Anti-Bullying and Tango

Anti-bullying day, September 27.

Not to be confused with the anti-bullying day in February. This time you wear an orange shirt, not a pink one for the february day.

Do we really need another anti-bullying day? Apparently so.

If you listen to the news there doesn’t seem to be a day when sexual abuse is not front and centre at all levels of  society. (We seem to have lost interest in the really violent stuff - bombings and such. But we won’t go there.)

What does any of this have to do with tango? Apart from an excuse to dress flamboyantly.

A fair bit. Let me explain.

Tango offers a safe environment in which men and women can practice interacting physically in a non-confrontational, non-sexual, egalitarian manner. It is the ideal medium for exploring and exposing relational dynamics, including bullying.

Bullying is defined as using force or influence to get someone to do what you want them to do. Tango danced well is the antithesis of bullying. Tango danced poorly is the embodiment of it.

The visual and energetic ideals of the dance.

Throughout the dance there is continually a tension between one’s expectation of how the dance should look and feel - the visual ideal and energetic ideal - and how it is actually playing itself out on the dance floor.

For the follow (usually the woman) if things are going sideways, there is not much recourse other than to wait out the dance and then take the first exit.

For the lead (usually a  man) there are two ways to react:

One way is to physically enforce your will upon your partner. Get her to do what you want, damn it, if it takes brute strength. Read: bullying.

The other alternative is to settle back into the fundamentals of dance technique with patience and acceptance.

Communication and Dancing.

Tango is about communication, Good dancing is dependent upon the receptive and expressive communication skills of the lead and follow. Unless the partners are able to listen deeply to each other and adapt themselves to the emotional presence and technical proficiency of their partner, they will not be compatible as dance partners. They will default to bullying.

OK. This is not the kind of stuff that gets reported in the news. But if there was more attention paid to communication dynamics on and off the dance floor, there wouldn't be as much of the abusive stuff to report.

Practicing non-violence.

That is why this past weekend we spent 1.5 hours practicing, under the tutelage of Gonzalo Robinson, very basic saccatos, moves which we all learned years ago at the very beginning of our training.

Why do we have to go over and over a very basic step? Because as leads, we don’t know how to execute the step without harming our partner.

What often happens is the man focuses on what he wants to happen - the visual ideal of the step - and forces his partner to comply by boldy stepping into his partner’s space and kicking her leg out of the way. A classic case of bullying with the accompanying bruised shins. Nobody wants this, especially not the follow.

Communication Fundamentals

So we return to the fundamentals of communication: Expressing intent, creating space, waiting for a response from our partner, filling in behind after she shifts her axis. What results is a cooperative effort which flows smoothly and satisfies the energetic ideal of the dance.

Here are some considerations, particularly for the lead, to move your dance style beyond bullying to co-creative mutuality:

  • Negotiate the embrace repeatedly throughout the dance. Do not presume that your  partner always wants to snuggle. You can invite this closeness but you cannot insist on it.

  • Provide a gentle lead that expresses only just enough information for the follow to discern your intent. This indicates trust and confidence in your partner's abilities and makes the dance more intriguing.

  • Never force compliance or response.

  • Leave time and space for your partner to augment the dance with her creativity.

  • Pause, Breathe. Feel. Dance as if you are in an emotional bubble.

  • Jettison complex sequences and and repetitive choreography. Surprise both yourself and your partner. Stay in the moment.

  • Build on each other’s strengths as well as the strength of the music. Use the tempo and mood of the music to augment your partner's style.

  • Take risks. Make mistakes. Go somewhere you haven’t been before.

  • Maintain an attitude of appreciation and admiration. This is the miracle of the moment, that you are dancing to this exquisite music with this beautiful dance partner.

  • Wear orange, or pink, depending on the day.