What if I want a Lecture?

A friend of mine told me he liked my blog and found it really useful, except for one thing.  Curious, I asked him what was wrong with the blog and what didn’t he like about it.  After all, if there was something missing that people should know about, I wanted to get it right.  It turns out that there wasn’t anything wrong with the site.  He really liked it and found the information useful.  The problem was that he didn’t agree with my responses to ‘Lectures on the Dancefloor’.

Now we were getting somewhere.  What didn’t he like about the answer?  Well, he thinks it should be ok to criticise someone else’s dancing.  I asked him to elaborate.  It turns out that he appreciates feedback so that he could improve his dancing skills.  I could understand his reasoning, and I explained that maybe if he was in a class or a practica then that would be appropriate, but not at a Milonga.  Why not at a Milonga?  Because a Milonga is a social event where people come out to relax, socialise and dance.  They don’t need to be told what they are doing wrong or what they should be doing when they are out and trying to have a good time.

He didn’t agree.  What if you dance with me Arlene and you don’t like it?  I told him that if I say ‘yes’ to dance with him, it is my choice and if it is not great for me then I don’t say anything unless he might be hurting me or making my physically uncomfortable, but I will not criticise his dancing.  I did not think it would be appropriate and I would not like it if someone did that to me.  Besides, I don’t go out much these days and I don’t want to get involved in this type of behaviour when I am trying to enjoy my evening.  I am not a teacher.

But Arlene, what if I ask a woman to dance and then she says ‘no’ to me after we danced before?  How will I know what I did wrong?  How will I know what to fix?

Tricky questions.  I have strong feelings about criticising other peoples dancing.  Sometimes it isn’t possible to pinpoint a specific thing.  If someone is in a class or practica, everyone is in the same mindset.  They are all there to learn something and improve their skills.  Therefore it is appropriate to get constructive feedback.  I am lousy at giving feedback unless I am in pain.  I just know when something doesn’t feel right.  I can’t  explain the problem except to say ‘it doesn’t feel right to me’, and  it always necessitates the teacher having a look.

I repeated that it was OK in a class or practica, but not in a Milonga.

My friend wasn’t buying my responses.  I explained to him that short of asking his dance partner for feedback, it would not be a good idea to ask women why they were not dancing with him.  It would make them feel uncomfortable and why do that?

I told him the fact that they were not dancing with him meant that he needed to improve his dancing, and the only way to find out what he was doing wrong would be to dance with the teachers and get their opinion.

I hope he got the message and I said the right thing.  Are there other men out there that feel this way?

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tango totty
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 00:26:26

    I totally agree with you Arlene that normally its not good practise to start giving lectures on the dancefloor.

    But surely if someone asks you as a friend for feedback then maybe its generous to help them out – with the emphasis that its a friendly opinion and not a professional assessment. Or maybe its just that some people feel better to see others struggle like there,s some great tango mystique thats not to be revealed and shared!

    PS I think it should be mutual and I think the men, especially the elite, should tell us why they dont always ask us to dance when we are perfectly competent dancers!

  2. sasha
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 10:36:02

    if, and only if I am asked by my partner specific questions will I ‘help’ with my opinion about SPECIFIC aspects about their dancing. none of us are perfect and we’re never as good as we want to be. but milonga is there to enjoy. worrying about technique when you’re supposed to feel the dance and merge with your partner is the only big mistake. everything else can be learned in classes and at practicas, which is what they’re for.
    if someone who has danced with me before doesn’t any more could mean that my style (including the mistakes I make) doesn’t suit them, or, occasionally that we have lost our ‘mojo’ as partners. in the case of the latter we’ll both know it, in case of the former – well, just keep dancing and keep learning.

  3. Nick
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 19:52:10

    I completely agree with Arlene. Her thought is also mine about this issue. The right mindset of people going to a milonga should be to enjoy themselves and not to concentrate on the tecnique. However, we should also consider at least one exception that are people that joined the social dancing recently. At the end of the day a lesson or a practica is still an artificial situation, the real dancing is at milonga, and I can understand beginners that are at their first milongas might need some feedback to progress faster to a decent tecnique that enables them to enjoy themselves. So in the end if a beginner ask me some advice I am happy to help her. I would consider it very selfish not to do so, because the new dancers are essential for keeping on dancing in the future years. We cannot dance tango alone! I normally avoid to give some advice without being prompted because some people could take it as a criticism and they might not be happy about it.

  4. Game Cat
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 20:08:20

    Surprising how few men have responded to this so far.

    Getting feedback from women I think is a real and genuine challenge for men. The best feedback one would assume would be the first-hand sort from the women we dance with.

    However while it would be nice to tap this source of feedback, realistically nobody owes us an explanation, nor have we a right to demand one. We have the right to ask for it, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a meaningful response or necessarily trust it either. She may not want to offend, she may not be able to offer something specific, she may not know, or she may not like something other than our ability to dance but doesn’t want to say so.

    I would recommend you ask someone whom you know would be forthcoming, would be as honest as possible and whose judgement you could trust. Teachers can only help you sort out your ability to lead/ dance. They’re not likely to be able to help if it’s your choice of partners or first impression (appearance + attitude) that’s letting you down.

    Another thing that could help is to be more self-aware and observe what others are doing “right”. If it’s dance skill related, I think there’s no quick fix. You just practice to get better (and there’s lots you can do even on your own), dance when you get an accept, and let others see that you’re good enough to take a chance on.

    I’d like to turn this question back to the women – how many have actually asked men for feedback? Was the response useful? Only 2 have ever asked me in 2 years (and one I know very well). I suspect the answer may be different for women.

