Giving vs. Taking (31 ene 2009)

In tango, as in life, these are the impetuses that color actions. Both of them fulfill, but one satisfies from the virtue of sharing while the other sates from sole personal gain. Most people are moved by some combination of the two. While I don't know of any who are only givers, there are definitely some who are strictly takers.

The purest takers are generally very poor dancers since they have no interest in really working on it or learning the culture. They don't seem to care what kind of experience they are giving any of their partners, as long as they can get them out on the floor. Oftentimes, they will be the ones who either nag, guilt, or babysit someone they have their eye on, apparently oblivious to the reticence. When you see them dancing with someone it is patently clear that the partner is going through motions, dutifully yet distractedly stepping and inwardly praying for a short tanda while the taker shuffles away, blissfully unaware and/or uncaring, often engaging in chit-chat throughout. While I try to be diplomatic and open-minded about different perspectives and incentives, I can't summon any kind of sympathy for these types. All I feel is disgust. I suppose I take offense at the gall in which they, lazy and uncaring about the culture, invite (and even demand) dances from those who work hard and take this thing seriously. To me, these people do nothing but exploit the dance and pollute the community and if I had my druthers they'd be exiled somehow.

Sometimes you get a case of a person being a taker but not really being aware that they are a taker. In these cases, it is usually someone whose view of themselves and of their dancing and knowledge of tango are far above what it actually is. They, too, will often bully a desired partner to dance, but their thinking is that once they are actually dancing they will blow the partner away with how great they are. It never occurs to them that the partner has already seen them on the floor and has reasons for their hesitance. These takers may or may not catch on to their partner's disinterest during the dance, but that won't stop them from doing what they generally do, which is to jerk the partner around and force dramatic movements and poses in some cartoonish emulation of something they've seen in a show somewhere, or perhaps even from someone they've seen on the social floor who, unbeknownst to them, is not providing a good example of appropriate behavior. In the end, if they hadn't detected their partner's unhappiness they will beam with pride, thinking they showed their partner how great they were. Or if they had detected their partner's unhappiness, they tend to blame them for being a poor dancer and/or ignorant. I suppose, in their mind, they are actually doing more in the way of giving, magnanimously compelling the unenlightened partner to dance for the partner's own benefit, which the uninitiated partner will realize once they experience firsthand the greatness of the dancing. Poor misguided fools, they. As long as they are blinded by their own ego they will never progress.

On the flip side, I don't know if it's possible for someone to be a pure giver, because that would seem to imply that they don't enjoy the dance at all but know they have an aptitude for it and that others would enjoy their interpretation and sharing of it, so they indulge. However, some people definitely have moments of pure giving. One often sees this in noble teachers who dance with beginners or those new to a community--although it can be argued that they are taking some satisfaction in the act of nurturing someone who may become a great presence in the community. And, of course, finding pleasure in the individual nuances that gives everybody a different flavor.

I think, for myself, I am heavily motivated by the giving aspect--which is not to say that I am a saint or self-sacrificing in any way. Certainly, there are the selfish, "taking" aspects of my dance. It's natural that I desire dancing with accomplished dancers, and it's nice when they are attractive in other ways as well, which they generally are (in fact, I can't presently think of an exception). I will say that it doesn't so much work the other way for me, though. That is, a gorgeous woman with poor dance skills doesn't interest me as a dance partner (if that's all I know about them).

While I don't claim to have any kind of widespread reputation, I think that those who know me will agree that I am more reticent to dance than many, if not most. I wonder if some people misconstrue that as a kind of snobbery. I will admit that, to some, it is just that. Generally, when I have that attitude it is toward someone who fits the description of either of the takers. But that attitude is held for very few. More often, my reticence is colored more by the giving aspect in the sense that I hold doubts of what I can offer. This is an insecurity which is the primary reason I refrain from asking for dances with people who I have never danced with but have seen and hold in high regard. Another manifestation of this insecurity is when I have danced with someone but am left uncertain whether it was a good experience for them. While I feel I am at a point where my dance wouldn't be terribly uncomfortable for a partner, I'm aware that everybody has preferences of style and energy and I wouldn't want to trouble someone if my flavor isn't to their taste.

This can also apply to my state of mind, state of body, or perspective to the tanda. I generally want to give everybody I dance with my best dance, so if I'm feeling off in some way I feel they'd be better off with someone who is more in the groove. And there are some orchestras that I just don't feel I dance well to, which isn't to say I don't like them. Pugliese is one example, although I feel like I may finally be starting to make peace with him. I've always loved his music but it's more a feeling that as a dancer I'm not doing him justice and that my natural demeanor doesn't really fit his drama. Other orchestras, like much of De Angelis or Demare, have signatures that I have yet to grasp and I fail to find the dancing impulse in their sound, although I may perfectly enjoy listening to them.

