My students often observe on their first or second lessons (especially when I teach couples) that learning to dance is a lot like therapy. Actually, they usually say that it’s harder than therapy!

My job is super awesome, even when I’m doing more marriage counseling than dance teaching. Sometimes you need an external mediator and observer – especially when the pattern of behavior in a relationship has calcified. The most typical thing I see is a couple (usually a long-married straight couple) where one is always on the other’s case about some damn thing or another. It’s so unproductive, especially because the conversations usually go like this:

Blamer: Well, I just can’t  do my steps right because s/he’s doing *this* (demonstrates hyper-exaggerated version of some minor flaw).

Blame-ee: (silence)

Me: Well, maybe the reason s/he’s doing that is because you’re doing x, y, and z, which makes it very difficult for the step to happen. Try this.

Blamer: Oh, wow, that worked so much better!

The default assumption tends to be, I am doing my part just right and trying hard and this person I am dancing with is DELIBERATELY messing up and trying to make it harder for me ON PURPOSE and now I can’t do my part properly.

No. No, that is not what is happening. Stop it. Please stop it, you are not helping. It boils down to this:

You cannot dance the other person’s part.

I think that a lot of partnering issues can be resolved with the following four guidelines:

  1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are trying their best and that the efforts they are making are in good faith.
  2. Value what they are contributing to the partnership. Turns out you cannot do partner dancing by yourself! Even if you are awesome and amazing and free of any fault ever, you need them.
  3. Accept it. (This is a rule of improv, but it works for partner dancing, too). Rather than trying to argue when your partner says, I think you are doing x, or I feel like y is happening at this point, just accept it. Say, okay! What can we do about that? (Even if you think they are wrong. Even if you KNOW they are wrong.)
  4. Solve the problem, not the relationship. Is he getting in your way on the second half of that turn? Are you pulling him off balance with your spiral? Maybe! You know what that is? It’s a discrete and specific problem, not a verdict on your entire history and interaction with that person. Yes, I know. He always does this, that, or some other damn thing. Get over it and fix your turn. Have drinks and bitch at each other later, or go complain to your friends, but keep that shit off the floor.

In thinking about prospective partners, the biggest criterion for me is RESPECT. Namely: will this person treat me with respect, will he value what I do and what I bring to the partnership? A coach once said to me – and this is probably my favorite thing ever –

You can make somebody a better dancer, but you can’t make them not an asshole.

So. True. I have danced with enough people who don’t respect me to know that it makes a HUGE difference. Things will not always go well. You will have good days and bad days, you will fuck up sometimes and they will fuck up sometimes and everybody will have their feelings hurt. But if there is a fundamental respect for each other, that is not the end of the world, and it will not make you feel like the bottom of someone’s shoe.

In other words, we need to take a fucking cue from what happens here at 0:38:

Let’s all try to be more like Riccardo, please! How great is he??

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2 thoughts on “Respect.

  1. Marian Condon says:

    Oh yes indeedy. Disrespect. I’ve seen a bit of that in group classes that involve couples. One pair were absolutely gorgeous together and could probably have become passable dancers, but her relentless complaining and blaming finally wore him (who seemed like a nice guy) down, and they quit. I was surprised at how angry I got at her. Guess I was pissed ’cause I don’t have a partner, and here this dummy (if my picure and name were not on this comment I’d probably have said stupid bitch) seemed to have it all …and was blowing it. I will say that at my Arthur Murray studio, the hard core dancers who are there for the duration seem to get along very well. I think of them as my studio tribe and they mean a lot to me. I tend my relationships with them carefully – I refrain from broadcasting my political and religious views and try to never criticize or speak ill of anyone. That’s hard, because I have a judgmental, mean side, which I try like heck to control. Thus far, I have not heard any overt expressions of envy or “I was robbed” whining at the competitions… but….we are all amateurs and I’m sure it’s much different on the pro level.

    • Yes – I know exactly the couple you mean, they are at every studio, I think! It goes both ways (sometimes the lady is the horrible one, sometimes it’s the gentleman) but it always makes me crazy because here is this built in dance partner that people would KILL to have, and you are just dumping all over him/her. Unbelievable.

      I think – and there is a post brewing in the back of my brain about this – that a lot of the respect issue has to do with power relationships. In a pro/am setting, everybody knows his or her jobs: it’s my job to make my student dance as well as he can and look as good as he can, with the understanding that he is focused on his own dancing much much more than he is on leading me. And that’s how it should be – it’s about him. In a traditional am/am or pro/pro partnership, there’s always some inequality; one dancer always feels like they’re better than the other one (sometimes that’s valid, a lot of times it isn’t) and that tends to give rise to a lot of entitlement and attitude and disrespect. That’s what I’m mostly talking about, I think, because I think in the latter cases you should be out there on the floor trying to give your partner everything you can rather than worrying about how they are not doing what they’re supposed to do.

      (ugh, that was disorganized.)

Cha cha cha.

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