A Little Kindness . . .


“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
“Isn't it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?”
― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens  
I posted this one Facebook in response to a link share, but I think it needs to go here on the blog as well.

The original link on Facebook was to Paul Yang's post on "In Search of Tango", titled, "Why People Quit Tango." 

It was shared by several people, but Shellie Hubbard's comment summed it up beautifully:

"Very short and to the point. A good read for all, but I want to take a moment to address a very small, yet very destructive, segment of our tango society.

So, to you select ladies... Enough with the, "I didn't feel your lead" followed by instruction on the floor garbage. Also, stop leaving the new men to twist on their own while you dance exclusively with the more experienced leads. If you as a lady aren't bringing a lead to the socials, then good God, stop driving away the ones who come on their own or with others. (And stop complaining about how there are "no men." The few in attendance HEAR YOU and wonder why you don't consider them adequate.) If you think I am talking about you, then I probably am! Wake up, honey. You are part of the problem."


Saturday night I heard a woman rant several times about the quality of the leaders in attendance at the milonga. These weren't floorcraft observations of collisions or that sort of thing. Her comments were harsh, bordering on cruel - and loud enough for me to hear as I passed by with my partner on the ronda.

Later I heard from one of the leaders who was the subject of her rant. He, and others around him, were also affected by her words. So I wasn't the only one who'd heard her.
I am guilty of making comments when I see collisions and rude behavior and the pista. Mostly these are directed at dancers who've been dancing long enough to know far better than they're behaving. But even those comments, as justified as they feel at the time, don't help anything. They don't address the behavior to the individual(s) responsible and can contribute to a sour mood in the milonga. I've been trying more and more to keep my mouth shut and my mind open.
But comments like what I heard Saturday night go even beyond critical observation. I remember vividly what it was like to be the least experienced dancer in the room - repeatedly. Or when I was more experienced, having a rough night and just dancing badly. A couple of times comments directed to me, or about me within earshot, were enough for me to reconsider continuing to dance. I stayed with it because more people encouraged me than discouraged me.
We all have opinions all the time. We're human and I'm no Mother Teresa. (If I had a dime for every floorcraft related *facepalm* I've done at the milonga, I'd have a lot more tango shoes . . . ) But for God's sakes keep poisonous judgments to yourself. Beginner leaders can become great leaders, and they remember those comments - and the women who said them. The same is true for followers who remember, often with deep embarrassment, the men who chided and instructed them in the middle of the dance floor.
A little a kindness goes a very long way.

15 comments:

cami said...

Did you know that I have somewhat started to be a follower? I know, I'm shocked too. Be that as it may, I have been privy to hearing both sides. The followers are not the only folks acting like a cad during the milonga. Why don’t more women just learn to lead? Or are they just caught up in the “Men” aspect of it all?

Mari Johnson said...

Thank you for your comment, Cami!

While I can appreciate one's frustration with the gender dynamics of the milonga causing one to learn to lead - I would be hesitant to speculate on the reasons more women don't want to lead. (Or the reasons more men choose not to follow, for that matter.) I am not caught up in the gender stereotypes of tango, but I don't particularly enjoy leading. I've started leading only to be able to assist my partner in classes - but it's not something I especially enjoy socially. I enjoy the challenge of it, but in the milongas I want to relax into the dance, and I feel that most through following.

I encourage the exploration of both roles, certainly to better understand and express the dance, but if a dancer doesn't feel inclined to learn the other role, I don't think they're a weaker dancer for it.

In terms of anti-social behavior at the milongas, there's plenty of it on both sides unfortunately. :-/

Shellie Hubbard said...

Thank you posting about this, Mari!

To be fair, or rather to clarify, there are evenings when the leads express open disdain toward inexperienced follows, or toward more experienced follows who are simply having a "bad day." (Nobody is perfect!) Like you, I have been witness lately to some judgmental behavior from the follow end of the partnership, so I was a bit, erm, "passionate" in my post? :)

The “Tango Blame Game” is such an easy trap to fall into. Dancers should not deflect their shortcomings, insecurities, or disappointments onto their partners. Dancers should not mask their bruised egos or failures with arrogance by pointing the finger at their partners. (There is a LOT of truth to the old saying that the sign of a good experienced dancer is the ability to dance smoothly with a novice.) This blaming behavior accomplishes two things: 1. It blocks the learning process. These dancers shut themselves down from seeing their mistakes and improving their dancing. 2. It discourages their unfortunate partners, which sadly leads to people quitting tango before the journey has even begun. Result number 2 can severely stunt the growth and/or longevity of a tango community. The very people who complain about having “nobody” to dance with are usually the ones who are shoving new dancers out the door by ignoring them, patronizing them with open dance instruction at milongas, or simply making cutting remarks that are overheard.

