Not touchy feely


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Now this was weird: during a line-up, when prizes are awarded, the men typically puts his arm around the waste of the lady. Now: this actually caused some discomfort with me... Where the contact was much closer during dancing... never practiced this part... As said: funny how the brain works...
This, I get! I'm pretty comfortable with pro by now, so don't have an issue with the arm-around-waist position at comps, but there is a social dancer who likes to put his arm around my waist and pull me in when another couple comes too close during a class or a social, or when we get too close to the wall. I know that he's trying to "protect" me (thanks, brain!), but it still makes me really uncomfortable. I'd really rather just get bumped into... or better yet, led into a change of direction to avoid the collision.


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I was (and still am but it is better) very anti-touchy-feely. I just wasn't comfortable with it. In examining my own thoughts about it, I realize my issues about it stemmed from my own insecurities about myself and my body, etc., that anyone trying to be touchy-feely was only doing so because they did not grasp the extent to which I would repulse another human being if they were to touch me. Your issues are obviously not the same as mine, but the end result was the same, a strong aversion to anything touchy-feely. And then I started dancing. And I realized that I am capable of trusting others not to betray me if and when our bodies touched. And it got easier to just let it go and enjoy the dance. Fast forward several years and I'm pretty sure my body has been touched by more people on a dance floor than I can count.

I won't say that I am completely over it, but I rarely think about it for hours and hours ahead of time now and only realize that it has happened after the fact. Now it is more like "oh, he just put his hand on my waist" or "she touched my back to congratulate me" or something like that. And I have noticed that I initiate touching with other people outside of dancing more now than I ever used to do. I will hug people now or put my hand on their shoulder for encouragement, etc., things I would have never done without the constant pressure to touch others on the dance floor and allow myself to be touched by dance partners. Touch is a powerful thing. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to become more comfortable with it. As for me, I am glad I was able to learn to enjoy the dance.
Wannbe, FancyFeet, MaggyMoves, Aggy, and Wooh many thanks for your posts. It's good to know I'm not the only not-touchy-feely person out there and to see ways you have worked with it. I read that many introverts have their private self and their public self. That is true for me for public speaking -- I feel like I'm an actor when I'm public speaking. BTW I actually now like public speaking on technical topics of interest to me, but that didn't happen overnight. Like several of the recent posters, I feel like I am developing a dance persona (but the "real me" still doesn't like getting hugged). This can actually be a good thing. Here is a great Ted Talk by a Harvard professor about "Fake it until you make it" (I paraphrase it as "just do it and you'll do it.").

The plan is to fake it/actor it/just do it for the upcoming close embrace lessons. Wish me luck, I'm stressing a bit just typing those words! But at least it has improved from "running screaming from the room!" in my first post.
Thanks for all the kudos, but I only deserve part of the credit. Some of it is chance (didn't know the class would switch partners, didn't know my wife would switch on me, or I might not have done taken the class), some of it is encouragement from here and folks at the studio, much of it is dw's big enjoyment, and some of it is the dissociation dance. Here is yet another instance of the cosmic conspiracy:

I accidentally practiced with a really good, very experienced dancer. The plan had been to take the smallest steps possible (kind of like the Devil's Staircase in Chaos Theory, that has infinitely many steps ). Part of the small-steps plan was to only practice with folks from class for now.

A lady arrived. I asked if she was in the Tango class, she said yes, and kindly agreed to practice with me. I made the assumptions she was in my beginner's class and that she was starting late or I didn't remember her. It quickly became obvious she was way beyond beginner. It turned out she was in the super-duper-advanced, get-in-by-audition-with-the-instructor-only class.

Wow... Things just happened so effortlessly. In my class the one gancho we learned so far is still a "I hope no one falls over" experience; the same gancho with her was effortless and stable. She asked if I'd like to see her do a 2nd gancho after the first -- that went as well as if I had been practicing it, even though I don't think I could lead it well enough to replicate it with someone else yet. She complimented my lead except for one figure -- so that was good feedback for some help from my instructor on that. It was great fun.

Here's a weird thing: The gancho leg thing doesn't bother me. For someone that doesn't like hugs, go figure. Maybe my wife's side of the family will all accept ganchos instead of hugs this Christmas.

I also am really enjoying retaking the beginner's class. Maybe it is the tutor in me (I have liked tutoring math and science, and helping with science fair in the past, for instance). It is neat to see a huge smile and know you helped create it.
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One step forward, one step back. Short story: Tango Distance does pseudo close embrace successfully. Tango Distance then does true close embrace, but would have done better to just stay home. Read on for full details – I wrote a ton of stuff off-line, I'll do about a post a day until it is all up.

