Lucas Weismann

Choose Your Suffering

Here’s some writing from this January when I was working in a shop.

It’s Friday. I’m tired. I’m sore. I want to give in.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been working at a new job, working with tools and projects that have turned out to be very interesting.  I like the people, I love the work and yet, each time Friday rolls around- I want to quit.

Monday is exciting, Tuesday is good, Wednesday is normal, Thursday is fine, but Friday- somehow Friday is the opposite of what it should be.  Five days of waking up at 5am to get to work by 8am have taken their toll and all I want to do is sleep through the weekend.

Whether it’s the deservedly low pay (I’m the new guy, gotta pay my dues), the lack of sleep, or maybe the fact that it seems to be a universal that the job you sign on for is almost never what the job ends up being what you end up doing, somehow I’m just done by the end of the week.

Most of my adult life I’ve been a freelancer, someone who comes and goes as they please on a project-to-project basis.  Being knocked back into w-4 status feels like a huge step back.

There are really only two things that keep me coming despite the lack of bathrooms, difficult to find first aid kits, and hide-and-seek fire extinguishers.  I’m learning new things constantly and I don’t have anything better to do.

Okay well, when I say I don’t have anything better to do— that’s not exactly true.  I have better things to do, but most of them are either long-term payoffs or they don’t pay at all.  In either case, it is impractical of me to do other than I am doing at the moment.  Where else am I going to find someone who will pay me to train me in skills I want to learn?

Like I said, I like working for the West Virginia Good Old Boy and the Gruff North Woodsman whose laugh sounds a bit like The Penguin on the old Batman television series.

—> Recently I read a book that made the point (though with more profanity) that all of life is suffering.  Poor people suffer because they have nothing.  Rich people suffer because of their worry about their possessions.  Orphans suffer from their lack of family.  The rest of us suffer because of our family.  Life.  Is.  Suffering.

When I read things like this, I usually smile and think of the moment in The Princess Bride before the Man in Black reveals himself to Princess Buttercup who complains that he mocks her pain.  He responds angrily, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says otherwise is selling something!”

Obviously, there are other parts of life than suffering but we all suffer the same.  The lazy suffer because they’re lazy, the ambitious suffer from their ambitions.  Right now, I need to remember this when I’m tired and crabby and want to quit.  I need to remember that this is my suffering because like most people, this is the suffering I’ve chosen.

The question is not if I should suffer gladly, but rather is my suffering worth what I gain from it.  Can I care more about something I want than the suffering it costs to purchase it.  Is it a price worth my time and focus and soul?

New project. Picture frames.

When learning a craft, or setting a goal, it can be helpful to break down the process into several repeatable steps.  Practicing scales, arpeggios, chord changes and etc…  This is good, but it’s ultimately unsatisfying for the novice because it lacks the sense of achievement that you get from completing a project.  Say… learning a song.

This is one reason that in addition to the “hard work” portions of the process, many newcomers to the guitar will learn “Blackbird” by the Beatles.  This project will teach the student several skills- chord vocabulary, moving from position to position on the guitar, timing, among others.

As I make my way through down the path of becoming a woodworker (as an artist, not merely a hobbyist), I’ve been working to learn different steps.  Yes, I’ve practiced planing boards to create perfect paper-thin curls of wood, yes, I’ve milled up planks into boards of even thickness.  Here is my list and the order of projects I’ve added to my woodworking setlist.

Sanding and refinishing–  As a child, my grandfather took me and my cousin Rusty out to sand, refinish and black the metal parts of various tools his father left at the cabin.  It wasn’t very exciting at the beginning (we were hand sanding, no powertools needed), but by the end, we had restored some antiques and brought them to a beautiful working condition. *note: if you do this without asking, you may find you’ve reduced the value of someone’s antiques so please ask first if they’re not your own.

I definitely suggest taking something not too valuable, but well loved, sanding it and finishing it with some sort of beautiful finish like danish oil, tung oil or a wipe-on polyurethane (provided that’s appropriate to the intended use of the piece).

Monkey’s Fists–  While not strictly-speaking a woodworking project, my dad taught me to use a pocket knife to whittle a ball to use as a center around which to build the monkey’s fist. This taught me to think about oversizing the initial sculpt and then continuing to remove.  Learning to see what it will be when the not-ball portion is removed has helped in my ability to previsualize.round which

Presentation Boards– These are SO. MUCH. FUN. Not strictly-speaking cutting boards, the boards I make with my dad are made by jointing boards and then planing them to thickness before putting a bevel on the ends to match the feeling of the live edge.  After this point, the boards are sanded down to 220 grit and/or scraped with a furniture scraper before being finished with a food-safe oil coat.

Canoe Restoration– Once in awhile, you attack a project SO freaking out of your league that you have to get outside help.  Then, your outside help needs to get outside help.  This is basically what happened when my dad and I decided to restore our 1970s Tremblay canoe.  We did this with help from the generous guys over at the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum.  Jamie in particular helped us make up techniques and taught us things about respecting the wood that has come in handy in nearly every project I’ve done since 2013.

Scarf Joints
mortise and tenon joints
steaming wood
shaping wood with an angle grinder
bandsaw skills
basic planing and scraping
So much more…

Most recently, in the shop with Dan Gremillion I learned to make picture frames. This was a blast and it’s a perfect outgrowth from what I’ve learned making slab tables (basically large presentation boards).

To make this one sing, we take our plank, joint it, rip it and plane it.  Then when we have nice square stock (a surprising amount of woodworking is about making nice square stock and then making itNOT square….), we rip out a section, miter it and glue it up.

Afterward, we cut grooves in the corners with a table saw jig and glue pieces of either matching or contrasting (I usually like contrasting) wood to create a stronger joint than a simple mitered butt joint (gluing the angled edges together) would provide.

Then we take a VERY sharp chisel and pare away (yes, the same pare as a paring knife, it’s like shaving, but thicker) the excess.

As usual, our final steps involve sanding to an appropriate silky smoothness and finishing with something like Tung Oil, Boiled Linseed Oil, or something similar.

The really cool thing once you get to this point in woodworking you can make a lot of things you’d want to.  A chair, that’s presentation boards with legs stuck on.  A tray?  That’s a picture frame with an extra groove to hold a panel of wood instead of glass.  A box, that’s a tray with a lid.

A dresser?  That’s a complicated picture frame with legs on, that has trays that hold your stuff built in.  See where I’m going?

In addition to loving the time you spend doing your art- if you’re not having fun being bad at it, you probably won’t have fun being good at it- you are building up a repertoire of things you can do.  Little successes that will build up confidence so that when you want to take on a scary task, you can look at it, see what it’s made of and realize you’re made of what it takes to accomplish your task.

What “songs” or “projects” should a beginner use if they want to learn your art?  What things can make them feel successful as they learn the riffs of the craft?

Action to Motivation

Sometimes motivation breeds action, but just as often action breeds motivation.

This is one of our pre-release black walnut presentation boards being used as a serving tray/centerpiece for dinner at a friend’s house.

Yesterday (Sunday), I spent the evening with my dad Jake; cutting and sanding some boards that should become our next batch presentation boards for our soon-to-drop online store.  They’ll become slab furniture and presentation boards.  A piece that should last at least four generations if treated well (more on four generations later soon, I promise…)

Afterward, I performed some minor repairs on some leather items in the house and worked on a design for a sheath for one of my knives.

I should probably be exhausted, but for some reason, my stupid mind brimmed with ideas of what I can do next week and the week after! This is especially true given that I’ll be flying to the Tucson Gem Show this weekend and won’t have all of my tools with me.  I could barely sleep.
Today, I spent the day working on the final phase of an ash entertainment center for work. Assisting the designers in the basic skill-related aspects of it and keeping an eye out for questions I have about design.

Afterward, I went home and practiced using a plunge router for the first time to cut a Mortise into some scrap I brought home from work.

Finished up the day playing with West System Epoxy and Waterlox Poly Finish on some walnut. Things are moving and that movement is helps to build inertia.  What kinds of things do you do to build inertia?


Why Leather, Wood, and Steel?

The best tools I’ve had are made of wood and steel, my favorite goods have been made of leather.  More so when the items in question have been made by hands that designed them with a purpose, custom-suited to its task or with someone specific in mind.

