The “high stool” problem


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In my last post, I wrote about the story of Charlemos. What I find really striking in this story is how the man being blind refuses to meet the girl on the other side of the line with the excuse of being blind. To me, this end seems like he thinks of himself as unworthy of meeting a potential partner not to mention being loved by someone. Remember that we talk about a song written decades ago when disability was probably a taboo. Many people in the past considered people with disabilities as people of lesser value.

Fortunately, our societies have evolved and battled with such stereotypes and today people with disabilities are no longer considered as people of lesser value. There are other problems in our relationship with them but that is not the point in this post. Hang in there… There is a point to be made about Tango.

Insider-outsider dynamics

After my post on stereotypes some months ago, I bumped into a really interesting 5-minute video from Big Think (see below) where a psychologist explains how the insider-outsider dynamics work in different community groups such as a neighbour or a company. What struck me as really amazing is what the scientist says about how stereotypes affect our behaviour when we think we belong to a stereotypical group. Believe it or not… thinking you belong to a stereotype and trying to prove it wrong… has a huge impact on your behaviour.

As she mentions, when people think that they are viewed through a specific stereotypical lens they usually overstress their brains which results in them being less efficient and less authentic. When for example a woman thinks that she is considered less capable in a task than her male colleagues, scientists can see that their brain is working overtime just because she falls into the trap of trying to prove the others wrong which in turn makes them underperform.

Isn’t that amazing? When we consider ourselves as part of an outsider group we are trying our best to prove the stereotype of the outsider wrong. But this mentality instead of allowing us to release our true potential, ends up sabotaging ourselves! The more you try to prove you are not what other people might think of you… the more you hide your true identity and potential… and the more possible it is to actually prove the stereotype of others!

Constant reminders

The scientist ends the video with a short story of a woman being in a panel of men and sitting on a high stool designed obviously for larger people. This detail alone, the feeling of not fitting in the stool and her legs hanging down like a small kid’s, was a constant reminder for her that she was not part of this panel. She was not an insider. She doesn’t belong to the group. She is an outsider.

Does this remind you of something? How about a typical local milonga? Have you ever noticed a table… a corner… an area where the “advanced” dancers hang out? That is a very typical image even in some marathons or festivals. Think about it now from the outsiders’/beginners’ side. Isn’t that the “high stool” that constantly reminds them that they are not included in the group? Yes! You may be on the other side… You may not think about it… But it is. A constant reminder that “we are the insiders and you are not.”

Now think about the implications that this has on the behavior of those outsiders. If you are one of the cool dancers at this table judging the others or “waiting for them to prove to you” that they are worthy of your embrace… of your dance… how do you think they feel? Can they show their true potential or are they sabotaging themselves in the process? Even if they don’t know it… even if you don’t know it… this behaviour most probably leads to the second case!

The milongas I love and hate

One thing I loved about the local milongas in Frankfurt was that there was nowhere such a table or an area. There was nowhere a place where the cool advanced dancers would hang out. Instead, people were constantly moving around. Chatting and dancing with friends all over the place. Now that I think of it… that was maybe one of the reasons the community still feels so welcoming.

On the other hand, this is an image I very often see in milongas in Thessaloniki. In many milongas, there is this cool dancers’ area, where they would mingle together. I still remember a milonga during summer when this group was sitting at a table outside the dance hall. Obviously, no one ever tried to go nearby and cabeceo one of them. They would come in the dancefloor already in couples ready to dance or in rare cases alone having specific dancers in mind to target.

When people in Thessaloniki try to understand what creates friction and divisions in the community, they don’t have to search much. Just have a look at the typical arrangement of people in a milonga. It’s full of such constant reminders to the outsiders that they don’t belong there.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is a not-very-popular song which is about the life of a child born into poverty. The lyrics convey a sense of regret for not empathizing and understanding the child. They are more or less a plea for acceptance and compassion for those facing challenging circumstances.

So how about you? Have you ever felt like an insider of a group in tango? Is your behaviour a reminder for newcomers that they are outsiders? Have you ever felt like an outsider? What is it that makes you feel so? How does this affect your own behaviour and authenticity?

Do you have something to say on the topic?

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5 responses to “The “high stool” problem”

  1. İrfan Dönmez Avatar
    İrfan Dönmez

    Once I was in Thesalloniki for a marathon with a group of my friends.We all of us have felt like outsiders.Especially the big group from Athens have made feel us like outsiders.We were so impressed and I tried to explain this awkward situation to the organiser but he unfortunately ignored and we are all now very determined not to participate in any of those tango events that will be held in Athens and Thesalloniki.Since I am a medical doctor,I can simply explain the psychodynamic of this kind of behaviour in tango world.

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      First of all it is really sad to hear your experience. It’s a pity we will not have the chance to meet in person in the marathon and chat about it but I know very well what you mean. I have joined the marathon a few times and I will also do it this year mostly because of convenience.
      I am also very interested to hear/read your explanation of the behavior from the medical doctor’s perspective! How do you see it?
      If you don’t like writing here in public you can always find and message me in Facebook.

  2. […] I am guilty as charged. In my post, a couple of weeks ago about the “high stool” problem, I received some very interesting comments. In one of them, a reader commented that I was trying to […]

  3. Jose Diez Avatar
    Jose Diez

    Good and useful information. I will not go to Greece, at least Athens and Thessaloniki. Something very similar occurs in many milongas in Buenos Aires. There is a sort of a caste, a claque, or inquisition that gets privileged seating and tables with the excuse of being “habitués”. People, usually newcomers and visitors, get dumped in a corner, to allow the caste to quickly distinguish them to be ignored, Some of these milongas are: Cachirulo, Lujos, Tango Camargo, Porteño y Bailarín, and in general all in El Beso. Also Lo de Celia, and Milonga de Buenos Aires (formerly Obelisco), to a lesser degree Gricel.
    To bypass the above, you can try corruption and offer €5 to the accommodator (the person who assigns the actual seat in the field), to assign you a good seat, but make sure beforehand, you know what a good seat is.
    I know of an important dancer with upscale contact with some of the hosts of important milongas, and he will act as a taxi dancer charging €100 per night plus all expenses for ladies to have a good seat and dance with him a limited number of tandas. All part of the corruption.
    Many years ago there was in La Plata, 57 Km South-East from Buenos Aires, a milonga where they had a table called “Café de los Maestros” where 3 or 4 of these controlling guys decided as gods who can dance and with whom. I called the table The Inquisition.
    I have been invited by some important dancers to join them in some of these milongas (apparently free of charge), but I always decline. I travel to limited countries and cities in Europe looking for a friendly environment.
    Thanks again for your input.

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      To be fair… not all milongas in Greece are the same. For example, I was in a milonga in Thessaloniki on Thurday and the atmosphere was tottally different. Warm, fun and welcoming. Much like in other places around the wolrd I guess there are both cold and warm milongas. Sometimes you know about it and pick… and some others… you find out by experience. It’s part of the game.

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