No Bullying

Ten years ago, (february 22, 2007) two young Nova Scotia High School students started a worldwide fashion passion for pink shirts. That was not their intention. They were merely standing in solidarity with a fellow gay student who was getting bullied for wearing pink to school. David and Travis went out and bought a few dozen pink T-shirts and passed them around to fellow students and thus the no-bullying pink-shirt day was born.

What does any of this have to do with tango?

(other than giving us an opportunity to make another outrageous colour fashion statement)?

A fair bit.

Because of its subtle complexities, the tango is the ideal medium for exploring and exposing many relational dynamics, including bullying.

Tango 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, understanding not only dance style and respective ability but also the emotional presence of the partner, they will not be able to communicate adequately to dance. They will default to bullying.

What does bullying look like?

  • Dancing beyond the ability of one’s partner.
  • Forcing compliance rather than inviting a co-creative response.
  • Enforcing a rigid embrace (open or close).
  • Strong-arming your partner rather than gently leading.
  • Pulling your partner off her/his axis.
  • Repeating steps that are uncomfortable, unfamiliar or unsuitable to your partner.
  • Judging and blaming your partner for missteps

Bullying manifests itself as a preset, inflexible dance style with the expectation that preset, inflexible dance style with the expectation that your partner adapt to it. It includes making demands, enforcing compliance and judging your partner’s response. It does not make for a pleasant dance experience. Your partner may actually be physically and emotionally hurt through the process.

Here’s the good news.

Just as tango can amplify dysfunctional or abusive relational patterns, it also presents an exceptional and unique opportunity to explore and express supportive, sensitive, body-based communication skills: attentiveness, intimacy, gentleness, sensuality, attunement, and just plain fun.

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

  • Adopt an elastic flexible embrace that allows for physical closeness at times but also expands to create space for movement and emotional readjustment.
  • 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 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 space for embellishments.
  • Take time for connection and creativity. Pause, Breathe. Feel. Dance as if you are in an emotional bubble.
  • Dance step by step. 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. 
  • Take risks. Make mistakes. Go somewhere you haven’t been before and don’t rush back.
  • Make the space safe both emotionally and physically.
  • 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 pink.


Comic relief from my book, Trauma to Tango:

My first dance with a local in Buenos Aires comically incorporated several of these bullying postures. Neglecting the culturally sensitive cabecero I marched down the long line of unpartnered women, requesting a dance. Eventually, an elderly, pink-haired lady took pity on me and leveraged herself out of her chair. Part-way into the dance she began yelling at me vehemently, in Spanish. I knew less Spanish than I did tango so I stared stupefied, no clue what she was upset about. All I knew was that, according to tangero folklore, if a woman walked out on you in the middle of a dance, I as a proper tangero, humiliated, would have to go out back and stab myself. So in the middle of the dance, in the centre of the dance-floor we are squared off, she waving her arms, shouting in Spanish, I desperately pleading as if for my life in English. Fortunately it was the last song of the tanda and she stuck the dance out and I lived to tell. 

It was not until several years later that I figured out what she was so upset about: I had been moving her with my arms, rather than leading with my chest. Bullying. Definitely something to protest vehemently about.