There is an honesty and a value to shaping materials you love with your hands, your heart and your mind.  There is a manic joy that comes from taking unrefined or raw materials and shaping them into something that can last for generations.

A joy of taking care of your tools, making sure they don’t become pitted, rusted or dull and knowing
that in return… they will take care of you and be great partners.


A joy in the frustration that comes from failing at something, when the short-term failure isn’t as bad as the idea of NOT learning that thing we want to know how to make.

There is a magic in learning to exercise your will in such a way that you are able to shape your world, or at least come small objects in it, in a such a way that when you finish your work you look upon what you have wrought and you can say that it is good.

If you’ve never experienced the joy of making something that then exists in the real three-dimensional world, an artifact to explain to future archaeologists who and what you were, I would love to encourage you to do so.

Maybe if you do, you’ll end up with an excitement that looks just a *little* bit frightening behind your dust mask and safety goggles.

If getting your hands cracked and dirty, and your lungs full of sawdust (despite proper precautions)  isn’t for you, I sincerely hope you enjoy the crafts and objects I share with you on the blog.

Just a thought – Love

Anyone who knows about fire knows that sparks aren’t supposed to be the whole of it. They just get things going. Then the flames provide light so those around can see. Then the coals keep you warm through the night.

Perhaps that’s why fire as such a good metaphor for love.


Wind whips through empty lands
stirs up sands, I close my eyes agains
not cold, not hot, not anything
these gray lands I walk
Alone in the echoes of silence.

Suddenly I’m not alone
Old friends are with me; my doubt, my fear, my laziness.
they invite me to stop for a rest.
just a chat, a chance to talk about old times.
I stop by to be polite

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen them.
the last few months have been full.
full of live, of love
of doing things I’d always dreamed of doing.

withered claws,
they pull me down.
color drains from the already subdued pallette of the land.
time crawls treacle slow.

procrastination (twin to laziness) shows
late as usual
don’t you have to run the updates, sweep,
shuffle piles of paper he asks me

he’s right, I think.
that all needs doing.
I can write later
Later, I’ll write.

in the sunless lands
a living death of worthless tasks
the sands fill the glass
life drips away.

will and muscle atrophy
victims of disuse
as my demons feed on me
they grow stronger

contrast dims and all is gray.

I can write tomorrow.

there’s always tomorrow.



Every Soul is for Sale

Did I ever tell you about the time I met the Devil on the road?  It’s true.  I did!  Well-dressed chap on the side of the road.  Small goatee, suspiciously cloven feet, faint smell of campfire… Anyway, I was tired so I sad down next to him.  “Ho, Old Scratch!” says I, to show him I’m on to him and not interested in any of his tricks.

He nods to me and moves aside to make room on the log on which he was sitting.  Well, not being ignorant I’m ready to make the sign of the cross or quote a scripture at him at the first sign of trouble.  But he just sits there, as if I’m nothing more than any other traveler.  Finally he looks at me and says, “Well?  Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?”

This has me at a loss, as it would you I’m sure.  That’s the one thing I couldn’t have expected him to say.  “You mean you don’t already know? I asked.

“What?  You famous?” He asked.

“No,” I said, “I just thought you knew these sorts of things.  In all the old stories you-“

“Bah, stories,” he dismissed them like he was waving away a bothersome fly.  “Stories are troublesome things, can’t trust ‘em.”

“Huh.”  I thought about all the stories I’d heard of an evening and realized that more often than not they were more than just exaggerated.

“Stories.  I suppose in the stories I’m out to get your soul and trick you out of it right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Hmph.  That would be the ones that get around.  As if no one ever went though a time when they were a bit of a jerk.”

I had sympathy for him at that point, for I remembered a time when I myself had been the subject of scurrilous rumors.  Then I imagined what it must have been like these last 5000 years the priests tell us the world has been around.  I told him my name and asked him his.

“Lucifer,” he said, “Not that anyone asks any more.  They just call me Satan or Deceiver or any number of other insults and eventually my temper gets the better of me.”

“Must be awful,” I said.

He nodded.  “You’re the first person that hasn’t tried to ward me off with the sign of the cross or quoted scripture at me.”

“Yeah, that would be rude.”

“It’s always ‘begone deceiver’ this and ’get thee behind me that’.  I mean, if someone has a nice posterior or flattering jeans I don’t mind, but it gets so old.”

