Let's get honest here.
Sometimes tango can make me feel trapped in a very unpleasant position.
It happened the other day when I went for the first time to a local practica. I went incognito. That means that hardly anyone there knew either me or the fact that I’ve been on the scene for almost two decades, that I used to be a full-time tango teacher and a well-travelled tango dancer.
So I got asked to dance by the first leader. Then the second. Then the third, fourth and fifth. After that I could not summon up any more patience or tolerance. I do feel a bit bad about it, but, seriously, it was simply too painful to dance with three of them.
The other two were not hurting me, but one was an absolute beginner who was practicing the most basic step with a change of weight and not getting it after countless repetitions… need I say more? (It was a practica and that was the place to practice, true, but really… with a teacher? I usually call such service a private lesson and get financially reimbursed for it).
The fifth one was a beginner, but a talented one with dancing and martial arts background, so we could at least have a pain-free, although uneventful, tanda. We all were beginners at one point and we all needed to practice a lot to get us where we are today. I get that.
But my biggest issue are those three leaders I mentioned at first. I’ve been seeing them on the tango scene for the past 10 years, if not longer. That probably made them feel we are old-time buddies and therefore they felt entitled to ask me for a dance. It caught me by utter surprise that there has been no improvement whatsoever in their dancing. In 10 years. Seriously?!? Their basics were completely absent, so the embrace was all over the place, giving me no reference to the contact points that I usually need to decipher the lead. God forbid I’d listen to the music at the same time as listening to their scarce, incomprehensible lead. I would get into so much inner conflict that sometimes I would rather choose to remain still and not do the move I could probably guess they were wanting me to make. But when they then used the physical force and armwrestled me to the new position or, almost even better, told me with words what I should change to follow them better, it took all my willpower to keep a smile pasted on my face and the smoke contained inside my ears.
That’s one dance, or more like four dances in a row, because I hate being arrogant and disrespectfully drop them after just a single dance. Although, on a second thought, maybe I should learn to become arrogant and disrespectful. Perhaps instead I should call it kindness and respect for myself. Yet that is easier said than done. At least for me. I also have other sets of needs that are about being socially inclusive and tolerant and nurturing the community spirit.
It seems that over the years I have unconsciously developed tactics to make a compromise between those different sets of needs.
However, the said practica was a bit unusual. There were more men than women present, which almost never happens at our local tango scene. Many dancers just danced with one partner without changing. So there were a handful of hungry leaders eager to ask the two single followers present.
So my usual tactic did not work. You see, if I get stuck in a similar situation elsewhere, where the sitting followers abund, I simply turn into a leader and get some tango fun out of it.
I am not saying that dancing with beginner followers is not painful, to the contrary, it can be very hard work, but I have better chances at it. Even if after a few steps I realize that the follower is heavy or losing her balance or even hanging on my neck, I can take charge.
First, it is on me to simplify our dancing to the point of making it predictable and safe enough for her to manage to follow. Secondly, I can always kindly ask for a different position of the embrace if the first one is hurting me too much. I’ve never gotten unpleasant feedback asking for that; I suppose no one, and especially not the women, want to be a burden to their dancing partner. Having said that, a vast majority of beginning women have a much better body awareness and the ability to move in a dancing fashion than the beginning men.
But let me get back to the question of how to fix the fact that dancing with certain leaders is uncomfortable. What can actually be done about it? I can see four approaches that could help leaders become less uncomfortable.
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I'm Hannah A. Tomšič from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I'm in love with both leading and following in tango. It is wonderful to explore tango indefinitely and to help others learn. Please, join my quest. Ask a question, tell me your story, make me see another perspective. We are all here to learn from each other.