Curiously, I'm having difficulty recalling an instance where a desire to dance with someone was motivated purely, or even primarily, from a "taking" desire. For example, I'm not one to make notches on my belt, tabulating the number of different dance partners to some scoreboard as if that held any significance. Nor do I think that having danced with a reputable partner does anything to elevate my status. I tend to be driven by the consideration that a partner and I will have good chemistry and will provide one another with a fine interpretation of the music and the moment as well as nurture each other physically, emotionally and psychically.

On a tangent, it seems to me that the perspective from a follower may lean more heavily towards a "taking" intention than that from a leader, in that leaders have more sway over dance interpretation, posture, embrace, etc. and as such are technically (and culturally) placed more overtly in the position of "giving." Whereas followers traditionally wait to be asked to dance (although they "give" consent or dissent) and to a greater degree mould themselves to what the leaders provide them. In this sense, the feeling of variety is more pronounced for followers than for leaders since there are more aspects of leading that shape what ultimately comprises the dance experience. This being the case, the motivation of "taking" becomes more of a factor for followers since much of what becomes identified as a pleasure in tango is the feeling of different leads. Whereas for leaders, much of the pleasure is derived in finding someone who is a good receptor to what they have to give. I'm sure I must be missing much in this presumption, though.

Well, this is something that was on my mind for whatever reason but I'm not sure how to close this entry. As always, thoughts, comments, rebuttals or anecdotes are welcome. Thanks.


Frances R said...

Thanks for posting this. The picture is very familiar.
Most of the time I can manage "takers" nowadays (keep them from asking me, decline if they do etc). Still, their presence and actions detract a great deal from tango.

What bothers me the most right now, however, are "enablers" -- clueless beginners, people who firmly believe tango dancers have to be "kind to everyone" and "inclusive". Also, it seems that there are some tango teachers who promote that kind of aggressive behavior in their pupils -- leaders and followers. It is almost like somebody stands behind those people, saying, "You just have to go out there and take it! You have learned from me, you know how to do it, you are entitled".
All that raises the famous "to tell or not to tell?" as well as other problems.
Que fair? Any ideas?

Malevito said...

Hi Frances, how are you?

I'm not sure I understand exactly what you are referring to when you talk about "enablers." Is it something about pushy beginners who insist on getting dances with more experienced dancers? I have to admit, I don't think I've noticed this in the SF Bay Area, at least not enough to consider it a widespread problem.

As someone who has been a part of the local tango community for a while, I definitely feel that I have something of a responsibility to newbies, especially since I remember how intimidating it can be when you are first starting out. That's not to say I go out of my way to dance with anyone, but I try to make people feel welcome and encourage them in any way I can. But I don't compromise certain strict guidelines I keep for myself in that I won't dance with anyone I don't want to. So if some beginner tried to get aggressive with me I'd just pretty much ignore them, responsibility be damned.

And you say this is behavior that is taught? That seems pretty strange. How does this help the community in the long run? Of course, there are plenty of "teachers" out there who teach things they probably shouldn't, like volcadas to students who don't even have a proper understanding of embrace, or sacadas to people who can't even do ochos.

When you say "to tell or not to tell" do you mean whether or not to tell the person that their behavior is inappropriate? Because I'd say yes, it's best to tell them while they are still beginners--nip it in the bud. Just like any bad habit, it's just going to take longer to undo the more it gets ingrained. In a way, this is one example of the responsibility that the more experienced dancers have to the novices.

Anyway, thanks for the comment :)

Frances R said...

I am sorry about being unclear. By "enablers" I meant individuals who make the "takers" aggressive behavior possible.
That would include beginners who do not know any better yet and accept dances from them, listen to their "advice"; people who believe they should be kind to the point of dancing with everyone who asks; teachers who suggest to their students it's OK to be pushy and clingy pursuing potential partners.
And do we tell our point of view on the matter, or just observe in silence?

Malevito said...

Ah, I think I understand now.

Yeah, that's a tough call. This is something I do see all the time. Sometimes the "takers" in these instances actually are teachers--at least, in the sense that they give lessons for pay. Although pretty much everybody except the total beginners know that they are bad teachers and dancers. Which is why they always prey on total beginners. They don't tend to hold on to students for longer than a few months.

But I don't know if I'd feel it was my place to warn the beginners to avoid these people. At least, not unasked. Then the issue becomes whether this will end up as a missed opportunity for someone who may have blossomed into a fine dancer but was turned off early by bad experiences and bad examples (another thing I've seen, unfortunately).

As far as teachers encouraging aggressive behavior, again I don't know if I'd feel it was my place to say anything against it (at least, not out loud). Though if I was asked I'd definitely make my opinion known.

I think the thing about being kind is almost an ingrained thing, something we are taught about civility from an early age. It's a tough habit to break, especially for women. I'm not sure if, depending on temperament, it ever gets to be totally easy or comfortable to become very strong about turning down invitations, but I do think that's one of the things that develops over time. Maybe it's best to let the victims come to it on their own. As for the predators, I think all we can do is refuse to dance with them. It may not make them go away, but at least we don't have to deal with them directly.

Frances R said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts once more!