#970: “Dance class and stranger-sweat” or “How to tell someone they are stinky: A review.”

Hi Captain,

So, I’ve been attending a salsa dance class the last few months. The class is structured so that you are welcome to come as a single person, and the participants shuffle through partners throughout the class. It’s a lot of fun and the men are generally pretty respectful and appropriate.

My problem is that a young man has been attending the last two weeks, and while he is very polite, his body odor is HORRENDOUS. I really cannot overstate how bad it is. By the middle of class he is sweating profusely, such that there is perspiration dripping off of his nose, and yes, onto his dancing partners (or at least *this* dancing partner, which is my main concern).

I really don’t want dance with him, but I don’t know how to refuse or what to do about it without being rude. I can totally see his attendance in this class as a suggested “assignment” from a therapist or other advice giver (such as yourself!) to get out there and be around people, even if it’s something he’s not comfortable doing.

Do you have any scripts that I can use? I do want to be kind.

~Dreading Dance Class

(She/her pronouns)

Dear Dreading Dance Class,

I’ve gotten a lot of “how do I tell someone they smell” and a lot of “how do I deal with this awkward dance partner” questions that I haven’t answered yet – thanks for this question that lets me combine both!

You don’t have to dance with him (or with anyone that you don’t want to) and if his turn as your partner gets a “No thank you/Not this time/Oh, sorry, I need to use the rest room/catch my breath/make a quick phone call” for now while you work up to talking to him about it, that’s okay. This is as true for The Dance Partner Who Never Stops Talking, Too Much Perfume Lady, and The Brotherhood of the Traveling Hands as it is for Febreezio The Fragrant.

Ideally dance teachers and studios should communicate ground rules for class and issue periodic reminders, for example:

  • Dancing means getting really close to people, so we expect that you’ll wear clean clothes and freshen up before class. Don’t forget to brush your teeth/use breath mints, too.
  • Everyone sweats when they dance so please remember to blot/mop yourself up occasionally – handkerchiefs or bandanas are useful for this!
  • Please avoid strong cologne or perfume due to allergies.
  • We like everyone to dance with everyone else and feel welcome, but you can refuse to dance with anyone or sit a dance out for any reason. If someone doesn’t want to dance with you, or sits out a dance, don’t take it personally – in 5 minutes you’ll have a new partner.
  • If you feel like someone is dancing too close here is how you signal that!/Here is how you signal or ask for permission to dance closer.

Of course, posting general “for everyone” rules definitely don’t magically solve the issue. We all know that Sylvia-in-your-office-who-cuts-a-sliver-out-of-each-of-the-free-cookies-in-the-break-room definitely doesn’t think she is the problem when the office manager sends out the “Please can everyone just take the whole cookie from now on? You don’t have to eat the whole thing, but it’s gross when they’ve all been handled and look like there are bites out of them” emailThe office manager needs to send the email and have a “Sylvia, could you please stop doing that” talk.

When you join a scene or a hobby or a workplace or any social enterprise, certain expectations come with that (There is no talking in the Diogenes Club). If Febreezio doesn’t already know that “It’s okay if you are a naturally sweaty person but dancing close to people means doing what you can to manage your sweat”/”Your usual hygiene game is not cutting it for this level of close contact and physical activity” someone in that scene – you, or the teacher, or another old hand – is doing a kindness if they tell him directly as soon as possible. Communicating those expectations is not persecution.

He will definitely not enjoy the conversation and not feel good! Nobody likes to get told that they stink! It’s embarrassing! But it will also be wicked embarrassing if everyone suddenly needs to take an urgent phone call when it’s their turn to dance with him.

If you want to have the conversation, pull him aside privately (not on the dance floor) and try this script:

Hey, X, can I talk to you real quick about something awkward? Great.

I’d love to dance with you sometime, but I’ve noticed you don’t smell so great today and you don’t mop up when you get sweaty. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class, and bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up sweat?

Casting it as a thing you’ve had to deal with personally can help:

“When I first started coming to dance classes I definitely underestimated how sweaty I’d get. I needed to raise my deodorant game for one thing, and I also realized I needed to bring a clean shirt with me to change into between work and coming here. I’ve noticed you having some of the same issues. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class, and bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up sweat?”

Whatever you do, keep it short and treat it like a normal, reasonable request that you think he will want to follow in order to make you more comfortable as a dance partner.

If you talk to the teacher about it, try:

X is new here, and I’ve noticed that he doesn’t smell so good or mop up when he sweats, so I don’t want to dance with him. I don’t want to hurt his feelings and I want him to have fun and be included here. Can you speak to him about it or do you have suggestions for how to approach it with him?

The teacher should take him aside and say something like:

We’re very glad you’re here, but I’ve noticed* some issues with body odor and sweat today. Please take a shower, use deodorant, and please make sure you’re wearing clean clothes before you come to dance lessons next week, it’s part of being a good dance partner. Also, bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up if you get sweaty.” 

Notice the list: Clean clothes, shower, deodorant, bandana to mop sweat. Now is not the time for vague euphemisms like “be more aware of hygiene.” Either the guy doesn’t know he smells, or he does know but he doesn’t have a good practice to make it stop. You’ve come this far into Awkwardtown, might as well be specific and tell him what exactly you’d like him to do.

As for your worries about driving him away from dance class forever, let’s get some perspective: What if a therapist did recommend for him to come here? What if he is really really really nervous about dancing? What if he comes straight from working a really physical job and doesn’t have time to shower and this is his only outlet for exploring the pleasure of dance? What if it’s a medical issue? What if these are his only clothes what if the closest washing machine and shower are 10 miles away from his house and uphill both ways?

Is that really your baggage to take on?

Isn’t it also patronizing to project all of those possible explanations, excuses, and reasons onto other people? After all, he is an adult man who signed up for and attends a dance class, so isn’t it likely that he can:

a) Take steps to clean himself up before doing a social activity (See Jimmy’s trunk full of wet wipes on this week’s Better Call Saul)?

b) Experiment with and adjust his hygiene strategies if it is in fact a medical issue?

c) Handle 5 minutes of awkward conversation about it?

d) Make choices about how he deals with uncomfortable feelings, whether that’s “Clean up a little better so I can enjoy dancing” or “flee forever…too mortifying…ack?”

When someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s very easy to get lost in diagnosing all the reasons they might do it. Compassionate people try to walk in the other person’s shoes, and it’s even more pronounced when you factor in how relentlessly women are socialized to protect men’s feelings. But if you avoid a difficult conversation with someone who is making you uncomfortable because you can’t stop worrying about the reasons or stop generating possible excuses for them, it won’t help the person or solve the problem. It will just put you through a lot of emotional labor without making a single thing better for anyone.

 

*Important: If you are ever a peer or an authority figure who has to deliver embarrassing news to someone, and if it can possibly be avoided, don’t start with “We’ve had complaints” or “Everyone talked about this and we think ____” or “Some people have suggested that you…” I understand the temptation to displace the awkwardness onto the anonymous authority of the group, but it just makes it worse for the person and also risks derailing the conversation with “Who complained?” “What exactly did they say?” The first time you have the conversation with someone, let them save a little face by not making it them vs. the whole group or the whole world. You’re already here delivering the awkward news, so use your “I” statements and own the problem.

Appendix: I’m not a dancer but as a teacher and a manager and a dater and a person with a body, this has been my approach Private Conversations About Smells (And Other Body Awkwardnesses).

Case Studies #1-???: Conversations With Stinky College Students

Odor/hygiene problems are almost always co-morbid with the student falling behind academically, so that’s usually my angle.:

Me: “You’ve been missing a lot of class/You didn’t turn in your last assignment. What’s going on?

If The Stink has crossed to a Truly Problematic place, then I add: “Also, is really awkward and I hate to put you on the spot like this, but I’ve noticed that you don’t seem like your usual self in class lately – you don’t smell good/your clothes aren’t clean – is everything all right?

As you can imagine I find out all kinds of stuff, from “I live in a homeless shelter” to “I don’t know how to do laundry and I’m too embarrassed to ask” to “Showering wastes crucial earth resources and deodorant is just a conspiracy from Big Pharma to make us CONFORM!” … to depression, grief, sexual assault, and other really hard stuff, so I never, never assume what the problem is.

Results/Follow-up:

  • Obviously, deadline re-negotiation and referrals to many campus resources for the hard stuff.
  • For the “Oh, Buddy” Freshmen: “Have you Googled ‘how do I do laundry?’ “No” “Maybe try that? Oh look, here’s a couple of tutorials” “Ok!” “Cool, I don’t want to smell you next week.” “LOL, you got it.”
  • For the “I’m stinky FOR THE EARTH, DEAL WITH MY RIGHTEOUS STENCH” student I’ve had luck with “I get that but if I can smell you from here it’s gotten out of hand for what’s okay in a small classroom or working on a film crew in close quarters. Can you research some environmentally-friendly solutions or schedule the weekly bath for right before my class? I’d sure appreciate it.”

Case Studies: SexyTimes Stink! 2000-present day

Brevity and directness are kindness:

  • I’d very much like to put my _____ on your _____ or your _____ in my _____ but I think you/I/we both need a shower first.
  • Oof, it’s a little funky down here. Can we pick this up after a shower? Awesome.

