Saturday, June 28, 2014

Obsessive/Compulsive Lane Changers

On my way to my first OCLC disorder meeting
I had a dream...  
I went to a meeting for Obsessive Compulsive Lane-changing disorder (OCLC disorder). You see I am obsessed with changing lanes, compulsed to change lanes--a not so rare disorder found at milongas everywhere.

It's my first time ever at the group, and like others before me, I stand and say, "Hi, my name is Mark.  I have OCLC disorder."  I sit down. Others look and me and smile with compassion that finally I can acknowledge my disorder.

I wake up.  Sweating.  Do I really have Obsessive Compulsive Lane Changing disorder?  I don't really believe that is the case, but maybe I
am in denial.

In a seminary preaching class at Boston University, an instructor once told the class, "We preach to ourselves."  The preacher who is always talking about sex (Jimmy Swaggart for example) may be the very person who is doing many of the things he/she is forbidding!  So I will assume that I am just writing for myself as someone who wants to get better and others may want to join me.  Is that fair?  I am not telling you what to do.  This is for me in my darkest moments as a dancer when I am a compulsive lane changer.  I think I am not, but I have some great ideas for myself to get even better, and to have a way of monitoring myself.   Surely, I am in "denial."

I will assume that people who have been working systematically to become more and more dangerous on the dancefloor will not give up their years of practice just because of this article on floorcraft.  So this article may not move the very people to change their dangerous habits on the dance floor.  I hope that it does reach a few of these folks, but surely it will help those who simply have not taught about the simplicity.

As a beginner, as with many beginners, I needed to pass the stalled guy who was going to slow or savoring some romantic moment a bit too long.  More recently, I just enjoy dancing in one little space, but could I get better about lane changing.  Sure.

Part of the problem is with the present handouts that give too many exceptions for lane changers.  How about the general rule of safety--changing lanes is dangerous:  Avoid doing it.  Please look for all the "exception" or "it's kind of okay to pass" examples in a mostly well written floorcraft handout you may have seen.  (The writer does not answer my emails about improving the product.)
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I have run into this hand-out three times in the last week.  Last night it was placed on tables!  Great idea--at least for rational, considerate dancers.  How are obsessive/compulsive lane changers (OCLC's) going to read the very first bullet and then last two bullets about lane changing?
  • "Follow the lanes anti-clockwise, and  try to avoid changing [lanes] a much as possible. . . ." For the OCLC, he/she will often agree fully.  But a compulsion to change takes over whenever someone in front is not keeping up with the pace he/she wants.
  • At the bottom of the page:  "When changing lanes, ensure that you have been noticed.  Give space to others who want to change lanes."  I am thinking "Here comes the guy everyone fears.  I have to protect my partner from this guy."  But he is thinking, "Look, the slow guy has noticed me! And he's getting out of my way so I can really dance!"  Different perceptions.
  • "Change lanes only if you want to stay there [in the new lane] or [as an exception] if you need to pass someone."  Need?  Yes, I have felt the need to pass when it is not necessary and contrary safe dancing.  I don't need exceptions for safety.
Now let's go on to page two, which has some great advice.  However, again OCLC's will deny the rationale or gladly accept the exceptions about lane changes on bullets two and four:

