The Early Thank You

The tanda was not going well.

After the first song, I broke my rule and apologized, telling my partner that I couldn't keep up with him and could we slow down a little bit. My leader had taken a couple of large steps against the line of dance and bumped another couple, so I was rattled and for some reason, I couldn't seem to get my right ankle to cooperate with me. Quick steps and traspies were taking their toll.  He even started telling me verbally what he needed me to do. All I could do was answer, I can't - not that fast. I should have sat down, but I'm always so apprehensive about giving an early thank you - I only do it if there's no other way I can make a tanda work out.

The second song went even worse. He seemed to go faster, not slower, and when I couldn't move fast enough, his fingers dug into my ribcage harder. I was heartbroken that I seemed to be dancing so badly to music I loved. My ankle wase getting stiffer, even as I tried to stretch it. The second song ended, and the third, a slower song, began. Within moments, my relief at the slower music choice evaporated. My partner gave me an abrupt early thank you and returned me to my table. I tried to smile and acknowledge that it was probably the best thing, but I was deeply embarrassed. I didn't want to look at anyone while I made my way back to my seat.

Just as I sat down, surprised (which I really shouldn't have been) at the first early thank you I'd gotten in over 2 years, my former partner held his hand out to the dancer next to me at my table and took her out for the last song of the tanda. She's a superior dancer by far, so I can't blame him (though it irked me to have him do it directly in front of me)  - but as I watched them dance, I saw him slow down and lead her with what looked like far more care than he had led me. It wasn't just that he slowed down, but he seemed to generally show more care for her comfort as they danced. I asked my friend who came to sit next to me, "What gives? He's not dancing her like a rag doll!"

My friend nodded and replied, "Because he wouldn't dare dance her that way." It was true. The dancer in my former partner's arms always seemed to bring out an elegant maturity in tangueros.

After a few moments, I excused myself and went to the ladies room to nurse my wounds, both physical and emotional, and see what the hell was up with my ankle. The condition of my ankle wasn't really surprising - it was stiff because it was swollen. My doctor had warned me that there had been, and would likely continue to be, times when I count on a muscle for support and that support simply wouldn't be there. Some muscle groups, particularly in my back and legs, are starting to atrophy. The joints of my ankles have been weak for years (having broken them both at different times) and the muscles supporting the joints have always picked up the slack. Not tonight.  The FHL muscle was tight, swollen and sore and sending a very clear message. Bitch, you need to sit down. (Lately my muscles have had a real swearing problem.)

Before I left the ladies room, I checked one more thing. I lifted my shirt to see the side of my ribcage, expecting to see that I had overreacted to my partner's handling of me. I hadn't. I had pink marks along my ribcage that would later turn an interesting shade of light purple. I bruise a little easily - but not that easily.

I passed by another dancer as I returned to my table and we briefly commiserated about our ankle troubles. He offered the use of his brace which I gratefully accepted. Once I slipped it on and the compression took affect, the relief was incredible. Why the hell didn't I carry one of these all the time? Oh yeah, because I hadn't needed it at a milonga before. The best part was that I could still put on my tango shoe over it. I felt a small wave of triumph over that, but the whole situation surrounding that tanda still stung.

As I sat and listened to the music and watched the other dancers, I tried to unravel the snarl that I was so hurt about. I don't know if it stung more that I had gotten an early thank you (which was probably just as well), or that he immediately picked up the dancer next to me at my table right in front of me. I was still embarrassed, and wondered if I would get anymore dances that night.  I was annoyed with myself for putting my comfort and health at risk, which made it feel so much worse. I risked further injury to my ankle and got a bruise on my ribs for the trouble of trying to keep up when I should have just sat down.

After resting up a bit and re-hydrating, I received a very welcome cabeceo from a favorite partner and decided to give the borrowed brace a road test.  After that I felt a little more like myself. I had a some very lovely tandas with very patient gentlemen who turned the whole evening around for me.  No more pushing, shoving, bumping. I'm glad I held in there.