Dance class has given me new understanding of all kinds of phrases, like “getting off on the wrong foot,” “stepping on someone's toes,” “it takes two to Tango,” and “two steps forward, one step back.”

Here is an example of my lowly roots: At my first Milonga, all the seats were empty except for the one I was occupying whilst my dw was dancing a Tanda with someone else. A lady asked if the seat next to me was available. Clearly sitting by me was a choice on her part, not a necessity. I politely said yes, motioned to it, and then without another word promptly got up and walked away. That was a consequence of my being self absorbed with my own worries, not thinking of others, and my prime directive of not wanting to risk being asked to dance. Later I realized that was perhaps not the most polite thing I have ever done and hope I didn't offend. I don't think I would recognize her, so my only hope of “making it up to her” will be to try to think of how my actions might be perceived and act accordingly in the future. This was one step back.

Now the narrative fast forwards to more recent events.

First class, then informal practica, and then several of us decided to go to a club as we had a classmate with a birthday. The club was doing nonTango music and nonTango dance. I hadn't really planned on doing it, but the only other leader for some reason didn't want to dance with the birthday girl... Her husband didn't want to dance (pretty much in general)... We had just danced in class and danced at the practica, so it just flowed to dance with her at the club – yes, Tango dancing in a nonTango club. I also danced with dw and another classmate. The music was live and great, and my dw and I also muddled through the other type of dance (looked to be easier to do than Tango). So that was one step forward, Tango Distance dances with other women at a “real” dance.

A few weeks later, we traveled to a Milonga. I walked in and knew almost no one. I felt very conspicuous, as a bunch of women were looking at me as I walked in. I guess that is the power of walking into a Milonga with a pair of dance shoes in your hand! Mr. Slow-Witted here thought what felt like a huge crowd (but wasn't) – of ladies were merely staring at me, verging on being impolite. Days later I realized I was likely getting a mass mirada. This is one case where it was fortunate and arguably more polite that I didn't smile and nod at anyone! Anyway, I didn't dance with anyone but dw that night. There were too many strangers, almost everyone was doing close embrace, and on some intuitive level I was a bit unnerved by the mass look at the beginning. BTW, just for the record, believe it or not I'm not afraid to ask, I knew my two classmates that were there for sure would have said yes (particularly since both had not asked at all), and intuitively thought some of the other ladies would have said yes, too.

The other aspect of that night was my dw promised someone from our class I would dance with her! I didn't know this. When she wanted to dance with someone else she asked if I would dance with our classmate and took off. I didn't answer her, but gallantly went to the restroom instead of asking my classmate to dance. I felt a little overwhelmed by the large number of strangers, and also that the asking wasn't on my terms. Kudos to my wife, she sent her dance partner over to the other lady, and after no dances half the night she then danced regularly the rest of the night. My dw and I discussed it on the way home – it did make her look a little bad that I had danced with the lady before, but didn't do it that night when my wife “offered” me to her. I apologized to my dw and asked her to limit volunteering me to others, but I would honor such a request in the future. For Tango Distance breaking out of his shell, this night was one step back.

... to be continued ...


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.... Later I realized that was perhaps not the most polite thing I have ever done and hope I didn't offend. I don't think I would recognize her, so my only hope of “making it up to her” will be to try to think of how my actions might be perceived and act accordingly in the future. This was one step back.
I cannot tell you how many times in life I have wished I could take back something I did but realized that all one can do in a situation like this is to use it for awareness! Your awareness is one step foreword.
This is one case where it was fortunate and arguably more polite that I didn't smile and nod at anyone!
Very, very funny.

The other aspect of that night was my dw promised someone from our class I would dance with her! I didn't know this. When she wanted to dance with someone else she asked if I would dance with our classmate and took off. I didn't answer her, but gallantly went to the restroom instead of asking my classmate to dance. I felt a little overwhelmed by the large number of strangers, and also that the asking wasn't on my terms. Kudos to my wife, she sent her dance partner over to the other lady, and after no dances half the night she then danced regularly the rest of the night. My dw and I discussed it on the way home – it did make her look a little bad that I had danced with the lady before, but didn't do it that night when my wife “offered” me to her. I apologized to my dw and asked her to limit volunteering me to others, but I would honor such a request in the future. For Tango Distance breaking out of his shell, this night was one step back.
I hope she acknowledged that she should have at least actually told you what she had said!!! Significantly better, she could have asked you first! This counts as a learning experience much more than a step backwards.

