So the question remained. If the situation with the previous leader could be turned around so radically - how could I affect change in my dances with other leaders that I had found troubling in one way or another? Would there really be a change? Is it my place to even try? After all, I'm not a teacher - and if I try to take on that role, I become rather a hypocrite. I looked at what had happened previously and decided, as quickly as I could, what I needed to do. (It had to be quick because neither of these leaders used the cabaceo and approached me without much warning.)
Mr. Ballroomdancer-armpullerbackwrencher: My last dance with this gentleman left me running for the bus home. Instead of letting him know that his method of leading was, at first uncomfortable, then finally downright painful, I stayed silent. First, because I thought I was just following badly. Second, because I was embarrassed to be in pain. For many, probably most, people that second thing will make no sense. Why be embarrassed? People with chronic pain conditions (people with all sorts of chronic conditions actually) expend a lot of effort throughout their day trying very hard to be normal. To not be a bother to anyone. To not draw attention. It's a habit - in some cases a dangerous habit. Even when it puts us in more pain - it's more comfortable to stay silent.
He approached. He asked. I accepted. I smiled and told him the truth.
"Would it be okay if we took it a bit easy this tanda? I'm tired and a little sore - so I'm not as quick in my following as I'd like," I said.
"Oh sure, of course- no problem," he answered. Was that relief in his face?
His lead was 180 degrees from out last dance. He was gentle, smooth - most importantly, more patient. We still had bumps and challenges - his dance is a bit flashier and faster than I'm used to so there were several things he led that I didn't "get". But we mostly stayed connected and enjoyed the music.
Toward the end of the evening, I encountered Mr. Hotshot.
Mr. H. had some flashy moves at the last milonga I danced with him in. He seemed to have an air about him that said, 'Let me knock your socks off!' His dance, it felt to me anyway, was all about him. His moves, his musicality. He wove in and out of the line of dance with me feeling like a puppet. I could have been anyone. I couldn't seem to find any connection to him - which didn't seem to bother him in the least.
And here he was again, asking me to dance. This wasn't an issue of letting him know that I was in pain - or that he had done something specific that embarrassed me or hurt my feelings. It was a general thing that was a matter more of my personal preference in a dance. Other followers raved about how wonderful he was. I couldn't be sure it was really him - and not me. And I certainly couldn't ask him to change some nebulous thing about his behavior. What could I do? I only had two options - turn him down or change something in my own behavior.
Last time we danced, he may have had an attitude - but so did I. After watching him dance and hearing from other followers tell me was so fantastic that they couldn't follow him (pardon??) - I approached the dance with my own negativity.
I approached the dance with, 'I am so not impressed by you.' I was defensive before we even started. Who did he think he was coming on to my turf, cutting through the line of dance just to say hello to people, not using the cabaceo, making followers feel like they were deficient in their dance? (I've been dancing less than I year - I don't have turf. I would argue that there really shouldn't be "turf" in tango. I was just defensive. But I digress.)
My attitude was beyond the "wait and see" thing previously discussed. My attitude was, "prove it." What else could he do but pull out all the stops? I don't think either one of us was consciously aware that we were sabotaging our dance.
Back the second encounter.
If I couldn't change his behavior, and I wouldn't turn him down - that leaves only one fair option. Give him my best. Do what I try to do with the leaders I already know - approach them as if they're my favorite leader - for the next 4 songs. Approach them as I would a long, lost friend.
The first thing I noticed was the he was much more relaxed. Was it the smaller venue? The more casual environment? I relaxed in response. I listened. I gave him my genuine follow. When we started, he took the time to connect to me before starting to move. When he did take the first few steps, I felt him completely in the music. I missed a few things, some leads I wasn't sure about, but instead of getting frustrated, he was almost light-hearted about it. He re-established the connection, waited for me, and started again.
He was respectful of the other dancers' space. He made me feel safe. Connected. Musical.
That's when it really dawned on me that this second chance was some generous thing I was giving him - it was something we gave to each other.
So for all of you leaders who didn't give up on me when I did idiotic things on and off the milonga floor, thank you for the second chances you gave me.