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  I asked.

“Go ahead,” he replied.

“What do you do with them?”


“With the souls.  What do you do with them?  The ones people sell you I mean.”

He looked tired.  “You too?  What the hell would I do with souls?  I have no use for them.  Besides you can’t be separated from yours.  Not until death!  Can’t happen.”

“But what about…”

“Can’t happen.  That Faust thing is just a load of fiction.  Hell, I can’t even get back into Hell because I can’t find the keys.”

“Hell has keys?”

“Of course it does.  You think I want to go letting it open with all the murderers and demons and bad guys running around there?”

“Huh, I never thought of it that way.” I said

“Ugh and the smoke.  I can’t get it out of my clothes no matter how much I wash.”  I remembered my grandpa’s sweaters and how even after he quit smoking they always smelled like cigarettes.

“Sounds rough.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“So you don’t buy souls?”

“No.  Course not.  I was just sore at my dad for taking me off the angel choir to babysit a bunch of delinquent humans for all eternity.  You have no idea how terrible the company was for awhile.  Out of boredom I started trying to attract people I’d want to spend time with.  You ever wonder why there are so many musicians in Hell?”

“Because they sold you their soul?”

“No… because the music filled them to the point where there was nothing left.  No room for anything else.  They resonated with the divine music of the spheres and as reward, Dad sends them to me.  All the greats are there.  Even some of the really good gospel musicians.”

“Even the gospel ones?  How come?”

“Because they loved music more than they loved what their music was about.  Dad hates that.  He thinks everything has to be about him.  All the time.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.” I said.

“Of course it’s fair” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “Dad said it, so by definition it’s fair.”

“This is very illuminating.” I said.

He actually laughed at that point.  “Well it ought to be.” He said.

“What?” I asked.

“My name is lucifer.  Means morning star.  Or Light bringer.  Illuminating.  Get it?”

“Oh!” I said, comprehension dawning.

“That’s actually my job.”

“It is?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said.

“My job is to show people the light.  Teach them things.  Things they might miss otherwise.”

“What about all the punishments in hell?”

“Teaching too.  Dad was really old-school about it.  Wanted fire and brimstone.  I asked, ‘why not have some rehabilitation classes and reincarnate until they get it right?’ He just said it wouldn’t work and that it was better to start with something pure and clean.”

“His ways are mysterious” I said.

“He’s impatient and hates admitting improvements could be made.  That’s why he tried to keep a lid on evolution for so long. Everyone brings up the bad stuff, but I ask, what about the good stuff?”

“Good stuff?”

“Yeah!  Good stuff.  Like giving Eve the apple.”

“Good?  That got them kicked out of paradise.”s

“Nah, they knew what would happen.  I told them.”

“Yeah, but how could they know what it would be like?  I mean, he said ‘don’t eat’ and I said, hey.  You eat this, you’ll know right from wrong and be able to make your own decisions.  I helped them to find free will.”

“But we have to work now.” I countered.

“Instead of what?  Being two birds in gilded cages, they became to adults.  Free and able to choose your destiny and do more than just sit in a garden eating and lounging about?”

“Okay,” I said, “What about Job?”

“What about him?”

“What about the fact that you tortured that poor man.”

“Hey I get it.  I say in passing that he wouldn’t be so loyal if he wasn’t being protected from harm.  Right?”


“That’s not what I said.  What I said was, Job probably wouldn’t be so cheery if you treated him like you treat me.  I was griping and next thing you know God is ordering me to kill Job’s wife.”


“Really.  Look none of that really matters, you know?  All that matters is this.  Every soul is for sale.  You will sell it.  But not to me.”

“What?” I asked.  “Who wants to buy then?”

“You do.  You buy it with every action of every day.  It’s the energy you have to spend becoming who you are.  The only question you have to ask is this?  Would you rather sell your soul at a high price to get something you want, or sell it at a low price to get something you don’t want?”

I thought about this for a minute.  “Are you talking about not wasting my time?”

“Well, no time is wasted really- otherwise you’d have some left over at the end.  I’m talking about spending time on something worth the value of your soul.”

“You mean like practicing an instrument to become a musician?”

