The Open Letter

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This is in response to group class last night.  They decided not to do a basic group and an advanced group, so they tossed all the students into one group.  It made the numbers balance and my primary partner was a brand new student who I’ve only seen a few times at the studio.  I saw her watching Kid T and I do our Viennese Waltz the other day.  At one point, she made a comment that I just didn’t react to in time.  Here is what I should have said.

To the new student (in a real letter, I would have used her name ),

Last night, during group class, you apologized to me for “getting stuck with you”.  I hope that I never gave you that impression because there was no time when I felt “stuck” dancing with you.  I can understand why you might have felt that way because you came expecting to be in a beginner’s group and ended up being tossed into a more advanced group.  And, given that you had only done Tango once before, I can see you may have felt I wouldn’t enjoy dancing with you.  I want to assure you that was not the case.  I totally enjoyed the group last night and I want to explain why.

First, never apologize for your lack of experience.  You are just starting on your journey and dance is not always the easiest thing to learn.  But you learn by doing and dancing and the more people you dance with, the more you will learn.  That is true for you and it is also true to me.  You may have noticed going through the rotation that each of us felt slightly different and moved slightly differently.  When you dance too long with one person, it is easy to fall into habits and patterns and dancing with different partners can force you to break some of those habits.

Yes, I knew the steps from last night and I’ve done them before.  But one of the trickiest things in dancing is the lead/follow.  At the start, you are two people doing their own steps and you have to merge into a couple moving as one.  Lead/follow is giving the subtle cues and suggestions and the lady feeling them and responding.  It is something that always needs work and you can only really practice by dancing with different people.  A group setting is different because you know your steps and are trying to do them but there were still opportunities.  At one point, you said that I was making it easier for you to do something.  That made me happy!  In the swivels we did last night, it looks like you do all the work but I’m there and I do have ways of helping.  You noticed which meant I was doing something right!  Working with new dancers is one of the best ways to practice lead/follow and so I was glad to have that opportunity.

There is also something nice about watching someone “get” a step for the first time.  Now, to be clear, you’ll probably need many more lessons before you really understand the step.  But being able to do it in group class is still a big accomplishment given that you’ve had one lesson in Tango.  I could feel your confidence grow with each rotation and I remember saying “we’ve got this” before one run and you responding with “yes we do”.  That was also great!  Getting a step is sometimes like finally finding that missing puzzle piece that has eluded you for so long.  Get that in and a bunch more usually follow.  Dance is all about confidence and your confidence will be tested in multiple ways.  Still, getting through a relatively complicated pattern like we did last night is pretty special given your level of experience.  I think you knew that and it was fun to be a part of that.  Dance can be a series of these little victories and, as part of your team, it was fun to be a part of that.

Lastly, at some point towards the end of group class you made a comment that this was fun and that you loved Tango.  Ballroom is an amazing experience that has changed my life in a lot of ways.  Now, I don’t expect everyone to have the same experience but when it is in your soul, you do get a special thrill out of seeing someone else start to fall in love with it as well.  OK, maybe that’s just me and that might sound a little weird but it is true for me.

So I learned a little bit about being a better leader by dancing with you.  I got to share in your triumph at accomplishing the group and got to share your joy of dance and Tango.  Stuck with you?  Hardly.  I would love to dance with you again.

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