Are we talking about the same thing?

A woman meets a tango dancer of some renown at a milonga. She asks him for a dance--he obliges. She is confident, emotive, expressive. They are perfect together. The song ends. She gazes at him dreamily, a little flirtatious.

"How am I dancing?" she coos.

"Like shit," he replies.


This is an anecdote which I heard from the lead in the story, who will remain unnamed. And while I will say his response was fairly brutal, I have to admit I admired his frankness. At any rate, to touch on the last post regarding the difficulty of self-assessment, there is also the difficulty of assessing the quality of the dance that one shares with a partner. It's not uncommon to find oneself in a dance relationship with lopsided perspectives, where one partner loves to dance with someone because "we dance so well together," whereas perhaps the other partner feels as if they are bending over backwards to accommodate the difficulties that the first person brings to the dance. Or perhaps one person hates the musicality of the other but gives them the freedom to interpret it their way, which makes the other feel as if they are completely in sync.

Of course, it's all a matter of degree. Every dance partnership is going to be uneven at some level, but what I refer to in this post are the ones whose perceptions are so markedly different between the participants.

Examples (fictionalized):

He says, "I love the way she feels in my arms."
She says, "I hate his embrace."

She says, "I love all the cool things I can do with him."
He says, "She's not following me at all."

He says, "Volcadas with her are awesome."
She says, "My back is killing me."

She says, "We are at the same level."
He says, "If we weren't friends, I probably wouldn't bother dancing with her."

He says, "She dances with me whenever I ask, so she must be enjoying it."
She says, "I have difficulty saying no to a dance, even when I know I won't like it."

She says, "He never throws me off balance like a lot of other guys do."
He says, "I have to hold her up the whole time. And my back is killing me."

I am one to be neurotic about such things. While I am by no means a selfless dancer, when I dance I always prioritize my partner's enjoyment over my own. I have never, nor would I ever, wanted to dance at someone's expense. To get myself off at the cost of another's comfort or pleasure. Because that is actually working counter to what I enjoy most, which is to bring and share joy. But sometimes it's hard for me to tell, is she really enjoying this? Or is she just being nice?

One thing that I wish I could do is to feel my dance as a follower of myself. Then I could really tell whether or not I was projecting to/through my partner exactly what I intend. How clear my lead is. How accommodating my embrace and posture. How I fit in the fine line between a presence that is focused and nurturing and one which is domineering, or the opposite, one that is scarcely felt at all. The amount of "heads up" that I give in my lead. How well I wait for my follower, and how well I follow her through my lead. How well I breathe...

And so on, and so forth. At least then I'd know that if a follower doesn't like my lead it's not because I'm doing something I'm unaware of. She'd be hating my dance for exactly what I mean it to be--and that's fine. Well, maybe not fine, but given the considerable spectrum of human preference it's only natural that from time to time...

In other words: tastes differ.

But, in wanting this kind of self-awareness, does that make me too much of a control freak? I mean, isn't there something to be said about having some kind of mystery about yourself to yourself that someone else is privy to? Especially when a partner genuinely does love dancing with you; isn't there a kind of affirmation in knowing that they love something about you that even you can't exactly define or consciously replicate? An intangible quality, an x factor that you possess through no intention but being who you are?

And, is it a richer experience when we don't know exactly how our partner feels? Would certainty kill the drive to delight, to surprise, to build anticipation? Is it the search for connection which gives it value when we think we've found it?


Anonymous said...

Loved the post, but isn't this just like sex?

Malevito said...

Hi anonymous, how are you?

I'm guessing yours is a rhetorical question, yes?

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, it's mostly rhetorical. But I think it's interesting there are so many parallels between the two - the sometimes startling discrepancy between what you feel and what your partner feels, the performance vs dancing for your partner approach, the benefits of projection, taking control, communicating clearly etc...