting for a friend, etc. Instead of walking away, the guy decides to SIT DOWN BESIDE HER and wait for her to be ready to dance with him! This man has just committed what I call "babysitting". I have seen both ladies and gentlemen commit this fiendish act. When someone says no, it means that you should stay away from him/her for a certain period of time. This leads me to the next rule.

After discussing this with many milongueros and milongueras, I've come to the following onclusion. No means "No for a Little While". If you have been rejected, you cannot invite the same person to dance again at the beginning of the next tanda! Only after 2, 5, maybe more tandas later can you consider asking that person to dance again. Don't be a Stalker. Often times the person who rejected you may even track you down to claim that dance later on when they are ready -- that is if they were truly tired in the first place.

Rejecting someone does bring a consequence along with it. This is the rule that if you reject someone for a tango, you cannot dance that same tango with someone better who comes along. You have to, at least, wait for the next song or preferably for the next tanda. You can think of those minutes of waiting time as being in hockey's "penalty box". Sometimes this is a double-edged sword because let's say you are in the "penalty box" but then a really amazing dancer who never asks you to dance finally asks you. You know that if you turn them down then you may never get your chance again, but if you say yes you will look like a jerk in the eyes of the first person that asked you (and then THEY may cease asking)! Sometimes you just can't win!

I've seen old black and white movies where a Clark Gable or an Errol Flynn type will cut in between the beautiful, young starlet of the movie and her lame-duck partner who audiences forget about seconds later. Well, that only happens in the movies. I'm pretty sure that "Cutting in" is banned in all milongas in all the countries in the world. Back when I was a beginner, I once had someone kindly ask me if they could "cut-in". I kindly cursed them and their family in my mind. That's how serious it is! Invitations to dance happen during the cortinas (the minute of ambient music that is played between the tandas) not when 2 people are standing and talking between the songs in a tanda. PERIOD.

A DJ will usually play 3 or 4 songs of the same orchestra or style followed by a one minute cortina. This "set" is called a tanda. It is only when we want to stop dancing with our partner that we say "thank you". Do not make the mistake of saying "thank you" after every tango. Try to wait until the end of the tanda. If we do not wait until the end, then we are conveying a message. Here is a quick breakdown of the "messages":

We danced 4 songs: That was nice/ I enjoyed it/ Let's do it again in the near future, etc. etc.

We danced 3 songs: It was ok/ Sorry, my feet hurt/ Yikes! My ride home is leaving, gotta go!

We danced 2 songs: I've humored you long enough/ You need to take more lessons/ I thought the first bad tango was my fault, but now I see that its your fault.

We danced 1 song: It's just not happening/ Maybe you should just sit and watch for a while/ Please don't ask me to dance at this milonga again.

I truly believe that when women start using their power of declining dances and sending messages, then that is when the leaders will start working to improve their dance. It has to be a system of checks and balances. If we allow mediocre leaders to dance with amazing followers and vice versa, then why would they want to get better? I remember an argument that a friend and I had a long time ago. She was upset because a horrible leader basically manhandled her for a whole tanda and made her look and feel bad. I witnessed the whole thing and I didn't like what this leader did, but I also didn't like that my friend was too nice not to end the carnage early!! Ladies, please use your power to say "no" to bad dances. It is better to sit all night, enjoy the music, and have a good conversation than to be dragged around the milonga floor like Hector was by Achilles after being slain in the movie "Troy". There were many times in my tango infancy that I was rejected by good followers. I never took it personally. It only served to make me better.

I'm not saying you shouldn't dance with beginners. Everyone should do a dance or two with beginners at the milonga and look at it as 'community service' and make them feel welcome. But there is a difference between a beginner, and a bad dancer who just never 'gets it'. There are a number of guys at any given milonga who have been dancing for a long time, they maul the ladies, and they never have any incentive to get better because they get all the dances they want anyway.