If you’re close enough to someone that you’re going to put your ______ on their ______, then you’re close enough to say “Bodies are gross sometimes, let’s agree to take mitigating measures.

Case Studies In Which I Was A Manager Of Someone With Awkward Hygiene Stuff

Script/Mad Lib:

“Hey, this is awkward and I hate to put you on the spot, but [you don’t smell good][you aren’t wearing clean clothes to work][you’re probably not aware but when you lean over in that top your whole chest area and bra can be seen (true story!)][that white shirt is see-through please wear an undershirt][there is some other specific thing about your hygiene or physical aspect that is giving me cause for concern].”

If appropriate:

“Have you noticed that, too? That’s not like you at all, so…[Is there anything going on we should know about][Have you had a medical checkup lately][Visited a dentist to talk about that?][Do you need a couple of days off to catch up on Life Stuff like laundry?][Need to make a Target run for something that doesn’t have holes in it before our client meeting?]”

As with students, people who had difficult life reasons got referred to whatever resources could be had, and everyone got a “Hey, this is informal right now – I just wanted to check in with you and talk about it before it becomes a real issue. Please [do the stuff we talked about][take a few days to get it together][take another look at the dress code and let me know if something is unclear or seems impossible] and it will go back to being a non-issue.

By way of contrast, here’s a story about what not to do about The Stinky Guy:

Case Study: The Saga of The Smelly Hippie Guy I Shared An Office With For A Year In The Late 1990s Before I Had Therapy/When I Was Still Terrified Of Conflict

Me: :Agonizes for months about whether to say anything:

Him: :continues to stink:

Me: :Complains about him to everyone who would listen…except him.:

Him: :keeps it funky:

Me: :Tries to get my office moved: :Have a choice of sticking with stinky-but-quiet guy or sharing with a lady I hate who never stops talking: 

Me: :polls my work friends at length re: The Noise or the Funk?:

Me: (sigh) :inertia + Funk:

Him: :wavy stink lines come off him sometimes:

Me: :executes a complex series of trades with everyone in the office until I am his Secret Santa: 

Me: :gives THE GIFT OF TINY FANCY MAN-SOAP & DEODORANT: (We travel a lot for our work so this can be played off as “I got you some awesome travel supplies!”)

Him: “Sweet! Thanks! Hahaha! Are you saying I stink?”

Me: “Hahahaha no. No. Hahahaha. No. Why would you think that?

Him: “Right on!” :gift disappears into desk drawer:

Also Him: :rocks on with his funky self:

Me: :Periodically checks his desk drawer to see if the soap package has been opened or moved:

(It hasn’t moved)

(It never moves)

Him: “I’m going to start biking to work, is it cool with you if I have my bike in here?”

Me: “Sure!”

Me: :buys a scented candle and moves it slowly closer to him each day when I burn it:

Office Manager: All Staff Email: “Reminder: No candles or open flames in the office.”

Me: :buys a carved wooden incense burner and some incense from a street vendor down the block. For some reason tell him that I got it on an international trip:

Him: “I like this incense you brought back!”

Office Manager: All Staff Email: “No incense, either! No fire at all!”

Me: :sprays Glade:

Him: “Ugh, could you not spray that stuff? It’s full of chemicals.”

Me: “Oh…ok.”

Him: “Yeah, and also I just can’t stand the way it smells.”

Me:

giphy (13)

.gif of John Krasinski saying “Oh my god” and pouring wine.

Another month goes by. It’s my turn to take over our department’s “Word of the Week” email. It’s a fun game so I’ll describe it for any office workers reading: Junior staff would secretly take turns picking an unusual word and gaining bragging points by using the word as much as possible in meetings and office communications throughout the week. Points were awarded based on sophistication and correctness of usage, frequency of use (more points for being the seventh person who says “I think we’ve crossed…the Rubicon… here” in the same meeting than for being the first), whether we could say it without laughing, whether we could make the one Cool Boss who has caught on to the game laugh or (better yet!) use it, and (best of all) whether we could make the expression catch on widely among senior staff.

My words that month: noisome, malodorous, putrescent, fetid.

Him: :adopts some kind of all-rotten egg, all-compost lunch routine:

Also him: :keeps on reekin’ on:

Another month goes by. It’s almost a year to the day that we started sharing an office. In summer. In Washington, D.C. aka SWAMPY MCHUMIDPLACE.

Me: :Walks into our office and gags because it smelled like old socks have been dipped in ball sweat, wrapped around road kill, and slow-roasted over a dung fire:

Me: “DUDE, it’scoolthatyoulikebikingtoworkandeverything but it is getting RANK in here. THERE ARE SHOWERS ON THE TOP FLOOR OF THE BUILDING, PLEASE USE THEM!!!! Or bring a change of clothes with you. OR SOMETHING.”

Him: “Whoa!”

Me: (small voice) “I’msorryIdidn’tmeantoyell”

Me: (small voice) “But you stink.”

Him: :smells his own pits: “Wow yeah I am kinda stinky today. Sorry.”

Me: (almost a whisper) “Not just today.”

Him: “There are showers?”

Me: “Yeah! Top floor.”

Him: “Is there a code or a lock or anything I need to know about?”

Me: 7-2-0-1#

Him: “Sweet! I’ll bring a towel with me tomorrow.”

Me: “And…every day?”

Him: “And every day.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Him: “No worries! I hope this wasn’t bothering you all this time?!?”

Me: “Hahahaha…no, of course not. All good. Just…clean yourself.”

Him: “Got it.”

Me: “MaybethatsoapIgotyouisstillinyourdesk?”

(It was)

(I had checked 2 days ago)

Him: “GOT it.”

Me: “OkI’mgoingtolunchnow…bye…can I bring you anything back…”

Him: “All good…”

Me: “Ok!”

Him: “Seriously, Jen, it’s all good.

Me: :goes to lunch, brings him back a cookie and a brownie and a coffee:

And lo, he did take regular showers, and behold, a bike makes a pretty good good rack for holding a damp towel, and indeed, when his towel started to get funky I said “Hey time to wash that towel, yeah?” and he smelled it and said “Good grief, yes, I’m sorry!” and we never spoke of it again.

Letter Writer, your conversation with this dancing guy is going to be easier than that, right? Right.

 

 

 

 

 

239 comments
  1. Karen said:

    OK, so I work with undergraduate students. Many of these are international students from countries with different standards of hygiene. ALL of them are teenagers/young adults. Many of them are away from Mommy/the Maid for the first time, and have never done their own laundry.

    One girl did not know that you needed to add soap to the washing machine. One boy did not know you needed to wash towels. Many, many of them simply did not know that they needed to shower several times a week and some form of anti-perspirant/deodorant.

    The conversation is never fun, but it’s always better to have it in a safe space, without judgement and without blame.

    • JenniferP said:

      Exactly. I’m laughing at the “but the servants always did my laundry” problem, it comes up more often than I ever would have predicted.

      If those college students are reading, you’re not alone, lots of students are dealing with this for the first time, you’ll figure it out, too.

      If you are a parent wealthy enough to have servants reading this, make sure your children know how to launder before they leave your house!

      • Anancy said:

        My roommate was the sweetest and kindest girl, who had never done laundry until college, when she called her housekeeper and asked what to use with laundry. Her housekeeper assumed she knew to use detergent, so told her to get Downy. She spent almost the whole first year washing clothes with just fabric softener. (She wasn’t stinky, just couldn’t ever get stains out)

        • Blue Meeple said:

          Laundry in college is so weird. One of my first-year roommates would wait until her mom came to visit, once or twice a month, and then her mom would take all her laundry home in these huge bags to do it for her. I don’t think she did a single load of laundry the whole year.

          Then there were all the people who just…forgot about whole loads of laundry. For weeks. We had a huge table in the laundry room for folding clothes, it was like 8 feet long, and it would be completely covered with piles of laundry people had forgotten. It was incredible.

        • CoffeegirlKarin said:

          Hehe, this happened to me while I was backpacking through Canada (I’m from Europe). While we have a lot of the same brands, it’s still a bit different. So I went to a drugstore to look for little packets of detergent or something that wouldn’t leak in my backpack/luggage and found these pod thingys. I wasn’t sure if they were detergent, but they were cheap-ish and looked like the detergent pods we had at home (the package didn’t say what they were, only that they kept your laundry fresh). It turned out that they were fabric softener pods to keep your clothes smelling fresh longer, but weren’t real detergent. My clothes were okay, but it wasn’t the same as proper detergent.

          • Laurel said:

            when I did laundry in college, my clothes ALWAYS smelled bad and had marks on them. No one else had this problem, but no one else seemed to use those washers. Turns out yeah the WASHERS were filthy and almost everyone’s family lived in town and just took their laundry to their family’s home. I didn’t catch on until I left the dorms and used a laundromat oops. Smelled like a somewhat sweaty indoor pool for my first year (also pre-figuring out which extra strength deodorant actually works).

      • policychick said:

        Ha! Reminds me of my brother’s college roommate. His mom would send him freshly dry-cleaned shirts, like, on the regular. He would put one on, decide on another, and drop the first to the floor. The apartment was littered with clean shirts. Finally my brother says Jeez John what gives and John is all, Oh, I guess I’m used to the maid picking them up.