My story from last night: I was at a ballroom general dance because there was a performance I wanted to see later in the evening. There was a class given by a local instructor at one point in the evening before the performance. I have done a gazillion of these types of lessons and they have always been fine. Dance was Merengue (really, I should have know better than to participate based on the choice of dance). I didn't know many people there and I got paired up with a random stranger. Once more, classes like this have always been fine in the past so I was not yet alarmed. I became alarmed--very alarmed--when the person teaching it included a move where I sit on this unknown-to-me man's leg.:oops: :oops: :oops: I'm praying he's too shy and doesn't want to do it. No....he is not to shy...he leads it multiple times. :oops: :oops: :oops: I usually try to play ball, so I vow to stick the lesson out... and the next move is a dip. In a class in a public place. With people of unknown dancing ability. o_O I did stick the class out, but the next song played after the class was a merengue. It is typical that the song after a class is what was taught in the class and I always give the leader an opportunity to ask this case I mumbled something along the lines of, "I'm sorry, I can't" and ran off. Yikes!


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TD, thank you for sharing your experiences so candidly. I wouldn't call those instances a step back... I think a lot of us have had moments like those. You're making progress overall and taking responsibility for your own growth. That's fantastic.

Angel HI

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Salut Distance, I was on a kind of sabbatical when you first posted, but have read the entire thread (I think it is the psychologist/counselor in me) :) I believe your strides to be well on track. Funny you mentioned Merengue. Most use that one as the go-to dance when all else fails (especially in non-tango situations). Merci for the post. Keep posting, but mostly, please, keep dancing...... with as many as possible.
Thanks all for the encouragement.

RiseNFall: Loved the story on the leg sitting thing! I can relate.

twnklotz: It is a step forward to learn from experience, so true. But I should have known better at the time. I would not have done that at a regular party, or a work event, or a conference.

Angel HI: Glad to have a pysch expert read the whole thing! I feel like I'm at a bit of a fork in the road, part of me wants to go back to not switching partners, part of me wants to conquer it and then make a "more fully informed" decision. My thought has been incrementalism, taking the smallest steps possible. I have asked at most 2 other ladies to dance at a Milonga, and in all seriousness am considering letting that go up to 3 if they are people I know... You say "with as many as possible," can you expand on that a bit? Is it better to jump into the cold water rather than wade in slowly?

newbie: That's a good suggestion.
Consequences of Switching Partners

One thing with switching partners is that it sets up the expectation that I will switch partners (<sarcasm directed at self> wow, TD you are being really profound today! </sarcasm directed at self>). When I started switching partners, that started some things I had not anticipated. This is not a bad thing, it just points out I can't think of everything.

o My dw assumes it is OK to offer me to others. It embarrassed her a bit when I didn't dance with someone she offered I would, and afterwards I thought we had agreed she wouldn't do that casually. At a later date we walked into our studio's practica and she said I could dance with lady x. I reminded dw to not give me away to others (a defense of my thinking comes later). Not 20 steps later, she saw 2 other female students from our class and loudly said something like look at these two beautiful ladies you can dance with. I squeezed dw and said something like no, look, there are 3 beautiful ladies here. DW went to the restroom, and I waited for her assuming she would be right out. After about 5 minutes the 2 ladies (lady y and lady z) came over and basically told me to choose which of them I was going to dance with. I politely declined by saying I was expecting my wife out of the restroom at any moment. DW came out and we did some practice, and then I started switching partners. I think this is the first time a fellow student approached me like that (generally ladies don't ask men here), I think my dw's proclamation set up that scenario. I also found it interesting they both approached together – that was clearly collusion on their part! I guess that is a sign of my Tango maturation, saying no to two ladies at the same time. How many Tangoers can say that? (Well, not really a “no” but more of a “promised a dance to my wife, after that.”) For the record, the previous 3 sentences are intended to be funny. This was kind of a rock step, not really forward or back.

o I have read a number of complaints here on DF about newby women getting ignored and never asked to dance. They then get tired of never being asked and drop out of Tango. Some time ago I decided after first dances with dw, I thought it would be a good thing for me to ask newbies to dance next, and then more experienced ladies. There were some beginner's class newbies, and I was making the rounds with them. They seemed super appreciative, which is neat. I was down to the last newby, who was seated near lady y. I could tell lady y thought I was about to ask her, but I asked a much younger newb instead. After that I asked lady y. She said something about being last choice. I told her she was first choice material, but I had read about newbies getting discouraged because they were never asked to dance, so I planned to ask newbies first. She replied “Good save.” That's a sign of my Tango maturation of sorts, my first slightly rough social interaction moment in Tango! Overall I'll deem this a step forward, asking new students that I had not met previously to practice.