  5. Mr Walker
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 12:07:35

    I utterly and completely agree with you Arlene that its not good practise to start giving lectures on the dancefloor. There is a reason that this practice has not carried over to a milonga…The milonga is a chance for us to meet and dance to the music…..I am lucky because at the tango lessons i attend everyone is helpful in this reguard. And the teachers dance with us and if we have a fault or a problem with our lead/following they will help us fix it…. When i dance at a milonga i’m lost in the music and my partner i have no clue what steps we did, i just feel the music and i let it take us…If after every dance i was told to change something, for every partner and i danced with 10 followers for 3 songs and i got a suggestion for each song ok i’m getting a migraine just thinking about it….maybe the thing that is so beautiful to me about tango is the fact that it can be imperfect…..

  6. Andreas
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 16:53:58

    Hi Arlene,
    I agree with you completely. The milonga is not the place for feedback (except when it’s praise…), and one shouldn’t ask for it. Even when I dance with a student of mine, I refuse to say anything negative during the milonga. If she asks me at the next lesson, or a práctica, that is another matter. At a milonga, there are no teachers or students, only dancers.

  7. Voice of Reason
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 10:59:52

    Hi Arlene,
    It seems that this is a mixed bag of opinions. I tend to come down on the side of discretion. If you are dancing with a friend and they are doing something that is blatantly impairing the dance they will probably notice it themselves. Pointing it out however, might be a little indiscrete and could upset them. If they simply can not do what is being led then it is up to the leader to accommodate them.
    Dancing is a social event not a competitive sport. That said I have watched at many milonga’s as various heats of wwf wrestling appear to be taking place. So lecture on the dance floor? I don’t know? Is anyone really qualified? Ok I know there are some very good dancers out there and you know who you are. Is it a little presumptious to assume superiority over our partner?
    Last night I danced with one lady who told me she had been dancing 10 years ( my arse)! She might as well have been dancing for 10 weeks. She held me in an embrace that allowed little or no contact, she did not follow my lead and tried to back lead. Did I criticise her? No I did not. I simply said thank you very much and made a mental note.

  8. Rachel
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 12:13:22

    Times recently when I have criticised a lead:
    1) A very tall Frenchman was leading quite wildly and knocking into people on a busy floor, slightly embarrassing, I just apologised to those around and hoped he’d pick up the hint. Then suddenly, he decided to throw me into a volcada while holding tight onto the wrong part of my back. This was at the end of the first tune in a tanda and he said, “ok?” as his opening gambit for the conversation … so I explained that actually he had hurt my back quite badly and it was really not acceptable to execute a move like that a) on a busy floor and b) with a total stranger whose dance he didn’t yet know. I suggested that he sit a few tandas out and watch how people dance on a busy floor and try to rein in his style, otherwise nooone would want to dance with him. I said that I’d do him the favour of not walking off the floor (which shows the world how unpleasant it had been to dance with him) but that he must promise to dance gently with me for the rest of the tanda and not clamp onto my back. After that, we got on fine. He calmed down and I like to think my advice made the rest of his stay in Buenos Aires more enjoyable but I certainly didn’t risk my back dancing with him again.
    2) Another Frenchman who kept throwing me away to the side, then looking to see where I’d gone. To be honest, I had an inkling of what he was trying to do but I never oblige with steps that are not led. At the end of the second tango, he said “So in Buenos Aires, you don’t giro like the French ladies?” and I said that in Buenos Aires we follow what we are led, rather than repeating sequences like the French ladies! We went off to the side and I showed him that he had to invite me into each step and give me the space to take them, not just set me off like a spinning top and expect to catch me at the end, and I showed him how, having started the giro he knew, he could play with it and do several other things than what the French ladies might be expecting and he was delighted.
    So the first guy was putting me in physical danger trying to do something inappropriate and my back is worth more than that. The second guy had asked me a specific question, in a sense suggesting it was my fault he wasn’t succeeding with his giros and I was having none of that! But both times I tried to keep the tone positive.
    I’m with Arlene on this one, it is arrogant and rude to assume that your dancing is right and marvellous and that your partner needs to be told how to fit in with it. Every coupling is different, no two dances should ever be the same even with the same music and the same partner. There’s usually something you can learn from a partner you don’t altogether gel with.
    Nobody goes to the milonga to be told they’re crap. People go to forget their problems and shortcomings, to lose and find themselves, to put some joy into their lives.
    The problem outside Buenos Aires is that you actually have to say “no” to someone you haven’t liked dancing with when they ask you again, which can be socially awkward. That’s why I love the cabaceo – if a dancer is on your list of mental notes, you can just make them invisible and never catch their eye again. I suppose, in London, your best way to send the same message is to say thank you and walk away after just dancing one… giving the guy the chance to ask you why (if he has the curiosity or humility to invite criticism) then you can chat off the floor.

  9. Jessica
    Mar 09, 2009 @ 20:50:29

    I have given people feedback, mostly in practicas and classes, but very occasionally in a milonga, particularly if my partner comments on something technical first.

    I do this because I like polite feedback myself. And it seems fairer to tell someone politely how you feel dancing with them than leaving the floor at the end of the dance and leaving them to puzzle out why. And because sometimes a simple suggestion can rescue an otherwise uncomfortable tanda!

    But I don’t lecture, and I don’t nag at someone. If I do say something, it’s generally a comment on how their lead felt to me and what signals I was responding to, particularly if I felt I was getting conflicting signals or if I realise that I hadn’t done what they expected. I also talk about what I enjoy or feel comfortable with. I also try to mix it in with positive comments, rather than telling someone they’re a bad dancer and giving them a lecture on what to do.

    Generally the response has been positive – indeed often men are enthusiastic saying how helpful it is to get feedback from a follower…. so I must be getting something right!

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