        • These are starting to sound like The Secret Garden, where Mary and Colin have been so waited on all their lives they don’t know how to put on their own clothes — they expect to be still while a servant dresses them.

          I didn’t know people still make their children this helpless anymore. It seems rather cruel.

          • Minister of Smartassery said:

            My mom worked full-time and was in advanced programs when I was in middle/high school, so I was often left in charge of my two younger siblings. During the summer, we were expected to keep the house clean, the laundry done, my parents work clothes ironed, and cook dinner so it would be on the table when my parents got home. It sounds like a lot, but I was full prepared to take care of myself when I went away to college. I had girls on my floor who set fire to the kitchen trying to make toast, because they thought you turned the oven to broil, then put butter soaked bread in the oven and left it in there for 15-20 minutes. (And we had A TOASTER.) or they would make mac and cheese on the stove, dish out their portion, and then walk away, leaving the pot on the still-active burner for several hours. Our basement got flooded regularly because girls would load the washer up until there was barely room for water in there and the drum would go off balance and the water would come spewing out. Another girl left the iron face down on her ironing board on its highest heating setting and then left for class.

            I got the reputation in the dorm for “knowing things,” so I frequently got people coming to the door to ask how to make cinnamon rolls out of a can or what “dry clean only” meant. (Yes, really.) I once held a tutorial for about a dozen girls on how to use the dryers, which I will admit, were tricky.

            Even though I wasn’t thrilled spending so much summer time taking care of the house, I’m grateful to have the basic skills it taught me.

          • Nina said:

            I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s *increasing*.

            The more people were born 17-18 years ago, the harder it will be to get into the most competitive universities (which aren’t expanding their capacity for first-year students to keep up with population), the more parents trying to raise MIT and Harvard admissions letters instead of raising people will pressure their kids to focus on admissions requirements, the less time these kids will have to learn anything that won’t be on the test, and the more froshlings with no laundry skills will show up at MIT and Harvard.

            What if these elite schools that complain about kids these days having fewer life skills (“the last generation’s students knew this stuff!” “so do a lot of this generation’s students, but you accept fewer of them these days”)…

            …put those life skills *on* the test? Then maybe the people raising their kids to be good for nothing but getting into MIT/Harvard/etc. would allow them to take the time to learn this stuff! 🙂

          • Adlib421 said:

            @Minister of Smartassery – That was always me if the toilet did something weird. People assume toilets are complicated, but they’re not. I fix them wherever I am: home, office, school. I’m still not sure how it happened. LOL I bet some of those girls remember you for all of your knowledge!

      • Emma said:

        This is why laundry detergent has instructions on the box. I mean, how often do we all read the instructions on the detergent box? The answer is once: the first time we did laundry after moving out of mum and dad’s place.

        P.S. Cap, you appear to have something??? on the site which is severely messing with my phone’s browser. It looks like it’s a script which is trying to load something off-site, cause the page keeps switching between “loaded” and “loading”, and when it’s loading everything keeps hanging and my battery gradually melts into a puddle. Hitting stop fixes it but it starts again pretty soon. I had assumed it was a dodgy ad that would get cycled out soon, but since there are no more ads I guess that’s not it 🙂 I wonder if anyone else has been having similar problems?

      • Emma said:

        Oh hey, I just realised there ARE still ads and that’s almost certainly what causing the tech problems mentioned in my other (as yet unpublished) comment, which I really hope is in the same bit of nesting as this one but I’m really not sure! So that bit can be safely ignored and I’ll go back to sleeping on this train instead of trying to use the internet with negative phone signal.

      • OTWF said:

        Oof. The tone of this hits me a little hard. I learned how to do basic laundry before moving away for college, but only because my mother became seriously, chronically ill. Prior to that, she was a homemaker and wouldn’t let me help around the house. I learned a lot of things late because of my family’s dysfunction. It’s embarrassing.

        I do realize that my situation is the exception, not the rule. I can’t be the only one, though, and it’s not really kind to get a laugh out of people not being taught how to do things – whatever the circumstances are.

        • Emma9 said:

          I’ve been there, and got very familiar with the phrase “It’s easier to do it myself than show you how and/or deal with the fallout of you not doing it right.” Only kid of a stay-at-home mom with control issues. You’re not alone.

          • Same! Not an only child but the rest is true for me. My mother wouldn’t even let me go into the kitchen without permission. Preparing food myself was absolutely out of the question. Luckily I’m very independent and like figuring things out for myself.

        • BarlowGirl said:

          I only mopped for the first time about a year ago because my mother basically never did it and never bought a mop. So that was “normal”.

          You bet I googled how to do it.

        • PineappleLost said:

          Yeah, my parents were big on chores, but they never thought to rotate chores between kids. So I did every single load of laundry in my house from when I was 13 to when I went to college, but I never touched the vacuum or the mop because my brother did the floors. So when we moved out, I mopped my floor with dish soap for nearly a year and my brother learned how to do laundry from google. A lot families just don’t think about how they’re preparing (or not preparing) their kids for independence.

      • My payroll guy used to work in the dorms, and he had a student come to him almost crying one time. “[Guy],” said the student, “It costs me $40 every time I do laundry. I can’t afford it, but I don’t want to be the smelly guy on my wing! Help!” So my payroll guy said “Next time you do laundry come and get me, and we’ll see what’s up.”

        Kid had never done laundry before, but he was Being Conscientious and Following The Labels…and most of his clothes labels contained the phrase “machine wash separately”.

        He was putting each of those garments in the washing machine by itself.

        Thank god he had a trusted adult to consult!

        • onamission5 said:

          This story is every kind of adorable.

    • stellanor said:

      I used to massively underestimate what college freshmen didn’t know how to do, until I had to explain to the guy behind me in the post office line how to send a letter (as in, write address in middle, apply stamp to upper right-hand corner, jam into slot).

      Although sometimes I imagine that guy was secretly a robot. Or an alien. Because that’s way more entertaining than “college freshman has never mailed anything”.

      • Elenna said:

        LOL. I’m actually 20 years old (third year of university, woo!) and I’ve mailed letters maybe…once? Twice? I have come idea how to do it but I’d have to look up the exact format and location (on the envelope) of the address, where on the envelope to put stamps, how many stamps to use, where I can even get the aforementioned stamps, where to buy envelopes, and where the nearest post office is.

        Long story short, he’s probably not a robot/alien, sorry. 😀

        • Halpful said:

          I’m in my 30’s, and went long enough without having to use paper mail that I *forgot* most of the details and had to look it up a few years ago. 🙂
          Most of the time I just write the address in the middle and let the post office handle the rest 🙂 the nearest mailbox is directly outside the post office now anyways, so it’s not like I’m saving time fiddling about with stamps myself. I’m not entirely sure how I came to have envelopes, now that I think about it.

          • I’m 25, but the same thing happened to me. I had to google “how to address an envelope” to mail a weirdly archaic job application in college, so like five years ago.

        • gemmaem said:

          In fairness, today’s students are just past an interesting boundary — most people above the age of 30 are capable of remembering a time before email, when you sent a card to grandma on her birthday and addressed it yourself, etc.

          • Is this not a thing any more? I’m teaching my 2yo to do it. It’s still nice to get cards, if you like that sort of thing.

          • sojournerstrange said:

            I am under 30 but I certainly know how to send letters through the mail! It’s not like we send cards either, and if we sent cards to our grandmothers it wouldn’t teach us anything about how to send things domestically.

            For reference, I was taught cursive *and* typing in elementary school. There’s not necessarily this massive gulf.

        • stellanor said:

          I’ve had the same sheet of stamps for 3 years, and there are only 3 stamps missing.

          Relevant: In my state we vote by mail and I have voted in 3 elections since I bought the stamps.

          • qkate said:

            Ha! This is amazing. (And…also my experience. 😐 )

        • I have a friend who was for years a high school teacher in a small town, and she had one part of an important junior assignment due BY MAIL so her students would learn this stuff. She taught them the whole thing: where to put the address, where one buys stamps…I’m sure it saved them a lot of trouble later on in life, college or no!

      • Nanani said:

        Eh, there is enough variation in this internationally (return address goes in different places, formats are different, order of information varies) in addition to the “how did we do things pre-email” knowledge and/or “everything I ever need to mail comes with a SASE because it’s from the government or something” that this is pretty unsurprising.

        • stellanor said:

          I am juuuuuuuuuuust old enough to have come of age in a time when you could not live your life without sending mail, so the idea that you could just have never had to do it was surprising to me!

          The guy was trying to fill out one of those super complicated weird registered letter forms, but all he needed was a stamp. I mostly felt bad that he filled out that monster form he didn’t actually need, because ugh, those forms.

          • FYI, my daughter works with university students, and she recently told me that she now has to explain to them what a “fax” is and how it works.

          • SarahTheEntwife said:

            I’m 10 years out of college and I’ve had to fax something exactly once. I think it’s both generational and a matter of what you’ve had to send to where.

