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Blame Your Partner

How You Fail at Solving Problems

By Nicholas Westlake

Ballroom dancing is fun. It feels good to move with the music and work with a partner to create a beautiful motion. This is why many start dancing.

As you train to improve your dancing, you meet some parts that can be less fun: problems. You'll enjoy dancing more as you train if you make solving problems a non-miserable endeavor. I have strong opinions about how to accomplish this, and I will now regale you with them.

First of all, recognize that ballroom dancing (like many studies of body control) encourages pessimism. Most of your coaching time will be spent acknowledging what deficiencies you have that are most problematic. You'll tinker with the issue and (hopefully) repair that problem. Then the party is over. You've solved one problem, and now another problem is your biggest problem, so we talk about the new biggest problem. When you have the benefit of a coach being present, it's likely you'll find problem-solving easier. In a practice attended by only you and your partner, though, it can be more difficult to stay productive. You did your job, right? But that turning lock felt terrible, so it must be your partner's fault. Perhaps yelling at her will help.

Odds are good that yelling at your partner will not improve the situation. There is a place for venting, but remember, you're probably going to see this person frequently. Pissing her off will encourage adversarial interactions. You want to be pumped about going to practice. You don't want to dread your trip to the dance studio because you know you'll argue with your partner. Never forget: the ability to solve problems with another person is a crucial skill for a successful, productive dancer. Partner dancing will always involve working with another person in close quarters on a taxing challenge. Plus, problem-solving is a portable skill, so you can apply it to other stuff, too, and solve all kinds of problems.

When you feel the urge to yell at this idiot whose frame you're hanging on, instead of screaming in his face, try this instead:

  1. Identify the problem you want to solve. Your partner being a stupid jerk probably isn't it. Your partner is on your team; treat him that way. Communicate respectfully. This person spends a lot of time with a knee in your crotch.
  2. Assess the relevant factors and diagnose the problem unemotionally. First, many problems are much easier to see than to feel. There are cameras everywhere, and there's almost certainly one on your cell phone. Film your dancing as part of diagnosing the problem. Also, it's common for something to go wrong before the symptom is apparent. Backtrack from the problem to possible causes. Do your part when diagnosing. Talk about what you feel that makes you aware of a problem. "I feel unbalanced between two and three in our natural turn." "Lowering out of this spin turn hurts my knee." "I look tilted away from you when I shouldn't be." Compare what you feel to what your partner feels. Hunt for an explanation of how you can both have those experiences simultaneously.
  3. Propose solutions and try them out as controlled experiments. If you want to be thorough, film the experiments and compare the results to your initial take. When you find a method that upgrades or resolves the issue at hand, dance the new version a few more times like any self-respecting researcher would.
  4. Get help when you get totally stuck. The debugging process is very informative, even when you don't find a solution. Ask you coach for help at your next session. Compare the solution from this trusted third party to the solutions you proposed. See if you can find where you went off track in your own diagnosis. As you learn more, you're able to upgrade more problems without a third party.
  5. Teach others to solve problems. Problem-solving is a core partner-dancing skill. Introduce that idea to your students. Set them on the right track. Do not sit idly by as your student yells at his partner.

Don't let frustration and your own limited knowledge damage your ballroom dancing experience. If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong.