Ladies Room "Come to Jesus" Meeting

 . . .is enough.   

 [written on a napkin on the way home from a milonga . . .  Very rough draft, but sometimes it's better to leave it that way.]

How many painful tandas does it take before I learn?
I've got to break this habit of telling myself,
It must be me.
it must be something I did.
I'm not good enough.
If I just adjust, it'll work.
My mistake was thinking this was a bad tango habit.
It's not.
In fact, this isn't really about tango.
There's a much longer history at work here
and you know it, I thought, accusing my red-eyed, disheveled reflection.

My reflection in the milonga venue's bathroom mirror blinked back and sighed.
I scowled at her and thought sternly (in my best "I mean it this time" voice):

"If it hurts, I'm done."
No matter who it is,
no matter where I am.
Even if we're friends,
especially if we're friends . . .
Say thank you for the dances, but you're hurting me,
and walk the hell off the goddamn floor!
Now I'm rattled and hurting and wondering whether to call a cab.
Was it worth that? No.
Does it do him any favors thinking this is okay with me? No.
So that was the last time. Got it?
My reflection and I nodded.
Got it.

"Come to Jesus" meeting: A time when a polite ultimatum is given, generally followed by a less polite ultimatum, then a threat. Drug and alcohol "interventions" are often referred to as "Come to Jesus Meetings".

(Photo courtesy of


Frances R said...

Unfortunately, in this culture many women are conditioned to be nice and nurturing with men no matter what. Ladies! Maybe that guy needs a mommy, OK, but it's his problem, and you are not supposed to solve it. To dance, he has to become a grown man. And you be a woman, not a mom or a kindergarten teacher.

Ghost said...

For a long time I thought it was helpful to assume that things were my fault in tango. And while there's something to be said for looking for better answers, if I could go back and give myself advice it would be "It's not always your fault".

As for the friend thing, MsH has a post somewhere of all sorts of helpful polite excuses. "Sit and talk to me" is a good one that's never ruffled my feathers. Basically I'll give you my time and company for a tanda, but I don't want to dance.

If you figure out how to tell him it's not ok and he's hurting you (without it going to hell in a handbasket)I'd be interested, but that's not something I've been able to pull off. The closest I've come is taking a break from dancing with them and re-starting when things had changed.

Mari said...

Frances R and Ghost - thank you for your comments - there is a lot to be said about how our culture tells us (women) to behave in these situations. (There's actually a really excellent movie out called Miss Representation that speaks to it in a very compelling, and at times heartbreaking, way.)

I had to get permission from another party to share a little bit more of what went on that inspired this post - and perhaps now that I have it, I can shed more light on the specifics.

While my post is addressing only one incident, it's addressing, by example, three incidents - two that happened to me, and one that happened to another. What the incidents had in common was our (another follower and myself) inability to speak up and address behavior that was physically hurting us while dancing. These weren't beginner leaders and in two cases the behavior was actually encouraged by their teachers. Even when it was brought to their attention that one of their students was painful and dancing in a way that was making even onlookers very uncomfortable - nothing was addressed.

I don't believe for a moment that these dancers intend to inflict pain on their partners at all. I think they are dancing in the way that has been encouraged and rewarded with more dances and positive attention. This also isn't an issue this other dances and I are having with just their technique - I don't think any part of dancing tango should leave marks on a dancer's body - man or woman, leader or follower.

But back to the larger problem that I was trying to address - which is a bit murky in my post. I really don't want this to be a matter of blaming leaders, first because as I said, I doubt they know what they're doing or would want to do it if they knew it was painful. However, on the milonga floor, there are rules about what can be said.

Second, this really is about a time when we need to draw boundaries (in a dance that blurs boundaries, this is already difficult) - add to that circumstances when a dancer, due to his or her history outside of tango, does not have the ability to speak up.

It was one thing to fight this battle on my own - knowing that I was faltering in making my expectations clear. Then I saw another dancer dealing with the same partner, getting the same treatment - and not speaking up. I spoke to her. She told me what I suspected, that she just froze - she didn't know how to speak up. This wasn't a tango issue.

If I'd put aside my (emotional) discomfort and spoken up to that gentleman personally, at the time that it happened - would it have made a difference enough to prevent my friend from being treated similarly? Maybe, maybe not. But I have to wonder. So now I'm speaking up. I am only discouraged when speaking up has no effect.