      • Angel said:

        Oh, my God, snail mail. I reminded my boyfriend we needed to send Mother’s Day cards to our moms this year because we are Adults now. He had no idea how expensive cards are (I wanted to go to Dollar Tree where they are 50 cents apiece; we ended up spending like $5 each). He also didn’t know how to address the envelope. He wrote the address on the leftish side toward the middle. I had to fill in the return address for him. I was so confused because I’d been mailing letters and cards to my grandparents since like the age of “can write legibly enough for mailfolk to read”.

        Also every time I go to the campus post office there’s someone being clueless. This last guy didn’t understand waiting in line for information. And asked if he needed to package something before bringing it to the counter. ?!?! Uh, yes, dude, you must package things to mail them.

        Also the co-op I live in has a charge for using credit cards for rent so a lot of people opt for the fee-free check option. I have taught a lot of students to write checks in the last two years…

      • thetigerhasspoken said:

        Or he’s a wizard and doesn’t know the ways of the muggles.

    • Fjionna said:

      As the mom of a teenager, this whole thread has been heartening. My 16-year-old does their own laundry and knows to turn the stove off after cooking: I AM WINNING AT PARENTING. XD

  2. hc said:

    I would lean heavily toward having the instructor approach him. Presumably that person is getting paid to deal with the less fun aspects of running a dance class.

    • This is also my recommendation, for the same reason. It’s part of their job to have awkward conversations like that in order to keep their class/community group running smoothly – they’re a resource! Use ’em! 🙂

      • MuddieMae said:

        They also presumably have the power to do something if he refuses or flips out or some other non-optimal response!

        • This too! An important consideration not to be underestimated!

  3. As someone who helps to run a salsa class— the LW can tell the teacher and leave it up to the teacher to tell the student or address the class in general. The rule of thumb is, if one person complains (especially a lady) six of the other ladies are thinking the same thing. In my neck of the woods, women are thin on the ground for salsa classes, so we tend to want to make them especially comfortable /return to the class. You can either email the teacher or tell the teacher directly if you don’t feel like telling the student in question.

    If you’re going to tell the student, just tell him straight up, be direct and as discrete as you can. Most people don’t know that they stink, and 9/10 tend to straighten up and fly right, because women will refuse to dance with him in social circles.

  4. Nicole said:

    So I have done dance classes exactly like this before. I mostly just took having to deal with stinky dudes occasionally as part and parcel of the class. However, Captain’s advice is better. What is the age difference between you and this guy? Is the teacher a dude or a woman? If the teacher is a man, it might be received better if he brings this up, especially if you are also relatively young and possibly someone he sees as attractive.

    And as a general note about public dance classes and events- there is ALWAYS going to be a sweaty guy. Sometimes more than one. I agree that sweat dripping off his face onto you is bad, and a bandanna is a great idea. It sounds like this guy is beyond the realm of what you should be expected to deal with, but I also think that things like sweaty palms or a sweaty shirt (if it’s a dance where you have to grab the guy’s shoulder) are just one of the things that happen. I remember one mortifying time a guy missed grabbing my shoulder and grabbed my armpit at the end of a very long dance session. I wear deodorant and I didn’t smell….but I’m pretty sure he ended up with a very gross and damp hand.

    • It’s also not limited to guys – I’m a gal who used to swing dance socially a lot (multiple days a week for many years) and I am a sweaty person. Not too stinky thanks to a many-years-long journey to find the best deodorant for my body, but I get well beyond damp. Sweat and some degree of smell is definitely part and parcel for social dancing, but folks can also mitigate through their own personal actions. I personally wore a cami under my shirt, and brought 1 additional shirt for every hour I expected to be dancing. And an extra cami for dances over 4 hours. I would also bring a hand towel to towel off my hair in the bathroom periodically and deodorant to re-apply. Plus, bathroom trips for wet paper towels as needed.

      Hopefully the instructors in OP’s scene will be able to provide some practical in-lesson/in-dance advice to this guy. You can keep fighting the good fight against your tendency towards stank during the lesson and dance with some planning ahead.

  5. I was in a ballroom dance class many years ago where we were required to rotate partners and dance with everyone. Right before I was to dance with him, one young man wet-coughed into his hand and then grasped mine to waltz. I danced with him because I didn’t want to make a scene, but immediately after I ran to the bathroom and scrubbed my hand down with soap.

    I have never had a dance instructor go over basic hygiene or etiquette in any of those classes, and I wish they would. Coughing into your elbow, for example, is much more polite to your partner than covering your mouth with your hand.

    • JenniferP said:

      Your story makes me cringe not just for the germ-vector factor but for the way that we’ve been socialized to think that “Gesundheit! Why don’t you take a second and wash up and we’ll dance the next one” is some how “Making a Scene” or might hurt his feelings and somehow the prospect of hurting his feelings is more important than not getting someone else’s lung-butter on your hand.

      :full body shudder:

      • policychick said:

        ‘lung-butter’. Both disgusting and vividly accurate!

        • Cor! said:

          I am both laughing and gagging

      • I also picked up the message that if I confronted someone, I would get yelled at or hit and it would My Fault for Provoking The Other Person. (Of course, I have never been hit in my life.)

      • Rowan said:

        That’s not really how dance classes work, though. It’s not like social dancing at all where you maybe pair up for a song or maybe not, and not everyone is dancing all the time. In a class, the instructor usually makes sure when everyone’s signing up that you have exactly the same number of followers as leaders. And then it’s “Okay everyone, let’s practice that spin I just showed you for the next minute.” Then you rotate to practice it with the next person. So to sum up, it would be super unusual and draw a lot of attention to just be like, “Sorry, not going to do this bit with this person!”

        • AnonBee said:

          “super unusual and draw a lot of attention”

          I’d be ok with that to avoid getting lung butter on my hand. If I were the one that coughed, I would excuse myself.

    • Cyberwulf said:

      I don’t dance but I do take martial arts and my instructor is always reminding us to wash our training gear before the next class. Not just for odour but also because of germs. I had the back of my ear split open by a rough seam on my training partner’s gi a few months back and I was incredibly grateful that it was clean and hadn’t been mouldering in a gym bag for a week.

    • HindsightGraduate said:

      I recently attended a social and of the ‘regulars’ wet-coughed INTO MY FACE mid-dance instead of stopping us to use his elbow. He didn’t apologize, so I pulled my teacher aside and begged her to give a hygiene talk at the next class he’d show up to. I 100% regret not ending the dance immediately to wash my face and scream externally.

  6. Apocalypse How said:

    I should send this to my college professor dad. The worst he had to deal with was one semester when he had a student who strongly reeked of cigarette smoke. It wasn’t just an annoyance–my dad sometimes has asthma-like symptoms, and cigarette smells are one of his triggers. This student frequently sat in the front row, and my dad found his throat closing up in the middle of lectures.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’ve had this happen to me with a guy who always wanted to sit right next to me during a seminar-style class. After a few coughing episodes and emergency inhaler incidents I finally said to the whole class, “Cigarette smells and whatever part of smoke clings to clothes is an asthma trigger for me, so if you’re going to smoke on the class breaks that’s fine, but please sit on that half of the table.” It worked ok! The worst offender apologized profusely and I was like it’s not your fault, I’m not upset with you or judging you, just, you can see that it’s a problem so thanks for helping me out. It was all fine.

    • Rhoda said:

      I worked with an engineer years ago who overdid it with the aftershave/cologne. My throat would start to tickle, then close up, whenever he was nearby. I think someone must have eventually took him aside and told him, because one day he started to show up just faintly whiffing of it.

      • JenniferP said:

        That’s a happy ending! If anyone else runs into this, and there is no anonymous office savior, “You smell great but I think I’m allergic to your cologne. Can you go without, or use much less? My throat really appreciates it.”

        True story: I had a roommate who wore so much cologne that my cat used to defensively rage-pee on his bed. That also cured the problem.

        • Rhoda said:

          It was probably the company president, a very blunt man who tended to speak his mind.

        • The phrase “defensively rage-pee” is making me giggle at the end of a very very hard day so thank you! 😀

          • Smudgely said:

            Yes it is great. This whole thread is full of giggle marerial although as a fellow dance class attendee I have much compassion for the LW. Our sweaty guy does mop up thankfully but there is one guy with terrible breath. I just don’t breathe when I dance with him which is quite the challenge during the Charleston

        • DropTable~DropsMic said:

          Now I am imagining your tiny floof cat as a righteous guardian angel, protecting you from harm with the power of her urine.

      • stellanor said:

        In college a fellow student had a crush on me, which resulted in him 1. getting all fancy by using enough aftershave for the entire county, and 2. sitting near me at every possible opportunity. He was seriously wearing so much aftershave that my eyes watered and my throat burned. Unfortunately college me was too shy/unwisely polite to say “Hey your aftershave is nice but you need to tone it WAAAAAAY down you smell like someone spilled cologne in a distillery right now”, and he was just confused re: why no one ever wanted to sit within 10 feet of him.

        I feel bad for him, in retrospect. He meant super well but someone needed to have a chat with him.

      • Lurker in the light said:

        I dated a guy in college whose roommate wore a popular and distinctive cologne to excess. He was only in their shared apartment to sleep and talk on the phone, so it wasn’t too bad. Their apartment phone smelled of him, though, even after wiping it down.

