Transformative Tango at the OACCPP Conference 2017

This past fall, Chrisa and I were honoured to present a workshop on Transformative Tango for Empathic Skill-building at the OACCPP (Ontario Association of Counsellors, Consultants, Psychometrists & Psychotherapists) Conference this past September, 2017. This association is the largest organization of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in Ontario.

We were a little anxious about the whole thing, but the conference staff could not have been more helpful and supportive and, on top of that, the participants who attended were super generous with their feedback and participation. Right from the start, they seemed intrigued by what  we were offering and offered many helpful insights and suggestions from their own experience working with clients struggling with relational issues.

Chrisa and I theorize that Tango can provide a fertile environment for learning about oneself and one’s partner at a non-verbal level.  By asking participants to switch roles we also believe this will help in the development of empathy (or, the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the other person). We devoted a lot of time to the way in which partners communicate with each other and asked participants for their input on how to do this in a caring and effective way.  We collected all of their suggestions and have listed it below:


  • Establish a connection before giving feedback.
  • Ask for consent – see if your partner is open to receiving feedback first.
  • Acknowledge what works / what you liked first and then suggest how the two of you might make it better. Offer your feedback as an observation rather than a criticism (e.g., I notice you . . . )
  • Pose the feedback as a question (e.g. what is this like for you? Is there some way I could help you? Do you need something from me? )
  • Place yourself on an equal footing with your partner. Start with yourself. (e.g. I am having difficulty with this. Are you having a hard time as well?)
  • Hold onto feedback until you feel your partner is ready for it/ or until an appropriate moment comes up.
  • Don’t “rescue” your partner by assuming you know what they are trying to lead. Go with the information your partner is giving you even if this does not work initially. Rescuing your partner is not respectful and they will never learn if you pretend you know what they are trying to communicate. Ask your partner if he wants to know what you are receiving and keep working together till you get the message.
  • Give lots of positive feedback whenever anything goes well. (E.g., I like the way you hold me. Your lead is very clear and easy to follow. I feel safe when you lead me.)
  • If you and your partner cannot figure it out, switch roles in order to find out what your partner is experiencing. Put your self in his/her place.


Receiving Feedback can be very challenging, since none of us likes to be criticized and most people are trying as hard as they can. As well, most of us have only a limited idea of what we are doing with our bodies, so although we may think we are giving our partner a clear message, we may not be aware of extraneous body-language that might be giving our partner confusing signals.

Very little attention is given in the literature about how to receive feedback, but it is a skill that deserves more attention. These are some suggestions from the participants .

  • Giving and receiving feedback is a vulnerable place for both partners, so if you are receiving feedback try to remember that your partner is trusting you to listen and care about what they are saying. They may be feeling as anxious as you are.
  • If you are finding it difficult to hear what they are saying, take a deep breath and then repeat back what they said. Check to see if you have it right.
  • Try to imagine that your partner is not criticizing you, but instead, they are telling you about someone else’s behaviour. If that were the case, how would you feel about this other person’s behaviour?
  • Remind yourself that there is no shame in making mistakes or not getting it right the first time. The key is what you do to repair the mistakes.
  • If you get frustrated, change roles with your partner and get him or her to demonstrate what it feels like to be in their shoes.
  • It is not about getting it right or wrong. The key in Tango, as in relationships, is to maintain connection with your partner. Try to maintain this connection by encouraging your partner to keep giving you feedback until you get what it is they are trying to say.

This last suggestion is perhaps the most important one. I spend a lot of time in my work with couples trying to teach them how to not shut down in shame and anger when their partners try to tell them something about how they experience their relationship.  Most people, when they hear criticism, become defensive and try to justify, minimize or defend their problematic behaviour. This just makes things worse.

By translating this process into the need to work together in order to dance Tango, partners learn that, unless they are willing to listen and try to understand the feedback from their partner,  the dance cannot happen. It is a concrete representation of what happens in a relationship when we fail to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes (literally) and understand that they are trying to help, not hurt, the process.

We only had three hours to work with our participants and some wanted the workshop to go on longer. I would love to have a whole day to further explore this with a group of participants.  Hopefully, we will be able to do this some time in the future.

For more information go to

To read my paper on this subject go to

One Response to “Transformative Tango at the OACCPP Conference 2017

  • Thank you for sending me this summary of the OACCPP workshop. I found the entire workshop experience interesting, energizing and useful.

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