Rejection is tough to accept. Feeling can be easily hurt. Please take this into consideration when rejecting someone. It might help to approach it as though you are going to break up with someone, making sure not to hurt their feelings but yet not giving them hope for a reunion. For example:
"Sorry, its not you it’s me"
"Look, I am not in a good place right now, I want to just be alone for a while"
"I just want you to be happy"
"You deserve better"
"I know we danced last night, but that was then, this is now"

For the rejectee, just accept it and move on. It doesn't help to reply:
"But why?"
"Just tell me why"
"Give me one good reason"
"I can change"
"Look, I'll be right here. Let me know if things change"
"But I thought we meant something"
"You suck"

This is when leaders or followers end the tanda early and then finish it off with someone else. This is bad business. What makes it worse is that in order to facilitate this trade, one usually has to make eye contact and cut a deal with the new partner while still on the dance floor with the original partner! I've seen this happen at the milonga and all I can say is that this is "shady, shady, shady". Like I mentioned in Rule # 5: Invitations to dance should happen during the cortinas (the minute of ambient music that is played between the tandas).

Every now and then I will be invited by a lady to dance and I will politely refuse because I will be in the process of doing something that prevents me from dancing with her at the moment (getting a drink, taking a rest, on my way to the bathroom to change shirts, etc. etc.) This is when the lady will sometimes pull out the "dance with me now" card by saying "But I'm leaving the milonga in 5 minutes". This makes me uncomfortable because now I feel pressured to dance with her right then and there. What makes matters worse is when I do succumb to the pressure, I dance with the person, and the person DOES NOT LEAVE THE MILONGA! I think a lot of people agree with me when I say that if you are going to use the "dance with me now" card by claiming that you are about to leave, then I better not see you at the coat rack at the same time as me at the end of the night.

Also, resist the urge to use excessive force when asking for a dance, i.e. grabbing your target and dragging him or her to the floor while exclaiming "Let's dance! Let's dance!" You should give the other person a choice of whether or not to dance with you, being polite and civilized about it. Bottom line: The dance is not enjoyable if the inviter (male or female) pressures the invitee. People want to dance out of pleasure, not duty.

Because rejection can be hard to take, one method devised by some ladies of communicating to the men that they are not accepting invitations at the moment is to take their shoes off. This serves as 'proof' that they really are taking a break, should anyone ask them. All they have to do is raise up the bare foot 'white flag'. They can rest the balls of their feet from those 4 inch heels and not get hassled by potential dance partners. (On the flip side, they can also make a guy feel great if they do decide to dance when asked and say 'let me put my shoes back on for you'.)

Pay attention to your potential partner's body language when you are getting ready to ask them for a dance. There are non-verbal signals that you should try to clue in to. Gentlemen, if you are headed towards a woman and she sees you and quickly turns away, reaches down to fiddle with her shoe strap, digs in her purse endlessly - it means she DOESN'T WANT TO DANCE. If she even jumps up and heads for the ladies room, don't pursue her and grab her shoulder as she flees thinking 'maybe she didn't see me'. If she notices you and maintains eye contact, or smiles, or waves, or in general looks pleased that you are headed her way, then by all means ask her! If you are not sure, go over and say hello, and judge by her reaction whether she wants to dance.

You can look around the room as well and guess which people are wanting to dance. If they are sitting or standing right by the dance floor, looking intently and wistfully at the dancers, looking around to catch the attention of potential partners, etc, then they are most certainly available. If they are sitting with all their attention focused on their companion, deep in conversation, eating, enjoying a drink and looking otherwise very comfortable where they are, approach with caution. See if you can catch their eye. If they look away, then save your invitation for later. Yes, this is a version of the cabeceo. If someone is in the midst of an animated conversation, do not hang around in the periphery of their vision, tapping your foot, waiting for the split-second when they pause for breath to interject your invitation. Ask someone else.

Maybe some people will think this is very old-fashioned but I think it is nice: When you approach a couple who are dating or married and they are sitting together, it is nice to 'ask permission' of the other when you want to ask one of them to dance. Often it is the man asking the other man for 'permission' to dance with his lady. This is not because the man 'owns' the woman or because the woman needs her date's permission. It is simply showing the courtesy of acknowledging the other human at the table when you come to take their companion away. I think it is rude to come up to a couple and ask one person without even saying 'hello' or 'excuse me' or 'may I?' to the other. This rule of course only applies if the couple is actually seated together. And this rule also applies to women asking permission of another woman to dance with her man. Ladies, if a gentleman is standing with his arm around his significant other and you come up and ask him, make sure to greet both people, don't just grab him and drag him away. Yes, this happens, and yes it is rude.