    • Apocalypse How said:

      I did end up sending this to my dad, and he appreciated the advice (especially the part about not using “the royal We” in your conversation.) It also made him remember an incident from when he first started teaching at a middle school. One boy made a bet with another boy to see how long he could go wearing the same shirt, without washing it. By the end of the year, you could not go within several feet of this boy. The smell was so bad that my dad still remembers this boys full name, 40 years later.

  7. Jade said:

    As someone who doesn’t really have a sense of smell, I live in mortal fear that I’m going to smell bad and nobody will tell me. Please, just tell me.

    • A friend of mine who lost their sense of smell after a surgery started introducing himself that way when he changed jobs. “Hi! I’m John and I’m so glad to be working here. I last worked at X. Here’s a fun fact about me, I lost my sense of smell after a surgery and I live alone, so even tho I shower everyday and wash my clothes, I can’t tell if I’m funky! Please tell me straight out if I’m stinky, and I will not get offended!” Everyone thinks, this guy is so easy going! I’m going to like him! And the ice is broken.

      • qkate said:

        This. is. amazing. (I kinda feel like everyone should introduce themselves this way. ICE BROKEN. 🙂 )

    • onamission5 said:

      I have an excellent sense of smell and I also cannot always smell myself. My experience is many people can’t, at least not right away, because we have higher threshold for our own odors than we do the odors of others. Another vote for please just tell me for the love of Maude.

      • clorinda said:

        Most of us can’t smell ourselves, because we get used to it.
        Hint: if you have even the slightest weird taste in your mouth, your breath is bad.
        This is why we all need at least one good friend who will tell us when we stink!

        • Janissary Jones said:

          This is why I have an emergency kit in my locker on campus: it has a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash, wet wipes, etc. I made it because I lived an hour away from campus and didn’t want to be stuck if I was ever in a fix, but it’s been invaluable beyond that (I took to calling it my One Night Stand Survival Pack).

          • BarlowGirl said:

            Spare pair of underwear/leggings/sweats probably wouldn’t take up too much space and be a good addition if you don’t have it already. Especially if you have a uterus that likes to bleed. Or, you know, stomach flu or something.

          • When I was a kid we called that a baise en ville

    • Drew said:

      I had to have this convo with an anosmic employee, and it was awkward, and we all survived, and he discovered the joys of antiperspirant and soap and having coworkers who wanted to work with him. Yes, tell them.

  8. Max said:

    I echo all the folks encouraging LW to take this to the instructor. There are plenty of sweaty dudes in the dance world, most of them packing at least one extra shirt that they change into when the first one gets too wet, and a savvy instructor can frame the conversation about showers/deodorant/bandannas/minimal perfume as part of learning the community’s expectations.

    • Manattee said:

      Yes! At my mum’s dance class all the guys and some of the women bring a spare shirt and change half way. Almost everyone has a hand towel in their dance bag.

  9. Rhoda said:

    I took a first aid course years ago and was assigned a partner who smelled unbelievably bad. He looked clean, so maybe it was some kind of health problem, but I did not do very well on the part of the course where you had to pretend your partner was injured and examine him/her and ended up flunking the course. Devastating at the time, but made me realize that I really wasn’t cut out for things like ski patrol.
    Dance class. Yeah, I’d take the instructor aside and ask if the young man could get a discreet talking to. Even more ideal if at least one of the instructors is another man. I think men tend to take criticism from other men somewhat better than from women, in general. Or at least, that’s been my experience.

  10. “I’m stinky FOR THE EARTH, DEAL WITH MY RIGHTEOUS STENCH” LOLOLOL. While this post is awesome for all the usual humane reasons, that line is really making my day. ❤

  11. Dancer said:

    As a partner dancer who has danced many dances (salsa, ballroom, tango, swing, blues ect), I’d like to say: some dancers are awesome, but also very sweaty. It is totally manageable to be super sweaty dancer who is considerate of the other dancers.

    This is how a very sweaty dancer can mitigate the effects of their sweat on other dancers: (1) shower and change clothes before the dance class or dance event; (2) wear deodorant; (3) bring a bag containing a towel, soap, several sweatbands, and several changes of shirts. That way the person can do a quick wash and dry in the bathroom and change shirts and sweatbands as needed.

    Several times, I’ve declined to dance with people, even my best friends, until they cleaned up and changed shirts. They usually dance with me after they change or I just don’t dance with them at that event. Either way is fine; just because I love my friend and enjoy dancing with them does not mean I am OK with getting saturated with their sweat.

    It is totally reasonable for you to ask the teacher to request that sweaty dancers cleanup before class and change shirts and sweatbands as needed. Actually, an effective teacher should have set hygiene expectations at the beginning and should have already spoken with the sweaty student(s). After all, one of the important parts of partner dance is the pleasantness of interactions between dancers. If the teacher fails to explain to sweaty dance students how to mitigate the effects of their sweatiness on other dancers, the interactions between dancers will suffer.

    • H.Regalis said:

      Also, if you’re somewhere where you don’t have easy access to running water for washing up: baby wipes.

      • asher said:

        Amen to this. As someone who used to always be The Sweatiest (Ballet) Dancer until I met two others who equal me (and we all subsequently bonded over being horrible human hydrants), I swear by various wipes, not to mention a small fleet of hand towels that I bring to class, rehearsals, and performances—clean ones live in my car and my dance bag.

        Recently, I found a (lightly) tea-tree oil infused pack of wipes at a dollar store that, amazingly, doesn’t either give me hives or leave me smelling like a grove of eucalyptus trees headed to Junior Prom. I can’t remember if they have a specific brand name, but they’re surprisingly good.

        I’ve also straight up washed my hair between shows with foaming hand soap in the bathroom sink (another surprising success), but that’s probably a more extreme intervention than the salsa class requires.

      • Second this! I carry baby wipes, aka “shower in a pouch,” with me when I travel.

      • Baby wipes are magic. I carry some in my bag all the time.

      • BarlowGirl said:

        I’ve been known to use a makeup wipe to clean the sunblock feeling off my body when I can’t shower. Works, too.

        Not to get all commercial-y but 15 for a US dollar isn’t bad and the scents of cucumber and citrus and green tea might be nice for these situations while not being too strong. https://www.shopmissa.com/products/copy-of-aoa-makeup-remover-wipes-green-tea

    • Affi said:

      Yes to all of this!

  12. Elle said:

    I’m so happy your default advice wasn’t to cover up the smell with scents!! I am extremely sensitive to scented products and would have to quit the dance class if the substitute for body odor was perfume/cologne. Showering regularly with unscented soap & wearing a good unscented deodorant can prevent stinkiness!

    • stellanor said:

      It also DOESN’T WORK. If you stink and you put cologne on you just smell like a mix of cologne + stink! (This is also why I hate scented garbage bags. They do not deodorize, they just make it smell like rotting garbage AND lavender every time I open the bin.)

      • imaginary said:

        Yup. See also: scented sanitary pads. Whyyyy.

      • Saturnalia said:

        My family has a name for the awful smell of lemon air freshener in a restroom: shitrus (shit+citrus). It just never works!

    • Temperance said:

      I will never, ever forget the temp at my old job who was a heavy smoker and thought that rubbing heavily scented lotion all over her hands after lighting up would cover the smoke smell. My coworker was pregnant at the time, and the smell would make her vomit. I asked our bosses to request a replacement because it was that bad. I’m asthmatic and her smoke stink triggered me, but watching Jenna repeatedly run out to vomit was too much. (Jenna was also very newly pregnant, so she didn’t want to tell our bosses yet.)

      • Rose Fox said:

        I once worked for a guy who’d spray his car with orange air freshener to cover up the pot smoke smell. It didn’t work, and the combination was absolutely nauseating.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        Temp jobs make for the most interesting experiences, don’t they? I worked in a temp job once with two women who Smoked All The Cigarettes and two men who Wore All The Cologne and oh my god, I’m surprised my nose recovered. I was supposed to teach one of those women how to use a computer program and she had to sit right next to me and she got so offended when I kept leaning away from her. Just. Like. Lady, I’m going to get a migraine from that smell, so sue me if I want to mitigate it as much as I can!

        I was complaining about the cologne to a different coworker and it didn’t bother her, so she said something like “do you want him to smell bad??” and I was just like “You don’t get it. To me, he DOES smell bad!”

        (I tried to talk to the manager about the smell issues, but he was was young and inexperienced and did I mention how young and inexperienced he was? He had no clue what he was doing, and even failed to enforce his own rules such as “don’t talk on your cell phone while you’re working, because we didn’t even have cubicles and it distracts EVERYONE”.)

      • Cactus said:

        I also used to work with someone like this–I was the temp in my situation, and it was one of the major reasons I ended up declining a contract renewal.

  13. Ellen said:

    I agree that it is absolutely on the instructors to set expectations of personal hygiene, and to have the really awkward conversations. That said, as someone who dances a lot of collegiate shag (which gets sweaty fast!) I’ve had to have these conversations myself and people really don’t seem offended as long as *you* don’t act like it’s a big deal.
    For example, just cheerfully telling a dance partner I’ll let them mop up first has worked, offering them gum has worked, just as long as it comes with the attitude that it happens to all of us, none of us smell pine-fresh 100% of the time and it’s just an annoying but unembarrassing side effect of dancing that can be managed.
    Relevant link which may be helpful dance advice: http://www.shag-pile.com/blog/2016/2/17/sweatiquette

    • Great answer

    • Nicky said:

      That’s an awesome link – thanks for posting it!

