How long have you been dancing?

Partner: “How long have you been dancing?” Me: “Uh… all my life.”

That question on the dance floor throws me. If someone had asked at a time when I wasn’t happy with my dancing—I’ll never be satisfied—I would have understood the subtext, “Well of course, you poor thing (and why are you dancing with me?)” shading over time into, “Oh dear Lord, you poor thing. Give it up!”

I started having more of the good dances, where the music, my partner, and I clicked. Looking happy, they would ask the question, then respond to the answer with something like, “That’s really good!” A form of compliment and sign of progress, maybe, but sometimes I’d feel like a fraud. “Yes, but if you knew how much time I’ve spent in classes, workshops, practicing, milongas, …”

Recently, after 3.5 years into my new dance, I got the response, “Well that explains it.” “It?!” They looked well pleased, so I took “it” to mean that, “With that much experience I’m not surprised that you’re a nice dancer.” Sometimes I still feel like a fraud. “Yes, but you should see me all those times when I’m off my game.”

Now I fear that day when (in the distant future, I hope) the subtext becomes, “Well what have you been doing with yourself in all that time?”

The question feels as if, even if unconsciously, it is about making an assessment, “Let me be the judge of whether you’ve spent your time well.” Instead of a pure expression of pleasure. “That was so musical!” “How inventive!” “I’m so happy right now!” Or displeasure, “Thank you.”

I know it’s not meant in an unkind or judgmental or prying way, but there are probably more resourceful and meaningful ways to respond to a partner.

  • How you yourself feel: “After that tanda I feel like I could leave this milonga fully satisfied.” (Wow. If only.)
  • What you liked about the dance: “That felt so connected with the music.”
  • Chuckling, giggling, sighing, taking a deep breath, or squeezing at the right moment.
  • An open-ended question (but these are more suitable for between tanda discussions at the tables):
    What is important to you about tango?
    How did you become involved in tango?
    What do you enjoy about your tango community?
    What are you working on in your tango these days?

Don’t get me wrong! I’ll take compliments, even ambiguous ones, any way and any time I can. The compliments give helpful little lifts along life’s and tango’s journey.

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