Holding space

Argentine Tango as giving, taking, . . . and holding space

This began as a teaching article, and you’ll find some of that, but then I got distracted.

In my Einsteinian, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” view of Argentine tango we find but two basic moves: changing weight from one foot to another, and pivots.

Yes, that’s simple, and how do we go from that to movement across and around the floor? By using, stepping into or taking away space. When I step toward and into my partner’s space they retreat into the open space behind them. Vice-versa, when I step backwards giving space in front of me, my partner steps into that space to continue confronting me.

Sometimes we both move together into a space, as in the salida.

When I want to create a curving movement I use space differentially, opening up space on one side while closing it on the other side.

I can also use that differential opening/closing technique to suggest a longer/shorter movement than mine when we step together into a space. For example, in the salida if I rotate my torso toward my partner I will close off space, suggesting that they step not quite as far as me.

In a molinete around me I continuously take one side away from my partner, opening space in that direction. In a molinete around my partner I continuously turn in toward them, without collapsing in on them, keeping them centered in my perambulation.

Floorcraft has each couple in la ronda managing their space between the couples fore and aft. We either move around the space underneath us as a couple, or we move into available space ahead, leaving space behind us.
Not terribly profound, maybe not even terribly useful. But for a beginner with limited vocabulary it can serve as a lifeline to simply know how to keep moving–simply. For an expert who transcends vocabulary, it expresses the way.

It became somewhat profound when, as my thoughts gathered, the expression holding space for another arose.

Holding space, the gift of being fully present for another person. “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination.” (Lynn Hauka).

When holding space for another we meet them with unconditional regard, offering unconditional support, giving our heart and our willingness to be fully with them. We breathe together. We allow. We ground ourselves.
Holding space challenges us by its intimacy yet its need for a certain distance and respect to let the other person be themselves, not our expectations nor our desires.

Does it seem clear that in order to hold space for others You must first hold space for yourself, accepting yourself as is?

Give your partner only as much as they can handle. (Test but don’t stress.) Empower, don’t limit your partner. Keep your ego out of it. Be in the moment. Make them feel safe enough to fail. Allow them to make different decisions and have different experiences than you would.

From the moments of taking up and settling into an Argentine tango embrace, can you feel from your partner, and do you give to your partner the feeling that, “I trust you. Whatever we do, wherever we go, I’m with you.”

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.

Guide Explorer

“Parents [tango teachers] try too hard to fix things.” “Let me make a mistake once.” “I’m just warming up. Give me a chance to discover what I’m meant to do.” –From the book Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say it, and When to Listen by Wendy Mogel, PhD.

I see it as the difference between a hierarchical superior/inferior, controlling/controlled, parent/child, teacher/student relationship versus a collaborative Guide/Explorer relationship. The guide knows the territory really well, and can also show you good examples of how they do things. They can answer questions, or show real expertise when they give you ways to discover your answer.

The guide works alongside the explorer.

To put it in a way closer to home, we want a student-teacher relationship like a good follower-leader dance partnership. The leader marks the territory, and the follower explores what is there.

A pivotal experience

“When do I pivot; right after taking the step or when my feet come together?”

Do you want my answer, or would you Enjoy a way of discovering your own answer?

Stand with your feet apart, as if you’ve just taken a step, either forward or backward. Choose a foot and twist it in any direction that feels most comfortable. Reset and move the old leg closer to the new leg. Notice whether you can now twist more or less than before. Continue testing until your feet are side-by-side.

If your balance and pivoting skills are not yet well developed, you may find it harder to pivot with your feet together. Even so, notice how far your foot could rotate if the rest of your body isn’t blocking it.


Lately I’ve been reading The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, author of the seminal work, The Inner Game of Tennis. A key facet of this method of teaching/coaching lies in the avoidance of over teaching, instead striving to help learners make discoveries, to teach themselves.

True, there are those whose learning style and preference is, “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” Plus, it takes more awareness, creativity, mindfulness, and possibly time, to on-the-spot devise and run an experience. So much easier to give an immediate, “Do this,” answer (maybe not even describing why).