“Right, but it’s only compared with the relative cost of another way to spend time that the value can be measured.

“So, watching television for 30 minutes compared with practicing an instrument.”

“Exactly.  It’s like buying something with cash versus buying it with-“

“Credit.  Oh I see.  So, you’re saying I should only spend time on things that will get me what I want?”

“No, no, no.  You’ll have to spend time on other things too, after all you need to eat.  But that extra time.  The time you have to find your passions.  That’s the time that usually gets sucked up with trashy novels, re listening to crappy pop music you have memorized and tv-reruns you’ve seen a thousand times.  All of that is low effort, instant-low calorie return.  Just bad economics.”

“You know prince of darkness as guidance counsellor isn’t what I expected.”

“You and me both,” he said with a sigh.  “You have a lot more opportunity than I did.  You can literally go to the moon if you put in the effort and sell your soul to physics.  Me?  I had to choose between Prince of Darkness, lord of hell and tempter of souls, or leader of the angel choir”  at this, he folded his hands mockingly.  “Trust me, with all its problems, this world is still better than it ever has been and you have more choice than ever.”

“Well, Mr. Morningstar, this has been enlightening.  Thank you for lighting my path and giving me a rest.” I said.

“Of course.”

“I feel like I could go out and take over the world!” I said with enthusiasm.

“You can if that’s what you want to sell your soul for,” he said with a wink.  “Just promise me you won’t sell it at a price less than it’s worth.”  And he extended his hand.

“It’s a deal.” I said and shook his hand in good humor.  Then, I walked down the road feeling strangely lighter than I had before heading off to make my mark on the world.

(To hear what happened when I ran into the prince of darkness at a later date, click here)

6 things you can to do to get more dances.

What should you do if you’re not getting dances and you want to dance more?

Good question!  After all, you only have control over yourself, so trying to change other people is only likely to create frustration and resentment for you and those one whom you try to impose your will.

Now that you’ve asked one question lets ask some others:

1) How is your attitude?  Are you someone people want to be around?  This is a tough one, as most people are stuck with themselves and so tend to assume other people want to be with them as protection from self-reflection.

Do you complain a lot?  Valid complaints or not, this is something that may be driving people away from you.
Are you stuck up or disdainful about those less experienced than yourself?  Why should people more experienced than you treat you differently than you treat others?

Basically, if you weren’t you, would you want to go on a road trip with you?  This is an important question that should be asked of everyone, not just dancers.

2) How’s your hygiene? (e.g. do parts of you smell strongly or are they uncomfortably moist)

Notice I didn’t say do you smell like body odor.  Many people are adverse to either body odor, strong colognes and perfumes or in my case, both.  The less strongly you smell of things, the more people are likely to want to get close to you.  Few people like leaving a dance smelling like their partner (with the exception of a small, very small subset people with very specific tastes).

Does your breath smell? Mints are often provided, but in the case of bad breath, you may need to see a doctor as it can indicate real health problems that can be dangerous if left untreated (assuming you brush your teeth regularly after obvious olfactorogenic food and drinks like coffee and garlic).

Are you wet or clammy to the touch?  If so, bring extra clothes.  More than you think you need.  If you run out during the dance, you need at least one more shirt.  In some scenes dancers will bring golf towels with them to dry off between dances, particlarly if there’s AC at the venue.

3) Do you look like one of the crowd?

I’d like to say this isn’t important, but somehow people never learn that it’s the skill, not the clothes that make the dancer.  

Why is this?  well, your attire is strong signaling behavior and is a near-instant way of telling people if you’re part of the group.  This might mean sequins in west coast swing could be in vogue and gauche in lindy hop, it might mean a vest with no shirt in some crowds or tights in another.

Additionally, people are inspired (whether they realize it or not) to dress like their mentors and the people they aspire to be like.  If your dress similarly to them, they may assume you share inspiration.

After all, if I can’t dance like someone, I can at least dress like them.  You might think this is silly (and it is), but can you spot a ballerina, a tango dancer, a recess dancer or a lindy hopper who is experienced in a group?  Maybe not with 100% certainty, but if you’re trying to gain acceptance in a new group, you can always start out by showing people you’re like them and shift your look back to your own style as people realize that you’re one of them.  (this is a technique used to great effect by Alexander the great who made sure his generals and governors dressed and acted like the people they’d conquered so there would be as few feathers ruffled as possible).

