Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The watcher

Last week I wrote about DJing in the heat of the Midi. I would like to write about another incident that happened on the same evening, but had started a few days earlier...

Saturday, Nimes, Milonga del Angel: 
It was the first evening of our intensive seminar at the Mas de Mestre and we visited this well-known Milonga. It‘s been running for ages and although it is a little less frequented in summer, it is still a nice place to be. Traditional music, some good dancers, lots of friends. We know most Tangueros in the region as we‘ve been visiting for more than 7 years.
Unfortunately, you‘ll always find a couple of rowdies on the dance floors and this evening, one guy was standing out: He was doing huge, uncontrolled movements, pulling the women onto the dancefloor, out of axis and into absurd poses. He was a threat to everyone else. You think I‘m exaggerating? Oh no!
One of our students made the mistake of accepting his invitation. She had not noticed him earlier. I wonder why... She suffered for two Tangos, trying to slow him down a little, but then gave it up and finished the Tanda prematurely. Well done!
The guy tried to invite some other ladies of our group (including me) but had no success and continued pulling locals onto the dance floor.
Then an accident happened: the host decided to announce our Milonga, the bully got interested and asked Detlef to give him the address. Which Detlef did out of reflex. I think, he had not seen the guy dancing either. Am I the only one who watches the dancefloor?

Sunday, Aubais, Milonga à la cave Aubai Mema:
I learned about the rowdie‘s invitation on the next evening, when he was abusing new victims on another dancefloor. Why would none of these women stand up and refuse his invites? This is when I decided to prevent such misdemeanour at our Milonga.

Tuesday, Sommières/Villevieille, Milonga au Mas de Mestre:
Our Milonga was already on it‘s sweaty course, when Mr. Bully entered the room. Although I was feeling very uncomfortable with it, I decided to nip any bad behaviour in the bud and approached him. In quite neutral words, I told him that I had watched his dancing during two Milongas and that I would ask him to behave in a more social way at our Milonga, to keep the line of dance, not make such big moves and not invite women by direct invitation but by Cabeceo. He exploded: Who was I to talk to him in such a way? He claimed to be a good dancer who had danced all over the world, knowing how to dance properly in contrast to these other losers. I pointed out that I was - as he well knew - the host and DJ at this Milonga and that it was my responsibility to keep the dancefloor safe for everyone. Especially for the women, whom I had seen suffer a lot with him. He started insulting me, telling me that any child could DJ, that he did not accept my authority and that he would do what he pleased. Never had anyone talked to him in such a way, cried he!
So what was I to do now? He was a huge guy and very pissed-off. I could not throw him out of the room on my own and I did not want to disturb our Milonga. So I decided to wait and watch what happened.
Well... the guy sat and stared at me with a very angry expression. I tried to keep my calm and greeted all incoming guests and friends, behaving all „normal“. After a while he got up to dance and - behold - he moved only half as dangerously as earlier. Then he sat down again.
A little later, Detlef arrived and I told him what had happened. He got really angry about the guys insulting behaviour and asked if he should throw him out. I was undecided because he seemed to be calmer now. Detlef spoke to him nevertheless - repeating basically what I had said, but not throwing him out. Some time later the guy left.

So, have we acted out of line in asking this guy to conduct himself more carefully at our Milonga? Should I at least have waited until he actually started dancing and misbehaving? Or was it o.k. to go there in advance as I had watched him dance at other occasions? I had the impression that - however aggressively he reacted - his behaviour changed after our intervention. When Detlef saw him at the next Milonga, he was obviously not dancing. Is this a good thing or not? Have we scared off a poor guy or have we stimulated a process of self-reflection?

From what he sad - and I believe his reaction - none of the regional organisers or dance partners had ever given him a negative feedback. I knew that they are complaining about him amongst themselves but never to him. This is very sad.

But whose responsibility is it to give feedback when someone misbehaves so badly? The teachers and only in class? Milonga organisers? DJ‘s? Dance partners? Everyone at a Milonga? Who is to judge if someone is just slightly annoying or really disturbing other guests? Do we need more watchers? Do we need a Tango police?

Or is Tango about laissez-faire? Just do what you like as long as you don‘t bump into MY personal space?

I don‘t know... Apart from stressing floor-craft and appropriate social behaviour in class, I always felt it was my responsibility as a host to keep the dancefloor agreeable for everyone. Similar incidents occurred approximately once a year, but the reprimanded‘s reactions were usually positive: people excused themselves and danced more carefully for the next hours. The French guy‘s aggressive reaction might have been a reaction to my ill-concealed anger as he was such an extreme case. But even he seemed to change after it. Maybe I should be more careful in HOW I approach someone, but I won‘t stop doing it. 

I cannot. Must be my watcher mentality!


Lynn said...