Most of these rules may seem like they shouldn't need to be laid out, but you would be surprised. Anytime someone violates these rules, its because they are letting their ego get the best of them. In the end, we are all tango music lovers and we all love to dance, and we all must learn to get along at the milonga. Being aware of, sensitive to, and in tune with another person are what partner dancing is all about. Use these skills off the dance floor as well as on.


Johanna said...

Love the humping dachshund reference, Alex.

It's interesting how everyone here is so down on the códigos of BA, but this stuff hardly happens there. In that, ahem, repressive, macho, misogynistic society, it's ok - actually encouraged - to turn this clowns down.

Red shoes said...

Alex, when are you coming to SF? Because this:

"Did you hear that great big sucking noise? It's Alex's walk!"

...really, really makes me want to dance with you. :D

Elizabeth said...

It is always good to review Ney's point here. I would like to think that my saying "no" encourages the leader to get better, but actually, there is a steady stream of beginners for the clowns to "dance" with. Now I have watched some of them for several years, and they do not seem to get it. Well, it's not my problem, because I have learned to say no.

studio wellspring said...

hey now, don't be dissin' on the beginners, por favor. we're not in to the clowns....we're just in a learning curve & new to the scene and don't know who the best leads are yet so when a gentleman comes to ask us to dance we say "yes" not knowing what type of lead they are. also, most art forms require new passion & new energy to keep them vital & continue their validity in the present. so you should be grateful for the beginners who are following in your footsteps rather than dismissing them to the clowns. and now i ask all you advanced tango dancers out there: how is a beginner ever to advance to your ideal version of a tango dancer if you {yes you} don't embrace their newness, their freshness, and help to nurture their skills & style? this is what makes a truly great dancer & teacher in my mind.

Johanna said...

Hear, hear, Ms. SW! That is why I always try to dance at least one song with a beginner. Unless they are truly horrific. One guy had only had one class and immediately came over to me. I accepted and we got about 7 steps from where we started before he toppled me over a chair and I decided it was too dangerous to continue...

Alex said...

hola miss wellspring...

I don't thing that's what ms. elizabeth meant exactly... I think she was saying that in spite of the more experienced followers "saying no" to the clowns, that aforementioned clowns will snatch up unsuspecting and innocent beginners (who are unaware of the codigos and responsibility/benefits of saying 'no') because they are eager to dance...hereinaftertheretoforetherebyandherein thwarting the aforementioned efforts by the more experienced followers to thwart and flog the aforementioned clowns by saying no...

More experienced dancers LOVE...LOVE...LOVE new beginners...beginners who have open minds and want to learn to dance well...have good manners...respect for others...floorcraft...navigation...respect for women...all the stuff we learn in kindergarden...

hopefully, by reading posts like this, new followers will have the information to be able to begin to make there own decisions on when and how to say no ...and such...

Alex said...

P.S. I dance with new beginning followers all the time... especially at milongas... I feel it's my responsibility as an experienced lead... not to mention the enjoyment I get out of it...

Alex said...

ms. red shoes...

the suckage of my walk is gone... it's more like being in a glider... quiet... smooth... rest assured I will let you guys know when I am coming out...

Red shoes said...

Oh, I believe it, Alex--there was no sarcasm in my saying I want to dance with you!

studio wellspring said...

dearest alex, i don't think there's a west coast tanguera who's not dying to have you visit as soon as your life allows. but with your dance card filled with the likes of excellently smooth, beguiling tanguera beauties like ms.red-shoes & tangobaby & elizabeth i hope you will still feel like offering a tanda to your eager & open-minded beginner blondie birthday twin. ;o)

Alex said...

ms. wellspring,

you may not be aware of this, although I love all of you equally, you are at the top of my list...because you are, after all, I believe, the only one who is single...


Elizabeth said...

This was fun to read again. I still think it isn't my job to critique/teach, and I absolutly cannot stand it when people turn the milonga into a teaching environment. If a person wants to "help" they can make a date to meet up at a practica. That is what practicas are for. Milongas, to me, are sacred. Just sayin'.
Ms. Lizzie.