  14. Dana said:

    Captain, I LOVE how you share your own experience to model what it’s like. So encouraging for those of us who are conflict averse. Also you are a terrific story teller. I love your encouragement, always, along the lines of, IT’S ALREADY WEIRD. YOU ARE NOT MAKING A SCENE. LOL. I’m laughing, but seriously, this is so helpful. Indeed, life changing.

    LW, good luck! I too vote for engaging the teacher of the event for this.

  15. Dykotomy said:

    I have shared student accommodation with a young woman who was used to dropping her USED sanitary towels on the floor and having her maid pick them up. It just made me feel really sad that she felt entitled to expect someone else to do that for her.

    • Holy hell, really!? 😱

      • Drew said:

        Glad you didn’t say “bloody hell.” That would have been horribly inappropriate.

        • 😘
          I so nearly did
          ❣️

    • Cyberwulf said:

      WHAT

      my god that’s only an inch and a half away from expecting the maid to wipe her bottom.

    • BarlowGirl said:

      HOW how do you even how do you get to the point where you allow your children to do that?!?!?

    • My first post-undergrad roommate would strip from the back door to her room, and leave a trail of clothes, which might include foot-stained tights, poop/period-stained underwear, pit-stained shirts, jewelry, bags, mail, etc. I eventually developed my own routine, which was to take a yardstick and a box, bung everything into said box, and put box inside her room. I resented having to clean up after her every single day.

      She did not clean her bathroom (hair, soap scum, menstrual products in trash, toothpaste scum), wash her sheets or pillowcases, empty her cat’s box (kept in her bedroom, as was the cat and the dog) or unpack 90% of her boxes (which got covered in cat urine/poop and dog urine/poop for the duration of the many months I lived with her before I could afford to break the lease. She did not wear my size in clothes but when she didn’t feel like washing hers, she would “borrow” mine and stretch them out and stain them so I could no longer wear them. This includes size 7 tennis shoes that she wore as mules on her size 9.5 feet.

      It gets worse, but some of you might be eating.

      Yes, she had maids to do things for her when she was growing up, very permissive parents, a large trust fund, and, from her comments, her brothers were worse.

      She was from Tennessee and a legal adult, meaning that this isn’t a case of someone simply not knowing cultural standards or how to work American appliances.

      People with strange habits can pop up anywhere.

  16. H.Regalis said:

    Just tell the guy. A friend stabs you in the front. Imagine if you smelled bad and everyone knew and talked about it behind your back and no one told you. You’d feel like an idiot! And it would make you like the other people less, wouldn’t it?

    I’m a stripper. I dance for hours on and off all night. I totally feel for this dude. There’s an endurance curve to any kind of dancing and when you’re new, you’re going to sweat like crazy and be out of breath a lot. As a baby stripper I occasionally had bouncers come up to me and be like, “You stink; go put on some deodorant.” I also sometimes don’t shower for days at a time when I’m not working and my boyfriend has had to tell me, “You smell like rotting garbage and shit. Please go take a shower.” This was way better than no one telling me ever or my boyfriend passively suffering through it until he couldn’t stand it. Assuming you’re past high school, anyone telling you this is saying it as a friend, not to hurt you.

    And if the guy gets angry at you/is mortified and flees in terror/starts crying/spontaneously combusts/whatever, then it’s going to happen. There is a problem and you are letting him know about it in a kind way so he can fix it. You can’t do any better than that.

    • H.Regalis said:

      Also, wanted to add: being in close physical contact with other people on a regular basis has made me conscious of how my hygiene affects others like nothing else in the world. The amount of people I’ve had to deal with who had garlic breath, burped in my face, had crotches that smelled like cat piss and/or smegma, would come in directly from the farm in overalls caked in manure, had plaque buildup on their teeth you could see from three feet away, had toilet paper and/or shit stuck to their butt cracks . . . I use baby wipes and breath mints A LOT nowadays and pretty much always brush my teeth before I leave the house.

  17. Nicky said:

    The Captain’s hit the nail on the head as always with the scripts to talk to people.

    One thing I haven’t (yet) seen discussed is that it might also be worth the dance instructor talking through choice of exercise clothing with the class.

    Wicking materials (nylon, tencel, etc.) are generally held to be good for sweat-heavy gym sessions and exercise classes, where you want to cool the body quickly and remove the moisture from the skin. On the other hand, those fabrics move the moisture to the fabric surface in the hope that it will evaporate speedily – which is great when you’re on your own, but in a social dance situation where people are sweating together, it strikes me that that type of fabric might contribute to the whole wet and clammy partner feel.

    Partnered dancers might be better off with layering in an absorbent fabric instead (cotton, linen, bamboo, and so on) which will move the moisture away from the skin but hold it within the fibres of the material, so their dance partner is less likely to encounter free-flowing sweat.

    • MuddieMae said:

      Those wicking materials are often really hard to de-stink, too. I’ve had to trash some dresses because they were permanently funky no matter how I tried to deep clean the armpits.

      • popesuburban said:

        Feel free to ignore this if you’ve tried, but white vinegar in the laundry has worked pretty well for this kind of thing in my experience. I have some dresses and work shirts that are made of something that holds onto and amplifies funk. They would often still be sketchy after a wash in good detergent. I tried the vinegar tip (Half a cup in a full load, but I’ve also spot-treated the underarms of these garments with diluted vinegar and then thrown them in the wash) and it worked a treat.

        • imaginary said:

          Do you put the vinegar in with the detergent, or instead?

          • BarlowGirl said:

            I think you put it through where you’d put bleach. And my aunt swears by a combination of vinegar and Dawn – when my uncle rigged, she said that was the only way to get the smell out of his clothes.

          • Rana said:

            Be careful if you use Dawn, though. It builds up like whoa in the machine, and some HE machines will void their warranty if you use it in them.

          • popesuburban said:

            In addition to detergent. If your machine has a tray for bleach, you can put it in there. I didn’t have that for a long time, so I’d just wait until the machine was full of water and then dump the vinegar in.

        • jo said:

          I have a friend whose environmentally friendly/DIY cleaning practices is to use white vinegar as fabric softener (so, you’d put it in where softener goes, or dump it into the washer during the rinse cycle). She says it really does soften the clothes, and it’s less irritating than commercial softener for her fragrance-sensitive partner.

      • Part-time Jedi said:

        I’ve also had a lot of success using ethanol to clean pit stains. I get denatured ethanol from the chemical stockroom at my school, but you could use high proof vodka just as easily.

        • Halpful said:

          Or rubbing alcohol (from the medical section of any drug store or even dollar store where I live). Now I just wish I’d written down which of these I’ve already tried on my own stubborn items… I think rubbing alcohol worked on the dress, but it was oxi-clean for the bathmat. or maybe hotter water. or both at once?

          • stellanor said:

            I always end up doing this dance where I start with vinegar, then if the smell remains try baking soda, then if that didn’t work try oxy clean, and generally by then the smell is gone. I’m not sure if the oxy clean got the smell out, or if the smell just gave up after being washed three times.

        • Bex said:

          Yep! My corsettiere recommends spritzing the inside of the corset with vodka and letting it air dry before rolling it up for storage.

        • Antrobus said:

          Yes! Cheap high proof vodka is a theatre costumer’s secret for keeping nigh-impossible-to-launder costumes from getting ripe. It even works for spangled 70’s bodysuits (Hello Mama Mia!).

      • Temperance said:

        Oooh yes. I don’t wear any of that moisture wicking crap because it is so gross and so uncomfortable.

      • Yolanda B. Cool said:

        For real, carpet cleaning solutions formulated for pet accidents will totally de-stink the stinkiest laundry. Apply directly to the pit area and let sit before washing.

        • MuddieMae said:

          This I might actually try. I’ve tried vinegar, alcohol, baking soda, oxiclean, and none of it worked. But this is new.

          • WIth my pet experience, the stain remover called Zout does awesomely with both stains and odor.

        • Anne said:

          I hadn’t heard this before, I think I’ll give it a try.

      • Megan_NJ said:

        For pet smells & work out clothes, I’ve used the Hunting detergents from the sporting goods stores. They are for removing all biological smells during deer hunting. We don’t hunt, it’s just a strong soap.

        Re: Too much cologne guy – Not recommended/Works better between men –

        Another man walks in one day & yells out “whoooo! Who smells like the #9 sub special!”

  18. Hally Tosis said:

    A few things.

    1. I have really bad breath in the morning. This is not a Mean Girls quote, it is a fact about my specific physiology. It started becoming an issue when I started puberty. I was a pretty shitty, lazy kid. I remember sometimes my mom would be like: “Did you brush your teeth? …Did you brush your tongue?” but since she was my mom and had conditioned me to be accustomed to her checking up on my nightly habits, I just lied to her that I had (because brushing your teeth is boring!!!), and she dropped it. I did not know she was trying to tell me she knew until one day before breakfast I went to tell my brother something and he reacted viscerally: “Ugh… your breath.” It hurt my feelings really bad, and I was ashamed. But I didn’t hold it against him, and I started brushing twice a day. It’s never easy news to hear, and it’s never easy news to deliver, but I would rather be told I’m malodorous than truck around in the world with everybody whispering about it behind me forever.