As with most everything else about teaching, coaching, learning, practicing, growing, and life in general, it’s a balancing act of efficiency and effectiveness. My preference for empowering individuals to find independence and personal expression tilts me to using imagery, experiences, experiments, and games as the way to develop ourselves.

Lesson 2018-08-18 Alteration as framework for creativity

Three promises:

  1. Nice dynamics
  2. Recognition of opportunities is better than recall of patterns.
  3. Framework for creating variations

Outline:

  1. Base movement: dynamic change of direction with lots of circular energy.
  2. Variants: coming from in front and coming from behind.
  3. Opening variant of El Gato.
  4. Small space movement with big dynamics. (‘Pull’ with side furthest from axis vs push)
  5. Techniques as a framework for creating variations on things we already know.

1. CS Alteration FO F2B, 2AS

We use the term alteration to refer to a movement that combines a rock step with a pivot, sending us off in a new direction. For example, demonstrate — with hand-side pointing down line of dance — Alteration front-to-back, going to arm-side. The rock step stores energy, and the pivot sends it off in a circular action to create a surprising change of direction.

Tonight we’ll start with this one particular alteration. We’ll learn what makes alternations successful, and at the end of the hour you will learn ways to make variations, and have a chance to explore them. We will also use this as a vehicle to explore the power of recognizing opportunities to fuel your dance creativity.

It’s a lot to cover, so pay close attention, make notes and connections however you can. I may also ask you to show your work

Now… You know the Americana? We open to the hand-side (only rarely, in old movies, to the arm-side) like a book, then both step through with the inside legs. But for this figure the leader steps through with the outside, left leg. So we are in cross-system, both stepping with left legs, in a shadow position.

How many different ways do you know or can figure out to get into that position, going from here (facing toe-to-toe), to here (little side rocks to position us, then step)? Give that a try for this song, and raise your hand if you want hints or help.

Music ♫

Who
has a slick way to get to this position? Demonstrate, please.

Followers — Filling out the frame-energy, occupy the space; Twist of legs together; Activate with energy of rebound from rock step; This is clearly a QQS timing-do that. This is a block movement for the pivot, not dissociation.

The important thing to notice is the matrix that starts the step. Here it is FO. My partner is in a front-cross leg position; I am in an open position. Even though it looks like my legs are crossed, too, if I turn toward my partner they open, but if my partner turns toward me their legs cross tighter.

The next thing to ask is, “If we back up one step, how do we get from that standing leg to this position?”

So our partner could be coming from in front of us, leaving a right leg somewhere in our NE-E sector, or maybe they come from behind us, say out of a molinete. For our creativity we can either create those conditions, or we can recognize when they just happen during our dancing and take advantage of them.

1A. Coming from in front

Simplest, merely lead a front ocho toward AS as you step back to create space. (You could do a neat little enrosque R behind L, to ready the L to rock forward.

1A’. Coming from in front, with a sacada

Alternatively, we would like that to be an overturned ocho, and we can nicely achieve that with a sacada to power the pivot. So…
El Gato, FsR

1B. Coming from behind

A molinete will achieve this. How about a standard 2-3 ROP entry?

 ♩ Music ♫

Variations framework:

  1. Substitutions from the O/F/B matrix
  2. Mirror images (F2B/B2F, L2R, R2L)
  3. Varying N-E-S-W placement

 ♩ Music ♫

These alterations will generally but not necessarily be in CS, and it usually works better to have our partner’s legs in a F or B, and us in an O. With their legs twisted, and with the pivot moving toward the twist they can more easily keep them tight together. Since we’re leading the figure we can know to manage our legs, and we need the greater O flexibility to help create the pivot.

Speaking of O, can you figure out the adjustment you need to make for an O2O alteration to work? (Leader must step inside partner’s leg when going toward them.)

Music ♫

Extra credit sacadas

  • CS BO F2B (for me) 2AS to provoke a follower sacada as I step across their path. That powers my L lápiz for a B-sacada.