o By appearing to be this relatively advanced leader by retaking a beginner's class, I realized these folks didn't see the nonswitching Tango Distance. They would have an expectation for dancing with me at practicas and milongas. It is good in that it gives me a fresh start. It's a step forward in that I think given only the slice of history of retaking the beginner's class, my instructors and fellow students would have deemed me an ideal student with no personal space issues, with the exception of being a bit shy about demoing steps in front of the whole class. I did it on command a couple of times.

o Now in defense of my hesitation to dance when dw is filling out my dance card: I'm sure dw is doing this with the best of intentions. Class being directed and short seems to go OK. For practicas and milongas, things seem to go better when I pick the who, when, and where rather than dw or someone else. I can mentally prep myself for it, and feel like I can stop at any time. Also, she is setting up expectations that might lead to disappointment if for whatever reason I don't follow through, or ask that person later instead of right away. So it really is with best of intentions that I'm putting the kibosh on dw's best intentions. It's kind of a rock step – I am asking females to dance as the forward motion, but only feel ready to ask a small number of folks I know, as the back motion.
For her it is a great positive. She is really revved up about Tango. In her mind all these beautiful and available ladies are the greatest gift I could have, multilplying my fun. She is going beyond assuring me I have her permission, for her this is great fun that she wants to share.

Thankfully it does not mean she is limiting me in other ways, or in choice of dance partner. I have called her wonderful several times and this sentence does it again. The only "villian" here is Tango Distance's recalcitrance being a bit of a drag anchor on her and others fun at times.
She's like that all the time?
You can wear this tie.
You can sit there.
You can have one glass of beer.
You can watch this channel.
Mirada/Cabeceo Adventures and Milonga Personalities

At a practica I was an excess male. I looked at a female I didn't recall ever having seen before when she arrived. She looked back with a big smile. I wasn't really trying to do it, but my inadvertent first mirada/cabeceo was successfully accomplished! It seemed easier than walking up and asking. Something else neat about it was it allowed the fun to start a little bit sooner – the dance had not even started but who doesn't feel better in life when someone smiles at you? So Tango Distance dances with a stranger after a mirada/cabaceo – one step forward.

We traveled to a 3rd Milonga venue. I can tell my dw Madame Extrovert really really wants to switch partners (which makes it especially nice of her that she says she'll do whatever I would most like). I suggested we do two tandas, and then she could circulate, and then we would finish the night with two more tandas. After our first two tandas she was asked by two instructors, but then did not get any more invites (all her Mirada/Cabeceo attempts failed, even though she had good success in the past). We would dance then (good by me!). During her tandas with others I asked and danced with the hosting female instructor, warning her I was new and only had open embrace training. It was far from perfect, but we laughed and she seemed to genuinely have a good time – it was good encouragement for this newb. I remembered the whole dance this time. I also danced with a lady from our class. I'm got some further Tango maturation, I asked her just as she accepted a mirada/cabeceo from someone else! It was not a big deal, I chatted with some of the other nice ladies there and caught her later. OK, there's a second step forward.

I have done 4 total Milongas at 3 different venues. It is interesting to me how each one had its own personality. My studio has the largest number of people I know or recognize (no surprise there) and is a happy place. The hosts/instructors smile a lot and I think that is infectious. There are many people doing open embrace. The 2nd venue was very serious. Almost everyone was doing close embrace. The 3rd venue was more like a party, there was as much talking going on as dancing. The dance floor was serious and almost all close embrace, but the food area was a typical happy party.
Pseudo Close Embrace

At the beginning of my class the instructor announced we would be doing close embrace. Most of the weeks rolled by. We did get a little bit closer for one of the gancho moves and for one of the barrida moves, but no real close embrace... That was until the last class, when the instructor announced we'd be doing close embrace that lesson. This time I happened to be standing right by the door, and considered leaving. I didn't leave (huge improvement for me in the last few months), but the stress levels were rising. The instructor explained how moving a bit closer would make a particular barrida move go better. In this case, this meant my hand was on the lady's right shoulder blade rather than left. This still left a gap, with no squishing of torsos together. I think it also helped being among friends, classmates that I know. It was almost anticlimatic – Tango Distance survives his first close embrace encounters! Yes, I know you true-Tango types will say that was not real close embrace, and I agree. I think the instructor is being clever (and he told me as much) that he is gradually introducing moving closer, that it was a tough thing to get people to suddenly move closer. While it didn't cross into the fun zone, I'll consider it another step forward that I did it. We'll see what the next class brings. Look for tomorrow's post for the promised true close embrace misadventure story.