Again, I’m not saying this SHOULD be the case.  I’m just saying people are people and you *might* benefit from this technique.  Oh, and incidentally, you might be doing this already without realizing it.

In fact, you might have been drawn to a dance more strongly where the dress matched your pre-existing wardrobe without even realizing it.

4) do you have a partner with whom to improve your craft?

This applies specifically to partnered dancing, but is useful to have a posse, crew or your troupe with whom to practice even in solo dance styles.  being there for each other means you have people who are likely to want to dance with each other and you’re working on helping each other improve at the same time.

5) Are you taking classes?

Classes are a great way to improve your skill level as well as a way to meet people who are at your level and therefore likely in the same boat as you when it comes to finding people with whom to dance.  Take classes and be friendly.  Let the teacher be the teacher and don’t try to fix people’s technique.  Introduce yourself and after class, stick around and ask for a dance at the beginning of the night while the experience of class is still fresh in their mind.

6) Get feedback or help from someone else.

If you’ve gone through the lessons, maybe it’s something else.  Maybe… you really are nice and happy-go-lucky.

Maybe your breath is always fresh, you’re not sweaty and you look like you fit in, neither overly perfumed or odiferous in any particular way.

You’re taking classes and meeting people and you’re kind and rescue puppies regularly because you’re just that great of a person.

Are you sending signals you’re not interested in dancing without realizing it?  

Avoiding eye contact, facing away from the floor, standing off the floor, or blocking body language may all be telling people you don’t want to dance and you may not realize you’re doing it.

Maybe you’re not doing that, but you have a habit of doing things that are considered faux pas in a scene (in some scenes this could be lifts or dips on a crowded floor, in others it might be having too much tone or muscle flexion to be comfortable for a potential partner).

If you’re really having trouble and you’ve been dancing for awhile, chances are you’ve met or talked with someone and you can ask them or a teacher or organizer in the dance what might be going on.  They might be able to give you insight and help you see what’s going on better than you can do on your own if you’re stumped.  

Generally hosts and organizers have a vested interest in having people come to the night and will often invite people to come to them with any questions, comments or concerns.  use them as a resource to figure out what’s going on.  They may have answers for you.

BONUS: Why are you waiting for dances?  If you haven’t tried asking people to dance, try that.  If you aren’t doing this already, definitely try asking people to dance.

BONUS TWO: For the intermediate or advanced dancer going to venue/scene/event for the first time.  When I go to a new scene for the first time, I wait a few dances and look for a likely friendly dancer to share a dance with.  Then, I ask them to dance.  Sometimes it takes a few tries.  Afterward I ask them if, since I’m new to the area, there are 2-3 other dancers I should make sure to dance with assuming this is my only night in town.

Generally, they point me in the direction of someone who they dance with often and now there are three of us working on the problem, which it also provides some social proof that people interact with me.

OR… they tell me some people I might want to dance with and I go from Sally to Betty and mention Sally said I should dance with Betty and ask her to dance.  Then after, you repeat and use this process to get acquainted with other people you want to dance with.  Who knows, if they like your dancing, you may end up going out for waffles with a group of new friends afterward!

The ways and means of Motivating – Social Pressure as a Carrot and Stick

There are two main types of motivation toward improvement.  Fear and Reward.  Carrot and Stick.  Taking a look at the dance world, we’re going to examine some of the ways that social pressure can be used as both carrot and stick to drive performance and cull the tribe to create a sense of unity.

In different dance scenes there are different costs one must overcome in order to be considered a desirable dance partner.  This means there are different reasons one might need to improve their dance and different difficulties inherent in ‘breaking in’ to a new dance scene.  No matter the specifics of the scene, social pressure is being used to drive improvement in the scene.

Tango – Time Cost – Tango is danced in sets of dance called Tandas.  These are 3-4 songs, 2-3 minutes in length per song and a Cortina or 30 second buffer between each one.  That puts the average Tanda at just around 10 minutes.  That means that there are rarely more than 18 Tandas per 3 hour Milonga (dance).  Now, if we assume that at some point you’ll talk with people, warm up, get a glass of wine (because of COURSE you support your venue and aren’t one of those water-drinker types…), we can assume no more than 12 Tandas per night.  

