Ballroom dance question.
January 29, 2010 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Things with my ballroom dance partner aren't working out. Should I dump him, and if so, how can I do it without getting a bad reputation in the community?

I started taking International Latin classes about a year ago, and in September I started practicing regularly with my current partner. We went to one competition and did ok (competing silver - he'd been dancing for several years, and I did ballet for years and years before I switched to ballroom), but the problem is that personality-wise, we never clicked.

He seems to want a partner who will let him be in charge. He frequently points out my errors, but when I offer him pointers or feedback on his technique, he responds defensively. He also frequently says things that to me sound like they're designed to make me feel insecure about my dance skills overall, like telling me that "even a beginner would know better than" to make whatever mistake I made, or making disparaging comments about the coach I was working with before I started dancing with him. As a result, I often feel angry, frustrated, or upset after practice sessions with him.

My questions are first, is there any way to salvage this situation, second, if not what's the best way to break up with him, and third, how can I avoid another situation like this when I look for my next partner?

Obviously, there are many more women looking for dance partners than men, and I don't want to get a reputation in this (pretty small) community for being difficult to get along with.
posted by psycheslamp to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, have you tried talking with him?
posted by ottereroticist at 9:37 AM on January 29, 2010

Yeah, it's not totally clear whether you've had a conversation with him about his feedback style, how it makes you feel, how to streamline your relationship. Maybe he's the kind of guy who would get offended at that, but I think it's certainly worth an attempt before you decide he's impossible. That way, if you do have to break off as partners, you can chalk it up to an inability to resolve your differences, rather than just "he got on my nerves".
posted by aaronbeekay at 10:22 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: I've already tried the basics. I've made non-trivial compromises (e.g. I switched coaches to one he prefers). I've tried to be super-careful to be positive and reinforcing as much as possible, especially when I'm giving him feedback (though I'm not perfect here, especially when I'm upset). I've told him what about his behaviors are bothering me and why. I've let a lot of stuff go without comment (like, he sometimes makes sexist comments about out mutual classmates, or his coworkers, which I've let pass). Fellow dancers have commented that he has a difficult personality, but also commented that I'm lucky to have found a partner so quickly.
posted by psycheslamp at 10:31 AM on January 29, 2010

Otter is right - although this may not change a damn thing. I've done years of ballroom dancing, and some people just do not change their attitude towards how they relate to their partners, no matter how much they say they will try.

If you really feel like you have a good dancing connection, but can put up with his attitude - because you are in a place where you live where you really have no options, then that might work for a while until one day you boil over and throw a few heels and shoe brushes at his head, and that will be that.

Where I live, it is extremely difficult to find any people really interested in competitive international latin dancing, either, so I gave up up looking (and I'm a guy).

If he's still pretty young, he might learn to change his behavior, if he's lucky. If your community is pretty small as you say - and there's not a lot of guys to dance with at your level - well, it won't matter much, because the people who might pass around the info that you're "difficult to work with" are so small in number it really won't matter.

I'd say in that case, your best bet is - tell the guy exactly how you feel, tell him he really has to promise to work on changing, and if he doesn't like it, ditch him, and then begin the process of attempting to suck a brand new guy into your dance world. I'm talking, someone who's a completely beginner, who just really likes you and what you're about, and is willing to work hard to get up to your level. I'm not saying that in a negative way, just that it's the only alternative I know of (unless you feel like driving a good distance to a city where there's more like-minded folks, or moving).

In case you're wondering: I live in Austin, and am told there's a battery of women training like crazy all the time in Houston looking for guy partners. What can I say, I don't feel like either moving to Houston or driving up there all the time.
posted by bitterkitten at 10:33 AM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: I'm not familiar with ballroom dancing, but I was in figure skating as a male, which has basically the same situation. My answers below are basically assuming the exact same environment.

He sounds like an intense and competitive guy. You're not likely to get far by asking nicely. He knows he'll have his pick of partners, and being nice won't make him feel like he's dancing better.

The way to salvage it is really just to thicken your skin and define your objectives. At least I never heard of a difficult partner suddenly becoming nice. Think long and hard whether you're improving in spite of your frustration. If you are, then decide how much you think you can improve with him before that balance changes. That's your goal -- improving yourself and finding the partner that can get you the furthest. You're not married. (Also, once you adopt this mindset, you'll probably find it easier to interact with him.)