In a reasonable world, with reasonable dancers everything written here would be perfectly okay. But we live in a dangerous world full of risky dancers who put my partner in danger at nearly every milonga.  And I have been that dancer, at least when I first started! 
  • The second bullet:  Sometime there is a jam. Sure, it is a rational to suggest that one stay in one's own lane because "usually after passing it is not much better." However, the OCLC is by nature irrational. The grass is greener on the other side of whomever is unfortunate enough to be in front of the one who is compulsed to seek greener pastures/open spaces.  Asking an OCLC to "avoid changing lanes as much as possible" may mean no more than 20 times instead of the 50 times he/she was compulsed to pass. I was actually passed by a woman lead 20 times in a single tanda, which was only possible because she sometimes went through the center and also cut corners. Maybe she holds the OCLC world record?
  • The fourth bullet:  "If you really need to do it: Pass left! LEFT (because of the blind spot)." The OCLC reads the exception "because of the blind spot," and when and if he/she feels there is none, will pass on the right. Exception accepted. Even "experienced" dancers pass dangerously on the RIGHT (as just happened early this month several times in Frankfurt am Main at the Brot Fabrik all by the same person), and last week on a Sunday matinee milonga on the Rhine. The floor-craft hand-out (here critiqued) was on each table!!!  I was passed twice on my blind spot to the RIGHT by two different men. Obsessive Compulsive Lane Changers (OCLC's) pass on the RIGHT because they think they "NEED to do it."  In Germany, where I live, if you pass on the Autobahn on the right, you will lose your license.  When Germans know a rule, they are amazingly good at following it; so evidently, the rule has not gotten out.  I hope for the  same discipline for safety on the  Autobahn as on the "Tanzbahn."
Sadly, tango teachers rarely address floorcraft and they themselves too often have a bad case of OCLC disorder, so it's not just me. Lane changing (tell me if this isn't your experience) is NOT a testosterone issue.  Women leaders, in my experience, tend to be the biggest lane changers in the room.  Having said that, some of the best at floorcraft whom I have ever seen are women leaders. Because of lack of teacher interest, at least this hand-out poster is addressing a safety issue that needs to be said.   However, I am afraid that the people who are lane changers need to hear: "Changing lanes is for beginners or show-offs or OCLC's; so changing lanes should be very rare.  If you know that you really have a compulsion, try to make it a rule to change lanes no more than once in a song, then once in a tanda, then once in a night.  The person in your arms will love you for it."  I am on this path.  I don't mind being observed at a milonga (as I will be now).  I am on the path.  Join me.

Obsessive Compulsive Lane Changers (OCLC's) pass because they NEED to do it.   Many beginners (I was one of them) get over this compulsion to change lanes, but many never grow up.  They are the thorn in everyone's side at every milonga they go to.  OCLC's, especially when they are experienced dancers, are tolerated even thought they are intolerable.  Yes, we should be compassionate with their OCD (obsessive / compulsive disorder), but silent?  The poster is indeed okay for reasonable dancers, but reasonable dancers usually do not need this poster.  Floorcraft comes out of reasonableness.

OCLCD (Obsessive Compulsive Lane Changing Disorder) is an illness.  Medication can help.  Therapy can help.  Being silent or giving reasonable advice to an OCLC that they try to be good, considerate, less of a risk to others' safety may not help.  In my follow-up post, I will share something (besides electric shocks and shaming) that may help with a change of behavior.

Oh, the meeting did help some.  I usually am not this patient driving in traffic.  A member of the group filmed my progress.
Doing better, don't you agree!  :-)

PS:  If anyone knows the author, Dirk, please direct him here.  I have emailed the address he gives on the hand-out, but perhaps it is no longer current.

Also see this version from Austria, which seems very similar:

Give me some help!  How about a new hand-out card that actually addresses the problem of lane changing as "fairly taboo."  Women like men who can dance on a small piece of territory and do not change lanes very much.  So very soon, I promise a nice PDF with a new at-a-glance floorcraft guide.


  1. PS Spot the shibboleth in the very title: "Dance Flow in Tango".

    I do hope he hasn't made separate editions for vals and milonga :)

  2. Looking forward to the new guide, Tango Therapist.

    Just a few thoughts on the topic:
    Effective use of one's space on the dance-floor is a high level skill - one that adds a great deal of satisfaction to the dance. It allows the couple to savour each moment (along with other couples), rather than rush to reach a destination.

    Some strategies at the milonga to deal with the OCLC:
    Ladies, if you don't like what you see when observing OCLC dancing, simply choose not to dance with him. Advanced female dancers play an important role in determining behaviour at the milonga.
    Organisers, you have a responsibility for the safety and comfort of your guests. So, consider having a quiet word with the OCLC.
    Gentlemen, you need to assert ownership(not aggressively) of your space in the lane and protect your partner.

    Another indirect approach when chatting with the OCLC might be to remark on another dancer's great use of limited space. I suspect that such a comment (especially made by a lady) may cause him to reflect on his own dancing.