Again, I want to stress this is not meant to leader-bash. There are women in tango communities who can be physically painful to dance with, yet leaders feel it's not their place to say anything. They avoid the dances when they can, but often, when these same women don't get the dances they'd like, they go up and ask for them. Leaders again, trained to be gentlemen, agree to the dances and get hurt themselves.

Pain is not okay. If we want situations like that to change, we have to let our partners know what we need from them, and what we don't need. When no progress can be made, then Ghost/MsH's suggestion is a good one - we can socialize, but we can't dance for now.

Ghost said...

In my experience this isn't restricted to leaders. A male friend has the expression "b***** intermediates" for people who never get past a certain stage and think they're wonderful when in fact they're not (totally different from people who get to a reasonable level and decide they're happy to stop there and use the time and effort for other things in their life).

Although I prefer the sit and talk option, my best take on it is this. People dance tango in fundamentally different ways. And as such I think it has to be ok to say "We agree to disagree. If you and your teacher feel that dancing that way is good, then fair enough. But it doesn't work for me." Which can be delivered in the same tone as "Ok you only like to dance in open and I only like to dance in close, this isn't going to work. Doesn't mean either of us are wrong. Just incompatible." which is rather more diplomatic than "STOP HURTING ME!"

However I'd also point to something Bill Kipp said. If you tell a nice person that they're hurting you when they're unaware of it, 9 times out of 10 they'll react along the lines "Oh, I didn't know. I'm so sorry! :blush:" Tell a not so nice person and 9 times out of 10 they'll justify what they're doing and explain that the situation is really your fault.

Marika said...

Good points, Ghost - I think you're right. I've been told when something I was doing was aggravating an injury that a leader was trying to heal from. Of course I felt terrible that I'd hurt my partner, but as soon as I knew, I could make the necessary adjustment. I would hope that partners would tell me if something I was doing was uncomfortable in any way - but they, like followers, are discouraged from doing so.

I suspect, as you said, most dancers want to know - the key is to be diplomatic. But in cases where something has already been said, when I've already asked a leader to slow down, or loosen his grip - and nothing changes, it's time say I'm sorry but I can't continue.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "it hurts"? I would be shocked when I'd discover my partner coming red-eyed out of the bathroom after she danced with me. A horrible thought.

I hope that I'll never cause pain.

But it is not impossible at all to cause pain even being a good dancer. A friend of mine has problems with her right shoulder. After she danced with a fairly good dancer, she knew him well, she complained to me that he tormented her shoulder which began to hurt so that she had to stop. I would've never guessed that, because he was a good dancer and they seemed to dance harmonically together.

I feared to ask her to dance with me because of her hurting shoulder but she wanted to dance and said after a while that her shoulder soon gets better.

So obviously dancing tango is very personal, very individual. You can dance with someone you know and suddenly something hurts. It never hurt before. It simply happens this time.

I myself sometimes have problems with my back when I dance. I always thought that it is my fault, because I clench or move in a bad way or simply because I sit all day and my back is bad.

But now reading your post I remember that eg. sometimes I have to bear the weight of my partners arm which make my shoulder hurt sometimes. Maybe my problems with my back are also not my fault but the result of our individual dancing.

But I must confess that I never asked someone to hold her arm by herself, because I fear to create a bad feeling during the dance. Not complaining is not a womans problem alone. I simply don't dance with her again. Or I think that the problem will go away the next time we dance together. And nevertheless maybe I make her clench by bad movements and her weight on my arm is the result of my bad leading. You never know.

After your posting I think that this is stupid and we should talk about it. Then we will know it.

Anonymous said...

@Juh If you find you are bearing the weight of a follower's arm on your shoulder and this is making you uncomfortable, but you enjoy other aspects of her dancing, you could try asking her to change the embrace so that she places her arm laterally around your back and holds you a little lower down, cupping your right shoulder blade (or left shoulder blade, whichever is most comfortable) instead. This should help to take the weight off and most followers find this embrace a good comfortable option, too. You can tell them it's your own personal issue, because of an old shoulder injury (even if this is a white lie). Or just tell them you personally find this style of embrace more comfortable with your relative heights. I for one would not be offended. In fact, my current dance partner asked me to do this. And now we always dance this way and I no longer put weight on his shoulder during some points in the dance. It's natural and usual to have to adjust the embrace sometimes. What feels comfortable for one person can be very UNcomfortable for another. Good luck!