I don't think you'll get a bad reputation by splitting. The other guys mostly won't care if they know him to be difficult. And unless you've thrown a public tantrum at a competition or something, you've got nothing to worry about. You risk more by being known as difficult to work with than you do by being known to skip out to a better partner. During tryouts, they'll mostly judge you from a fresh slate.

As far as splitting goes... I don't really have recommendations, my splits were all pretty terrible. None affected either party in the future, skill was the determinant. I'll refrain from other advice in this vein.

Avoiding this situation again -- it's a lot like job hunting. You know what to ask and discuss with the next guy after a bad experience.

For your own situation, is your partner also functioning as your coach? Or do you have another coach? You'd best discuss the problems openly with them. Your previous coach, assuming that you can still talk, may also know of more partners available. Or you should look for a new coach in any case.
posted by FuManchu at 10:58 AM on January 29, 2010

I don't have answers related to ballroom dancing, per se, but I can tell you I recently had a very similar experience with my cycling coach, with the added complication that my current coach is also a teammate on my (very close-knit) cycling team, and the bike racing community in general in this town is an extremely small and incestuous, if I may use that term.

Rather than post on Ask, I wound up venting about this on a group ride a couple weeks ago with mr. lfr (yep, also a teammate) and the team founder/president, neither of whom are students of Coach. They were quite understanding and the one thing they both pointed out to me was that I probably had not been communicating effectively; i.e.: "hey, did you explain all this angst to Coach yet?". Turns out I hadn't, and moreover, because I was feeling so frustrated and stabby and GRAR about the whole program, I hadn't communicated ANYTHING to Coach, at all, good or bad. In fact, he had assumed that since he hadn't heard much from me, that things were just hunky dory status quo.

The team president helpfully pointed out that I should first calmly discuss all the things that weren't working for me with Coach's assigned program, and then, if we didn't come to terms, I should go ahead and drop the program and/or pick up a different coach. Yes, we're a tight-knit team, but his take on things was this:

#1 People who would gossip about this stuff aren't worth dealing with anyhow.

#2 People really don't pay as much attention to these things as we tend to think they do.

In the end, whether you're talking dance partners or athletic coaches, it's essentially a business transaction, since your competitive ability absolutely depends on your relationship with your partner (or coach). Moreover, whether you're paying a coach or working with a partner, ultimately you don't spend the considerable amounts of money that you do at these sorts of activities to end up hating them, sucking at them, or having the practice/workouts be a chore that you dread, do you? You do this because it's supposed to be a fun and exciting experience that you look forward to!!

Last but not least: one bad partner experience does not make you "high maintenance" or a difficult person to work with or whatever you're projecting that other people will think about you. And if the sort of criticism you've outlined in your question is the norm, then honestly your partner sounds like a hypercritical asshole who's not worthy of your time anyhow. I would communicate first, then if that doesn't work, seek another partner, and if anyone raises an eyebrow, then just calmly explain that you guys simply weren't a good personality fit (and jesus, if you're competing, then good chemistry is absolutely vital!)

Good luck!
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2010

Yeah, what lonefrontranger said.

While not a competitive dancer, I'd put my neck out there by saying there are plenty of fish in the sea. Start by asking what YOU want - if being competitive is a genuine desire, the previous partner can be explained away. You're not difficult to get along with - and I doubt he'd have any reason on spreading whatever negativity there might be in the air...
posted by chrisinseoul at 11:28 AM on January 29, 2010

The belittling comments are a red flag to me. They're not constructive, his eye isn't on the ball.

Dance partnerships often don't work out, and of those, it seems common that one or two competitions into it is where people have given it a fair shot and know that it's just not working.
Other people know this. If you can't salvage the situation, I wouldn't worry about a reputation. Going again to the belittling comments, I'd perhaps be concerned that he's clueless enough to trash talk you to others once you were no longer partners, which wouldn't flatter either of you.

Talk to your instructors, let them know your concerns and ask their advice. In addition to them likely being old hands at these situations in their students, it lets people with at least some community authority know your side of the story, and know that you were committed and fair, which will help protect you from a reputation.

And if you're not already aware,
posted by -harlequin- at 1:14 PM on January 29, 2010

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