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  4. @Patricia: I like your comments about the obsession to go to some destination. The short handout I am working on (now in draft) is called (so far): Enjoying driving in traffic. I realized that that is the one thing very much different from traffic and a milonga--it is a joy to be in the ronda with others, but usually it is best to have the road all to yourself on a motorway. Otherwise the golden rule of driving and the golden rule of tango traffic are pretty much the same: Merge with safely (coming onto the pista), pass to the left when one *must,* no stunts on a crowded Autobahn, don't park on the highway, and most importantly, don't drive down the white line between dancers (which is passing on the left of lane two and squeezing lane one out to the very edge to accommodate you).

    I think your suggestion to women is especially good-- point out what you like and perhaps that will reach the frontal lobes of a mostly brain-stem-only tanguero. :-)

  5. TT wrote: "I have run into this hand-out three times in the last week. Last night it was placed on tables! Great idea--at least for rational, considerate dancers."

    Interesting theory.

    I have to say I danced for nearly ten years across at least ten countries from UK to Argentina before I ever heard this idea of lanes. I first encountered it only few years ago, on a dance instructors list of rules likewise placed on the tables of a milonga. In the UK.

    If these rule cards are such a great idea, I wonder why one never finds them on the table of milongas in BsAs.


    PPS Patricia, I think I am probably not the only one that finds your repeated characterisation of good dancers as 'advanced' to be rather creepy. There are better places to promote your concepts of class levels. E.g. your adverts.

  6. Update: Last night and since I wrote this post, I have decided to spend an entire milonga by staying (as I usually do) on the outside lane without passing once. If find it very refreshing and enjoyable.

  7. @Chris: The problem of dangerous dancers will probably always be 90% "advanced" dancers with very fast reflexes who think they can get away with it. But ask those around them if it is great to be in the same school of fish with they guy who is endangering others. It is not fun, but they are clueless. Selfish, risky behavior is something I have personally observed in traffic in Latin America, on the skate parks and ice rinks in Germany, ice rink, city bicycliests in France, and on the highways of Texas. Human beings are not birds or fish in a swarm or school. We bump into each other too often to be compared to these animals.

    Regarding handouts at milongas: The reason a handout will not help is that veteran dancers don't need advice. They already know everything, and are hoping that the beginners will benefit from such advice. Not every milonga but some have some version of "los códigos," which is cheaper than printing them out. If you have never heard about lanes, that is interesting since so many visiting teachers from BsAs have spoken about lanes, floorcraft, rogue dancers, and risk reduction. The visiting teacher who does not address these issuees are more likely to be one of the most the selfish, lane-changing tangueros at the milonga and a teacher of "cool moves" who has no time to develop ethical, social behavior in the community.

    Regarding your comment about another reader. I think your are the only one with that take on her remark. Of those who write about tango, I see her as a kind person, guiding her small group in Australia in the wonders of close embrace dance. Creepy? Rather brash, Chris.

  8. TT wrote: " If you have never heard about lanes, that is interesting since so many visiting teachers from BsAs have spoken about lanes"

    I suspect they do that only in classes. So no surprise I haven't heard it.

    And let's remember there's a reason these teachers are from BsAs rather than in it.

  9. Tango Therapist: any doubt which one of your readers may have about the existence or merit of "lanes" in the milonga would disappear once he experienced a traditional milonga in Buenos Aires. In my experience, a more relaxed atmosphere is tangible when dancers respect the notional lanes. They feel more comfortable due to the absence of erratic, distracting behaviours, and therefore can give themselves fully to the music and their partner.

  10. Patricia wrote: "any doubt which one of your readers may have about the existence or merit of "lanes" in the milonga would disappear once he experienced a traditional milonga in Buenos Aires."

    It is truly remarkable how utterly at odds can be a foreign dance instructor's perception of what's happening in a BA milonga, relative to the locals', e.g.

    Carlos Alberti
    In the milonguero salons in BA there were never lanes. We learned (or already had) the ability to share and dance WITH the other couples. We wanted to take their moves into account because it stimulated our creativity, we contained each other, and played with the space. The whole concept of lanes in very Anglo/Germanic. Lanes (some places are now drawing lines on the floor) make people people feel "entitled", and dull spatial sensitivity.
    28 June at 16:49


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