(Oh my burning biscuits, way to make your blog appealing for potential readers, Accidental Tangoiste! Look, it's leading up to a positive message, I promise!)
So there is this guy, right, and he's a new leader. My teachers are raising a super-promising crop of new dancers, and it's really exciting! But this guy and I, we got off to a bad start at some workshops a few weeks ago, when he tried to give me some advice during Practice Time that I didn't really want or need, and I (internally) got all up on my high horse, like, "Do not try to tell me what to do, I can do this step, I have done it successfully many times over the last five years, you just concentrate on leading it well, all right, and when you do that, I will follow, because you will have led it." (That was my huffy inner monologue, anyway. Outwardly, I smiled thinly and did not say anything.)
No, indeed, not a great start.
So this weekend he attempts to cabeceo me while I am pouring myself a glass of water over at the refreshments table.
Gentlemen, a hint, if I may: When attempting the cabeceo, I really recommend trying to choose your moment better than that. (See Ney Melo's item #10.) If a lady is pouring herself a glass of water, it probably means she needs to drink a little something and catch her breath after that vals tanda she just danced. Valses, they are fast, and she just danced three or four of them in a row. Plus, she might be getting over a cold and be extra out of breath because of that--ahem. I'm just saying.
I'd be all right with a guy saying hi while I'm at the refreshments table and saying something like "Once you've had a chance to rest a little, would you like to dance?" I have experienced such things, and despite my devotion to the cabeceo, I'm totally okay with that; I think it's pretty considerate. It shows that you've assessed the situation and recognize that I am red-faced and breathless and might not be ready for another dance at this very instant. But I have yet to figure out how to silently tell someone, using only the cabeceo, "Yes--in a minute." I don't know, maybe the universal raised finger... No, not that raised finger! I mean forefinger, palm outward!
(Besides, if you're both standing next to the refreshments table anyway, there's really no need to stand on the ceremony of the cabeceo. It may be a fun little game, at that point, but the need for it, to me, seems absent under that particular circumstance. You're not across a crowded room from each other; you can speak to each other easily. And if she says no, it won't be a public humiliation, like if you were to go all the way across the room to ask her, only to be turned down.)
Anyway, so he tried the cabeceo rather clumsily but with bizarre persistence. Dude, I see you, sure enough, but I am having a drink just now, and I am not responding. That is always an option, even if you are using the cabeceo. It is not a free pass to magically make a woman dance with you, even in places where not using it will almost guarantee that she won't dance with you; that is part of the point of it.
Finally, I told him outright, "I'll dance with you in a second, but first I need to catch my breath." Whereupon he went off and danced the rest of the tanda with somebody else. Baffling! He seems to be a native speaker of English, so I don't know how he misunderstood that so badly.
Another hint to the gentlemen: The time to go away and dance with somebody else is when a lady first declines your cabeceo, not after she (at last) verbally promises you the rest of the tanda. Yet another hint? I am not willing to be blackmailed like that again.
When we finally did dance... Well, he's not a bad leader. He's going to be quite good, if he sticks with it. Nice embrace. But after all the things that combined to create our very inauspicious start, I found myself short on patience for a beginner leader's problems. Like the fact that he felt compelled to lead a circle of four forward ochos approximately every thirty seconds, unconnected to the music and with five miles of empty floor ahead of him and all the other couples stacked up behind him. Seriously, that was all he did. Good heavens, it was boring.
(As long as I'm being critical generally, I might as well add that since the floor was so uncrowded, the other leaders might have chosen to pass him, without doing any harm. In general, though, the training not to pass seems healthier to me than leaders who disruptively cut across or weave in and out of the dancing lanes. And truth be told, some of the most marvelous dances come from simple "defensive driving" at the milonga, with leaders who creatively figure out how to avoid hazards in a limited amount of space, with little progression. It can be so intricate! So wonderful!)
So that is what happened, and I am beating myself up about it today. I know, in my calmer moments, that leaders have a lot to do. I have not been a very successful leader, myself, when I've tried it in practice, or even when I try to improvise a little in front of a mirror. It is hard work to try to figure out what to do, communicate your intention to the follower, and maintain good technique on your end of things! I know that. That is why my last and most important hint to leaders would be this, which has often been said before:
It is so much nicer for a follower to be held in a wonderful embrace and just walk to the music than for a leader to try out all his fanciest tricks on her, willy-nilly.
(Hey, look, it just got easier and more pleasant for both of us! Amazing!)
The steps will come with time and practice, New Leader. Do them at the milonga once you've mastered them so that they are easy to follow, and can use them effectively with the music. For now, go easier on your follower and on yourself; don't stress, and don't worry that it doesn't look good enough. If it feels good, she will come back for more, I promise.
So this guy, he's just a puppy, and he doesn't know. I wish I'd tried to be nicer; we don't kick puppies. I mean, it's not like I said anything horrible to him, but I know I was cold. Fortunately, there's always the next milonga, where I will, hopefully, get to try again. And this makes two things for me to work on (and they will be quite a big enough task), because in addition to trying to eliminate my insecure competitive thinking about other women, I'm also going to try to keep Tina's beautiful idea in mind, about the men--especially the new men:
I [...] just abandoned all expectations, all hesitation, all of my “oh I’m not in Buenos Aires so it’s going to suck” feelings, and really focused on the human being I was dancing with.
I said to myself, “Right now I’m dancing with XYZ. I’m going to embrace him and all that I love about him. I’m going to embrace our friendship as we dance, and think about all of the things we have shared these past few years. I’m going to dance the love that I feel for him as a friend. I’m going to hug him good.”
I hugged the heck out of him and he gave right back. 100%. In a way that I have never experienced with him before.
It's a wonderful idea, isn't it? I've admired that post for years, but I sometimes badly fail to put the idea into action. This weekend was such a time.
Practically speaking, even if I were to try to offer some gentle advice if I see this guy again and he's still having these problems (as it is likely he will be, the process of growth being what it is), I can't actually make him do anything. If he were to be receptive (which he might not be), he still might need some time to internalize the ideas.
In the end, all I can control is my own attitude.
...They tried to teach me that in grade school too. Why is it always the simplest lessons that are the hardest?
(By the way, there is also this, from even further back: Jennifer Bratt's "Ask Maleva" tango agony column. She always seemed to give sound advice.)