    2. DEFINITELY do not say “I’ve gotten a lot of complaints that…” or “Everybody is saying…” You think you are protecting the identity of the individual who complained; you think you are dispersing blame and making the news-recipient less likely to be upset with one person; you are misguided. I have been on the receiving end of “I keep getting complaints that…” and I instantly flashed back to being bullied by my friends in high school and heard: “Everyone talks badly about me when I leave the room. Everyone has been complaining. All my coworkers dislike me and I’m stupid stupid stupid for thinking they wouldn’t.” It turned out to be one person, a person who was angry with me when they made the complaint, and none of my coworkers agreed with the complaint. But even if they had, it was mean to tell me that way. Sometimes, as The Person Who Spoke Up, you have to eat it and own it. It sucks, but it’s true.

    3. Most people with BO aren’t unaware of their funk. They may just not realize it’s affecting other people. Typically they’ll take the news well and decide to keep a Speedstick in their car.

    That’s all. Excellent and thorough advice as always, Captain.

  19. Solo said:

    “Isn’t it also patronizing to project all of those possible explanations, excuses, and reasons onto other people?”

    Well I needed to hear that.

    • Ren said:

      Same.

    • Example: I know I often have bad breath. It’s because I have to take a medication that gives me serious cotton mouth. I do my best to mitigate it (gum, mints, brushing, a mini-apothecary’s worth of herbal teas) but sometimes I just have worse days than usual.
      This is *not other people’s problem*. They don’t have to like the way my breath smells and they don’t have to forgive me for it.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Same

  20. Just to add, LW, if you are feeling like talking to him (opposed to passing off to the instructor) is the right way to go, I’d suggest timing your conversation for after class is over, perhaps as everyone is gathering their things and heading for the parking/bus/whatever. That way he can take that information and be alone with it, instead of then having it hang over his head for the next ten dances.

  21. Eric B. said:

    I want to mention specific thing from the “I’m a sweaty guy” side of the experience, but first: context!

    I shower at least once (often twice, after exercising) every day; I use shampoo, and the bare minimum of soap to get clean. I wear clean clothing every day, if not more often. I use an industrial-strength anti-perspirant (including in a lot of places one does not traditionally use anti-perspirant) and an unscented deodorant. I am a regular aerobic exerciser. (Hygiene and skin care advice not requested; I’ve tried a lot of things, with doctor’s support, and this is the best thing I’ve come up with.)

    Even with all of these things, I sweat a lot at the least exertion, or if it’s slightly warm. I also apparently smell strongly sometimes – but inconveniently, I cannot smell myself when smell strongly to other people, and other people often can’t smell me when I feel like I smell terrible.

    I do my best to avoid inconveniencing others with this; I carry towels in my bag, I wear the most effective clothing I can to avoid drips and stains, but even so, I’m still a very sweaty guy.

    I’ve gotten the “you stink” talk at work several times and, in fact, at dance lessons twice, and once at the gym. Each time, the talk was “you need to take a bath and wear deodorant before you come back”. …But I already do.

    Nobody believes me. Ever. Even if there isn’t an overt statement to that effect, there are really doubtful looks and head-shaking and passing over my statement. This is crushing; it’s hard enough being sweaty and gross-feeling and inconveniencing other people; people thinking that I am lying about my efforts is horrible. I wouldn’t mind “ok then, you are too sweaty to participate”. It’s the “you’re a lying jerk” that’s really awful.

    At this point? I’ll never try to take another dance lesson. I can’t exercise around other people. I know I’m gross and awful; there’s nothing else I can do about it – I just wish other people would believe that I tried, even though it failed.

    So the specific thing I wanted to mention: please, if you’re having this conversation with someone, and you suggest something to mitigate the issue, and they say they’re already doing it: believe them. It doesn’t mean you have to ignore the sweatiness because they’re “trying” or something.

    • Sorry that people don’t believe you and make you feel lousy.

    • I hear that. I worked with a guy for several years who constantly had a sweat smell. When our desks were moved next to each other, I thought I would have to break down and say something. But I didn’t — because it was very clear to me that he showed up to work just out of the shower (wet hair and I could smell traces of soap) wearing freshly laundered clothes (I could smell the detergent) and deodorant (I could pick up that scent too). I never had the slightest reason to think he wasn’t scrubbing himself and his clothes meticulously and frequently.

      So I decided to get used to it — luckily it wasn’t triggering any breathing issues. I just got used to “this is what Fred’s clean sweat smells like”. And let me tell you, I have a super-sensitive nose, so it took some getting used to.

      Our actual bathing-impaired guy, though, we’d all gang up on him and refuse to work with him until he showered.

    • Raptor said:

      It sucks! I think my friend has the same thing. I know he showers way more then I do, and he has a stick of deodorant* in his backpack at all times, but I smell way better than he does.

      *He has nicknamed it de-ogre-ant, which I think is weirdly cute.

    • Ren said:

      I have the same thing (wash/change daily, medical grade deodorant etc), especially the not smelling it yourself. Pretty much only my partner who sees me bathe believes me.

      Apparently my feet smell awful but it develops at different speeds in different shoes. From puberty I was being constantly told that ‘girls shouldn’t smell like that’ and no amount of odor control spray worked. School even tried to send me to the doctors to investigate for a fungal thing even though I had a letter from the doctors saying basically that I was just smelly. It sucks not to be believed.

      I think in OPs case there might still be a benefit in mopping between dances but if the guy says he’s tried the other stuff, do try to believe him.

      • stellanor said:

        I don’t have particularly smelly feet in general, but I occasionally run across a pair of shoes that gives me Epic Foot Stank and I do not know what’s up with that except that the culprits are usually not leather.

        So yeah, in my experience Stanky Feet Shoes are a thing.

        • Anonyish said:

          Non-leather shoes often don’t breathe as well, so it’s extra important to make sure that you let them dry out and air well after wearing – take them off, don’t shove them in a cupboard or somewhere, leave them where there is air, and with the laces open.

        • See also: shoes with “soft” linings like mocassins and loafers. I have two nearly identical pairs of black suede mocassin loafers I wear to work. One pair is fine. The other pair gives me Feet of Death By Stank but are sooooooooooooo comfortable I hate to throw them out when they are still OK for running around the house or to the store. I know I am in for a long day of smelling my own horrible foot smell and keeping away from my co-workers by hiding in my office if I notice a whiff of stinkfoot before 10 AM.

    • Noemie said:

      This is weird to me because fresh sweat doesn’t smell that bad? What is really unpleasant is the smell of stale sweat from people who don’t shower daily or wear the same clothes that got sweaty the day(s) before.

      • Elspeth said:

        Fresh sweat’s smelliness quotient is pretty dependent on the sweater’s body chemistry and the smeller’s nose. There’s actually scientific research on it! (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070916143523.htm) One of the chemicals present in human sweat, androgen, is undetectable to about a third of the population, smells unobjectionable or even pleasant to some people, and smells horrible to others, depending on whether you inherited a sensitivity to it or not.

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          Yes! National Geographic did a scratch and smell tester once along with some article about how different people smell differently and it came down to that one and my dad and I smelled nothing and my step-mom started gagging from 2 feet away.

    • sherrybell said:

      I have, since I was a baby, according to my parents, had really stinky feet. I finally figured out a few things that helped to mitigate it, and it has nothing to do with showering or wearing more deodorant. It has to do with “how” you wash your clothes. The “stink” in many cases is caused by a bacteria that lives on the skin. Washing your clothes with regular detergent and cold water will remove the bacteria due to the agitation, not by killing the bacteria! Then when you put the clothes back on, whatever bacteria is left, will come back to life and stink right up. Hot water, bleach or white vinegar will kill bacteria. It took a few months of making sure that all of my clothes (and sheets and towels) were washed this way before I saw that the odor was really reduced. (Obviously I was doing this in addition to showering and stuff). The other thing is if you have a specific place that’s stinky, pits or feet or something, instead of a baby wipe, use an alcohol swab. The alcohol swab will kill the bacteria, then you can reapply the deodorant.

      • jo said:

        Thank you for this! I have a couple of bath towels that get stinkier than the others, after just a few uses, and even though I wash them in hot water, vinegar is something I haven’t tried yet.

        I’ll also try the alcohol for biking to work. Coworkers have assured me I don’t smell once I’m dry, but I worry about it anyway–I never know when I’ll come across someone who has a more sensitive nose than my coworkers.

  22. You should definitely have the talk! But if you’re not feeling up to the talk just yet and are willing to invest two dance classes to deal with this problem, this is what I did when my dance partner smelled bad. (I also didn’t particularly care if my partner liked me or not and I had known him for long enough to have a friendly rapport.)

    Me [got close and scrunched up nose, speaks doubtfully]: Oh. Is that a new shirt or something?
    Him: No, I ran out of quarters and left it in the washer too long.
    Me: Oh, yeah, that explains the mildew smell. Okay. [dropped subject completely.]

    And there was no more bad smells!