Assume that a given dancer has one partner they came with and love dancing with, who will dance with them for say, 3 tandas.  This means that we’re down to 9 free tandas.  We can assume they have at least 2 other good friends who each merit 2 tandas per dance.  Now we’re left with 5 songs for people who aren’t known to the dancer that you want to ask to dance.

This means that you need to be worth not just the 8.3% of their likely dances that your tanda would take up for the night, but also the 20% of the dances that are free for strangers or acquaintances.

The question on their mind and the mind of the self-aware novice is going to be “Is this dancer worth 1/5 of my night.”  Maybe not a fair question from your point of view, but t’s one they’re at least considering subconsciously at least.

To prevent awkwardness and to allow people to save face, a few defense mechanisms and social structures have evolved, which allow both parties to save face, but can sometimes make new dancers feel unwelcome.

These are: 

1) Avoiding eye contact with someone you don’t wish to dance with.  It’s a clear (to some) nonverbal signal of their lack of interest in dancing (for whatever reason) and a sign not to approach.  Should eye contact be made for some reason having nothing to do with a request to dance, the second line of defense is….

2) The Cabaceo.  It’s basically the mini head nod, you’d use to indicate “do you want to dance” across a crowded floor so you can ask them to dance even if someone else would get to them before you’re within voice range.  Again, if it isn’t returned, you don’t have to make the long walk back to your drink (that of COURSE you bought to support the venue) after having been turned down for a dance.

As mentioned before, this can make an uninitiated newcomer feel quite unwelcome in the world of tango, but the system is in place to avoid awkwardness rather than to create it.  A brilliant way for beginners and unknowns to get dances in without having to deal with this is the following:

3) Taxi dancers.  Whether it’s a sort-of dance gigolo like in the traditional sense, an experienced dancer who is paid to dance by a group of people who lack the standing to be in demand; or a refreshingly modern sense, a volunteer (paid or unpaid) from the community who is there to dance with any dancers on behalf of the organizers of the dance.  This tends to make new dancers feel more welcome and is sometimes even introduced as a taxi dancer during the announcements portions of the evening either immediately at the beginning of the dance session or in the middle of the evening.  This is a fantastic tradition and would be wonderful to implement in any scene that is having issues with newcomers feeling less-than-welcomed.

Lindy Hop – Danger – Ahh lindy hop.  It’s dynamic, it can be fast.  If done improperly, you can REALLY hurt someone.  This alone is a good reason for people to be reticent about saying yes when someone unknown asks for a dance.  I cannot stress how much I support people saying ‘no’ in any situation where they feel there’s a likelihood that they might be injured by taking a chance.

Balboa – Speed – Traditionally Balboa is danced fast and in close embrace (this means a body to body connection).  The story goes that the owners of the balboa ballroom packed the dance floors like sardines.  Why?  Each dance couple was worth a dime to them (back when a dime meant something) per song and so… ….the more couples on the floor, the more dimes you made.  

The bands played faster and faster to increase the thirst of the dancers and because there was no shortage in the 1000s of dancers who went every night during its heyday.  A house rule was that any couple that broke from Close embrace would be kicked off of the floor by the bouncers.

As a consequence, complex footwork and fast tempos became the order of the day.  This means of selection against dancers often results in self-selection away from the dance.  If you’re not good or in good shape, you don’t dance… at least not a lot or for very long.

Ballroom – Expense – Ballroom is expensive.  It’s expensive.  Lessons are expensive. The surreal sartorial expressions of mad dressmakers they call dresses are expensive, the swarovski crystals they glue to themselves like so many burlesque dancers are expensive, the hair and makeup and cost of paying your teacher to compete with you are expensive.

This one works to make people improve because 1) there is more pressure on instructors to work on the craft of teaching, 2) by paying a living wage to the instructors, they can devote more time to being better teachers and 3) people value products and services proportionately to the amount they pay for them.