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:) I love your stories. You are doing terrifically! I hope you are giving yourself lots of credit... even with a misadventure story coming! Remember, I have been dancing for almost five years, and I barely got though the mini-class I was in over the weekend.
Tango Distance does Apilado Close Embrace
He Should Have Stayed Home!

An expert dance instructor was visiting within driving distance. My dw made no secret of wanting me to go. I wasn't sure I was advanced enough for it. I emailed the host, explaining my experience level and that I had only open embrace training. The host asked the instructor and said it would be a good thing for me to do. Some solo exercises were pretty easy. I didn't care for the instructor touching me in a surprisingly large number of locations (as with everyone). It was very clinical, just out of my comfort zone. Then came the actual dancing part. There was no prelude, no pillows, no closing the eyes, no gradually moving closer together. My partner just jammed up against me apilado style. It's a good thing it was my dance alter ego (DAE) there and not the Real Tango Distance (RTD). DAE survived but struggled. This apilado stuff is very different from open embrace. It was very hard for me to understand what the instructor wanted us to do. That's no slam on the instructor, everyone else seemed to be getting it. I think apilado is more subtle and harder to see from the outside what is happening – with open embrace I can see movements. It is hard to see what to do when it involves pressure rather than motion. I was next paired with one of my regular classmates. We both just stood there not knowing exactly what to do and shy (at least on my part) about full on embracing. The instructor ran over and paired me with someone else. I struggled so badly finally the instructor paired me with a very experienced lady, who was stuck with me for the rest of the night whilst everyone else rotated partners. Yes, it was that bad, and wasn't getting better. Finally, they called over a large, strong male that brute force showed me what to do. No joke, all this and they said I still wasn't getting how to transition between forward and backward steps! The night ended. I offered my hand to shake with the hostess who also was the very experienced lady who was my partner. She pushed right past my outstretched hand and hugged me! Funny that I had just spent ½ hour pressed up against this same female but still didn't want to be hugged. Hmmm, maybe I should remain DAE for a few minutes after dancing stops. Everyone was very gracious, but I feel bad that I was so far behind the curve and probably should have done some beginner close embrace instruction before jumping into a more advanced visiting instructor thing. As you likely guessed, I didn't feel any of the close embrace magic about which many here on DF rave! Side note: This experience helped me realize how well my current instructors explain things; I couldn't seem to follow what the 2 instructors wanted at this event. I think part of it is I'm a very visual learner, and don't understand verbal descriptions as readily.

I exchanged more email with the hosts/instructors. I thanked them for the workshop and apologized for being so far behind the curve (bad enough, IMHO, that I shouldn't have gone). I really should have left early rather than take 100% of the resource of an experienced instructor. She emailed back that we had “connection” but to be honest I don't know what she meant by that – I couldn't seem to do anything more complicated than walking forward to either instructor's satisfaction. I also realize it might be Mr. Not Touchy Feely here didn't pick up on the “connection” thing, maybe it's analogous to how hugs generally don't connect me to others (dw excepted!). Indeed, a prolonged hug is a good way to emotionally disconnect me from the hugger! Other things do connect me to others, it's just that hugs are outside that set. I suppose it was a step forward that I was willing to try true CE and carried through with it. It's a step backward in that I left feeling discouraged, and thinking of drawing the line at open embrace and never doing close embrace (except with dw, of course), or switching to another dance style. The logical brain says I jumped into too advanced a class too soon and to not weight that data point too heavily in my Kalman Filter.


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It is not unusual for there to be a decision made to pair a more experienced follow with a less experienced lead...and to keep that pairing for the most of the class (more experienced follow is likely taking classes below her actual level and is fine with evidenced by the hug at the end of the evening).

Short version of what could be a long response: likely everything running through your head resulted in your body being too stiff to get what they were trying to get you to feel. And if you are anything like me, your brain shut down in alarm part way through the class. :D We have somewhat different issues, but I can really relate to "I do not understand what they are trying to teach to me AT ALL."

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