Relationship Lessons Gleaned from Lead/Follow Dances

Dancing Argentine Tango for seven years, many of my classes and workshops are on perfecting the skills of being a good leader and follower. I’ve noticed many of those lessons are good for relationships in general. While men are often leaders and women followers, anyone can lead or follow, so to be as all encompassing as possible, my references will be to leader and followers only, as opposed to gender. After all, I’m not North Carolina.

1. Both parties should stay on their own axis (balance). If you are leaning on your partner to the point they are having to hold you up, the dance will never work. Have we not all dated someone like that?

2. Leaders should not pull, push, shove, or otherwise forcibly try to get the follower to “get it”. I mention this since SC is quite high on the national list for Domestic Violence, and because reading followers posts, it seems to be epidemic. Maybe you really want to be in mixed martial arts or wrestling instead.

3. Stated differently in different languages, “the leader proposes, the follower disposes”. A lead is not a command, but an invitation, to which the follower accepts or rejects. (or maybe interprets differently then you intended in an even more lovely way) Followers, like people in bars, appreciate your picking up on this after your third invitation is rejected (or first). Know the difference between persistence and harassment.

4. If your lead doesn’t obtain the intended response, my advice is to consider this to be something you miscommunicated rather than an error on the followers part. Here’s why, there’s nothing you can do about an error on the followers part (during a social dance) , but there’s a lot you can do to make your non verbal communication skills better. In fact, one of the greatest benefit of lead follow dances is that you ACQUIRE non verbal communication skills. What married person wouldn’t like THOSE to be better? For themselves and their significant other (SO). For workshops, consider that most issues between couples are a combination of both parties. Take a “how can we make this better approach”, as opposed to a “you need to do or not do X,Y,and Z.” Even if it is one person’s issue, it’s easier to accept if determined in a cooperative format.

5. Likewise, as a follower, if you are confused by your partners lead, you can’t do anything about that in the moment. What you can do, is focus on what YOU’RE doing and go through your mental checklist: posture, balance, arm position, looking at partners chest, etc. Wouldn’t most relationships be better if we worked hardest at “fixing” ourselves, rather than taking our SO’s inventory.

6. Follow etiquette. “Etiquette is a code of polite conduct. If you practice proper etiquette, you are less likely to offend or annoy people — and you may even charm them.” https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/etiquette Rules regarding the dance moves in a counter clockwise circle, that one does not instruct during a social dance, that one doesn’t talk DURING the dance (before or after is fine) are all designed to avoid injury, and create an opportunity for everyone to have a pleasant social experience while dancing. While some neglect etiquette in relationships, one might argue that relationships need just as much etiquette as public situations. Like not talking during a dance. Who hasn’t been in relationship and far too often thought, “will they just not shut up”.

7. You will not have chemistry with everyone. This is not a surprise. You may even find that someone you had chemistry with at one time, you no longer do. Or you may find that they no longer have chemistry with you. Usually some distance is all that’s required. Stabbing, poisoning, shooting them is not recommended, nor is defaming them, trying to cause them financial ruin or slashing there tires. While intentionally hyperbole, anyone who’s been to divorce court knows exactly where I’m coming from.

8. Personal Hygiene. Who hasn’t wished this was a more popular endeavor in ALL facets of life. Whether dancing or in a relationship, applying the Golden Rule to yourself for any situation in which you will spend significant time cheek to cheek is not rocket science.

9. Your current lack of ability at “whatever” is not an excuse for not learning, participating or getting better. This is one of my favorites. When I tell people I take yoga classes, a typical response is “I can’t do that, I’m not flexible.” “Neither was I when I started, but I can now stick my head up my ass, and you’re apparently flexible enough for that”. Or, “I can’t dance, I have no rhythm”. Uhhh, that’s why you take lessons. Just say I’m not interested in that rather then suggesting a lack of knowledge is a good excuse. We could have all gotten out of public school if saying, “Wow, I can’t go, I don’t know math”. Over seven years, I’ve been told I have no rhythm, can’t move to a beat, act like I’m always at a funeral, lack musicality, have no creativity or imagination. And those comments were just from my former marriage.