Well done Melina (and Mr. D. too)! Teachers are responsible for informing students about, and emphasising the importance of, decent tango etiquette from day one. Organisers are responsible for ensuring that a milonga is an enjoyable, safe and trouble-free arena for everyone, and DJs are responsible for supporting this by playing music which keeps the floor flowing and discourages selfish, thoughtless dancing. It's tough to be tough and risk people's displeasure, hurting their feelings and being considered hard line tango militia, but one fool can wreck everyone's party. As for whether your pre-emptive strike was the right move - absolutely! No point in calling the fire brigade once the house has burned down. We had question marks over a few of the people who applied for the last Abrazos and approached all of them in advance about their floorcraft. We had very different sets of reactions: from angry withdrawal to a complete and honest willingness to reappraise behaviour and change. Draw the line, hold it and those who want to be free to run amok will stay away, those who have the humility to change will change (and I have great respect for those guys) and those who want to dance somewhere where people treat each other with care and consideration will flock to your welcoming door.

Unknown said...

You did the right thing; it is the milonga organiser’s responsibility to ensure that dancers behave appropriately. But, frustratingly, few organisers recognise this responsibility or act on it. I believe that this is a big part of the problem

There are milongas in London which would be very appealing, but I don’t enjoy because the organisers do nothing to address the issues of anti-social dancing and poor etiquette.

Regularly at our milongas I have to have a quiet and friendly chat with dancers who are not behaving as we would expect. Nearly always they are shocked by my message because “nobody has ever said that before”.

Some milongas put messages on web pages etc. but any such messages must be followed up with positive action by the event organiser, and it seems that they are afraid to. Is this because they worried about upsetting a customer? Then they should remember the many other customers who are being affected by bad dancing.

You did the right thing, and I wish that more milonga organisers would do the same.

Anonymous said...

I would also very much support what you did, Melina. There is nothing worse than the feeling of being in the arms of a dangerous leader who uses his partner as a human battering ram or throws her about with no regard for her comfort. As a follower, you do have less control over the dance and that's one of the reasons that I personally feel that it's very important to watch them on the floor, if at all possible, before agreeing to dance with someone new and to have the right of refusal.

For the other dancers, well, as a leader you cannot just shut your eyes and focus inwardly when you are dancing because of the demands of floor craft so when someone is dancing so badly you see it and it affects you -- and, through you, your follower, even if the person's floor craft is not dangerous to you personally. And, if it is, you can find yourself no longer dancing but focusing entirely on navigating away from danger, on emergency steering manouevres (which an experienced follower, even with closed eyes, can tell instantly).

I'm glad you spoke up. And I'm also glad that your student broke the tanda with him. More followers should do that, I feel. It's my number one reason for breaking a tanda: floor craft that endangers others. I'm pretty ruthless about this and will even break off mid-song if it is bad enough. And followers should also learn never to accept a dance with someone who pulls them onto the dance floor (unless it's a very close friend who is just joking around). Both these things are easier said than done, especially if the woman concerned is a little timid, uncertain of herself or has a strong politeness reflex, as so many of us do. As an organiser you are in a position of authority. So, by your actions, you implicitly offered support to his victims, made it OK to criticise and to protest against unacceptable behaviour. Perhaps this is one reason why he didn't dance as much afterwards. Or perhaps he really was unaware that his dancing was so bad and you made him think for the first time. Either way, well done!


The Accidental Tangoiste said...

In my own mind, I try to maintain an attitude of "Do what you like, as long as you're not hurting or disturbing yourself, your partner, or the other couples on the floor."

The problem with this laissez-faire mentality is often that--at least, in my experience--it doesn't work in practice. The person stopping the line of dance or cutting across the floor and doing those huge movements is inevitably going to disturb other couples, if nothing else, and is very likely to cause at least minor injuries, as from leading his partner to kick or step on someone nearby. I've even seen this happen with only two couples on the floor, for pity's sake. It's so frustrating!

As the milonga organizer, I think you are within your rights to speak to people about such bad behavior. As you say, maybe you will need to refine your approach--but part of your responsibility as an organizer is to create an environment that is both safe and enjoyable for everyone. In the microcosm of the milonga just as elsewhere in society, that means we cannot do exactly what we'd like to all the time. I'm glad you spoke to the guy!

Host of a Sweet Milonga said...

Thank you for sharing these experiences.
Since one year, I organise a small monthly milonga on a small floor that needs small dancing, for it's usually very crowded.
So this milonga simply has 'rules of the game'. After a few months everybody knew, understood and accepted that, because I communicate this.

If dancers disturb the flow or the other dancers in any way, I always talk to them personally, to explain what my milonga needs and what we collectively aim for (social dancing and a good floorcraft).
A respectful and kind approach usually does it's work (as in all human contact I'd say):
the 'guilty' dancer reacts quite surprised, thanks me for my feedback as a host and organisor and tries to fit in the flow afterwards.

