I used to have a nasty temper. In fact, my nickname at my college fraternity was “Little Angry Man.” (It was also “Tabasco” and “Rollerboy,” but those are other stories.)
Over the past 20 years, though, I’ve worked hard to keep my temper in check. I’ve learned not to let things get to me, and I’m proud to say that I haven’t gotten angry at anyone for at least 15 years now.
That is, until just a few weeks ago …
We were at Henry’s for another typical Tuesday night of swing dancing. An older man who had recently become a regular asked Melissa to dance. She hadn’t intended to dance that night (full disclosure: the two of us go to Henry’s to drink, not dance), but she wanted to be polite, so she agreed.
After the song was over, Melissa looked upset, so I asked her what happened. She explained that this guy had called her a “safety hazard.” Apparently, in the middle of the song, this guy corrected her on the way she holds out her hands while dancing, because it was apparently dangerous.
Well, I’ve obviously danced with Melissa before. She’s not dangerous by any means (unless you’re a sentient bottle of wine), and I had no clue what this guy could possibly have been referring to that made her an alleged safety hazard.
But that wasn’t even the issue. See, here’s the thing (for all my non-dancer readers):
Correcting someone on the social dance floor is tactless, arrogant, and really, just plain rude. The only two times it is ever okay to do so are if 1) the other person specifically asks for help, or 2) they’re posing an immediate and actual danger to either or both of you.
In this case, it wasn’t either of these. So, I decided to tell this guy off. You know, because I’m an advanced dancer who’s been doing it for 20 years who used to teach and compete and who knows his shit and doesn’t put up with cocky beginner shenanigans like correcting people on the dance floor so of course it was my job to put this guy in his place because yeah that’s right I’m awesome and all-knowing that way.
Also, because I had had just enough drinks to get me to the belligerent state of drunkenness. (Not an excuse, to be clear.)
I chased the guy down as he headed to the men’s room, all the way into a stall. And inside said stall (this part was okay — it was one of those oversized handicapped stalls, so we both fit fairly comfortably inside there), I unleashed on him:
“Don’t you ever correct someone on the dance floor. It is fucking rude.”
I defended Melissa:
“She’s not a fucking safety hazard. She knows what she’s doing, so lay off of her.”
I laid some good ole dancer edumacation on him:
“Only dancers who think they know what they’re doing are arrogant enough to correct people on the dance floor.”
And just to show him who was in charge here:
“You’re not anywhere near as good of a dancer as you think are.”
After five non-stop minutes of chastisement from my end, I finally paused long enough for him to say something.
Unfortunately, something about his apology felt insincere. Even though he explicitly said, “I’m sorry.” Even though he explicitly said, “No, I don’t think I’m any good at all. I was just trying to help her.” Even though he said, “I won’t correct her again.”
None of that was good enough. So I kept going with variations of the four above statements (because really, that was all I had to say) as he left the restroom, and I followed him back to his seat, continuing on for several minutes more.
Finally, I ran out of variations. I walked away, and he collected his things and left.
This was three weeks ago. I haven’t seen him again at Henry’s since that night. And yeah, I feel horrible about it.
Now, for the record, I stand by my reason for telling him off: It absolutely is improper to correct someone on the social dance floor.
It’s the way I delivered my reasoning that was, well, a tad out of line. I could have said politely, “Hey, can you not offer unsolicited advice on the dance floor, please? I know you’re trying to help, and it only makes the other person feel horrible.”
I could have.
Instead, I bullied this guy and probably made him feel horrible. And perhaps because of me, I haven’t seen him again at Henry’s since.
So, to my dancer friends: if you know a 50-something (I’m guessing) European gentleman named Dmitry (not guessing), who’s been coming every Tuesday for probably the last four or five months now, feel free to pass this message along to him.
Or better yet, tell him that I hope I’ll see him at Henry’s again, because I owe him an apology. And the least I can do is offer it to him in person (hopefully not in the men’s room).