Rebel, Rebel

Move along, nothing to see here . . . .
I had a 'talking to' no less than 3 times weekend before last - all by dancers I deeply respect and admire. They were each very helpful, well-reasoned arguments against what I had "taken to doing lately with a particular leader."

When it happened, I knew I'd hear about it.  Mouths turned down at the corners, eyebrows knitted and furrowed, a couple of quiet comments were made. On the milonga floor, my leader was breaking the rules, and I was not only letting him, but worse, I was also grinning madly in response.

It was a threefold milonga scandal:

1. My leader and I changed the embrace from a traditional abrazo, to what would look like an odd practice embrace - his arms over my shoulders and my arms around his ribcage (he's quite a bit taller than I am). It looked like I'd given him a big hug and we just started moving. I'll get to the reason for this in a moment - for now, just know that in my communities, as in most tango communities, it's considered inappropriate to be using a practice embrace at a milonga. Practice is for classes and practicas, not social dancing venues. Which leads me to the second point.

2. We were technically practicing. We were problem-solving - not just dancing socially. For that I do take complete responsibility. The reason was, quite simply, I was leaning on my partner and likely making him uncomfortable. Rather than stop the dance and sit me down, he changed the embrace so that we could both be comfortable and I could regain a sense of my axis. (One of the odd side effects of my training has been a sort of uneven redistribution of muscle mass. This has compromised my balance while proprioceptors figure out where all of my bits are again and retrain the weaker muscles. This particular leader has been helping me regain my coordination.)

3. We also changed roles (very briefly - I doubt it was longer than a single phrase of the music.) The strange and beautiful thing about the embrace we were using was that 'lead' and 'follow' became very blurry, fluid things. Within that embrace I had almost as much input as my leader did on the musical expression in our dance. I commented on it between songs and because I didn't mind what we were doing, we continued in that embrace through next song.

The crowd that night was very, very light and there was loads of room. To my knowledge, I can't imagine how we could have interfered with anyone else - except by the way that we looked. While I danced with this particular leader, I had a whole new understanding of communication in the embrace that I hadn't experienced before. We have danced since then, and periodically take that embrace again.

I will confess, I am a fairly crappy leader. I can manage walking, but only just - and it's not pretty. But for the first time I was able to actually try leading for a few steps in a relaxed, fairly contained, way. As I said - I loved it.
Normally all that would have caused was some raised eyebrows and a couple of comments. But the next thing that happened demonstrated exactly why dancers should resist the temptation to "practice" and/or "teach" on the dance floor. I'm told that another leader imitated what we were doing. We set the example and so it became, for at least that other couple, acceptable for them too. That was the sticking point in the conversations I had later. And I admit, especially given what happened, it's a valid point. Practicing has no place in the milonga for exactly that reason. Now that I've been appropriately chastised, this leader and I practice in that manner only in practica. 
My question is, where do you draw the line? When a couple must make modifications to the embrace for mutual comfort - at what point does it become the business of other couples?


Unknown said...

An interesting issue, Mari. Several years ago I could not raise my left arm due to an injury, and instead, hugged my partner UNDER his right arm. It garnered a lot of stares but not any flack. I think the difference is that it was clear you were practicing and working stuff out, and that chuffs just about everyone.

Andrew said...

IMHO - As long as you are not bothering anyone else, you should be able to do anything that is fun, comfortable, romantic, and anything else that you enjoy.

David said...

I would have said "ditto" to Andrew's comment, but it looks like he already did unintentionally. :)

Really, assuming one meets Andrew's criteria, seems to me that the 'talking to' is the inappropriate behavior.

Ghost said...

I take a middle-ground in this case. One the one hand I've actually done what you're talking about with the hostess of a milonga during her milonga (we skipped step 2, she just wanted to do it because it occurred to her mid-dance it might be fun). I've also swapped roles mid-dance repeatedly in a number of milongas. so I don't feel there's anything intrinsically wrong with what you did. Nor to be honest do I feel there's anything wrong with what the couple who copied you did, unless they somehow made a complete hash of it and disrupted other couples.

On the other hand I do feel that it's reasonable for a milonga to set whatever ethos it wants and politely ask people to stick to it. This most definitely doesn't have to be in right/wrong territory. If a milonga wants everyone to stand and sing the national anthem during the cortinas, or wear something purple during vals tandas, then as long as they're up front about this, I think that's fair enough.

To answer the final question though, I take it as a given that you can adjust the embrace any way you want to make it more comfortable. First do no harm applies. There are dancers in London who are missing an arm. Would they object to them?

D said...

That's interesting. I was thinking of trying out tango in Austin, and I ran across your blog. Frankly, knowing that people have that attitude makes me much less enthusiastic about trying tango. I can't imagine people taking me aside for practicing at a social dance in any dance form I've tried (salsa, ballroom, country, wcs, zouk, and blues).