Didactic demo

#lessonplan

Simple rules for Argentine tango

  1. I move naturally, keeping “nose over toes”.
  2. I match energy with the music and with my partner.
  3. I seek to confront (be with and chest facing) my partner.
  4. At each step I may: 1) move my weight from one foot to the other over zero or longer distance, forward, backward, or sideways; or 2) pivot forward or backwards on the ball of my supporting foot; or 3) pause. I may step through or around my partner’s space. My partner may do something different.
  5. We create dance sequences by opening space for our partner to flow into, or closing space to send our partner in another direction.
  6. Between steps my body passes directly over my supporting leg, while my free leg wants to swing near and under my body to give me good balance and a small footprint for any possible next step or pivot.
  7. I may test, but not stress, my partner.
  8. I or my partner may intentionally bend or break any rule for special effect.

Not rules in the sense of codigos for behavior at the milonga social, but a framework, a set of principles for a way of being when dancing Argentine tango.

In eight rules and fewer than 150 words we have a complete system to express the rich complexity of Argentine tango. Well . . .

Until dancers reach some stages of unconscious competence, they tend to spend too much time in “System 2” of the mind (Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman), the slower, more deliberative, and more logical one. That’s good for disciplined practice time, but when we dance we want to be in the flow of “System 1,” the fast, instinctive, and emotional one. How to reconcile the complexity of the infinite possibilities of Argentine tango with the limitations of the novice mind-body? Simple rules give us an emotional and instinctive feeling for how we want to be when we are dancing.

Would you expand or reduce this set of rules?
Does any rule strike you as just wrong?
I’d love to hear your comments on how you express the Argentine tango system to the curious and to new dancers.


Inspired by Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by professors Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, about how we all use simple rules, shortcuts to manage the complexities of daily live, and how we can intentionally devise simple rules to help us grasp and manage complex systems, such as the dance of Argentine tango. We have a good example of this in the way that General Motors CEO Mary Barra replaced a 10-page employee dress code with two words, “Dress appropriately.”

A simple rule for a great connection

Match energy. If you can think-feel just one thing in your dancing, I recommend you make that Energy. (By the way, do you agree with me about how it often serves us to focus on a single thing?)

Okay, there it is, the whole “secret” right in the first two words of this article. You’re welcome! I, too, value highly concise, wonderfully helpful advice.

A girl on the left and a boy on the right play tug of war with a rope.
How to Play Tug of War by WikiHow, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s that? You’re not sure what match energy means, and even if you have an idea what it means you’re not sure you agree? Well my guess is that even if you were to guess at some interpretation of match energy and seek to apply it in your dancing, you would find benefits of mindfulness, calm, clear intention, and connection with your partner.

Despite what computers would tell us, we don’t live in a binary, 1s and 0s, yes/no, right/wrong world. We live in a panoply of possibilities, each with a continuum, a range of choices (and non-choices!). Consider, tension in the body (and tension in the mind!), pressures with our partner’s body parts, timing of movement with (or not) the music, size of steps, elevation, etc. How can we begin to comprehend, to be aware of and respond well to such a complex system of interrelated possibilities? We can begin (and sustain) by adhering to a simple rule that feels intuitive to our mind-body: Match energy.

What to do if there is a mismatch — Matching and leading

But, David, what if I can’t exert that much pressure or don’t like it? What if they don’t know how to use their body to step with the same sustained energy I like for this kind of music? What if we each prefer a different degree of closeness or style of embrace?

Do you Lead or Follow? Does it matter? I reject the traditional and widespread notion that the dance is el hombre’s dance, because “he” has so many more responsibilities, then the follower must adapt to the leader. In my dance world,

  1 + 1 + 1 > 3
  The energy of the Music & Me & Thee makes wonderful dance.

Calibration. How can I know if it is me or my partner causing a mismatch? Consider the ballet barre. It makes for a perfect partner in that it pushes (or pulls) against you with exactly the same force as you use on it! (The ballet barre has a bit of give to it, much like a well organized, energy matching body.) That can give you a feeling for matching, and then how can you know if you are matching when you dance? Check that you and your partner’s body parts stay in a well organized, rather fixed relationship to each other (that will vary as dance geometry dictates). If the hand side of the embrace is drifting toward one of the partners, or up or down, then extra force is coming from somewhere.