The title of your blog is spot on. Show a little kindness.

Mari Johnson said...

Shellie - well said. As I indicated on FB, the timing of your post just could not have been better. I'd already had a draft in my posts simmering on the subject lol.

And full disclosure - I'm guilty of this too. I've been harsh, particularly if I've gotten physically hurt that night. Not too surprisingly, when we're hurting, we're much more impatient and insensitive. It's something I've been trying very hard to shut down as soon as I hear my self-talk headed that way.

A teacher gave me great advice on this subject and I've tried to keep it in mind. Is this [whatever the comment/behavior is] really serving the community, or just my ego?

Chris said...

Shellie wrote: "stop leaving the new men to twist on their own while you dance exclusively with the more experienced leads."

Isn't this just another way of saying "stop avoiding the guys you don't enjoy, dancing exclusively with those that you do enjoy"??

"Later I heard from one of the leaders who was the subject of her rant. He, and others around him, were also affected by her words. ... Beginner leaders can become great leaders, and they remember those comments - and the women who said them."

I remember being particularly affected by a woman's rant on the subject of my poor dancing. That experience we pivotal in my realisation that my partner's judgement was far more important than my class teacher's judgement. I'll forever remember with deep gratitude those comments and the woman who made them. And I'm glad whenever I encounter women who do not take Marie's advice here to 'keep their mouths shut'. Where would newcomer guys be without them??

Mari Johnson said...

Chris -

There is a time and place for criticism - the milonga is not that place. You don't go to someone's dinner party and then launch into a critique of their food. Or, maybe you do. I don't.

I agree that if I had not had the help and support of dancers more advanced than I was, I would never have stuck with it. And I agree that other dancers are often a much better source of advice than one's teacher(s). But again, delivery and appropriateness to the situation are important.

Shellie's point (as well as mine) is that it is very often the people who complain most loudly about the dancers in attendance that turn around and say there is no one good enough to dance with. No one owes anyone else a dance - but if you choose not to help dancers improve, don't complain the dancers in your community aren't good enough.

David said...

Follower: "I didn't feel your lead." Leader: "Oh, that's okay." :)

I read a suggestion somewhere that everyone would benefit if you would dance every third tanda with a beginner or someone of lesser attainment than yourself.

Would I be unkind to not dance with someone who shoots dirty looks or harsh words at others? Our words and actions toward others tells people primarily what kind of person we are.

Abrazos to all the good people trying to do right by others. --David

Chris said...

Marie wrote: "There is a time and place for criticism - the milonga is not that place."

When dancing in the milonga can benefit from criticism, the milonga is most definitely the place for it. Where else could be better??

"You don't go to someone's dinner party and then launch into a critique of their food."

The milongas I attend are public events. They have very little in common with someone's private dinner party. If those you attend are like private parties, then I'm not surprised we have such different findings. We're talking about different things.

Mari Johnson said...

Wow - and here I thought everyone agreed on the "no critiquing/teaching at the milonga" as it's one of the most basic codigos in Argentine tango. I should have expected that you would disagree.

And I go to both kinds of milongas - in peoples' homes and public ones - the sentiment is the same. Being gracious and polite is almost universally appreciated.

Shellie Hubbard said...

"When dancing in the milonga can benefit from criticism, the milonga is most definitely the place for it. Where else could be better??"

Technically, the appropriate setting for this is a practicum. The people who are there seek constructive, peer-to-peer feedback on their dancing. It is generally frowned upon to give unsolicited instruction at a milonga.

What I find unacceptable in ANY setting (milonga, practicum, classroom) is needlessly hurtful remarks or behavior. "He can't lead/She can't follow" is an example of a remark that is not helpful and also hurtful. Deliberately skipping over a partner in a class is an example of hurtful non-verbal communication. That's really what concerns me the most, regardless of gender or setting. It seems you get one or two "bad apples" in the bunch, and that's really all it takes to send a novice dancer packing. We've developed thick skins over time, but many new folk battle strong personal insecurities when trying tango. It is amazing the damage one comment can do.

Mari Johnson said...

To answer a couple of private emails, and posted comments on others' re-posts, regarding a common theme: "dancers (usually referring to women) paid good money to dance and/or have a good time and get their money's worth."