If people turn out not too willing, or they think it's too difficult to learn quick enough, they usually do not return to this milonga.

Basicly my message is:
'These are our ways - we need them to keep it all pleasant here for everybody. You're very welcome to join this kind of community sense on this floor, or if not, better find yourself a milonga with much more space. Don't worry, we tell this to everyone who seems to find some trouble with floorcraft - which is not a strange phenomenon because it's a quite difficult thing if you're not used to it.'

In my experience it works.
People tend to like taking part in something collective.
Indeed I guess it's very much the way of approaching, my attitude, tone of voice, good visible hosting and my shown love for the milonga-environment that makes people accept my interference.

If I go out dancing myself, I sometimes get the sad feeling that I'm the only host operating this way...
Therefor these shared stories appeal strongly to me :-))

Hosts have more than a right to speak up, they carry a responsability to do so. For being the face and the core of the milonga together with the dj, they have an evening filled with social tasks instead of much dancing (at least in my vision and experience so far).
I would compare it to managing a classroom, a bar, a shop or other public spaces - none of these run effortless and without problems by themselves, right?

So let's keep up the good work, give the wild or disturbing dancers a kind chance to adjust as well before showing them the door (I would, if really neccesary - although I would hate that part of my job) and create lovely, flowing, social milongas together :-)

Justin said...

Unfortunately there will always be milonga crashers... but I believe you handled it with respect for that dancer and the others at the milonga.

There is something to be said about coming to an event and see that the organizer is concerned for the dancers safety and the DJ understands the flow of the crowded room... I know you care and understand both :)

msHedgehog said...

It's for everyone, but in any given situation, someone has to start. We have to set examples and help each other as best we can. That's leadership.

Tanguero NY said...

Bravo! As everyone has already said, you are exactly right, and the fact that most organizers don't do this doesn't mean you shouldn't. I think by creating a safe atmosphere for the rest of the dancers you are directly and positively affecting the social tango community. The offender will one day have to confront his issue, perhaps his ego too, and for all involved I think we can agree, sooner is better.

Melina Sedo said...

Thanks guys and gals!

I am happy to hear, that so many others share my opinion. Sometimes you really start feeling like a freak just because you care about the quality of the movement on the floor! ;-)

But I would have expected some protest from the laissez-faire fraction. No-one calling me a Tango fascist? Funny...

Well. Maybe that's a sign that things are changing! :-)

Good night,


Anonymous said...

I agree with all previous comments.

It is really depressing that most organisers don't act at all accordingly to provide safety to their guests.

Since both my partner and I have suffered some injury from ruthless offenders (in spite of very careful dancing and observing strictly all required floorcraft), we tried several times to stop the worst crashers: Most did not accept our feedback, telling us "who are you to tell me that"...

The teaching of codigos should be an absolute requirement for each beginner course - alas, most dancers never heard anything on that subject.

>Maybe that's a sign that things are changing
Free-Stylers are not very probable on this forum.


Tango Therapist said...

Melina... you did the right thing. Every village has an idiot, but a milonga doesn't need any idiots at all. If the first rule of dance is "to cause no harm," then he obviously has a tango built without the main cornerstone! Also, what you did has plenty of precedence from milongas in BsAs, in that many organizers and regulars will be protectors of their partners and the ambiente itself. Bullies or wild women are either ushered out or a group or individuals may confront them, and sometimes not so nicely. Certainly you have seen Códico signs there. On the other hand, if the whole community was working together, he would not have gotten the shock from you. Now his ego is shattered, and perhaps all the good skills that he has will be thrown out because he just leaves and never comes back. Maybe what we need is to have milonga bloopers on YouTube. Under accidents that cause blood to flow or break bones, he would appear too often, and get the hint that he is the wrong sort star.

Tango Therapist said...

In the US the police have to read the Miranda Rights Advisory to people arrested. Maybe the same can be done at milongas when tangueros are dancing dangerously and naughty? Your blog inspired this: -- Viele Grüße... Mark

Leon V said...

Excellent post Melina, absolutely agree with your actions. I was about to write what Tango Therapist pointed out above; from what I have heard this kind of policing and ushering is quite common in Buenos Aires.

I have several times already been tempted to tell someone off (some Menuda milongas come to mind, as floorcraft is high there, and idiots really stand out there), but as a regular attendee you obviously don't hold that same authority as you do as organiser.

Leon V said...

Excellent post Melina, absolutely agree with your actions. I was about to write what Tango Therapist pointed out above; from what I have heard this kind of policing and ushering is quite common in Buenos Aires.

I have several times already been tempted to tell someone off (some Menuda milongas come to mind, as floorcraft is high there, and idiots really stand out there), but as a regular attendee you obviously don't hold that same authority as you do as organiser.