I’ll start out in my body’s preferred placement and organization of parts. If my partner’s parts placement seems to be asking for or giving something different, then if it’s within my acceptable comfort and operational parameters, I’ll accept and adapt to it. If my partner is hurting me I will say something, perhaps non-verbally at first, with a shake or a shrug of that part, then verbally if I must.

I will seek to match my partner’s energy indications in as many respects and to as great a degree as possible. I will even seek to match intangible qualities, such as style and expressiveness (or not) of dance. Notice! I must remain alert to the possibility that I misread them, or perhaps unawares I gave them some early signal that led them to dance in something other than their naturally preferred manner.

In any case, once we feel we have done a good job matching our partner, we may then begin leading (whether we are leading or following) our partner to our preferred, most resourceful, natural, and powerful place of dance. We do this by shifting our energy at a rate that they can adjust to.

May I reiterate more simply? Match energy to the extent possible and non-injurious. By the way, you do realize that match energy applies to more than just your partner, right? We seek as a couple to match the energy of the music, and even to la ronda–the other couples dancing along with us. And if not match, to at least be aware of these energies so that we can make intentional choices.

All the energy that we can put into sensing what is happening in the music, in the room around us, in our partner, and in ourselves — will give our partner more to work with and against, and help us create a more wonderful dance.

Absolutism corrosive in teaching a skill … and life

“My way or the highway.” “Love it or leave it.” “This is how you dance tango.”

A recent blog post [1] seemed to test the notion that, “There is no such thing as bad publicity, so long as they spell your name right.” People piled on [2][3] to say in adamant, sometimes vehement terms that the notions described there were wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don’t wish to defend or decry the particulars of any of those postings, but rather to urge against the many forms of absolutism — “This is the one and only right way to do things.” — in teaching Argentine tango (or any skill), and in life at large.

The examples in political life are all too depressingly familiar to anyone the least bit socially aware. And you probably don’t have to think hard or long to recall acquaintances who are automatic mismatchers. Whatever you say they take the opposite view, or an extreme view.

In teaching any skill, not only tango, the My Way approach often seems to serve for market differentiation before it becomes dogma. (Proviso: It does seem acceptable for a teacher to say, “If you like my particular style, these are the specific things I think I do to achieve it.”)

Let’s say we acknowledge the problem. What’s your positive intent?

I view Argentine tango as a particularly naturalistic dance. The fundamental movements are actions we take all the time in our daily lives. The language of our dance is an outgrowth of the way individuals naturally interact. (Even la cruzada can be understood as a natural outcome of geometry and the presupposition of the partners confronting[4] one another.)

Viewed this way, Argentine tango is fully accessible to an exceedingly wide range of individuals: long and short legs, thin and thick bodies, erect and slouching postures, old and young, fit and not so, body aware and not so, experienced and not so, fast and slow, high and low energies, and on and on.

With the vast range of possibilities, how can we dictate, “This is the only way you can achieve comfortable, clear, creative dances with others”?

The key, really, is matching a partner’s energy.

What if a partner doesn’t meet your preferences in some or many respects. Do you have a course of action beyond saying “Thank you,” and leaving the tanda?

I never felt comfortable with advice I received from many quarters saying that the dance is the dance of el hombre, the man, the leader. That followers should expect to adapt themselves always and wholly to the leader’s preferences.

The Macho, Sexist, Role-ist view of Argentine tango offends my sense of equality, I won’t impose myself or my views on others. Furthermore, I want to enjoy as wide a range of dances with as many people as I can. I don’t wish to narrow but to expand my enjoyable dance possibilities

In NLP, Neurolinguistic Programming we have a technique called Pacing and Leading. We can begin with our preferred pressure and style of dance, but if we find our partner not responding well to that, then we can begin matching what we sense from them. From there, we may be able to subtly shift to lead them (whether we are leader or follower) more to our preferences.

Among the most magical tandas I have enjoyed were ones that seemed to start off poorly, where there was some mismatch keeping our dance from nicely coming into sync, but that somehow I was able to sense what they wanted to make them comfortable in their dance — a change of embrace, pressure, style of dance, energy of dance.

