Abuse only your phantom partner

Have you seen it? That shocking moment when you see in the partner’s eyes a flash of upset, surprise, even a bit of pain or anger.

I’m talking about dance instructors demonstrating the wrong way to do something. They grab their partner (or worse, a student) and show the bad result of doing things that way. Due to inattention or no rehearsal, it takes the partner by surprise and they feel mishandled. Even when expected it can feel unpleasant.

We have a better way. Before considering this, think about whether you need a wrong way demonstration. I’ve written before about right and wrong versus the Sears Good, Better, Best and how all that we do and experience in life comes from a range of possibilities. The sweet spot of what feels and works best may change person to person. It may be large or small; it may be at either end or somewhere in the middle of the range. I like to have students do experiments to experience different parts of the range. They discover for themselves what seems to work best.

You know how in tango we want to never make our partner wrong? It works the same way for instructional demonstrations. I don’t care if the instructor shows themselves the perpetrator or the victim of a wrong way. Both ways show the partner in a poor light, either doing a wrong thing or getting upset by it.

Do this instead. We can show ourselves in a poor light without making an innocent bystander suffer. Why? Because people can appreciate self-deprecation. They can have sympathy for someone who makes themselves the butt of their bad behavior.

“But how do I do this effectively,” you may ask? Do you ever encourage your students to do solo practice? How about solo practice with a phantom partner? The student sees and feels their height and size and weight and movement qualities. They hold that partner in an embrace that moves as it would if the partner were real. So… can’t you do the same?! Can’t you trust your students to “see” what is happening when you bring a phantom partner to life?

I only ever want to work with my teaching assistant or partner to show a good way. I always seek to make my partners look good. That makes me look good, too.

What am I forgetting?

When do I tend to forget? Let these situations trigger heightened awareness.

  • Dancing with or for the teacher?
  • Dancing with someone perceived to be of much higher or lower status or skill.
  • Dancing with someone who presents challenges, good or bad.
  • When I am feeling judged.
  • When I’m tired.
  • When it’s the same old, same old.
  • When I’m too eager.
  • When I haven’t thoughtfully warmed up.
  • When I feel distracted.
  • When I am showing off.

I seek always to remember to:

  • Connect with the music, including the pauses and energy and mood changes.
  • Connect with my partner. Giving time to finish movements, express intentions. Protecting their and my own axis. Matching energy.
  • Build and test our connection over time. Don’t assume.
  • Reconnect with my partner. Recognizing as soon as things go less than good.
  • Use all the dimensions of dance: size, speed, elevation, dynamics, big-small, fast-slow, loud-quiet.
  • Draw (not pull!) my partner into spaces with energy and intention. Step fully into my axis between movements. Pivot fully to my partner. Pivot! Don’t allow feet to get stuck pigeon-toed.
  • Lead and follow with my “heart-light”.
  • Allow my embrace to slide and expand-contract with elasticity to accommodate movement.
  • Use moments of simplicity and quiet, still, small, and simple to dramatic effect.
  • Help my partner to feel safe and comfortable in mind and body (even when challenged).
  • Dance for, as well as with my partner, and they for us.
  • Make our shared experience feel rewarding (even when challenged).