I'm beginning to have regrets. When I suggested that Chris copy those threads from the callers list, I did so because I found them inspiring accounts of ways that people creatively solved what might have been seen as 'bad' situations that had potential to damage the long-term health of our dearly loved social activity, and turned them into true community-building experiences, often making life a bit brighter for all concerned. This seemed a great thread to continue on our list -- I was looking forward to learning from ways that organizers have done those same things - turned icky situations into better ones... how organizers have taken a difficult situation at their series and helped improve it for the good of all concerned.
In the course of my dancing, calling and organizing life, I have witnessed many examples of unpleasant situations, including ones with certain dancers in the community. (We can all name innumerable dancer evils, as evidenced by the previous posts -- including, hot-shot, self-absorbed, flirt-meister, black&decker twirlers, never-on-time, clumsy, unnecessarily directive... I might also add limp noodles, deadweight women, carpal-tunnel-inducing allemanders, take up 6x your allotted spacers, stalkers, needs a shower, your-perfume-makes-it-hard-to-breathe, sweat factories, middleaged males who are borderline perverts that only dance with young girls... really, the list of outrages can go on and on and on...) I have begun to believe that there is no way of really removing all of these "undesireable" (to some or many) people from our community. It seems that when one disappears, two more appear who are new variations on the theme. (And anyhow, can we really endorse that sort of 'cleansing' to make our dance floor full of perfect dancers? I doubt it.) I have also begun to realize that I could spend countless hours railing about the outrages of horrible dancers, but that if I take the time to stop complaining, there probably are a few things that I could do to make the situation better. This is why I like that thread. It was a helpful reminder of ways to take positive action.
I agree with those who have pointed out in other threads that it is not the job of the organizers (or the caller for that matter) to ensure that you or I or everyone has a peak experience for every minute of the evening. Likewise, I don't believe it's the job of organizers or caller to police the dance hall, to reprimand people for perpetuating any of the above evils, and so forth. But there are certainly things we can do to make the contra world a nicer place to inhabit.
At the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend earlier this month, a friend repeated an observation from a workshop they'd attended. Apparently David Millstone reminded the group that a caller is not only a programmer, music requester, teacher and prompter - a caller is a leader. A leader. And as such, when they exhibit qualities of leadership, they have the capacity to bring a dance community to places they might not have gone on their own. This is is what I noticed in the original posts about dealing with 'bad' dancers. They were demonstrating leadership.
The stream of posts about 'bad' dancers has reminded me of people in my dance community here. At our local dance, we have:
- a dancer who is truly "odd". He looks like a nutty professor, has extremely atypical ways of interacting socially, is fairly uncoordinated, chronically confused, often late... and... he is utterly happy to have found contradancing.
- pre-teens who partner with their same-gender friends, who for months were complete trainwrecks in the sets they chose, but were having a blast, wearing out the tracks on the dance music cds they begged their parents to buy, and were choosing to participate in an activity with people mostly 3-4x their age.
- people whose physical ailments simply keep them from executing certain figures at all, let alone correctly and on time with excellent flourishes but who smile broadly for the entire 3 hours.
And when I think about the larger dance community, I think of dozens and dozens of people who quite frankly don't fit into society's norms, but who have found a place in our dance community. Do we really think we have to root out all of the imperfections?
At the same Ralph Page weekend in NH, during Nils Fredland's workshop, we considered the question "Why do we dance?" One response that caught my attention was the observation that contradances are a community which is tolerant. Tolerant of difference. What a great thing. We could use a bit more of that in the larger world. Intolerance is creating quite a lot of damage, we could give tolerance a try. Tolerance.
This is partly what I noticed about those original posts. They were examples of ways that a particular community tolerated an imperfect dancer, and in fact, made it better for all. It wasn't endorsing a particular problematic behavior or attitude, but tolerating it. They took an indirect approach -- instead of meeting the 'problem' head on, they figured out ways to fix the situation so that the 'problem' wasn't causing quite so many other problems. They were making the situation itself more tolerable for all.
I'm not talking about ignoring flat out unsafe behavior. When a herd of 8 year old kids was playing tag on the dance floor, racing pell mell through the lines of dancers, you can bet that I wasted no time in chasing them down to tell them, "Uh-uh. No way. You need to stop. This is a dance. If you want to play tag, talk to your parents about going outdoors. But this is a place to dance, to enjoy the music and to sit and talk with friends."
When I see certain young and enthusiastic young men out there who I think are endangering the arm sockets of less strong-willed partners than I, it occurs to me that I have a few options. I could tell them they're not welcome at my dance, I could sternly lecture them about how they will cause countless women pain and suffering and rotator cuff surgery, or I could make sure that I, and others like me, cheerfully ask them to dance at least once in a night, knowing that I have the dance skills to protect myself and with the hope that I can help them see the delights of mutuality and consideration in a dance partner.
My impulse is to lecture, and to avoid them like the plague on the dance floor, but I suspect that's not what will make the situation more tolerable for all. (And besides, it's partly because I'm a strong-willed partner that I feel endangered -- I resist their lead rather than going with the flow.)
Anyone teach ethics? This is like questions of morality. Greatest good for the greatest number? Absolute moral code? Shades of grey?
Yours with furrowed brow,
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