No they didn't. They paid for the venue.

When I pay an entrada to a milonga, I am paying for the facility, the food if there is food, the wine if there is wine, lights, space to dance, and god-willing paying for the dj to get something for his or her efforts. I am most certainly not paying for people to dance with me and make me happy. If I want that kind of reliability, I need to hire a taxi dancer.

No one owes me dances.
No one is responsible for making me happy, but me.

That said, I do think it is a reasonable expectation for people in attendance of a milonga or any dance party, to behave respectfully. Honestly, no one owes me that either but I like to expect it anyway.

If you're hating on your tango community that much, I just have to ask, what are you doing to improve it? No, it's not your job, but it's not anyone's job to show you a good time either.

All I am saying, and I think Shellie is saying, is do what you can when you can, to foster good feelings in your community. If all you can manage is to not be rude to people, fine. Do that. If you feel you truly can't do anything then do what so many dancers do, and travel to dance. Or try a different dance. Give it up for awhile and come back later. But being rude because you're frustrated is childish.

As I said, I've done it too - there have been nights that I have been the bitch at the milonga. I try not to let it happen. When I'm feeling crappy, tired, kicked, unappreciated, undanced, whatever - I pack it in and go home. I try very hard not to let it affect other people who are there to try to have a nice time. I've been called on it when I've been unsuccessful. I've hurt peoples' feelings and been careless with my comments. I have always regretted it because nothing good comes from it. It doesn't make people want to improve their dance, it mostly just makes them feel like crap. And that I was being a bitch - which I was.

Someone else quoted the often-cited Ney Melo quote about leaders in a community not getting better until women start declining dances. In many respects he has a very legitimate point (and it goes for both leaders and followers.) If someone is behaving/dancing in a way that you don't like, and you continue to dance with them - then, yes, you are rewarding the behavior. There is no incentive to change because there are no negative consequences.

However, that isn't what Shellie and I were talking about with either of our posts. We're talking about what amounts to verbal abuse at the milonga. It doesn't improve the quality of dancing, it mostly just sours the experience for everyone around it. It's destructive and unnecessary. There are far better ways, and better venues, to address those issues.

Mari Johnson said...

@Shellie - I must admit that I've stopped going to many group classes to avoid the situation you mentioned - skipping certain leaders in the rotation. I got tired of ending up too sore to even finish a class because I got used as a crash-test dummy while leaders learned the next new pattern. This isn't, unfortunately, a beginner problem. This is a combination of my own body's fragility and the nature of classes that focus on memorizing patterns at the cost of body awareness.

I am also hesitant to address the issue with a particular leader during the class, because it amounts to "teaching/correcting" on another teacher's time - which is disrespectful of the teacher. I've tried just saying, 'I'm sorry but the way that you dance/your embrace/whatever this issue is, is difficult for me to adjust to right now" - which never ends there - it always leads to either more questions or the 'you're just a bitch' response, or both. In practicas, it's much easier to address. I take private lessons and group classes when I know the teacher teaches technique more than patterns. Otherwise, I tend to skip it rather than deal with the dilemma of choosing not to rotate. :-/

Just my 2 cents on that matter.

Nancy Green said...

Great discussion Mari!

Yes, kindness is the first order.

It is the kind and generous men that I thank (and have thanked) for their patience as I learn this marvelous dance. They are the ones that have kept me in the game. And in turn, I try to repay the favor and dance with everyone, good lead or bad or beginner. There is always something to learn even if I did not enjoy the lesson. After all, leads are people too! And without them, I’d still be tripping over my own feet, and theirs. And you know, they do get better…just as I have.

Chris said...

Shellie wrote: ""He can't lead/She can't follow" is an example of a remark that is not helpful..."

Evidently you've not experienced the kind of situation in which such a remark is helpful.

Others have.

They include many an inexperienced girl wondering if she's to blame for the awfulness of that last tanda with a guy she mistook as able to dance. "He can't" may be the most helpful remark she can get.

Ghost said...

"dancers (usually referring to women) paid good money to dance and/or have a good time and get their money's worth."

Interesting, usually when I hear this it's in the context of you've paid your money so you're not obliged to dance with anyone you don't want to.

Something I am confused about though; surely given that a milonga is a social setting there is an expectation of reasonable manners?

I mean try walking into a Hell's Angels' bar and insulting them...

The main difference seems to be that in milongas we're much less likely to call people on bad behaviour