This, too, is a functional embrace.

Okay, so even enlightened I can’t resist weighing in on the, “this is ‘real’ close embrace” issue that started this whole thing. My answer: it’s not an absolute, it’s a preference!

There exists a continuum of pressure levels that a dancer might prefer, both for selecting partners and over the course of a dance involving a variety of movements. In a neutral state, at rest or just walking, nothing special going on, the continuum can possibly, rationally, and acceptably range among, Space between the bodies, Quite close but no actual body contact, Barely perceptible touch, Skin deep touch, Muscle deep touch, Bone deep touch (maybe only appropriate for stage performance). Our job as teachers is to give students awareness of possibilities, ways of safely exploring them, and guidance as to the ranges that seems more useful for particular circumstances.

The degree of pressure is the key! Some prefer none, others light, still others heavy, plus, some range (narrow for some, broad for others) of variations.

Mostly we are independent, yet well connected through a subtle pressure between our torsos. Sometimes I stabilize my partner, sometimes they stabilize me. “Oh, horrors, you just don’t do that! Each dancer must be perfectly independently stable at all times.” Perhaps in lessons and practice, where we seek to develop and enhance our capabilities, we can apply such stringency. In social dancing I am seeking the success and enjoyment of the partnership, even it if requires occasional compromises.

The preferred pressure won’t be a single point, but will vary with experience, training, practice, and the kinds of movements in the moment.

Here’s an idea, give exercises and games that let a person experience a range of possibilities. Indeed, we switch partners during lessons and practice as a way to learn to accommodate a wider range of responses. Whether as teachers or practice partners, rather than tell our partner what we think they should be doing (or more often, telling them how we think they are wrong!), how about saying, “I would like more of (or less of) X“? In this way you are expressing your personal preference, not dictating.

Can’t we all just get along?

Felices caminando!
–David

[1] Ivica Anteski

[2] Miles Tangos

[3] Melina Sedó

[4] Confront (from French, from Latin: with + face)
I like this word as a way to describe one aspect of the tango connection. For me it seems to capture the highly active (not antagonistic) way of partners seeking to face and be with their partner. I learned the term from Luciano Brigante and Alejandra Orozco.

Respect on the dance floor

Do we really need to say that dance floor relationships need to be the same as real life relationships need to be about respecting other persons’ choices for themselves?

Each moment, every moment.

Greater chances for confusion can arise on the dance floor where we may hold a partner in intimate closeness; but only when we allow ourselves to forget that every situation, every time, requires us to respect the other person’s choice in that moment.

When we offer or accept a dance, it is for a dance, not for a sensual encounter with any implied invitation to grope, nuzzle, caress, murmur, smooch, or use force.

In this essay the word I is you, a dance partner, a teacher, an organizer, regardless of gender identity or role.

One, Personal

Respect on the dance floor, whether of a sexual, sensual, performance, capability, ability, or experience nature, all comes from a consistent approach that we would wish for any meeting of people, on the dance floor and off.

In initiating a dance, conversation, or other interaction, I want to have a clear intent that respects the boundaries of that individual. I want to hold awareness that individuals have personal boundaries that may well, even often, differ from other individuals, and may even differ for the same person at different times and in different situations.

I want to listen to the other person’s signals–whether verbally or through body language–with an intent to not merely hear, but to understand what they do or don’t want from me.

I start slowly and simply, building as our connection grows in comfort and range.

If I feel any uncertainty at any time, I either back up, making things simpler and slower again, or I ask, or I do both.

I respect my own boundaries, and I am prepared to assert what I need from my partner to respect those boundaries.

I am generous in what I am willing to accept, while scrupulous in being careful with what I do and say. That is, I do not automatically assume bad intent from one example which may be explained by accident or incompetence. Nevertheless, I am always within my rights to make my own judgment for myself based on what I experience, my response, and my partner’s response to my response.

I dance within my capabilities. I do not lead by force but by clear, calm intention in my own body movements. I do not follow with abandon but seek connection to my partner, who has primary (but not sole) responsibility for the safe conduct of our dancing.