West Coast Swing – Gamification – A variation on the competition is the points system that is in the West Coast Swing world.  Maintaining your points for many people is a way of getting into the “better” levels of competition.  Failing to do this means you have less of an opportunity to access the more interesting and desirable dancers.  This is by no means universal as there are social west coast swing scenes, venues and clubs, but it is a means that is being used to drive people in some cases to essentially grind for xp so they can quite literally “level up” and get to the good dancers.

Hip Hop and Lindy Hop – Jam Culture – This is a friendly competition that occurs either regularly or spontaneously in which a group of people crowd around a central dancer or few dancers, cheering them on as they take small sections of a song to show off their skill.  Now days in the partner dance worlds this is often used to welcome new people; out of towers; or to thank instructors, organizers and volunteers.  

But in more traditional sense, it’s a low cost way to get respect from your contemporaries by giving a platform for you to show what you’ve been working on in the past week.  Because of it’s voluntary nature, this is somewhere between competition in a traditional sense and Show and Tell.

Because Jam Circles don’t take from the regular time from the dance like an organized competition and are often spontaneous, they serve as opportunities to inspire and galvanize dancers to greater heights, even those who don’t participate directly, by going into the circle.

a note: if a jam breaks out.  please clap on beats 2 and 4 and keep the circle continuous so the energy doesn’t “leak out”.  being part of the community in situations like these is further social proof that you are ‘one of us’ for the people around you and in people’s exuberance after a jam, they are often more likely to say ‘yes’ to dancing with a stranger.  These are great times to see the possibilities inherent in a dance if you put the work in to improving your skills.


Most of these mechanisms become both filtering mechanisms, weeding out those who lack discipline and would be lukewarm on the dance; as well as proving grounds driving others to excel and improve their dance.

Social pressure can be overcome with social proof.  For instance, getting points leads to a higher level competition being open to you, which means the better dancers know you and you unlock more dances.

Bringing a partner is a clever way.  Dancing the first song with the person you came with is a means, not only of warming up and setting the tone for the evening with someone whose dancing you probably enjoy, but also a form of social proof that shows the other dancers whom you’re likely to ask for a dance what your dancing is like and whether you’re worth their time, risk of injury, and etc…

It also shows people that at least one other person is willing to dance with you and if there’s one thing that interests people in a person, product or service, it’s a testimonial.

Okay, so what if I want more dances?  Well… in the next article I’ll talk about six things you might be doing to prevent yourself from getting dances and what you can do to improve your lot on the floor.

What is the Point of Teaching

Why the hell do I spend the effort teaching?  What do I hope my students will gain from it and what what do I gain from helping them to learn?

Why do I spend the effort teaching?

There are several reasons I suppose.  

1) I like people who are skilled and the confidence with which they can approach the world.

2) I like to share the experience of dance with someone who can understand music similarly to me.  After all, every class any teacher teaches on the subject of social dance for example, is how to dance with that particular teacher or teaching couple.

3) I like to see the inspiration in the student’s eyes as they realize they can do something that they couldn’t do before.  This is a big one.

What is it that my students are actually gaining from learning?  Well knowledge, for one thing.  Knowledge of a particular art.  This knowledge gained from disciplined practice for a long time is called Kung Fu in chinese.  Kung Fu isn’t necessarily anything to do with martial arts, though the most common way people think of the idea is a martial arts master.

One of my favorite philosophers and Kung Fu practitioners Bruce Lee said that “all knowledge is ultimately self-knowledge.”  If I follow that line of thinking, what we do when we teach, is to teach our students about themselves by taking them along the path of discipline we’ve used to discover who we are.  

As the student learns or doesn’t, we gain further insight into who we are and so, achieve greater self-knowledge as teachers.  

There is never a teacher who is not first a student, nor a student who is not a teacher.  The best teaching relationships are those with greatest discipline, though not necessarily those that are most serious or those that push the hardest.

The best teaching unlocks the potential of student and teacher and helps to discover and grow the joy of the art (no matter the specifics of the art) in both.  This means that the best students and teachers are combinations that are made based on the personalities of each as well as the art in question.

If you are teaching something like medicine or hang gliding, where lives may be lost, perhaps a more serious approach is warranted.  If you are teaching something that is difficult, but not life-threatening or inherently risky, perhaps a lighter touch can be used.

There are different ways to achieve the same end, and as with raising children, no approach works perfectly with everyone.

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