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).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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??