This is the most extreme incident in a series of incidents that's making me increasingly selective in who I dance with. I tell people, and write so often here, to be open minded - to give every dancer the benefit of the doubt and a welcoming embrace. After all, you can't truly tell from outside the embrace how a dancer feels to dance with. But these days the risk for me greater. Add to that the overwhelming relief I feel from leaders who do take the time and considerable effort to feel where I am - and not get frustrated at me for the things I can't do, is immeasurable.


Kirra said...

Oh my, what you went through stings like an SOB.
My first thought while reading your post was that this 'thank you' lead was dancing for himself, not for you. There was no care and consideration on his part. What hurts is that he asked the follow beside you to finish to tanda. What he needed to do was sit out the last song, which he did not...again dancing for himself.
I don't see anything wrong with you asking the lead to be gentle as you have a health issue at the moment.
I would have seen that and met you in the bathroom for a good hug. Hugs to you from afar.

Anonymous said...

That leader sounds terrible. (I speak as a leader myself). There is absolutely no point in leading something that your follower isn't following comfortably. That just demonstrates lack of skill. And it's just idiotic to ask someone verbally to do something during the dance.

What surprises me is that your table neighbour accepted the dance with him. But I actually don't think that part was so rude. After all, people often ask me to dance, I say "no, thanks" and then leap straight up to dance with someone else. It's common practice here in BA. And this is not so different.

Unknown said...

That's tough to hear.

That especially stings that he finished the tanda with someone else.

Sometimes when people finish a tanda earlier, it isn't always that they didn't want to keep dancing (e.g., tired, not liking the music, etc.)

I agree with Terpsichoral; him verbally asking you to do something during the dance is probably indicative of not just his ability but his character (unless he has some kind of relationship already established with you).

As a reader of your posts for the last few months, I am a bit surprised at this blog. However, I think we all have those dances with "good dancers" that we do not connect.

Anonymous said...

Being open mind is OK until a certain point: you have to protect yourself physically and mentally from abusive behaviours at the Milonga.

What’s bother me in your story is your friend’s reply: "Because he wouldn't dare dance her that way."
What does he/she mean? That’s because she is a very good dancer, he shows her respect while for us mere mortals we have to suck it? Or because she is well known for not taking any sh*t and if he dances her that way he would end up with an early thank you and be left standing alone on the dancefloor ?

Marika said...

@Kirra - thanks for your comments - and for the sentiment. It definitely stung. I just need to roll with things like that a little bit better (and not let things get spiraled down to that point if I can help it.

@Terpsichoral - one person who witnessed the situation told me later that they thought I had given him the early thank you, which certainly have changed the perception my table-mate had. I haven't had a chance to get her feedback on the subject yet.

@Unknown - A lot of discomfort could have been saved on both our parts if I would have excused myself from the tanda early (I knew within a few moments that I was physically not comfortable), apologized that my ankle was too sore for music that fast (which was true) and sat out the tanda. My putting on the brace earlier (even as I did later) might have saved face for both of us, and spared my ankle further aggravation. Live and learn. Thank you so much for your comment.

@GaL: Regarding your question about why the other follower wouldn't be treated that way, there are a few reasons. The biggest reason that I have seen in action is that my table-mate has mastered *the withering look*. If you've experienced it, you'll know what I mean. She doesn't have to say anything, it's just a look that says, 'you've crossed the line and we're done now.' Plus she doesn't take any crap off anyone - and yet handles it in the sweetest possible way. Hard to describe . . .

Some of this comes down to warnings I heard early on about choosing dances carefully. If I start the night dancing with a partner who 'dances me big' then it sometimes sends the message early that that is my preference. It may only be my preference at that time, with that partner, with those floor conditions, and that music - but all onlookers take in is, "she likes to dance big."

My body is making that decision for me lately, and I don't really have the option of dancing "big" (though what I consider big most followers here consider "just getting started".)

Thank you as always for sharing your thoughts. :)