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Left Brain-Right Brain: The “Filter” vs “Smart Assery”

You may be familiar with various theories of the effects that the two hemispheres of our brain have on a variety of things from behavior, to psychology to biology, including the most popular that our left brain is where rational, logical processes reside and the right, creativity.  This is all, of course probably not true. If you’re remotely interested in any of this, here is a Wikipedia article with 80 citations to current professional journal articles in neurology, physchology, and other medical, scientific and Behavorial science publications.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateralization_of_brain_function
 Let me save you some time, however, and suggest that our knowledge of the brain is not much more advanced than our medieval theories that the Black Plague was caused by an imbalance in the four humours (not comedy humours but blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile)

This allows me to pretty freely postulate that the left brain is where our “filter” resides, as a constant balance to the “smart Assery” right side of our brain.  By “filter”, I mean that part of our brains that stops us from offering the police office, who just stopped us, the box of donuts from the passenger seat, or when our significant other asks, “do these jeans make my ass look fat”; scrolling through the responses of “everything makes your ass look fat” or “your ass IS FAT”, or “do you mean ‘semi trailer fat’, or ‘Beyoncé booty fat’, or ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue fat” and instead opt for “of course not- your ass is perfection defined”. 

I find it difficult to predict when my filter will or won’t work, or when the switch is on or off.  I first noticed this as a 17 year old in AP calculus class.  The teacher said, “and what should I do with this Parabola”, and before I knew it I said “you don’t REALLY want us to tell you what to do with that Parabola, do you”, whereupon with equal speed an eraser was whizzing by my left ear.  I immediately began to put as much value on my filter as her bad aim. As the things which then began to get thrown at my head increased in both frequency and weight, I began to think maybe my filter could be exercised to be made more effective. I’m not sure at my age if it’s better or worse.  Here’s just a few examples.

At a function this week hosted by a female friend, I met her husband for the first time. Part of the conversation went like this.  “…-and he does Argentine tango, she said”.   “Wow,” he said, what a beautiful dance.  We so enjoyed watching tango on our trip to Buenos Aires.  But you don’t seem to have the body type of a tango dancer?”.   Possible replies submitted to my filter:  “Yes, well I got a 6 week scholarship to the Sumo Wrestlers School of Argentine Tango in Kyoto in 2009”. “Yes, but I applied for and was granted a weight waiver from the International Tango Police in Buenos Aires”.  “Yes, but I’m also short and I get to dance with REALLY tall women”.

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 Yes, but I’m not allowed to dance with women over (or under) a certain weight”. “Yes, I have to weigh in monthly and if I go over 240, I’m suspended”. “Yes, but we have weight classes in Tango, like boxing” to what actually passed my filter which was “hahahahahaha, Yes!”  (Yay filter!!!)

My filter seems particularly challenged by stupidity.  At a tango class years ago, a conversation with a medical school professor somehow turned to my struggles to lose weight despite a ridiculous amount of exercise, clean eating and food deprivation.    “It’s easy he said, don’t eat anything white”.   Uh oh, here we go with a furious assault on my filter.   “This is going to be shocking news to my black and Asian friends”.  “OMG- in 48 years of dieting, I’ve never seen or read this theory or been told this by any of the 36 physicians I’ve seen in all these years”.  While my filter is processing some other options which are not printable, he adds “you know like white rice, white bread, or white flour”.  Immediately after my filter rejects “so the outside of Oreo’s is ok, but not the middle” and “You’re a fucking idiot”, and it allows, “yes, I should work harder on this, thank you”.  

I was encouraging a fellow zumberanian this morning by remarking she looks like she lost a significant amount of weight lately and is more tone.  Anytime I see someone I know, who looks like they’ve lost weight lately, I tell them. Who doesn’t want to hear they’ve lost weight lately, even if they haven’t (Nigerian marathon runners and eating disorder patients excluded). We had the usual banter of “yes, I really want to get rid of this belly” (whereupon I put my arm around her and showed her it’s still smaller than mine), how long it takes to make progress, etc. etc. whereupon the other person in this conversation said, “your genes have a lot to do with it”.   Apparently my filter was recovering from my Friday night because I blurted out, “so, I should stop wearing wranglers and get designer jeans instead?”, all the while thinking I should warn my former beauty pageant friend to immediately burn those baby phat jeans I bought her years ago.  After all, she might ask me, “Baby, do these baby phat’s make my ass look fat?”.