Two, Educational

We are brought up from childhood to be polite to others, but this serves us poorly if it leads us to disregard or suppress our reactions to threat or abuse. Much as with the kata repeated forms of martial arts, we may have needs to practice our responses to situations that we expect to encounter (or have encountered).

As a teacher I want to know the kinds of situations that can cause confusion or problems, not merely with the dance itself but with the situations that can arise in dance. I want to equip my students to recognize such situations and respond resourcefully to them with words or actions.

As a teacher I seek to both model and explicitly teach respect and empowerment in my classes and workshops. At the milongas and prácticas, in the same way that I seek to exhibit exemplary dancing, I also model exemplary behavior.

I teach my students in a caring way. I hear and respond to them in a caring way to imbue them with the respect to care for themselves and others.

Three, Organizational

As an organizer I am open to feedback on inappropriate words or behavior on the dance floor, and I seek to remedy the problem.

As a participant in an organization, if I see something I will say something. First, I will seek to understand, then I will seek to support.

I will seek to both create and, when necessary, enforce an atmosphere of respect for one another.

Respect is a shared responsibility.

Finally, Your feedback

On my computer calendar I have a repeating event set to every nine weeks show me the following guidelines for right living with others:


THINK, is it:

T – True
H – Helpful
I – Inspiring confidence
N – Necessary
K – Kind


1. Never tell a lie.
2. For every physical, verbal, emotional, and mental action, Focus before, during, and after to make sure nobody gets hurt.


A. Is it necessary to say?
B. Is it necessary that I say it?
C. Is it necessary that I say it now?

How about you? What are the ways you help yourself and others as a dancer or a teacher or an organizer or … a person! Leave us a comment with your thoughts?

Other resources

A possibly helpful wall poster

Respect!
Honor each person’s right to make their own choices.
Be shiny and clean in your actions, body, breath, dancing, intent, and talk.

Codigos De Milonga
https://tangotribe.com/milonga-codigos/

Tango Etiquette On The Dance Floor
https://www.latangoacademy.com/codigos/

Never-ever beginner class script
https://tangotribe.com/never-ever-beginner-class-script/

Point A to point B, Left-Right

The Sunday, February 4, 2018 issue of Parade, the Sunday newspaper supplement, had a couple of articles with notes for teachers of Argentine tango.

Sunday, February 4, 2018 | PARADE.COM

First, in the Personality section Bode Miller, the most decorated US Olympic alpine skier, talked about advice to young skiers. “Ski racing is, fundamentally, a very simple sport. It’s about going from point A to point B quickly. I think it’s easy to get distracted and start thinking that you have to look a certain way or have to do a certain thing.”

Argentine tango (escenario, stage/performance tango aside) relies on natural, functional movements. It’s either shifting our weight from one foot to the other (forward/backward/sideways, over a long/short/no distance, walking/momentary), or it’s pivoting over a foot. Teachers can confuse and drive away newcomers by insistence on a particular posture, look, manner, and style of walking. Let’s first get them moving comfortably and naturally alone and then with a partner.

Then in the Ask Marilyn column Marilyn Vos Savant weighed in on gender differences in left-right confusion. Let us as teachers make it simpler for all (including ourselves) regardless of gender or left-right awareness, by avoiding relative references (“My left or your left?”) altogether. I like talking about the hand-side of the embrace or the arm-side of the embrace. These are clear and obvious, and the same for either partner.

I’m still looking for the best way to refer to Inside-Outside positions. You are aware that it changes relative to which partner is stepping into the space, yes? “Is that inside/outside the circle (la ronda),” and “Is that outside the inside of my partner?” The DVIDA syllabus refers to LOP (Left Outside Position) and ROP (Right Outside Position), which have the benefit of being unambiguous for either partner stepping in any direction, but also have the left-right possible confusion factor.

When it’s necessary/useful to orient students in the room we prefer to have them face or face their back to some prominent feature of the room (our front windows, the mirrors, the paintings, the Exit sign).

Setting up la ronda: “Everyone spread out to the edges of the floor, with equal space between you and the person on either side of you. Raise your right hand to point to the person on your right side. [Right, it’s not perfect.] Now turn to face in that direction.”