    If you’re a tease-y but kind person, you can try, “Oh, did you get in a quick workout today?” next class, in a surprised/kind tone when you get close to him, followed with, “Yeah, you’ve got a bit of that gym glow about you.” If that doesn’t help, then the next lesson, I would say, “I don’t know if it’s the warmer weather or what, but you’ve been a little smelly these past few classes…” [and merge into the Captain’s scripts.]

    If he truly doesn’t realize it, the first question will probably make him a bit more vigilant. If he’s more on the completely clueless about American-style hygiene, the second conversation should a) not come as a surprise and b) allow you to be much more specific then just calling his attention to something. Also, if he responds really badly to the first conversation, you can immediately go and ask the teacher to handle it; if he responds well you can decide if you want to handle the second conversation yourself.

    • Ah! Forgot to add – if you have the first conversation with him and he asks “do I smell?”, answer honestly! Say, “Yeah – I think everyone has to figure out a new shower/clothing regime when they start dancing. I know Bob always brings an extra shirt and I have to work in a shower and deodorant before I come into class. Maybe that’ll help you?”

    • Lily said:

      I’m sure I wouldn’t the “gym” comment, just think that the person saying it is one of the fitness/”health”-policing people who annoy anyone if they go to the gym regularly. So, no, I don’t think this method is the best (though it would probably stop me from dancing with or talking to you).

      • Lily said:

        *I’m sure I wouldn’t get the “gym” comment

        • Me neither. I’d assume it referred to the glow of health you get when you exercise regularly and assume it was a compliment! Thinking about it now, I’m guessing it’s out of the ‘Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow’ school of talk, but that really does feel like a guess.

    • I believe you when you say that teasing works for you. It wouldn’t work with most people I know. Either they wouldn’t understand that by “gym glow” you meant “smell” or they’d understand but hear the teasing as snide and patronizing. Most people I know react better to direct requests over this sort of thing.


      Sweetie, brush your teeth, your breath is bad.

      Please shower before coming over for a snuggle.

      Wash your uniform before you next take class


      Or in this case:

      Please make sure you shower or otherwise clean up directly before class. Also, please bring a clean towel for mopping up your sweat.

      • Right, which is why I said “if you’re a tease-y sort of person” and then, if it doesn’t work by the next class, you need to have a much more direct talk like the captain suggests.

        For really awkward but not utterly urgent talks, I do like to try a softer approach first, once and only once – every now and then it works out and saves someone a lot of face! However, if the softer approach doesn’t work or if it’s someone I really can’t tease (because I don’t like them and it’ll show), the direct approach becomes necessary.

        • I was talking about the people teased, not those who tease them.

          Most people I know don’t enjoy being teased.

          • My experience is the opposite – most people don’t mind/enjoy/engage in a little (kind hearted) teasing and most people prefer a soft opening, following by swiftly increasing levels of directness (but still kind!). So could be just a cultural thing. (For instance, I would read the “Sweetie,” as really condescending, as would most of my friends – even to an SO.)

            But also this would *not* be an appropriate way for the teacher to have the conversation; the teacher needs to just be direct and matter of fact. The power differential would make it much more embarrassing to go with a soft opening rather than a direct approach.

          • The “sweetie” was intended for one’s sweetheart! I wouldn’t address a friend that way, but I have said exactly that to a SO (who had on other occasions said it to me).

            Most people I know don’t read teasing as kind, so yes this could be cultural. Or age.

          • Teasing was one of the ways I was abused as a child by my mother — barely-veiled insults or accusations of bad behavior followed by accusations that I allegedly “have no sense of humor” and am “hypersensitive” plus laughter at my expense — so I definitely do not like it. As a result, I do not tease other people. Even someone who wasn’t verbally or psychologically abused by “teasing” and jokes at their expense growing up might be having a shitty day and just not be in the mood for teasing.

            I’m not saying you’re doing anything wrong by teasing, just sharing why I’m not personally a fan and perhaps, by doing so, explaining why something you say that you do that is definitely not intended negatively (I’m hearing that this is one of the ways you express friendliness and comfort with others) still might rub someone the wrong way.

          • AllanV said:

            Yeah, if I didn’t know already that the person I was talking to didn’t mind being teased, I would strongly avoid teasing them about a topic they might be sensitive about even without the teasing.

  23. Ramona French said:

    I used to teach massage school classes. Subtlety doesn’t work. It took me a while of being subtle to realize I had to just kindly spell it out, in private. “I know it’s awkward, and I feel embarrassed, but I have to tell you your breath smells bad.” Or, clothes, or shoes, or body . . . As you said, it might be painful to hear but in the long run it is a kindness.

    I was on the other end for a while. People kept giving me floss, or toothpaste, or mints. I’d say, “thanks!” It took someone honest to finally tell me the truth — bad breath. It never occurred to me because I was brushing my teeth, seeing the dentist, flossing, all that stuff. Sinus infections are smelly, eh.

    So, upfront is the best way to approach it.

    Oh, and the stinky-for-the-earth’s-sake folks? I had to ask them about their goals. “If you want a job, you have to please the boss. So even if you’re OK with smells, because they are “natural,” you’ll find employers don’t like it and you won’t get a job. And it’s my job to make that clear to you because this is vocational training.”

  24. Tristan Salazar said:

    So many years ago I worked as a janitor/cashier and Accounts Payable/Tech guy for the world’s only unionized, worker-owned-and-operated all nude peepshow, The Lusty Lady in San Francisco. (I promise that this is relevant!)

    One year the show directors (whom we called the Madams) and the Support Staff Lead Team decided we should probably do some official sexual harassment training, if for no other reason that we’d get a break on some of our business insurance (and also, y’know, *sexual harassment training*).

    One of the ways we could do this was to purchase an official licensed sexual harassment training video for new employees to watch as part of their orientation. Because of the economies of this sort of thing (you were paying for the certification not the actual video) these videos were *really* expensive, like thousands of dollars expensive. So you could watch excerpts from them on YouTube so you could be sure you were getting one you liked and/or worked for your company.

    So the Madams and Lead Team sat down to watch some of these clips and one of them went like this:

    JANE is making copies in the copy room. MARTHA pokes her head into the room and sniffs.

    MARTHA: Smells like vagina!

    JANE: (upset) You don’t mean… MY vagina, do you?

    MARTHA: Maaaaaaybeeee…!

    (this was intended to be a rather heavy-handed illustration of Things That Could Be Considered Harassment)

    So one of the Madams starts laughing (to be honest, we were all laughing) and points out that because of the queer/liberal/punk nature of the Lusty, (this is where this story gets relevant!) there were a lot of kind of crusty-punk and hippie ladies who worked there who had a, shall we say, philosophical opposition to bathing and were very much in favor of their own natural scents no matter how pungent.

    And this Madam, who was of a similar philosophical bent herself, said how she had—more than once— had to explain to a dancer, “Now don’t get me wrong. I looove how your vagina smells. But this is a *scent-free* workplace, and that includes our own beautiful and natural scents, so take a damn shower before you get on stage, that’s why we have a shower.” And she had had to have this conversation more than once while she and the dancer she was admonishing were completely starkers.

    So it just goes to show you, as embarrassing as you might find this smelly dancer situation, there are *more awkward versions of this conversation to be had*.

  25. Absinthfee said:

    Yeah, I have a candidate like that as well. Unfortunately, it’s my brother, whom I meet at least twice a week – once for dinner, once for P&P.

    The ‘you stink’-talk is quite uncomfortable for everybody involved. Him being family should make it easier, but it somehow doesn’t. Me not being the most diplomatic person on the planet means that things can escalate, even if it takes months.

    “Hey brother, do you really need to wear a jacket when it’s almost 90°F out there? You feel nacked without it? Oh well ….”.
    “I’ve just taken your jacket and stuffed it into the washing machine within 15 seconds before you could intervene. You’ll get it back tomorrow.”.
    “Brother, please let me wash your jacket, it’s a bit rank. Yes, I know I ‘just washed it’, but that was a month ago.”.
    “Wanna take a shower? I just happen to have a fresh bottle of shower gel for men there. Shampoo too.”
    “Brother, the GM approached me after he demanded you to shower at his place to talk to you. I know that sweating is a problem everybody’s struggling with. Here’s deodorant, use it.”
    “Okay, that’s ENOUGH. Never, ever tell me again that ‘sweat is manly’ or that I’m overreacting or some other bullshit and finally shower every day and wash your goddamn clothes!!!”

    He still doesn’t do so, figuring that I am really just overreacting. Besides, I’m the older sister and old dynamics kick in. Long story short: I kind of wish I would have the Captain’s scripts earlier and not turn to it in an admittedly passive-aggressive manner. Until then, I can only hope that somebody whom my brother puts more trust in finally breaks the silence and doesn’t think that I’ll handle it somehow. The whole group has just decided to ignore and endure while I use scented candles.

  26. mcbqe said:

    Captain, I just had to log in to say thank you for the delightful Saga of You and the Smelly Hippie Guy. Truly a salve on a tired, grey and clutching-a-hot-water-bottle-to-your-abdomen morning for this reader.

  27. Irene2789 said:

    I’m a blues dancer in a scene that has been emphasising consent on and off the dance floor quite heavily during the past couple of years (particularly since the untoward behaviour of a couple of big name instructors have come to light). The bare minimum is that, as the Captain rightly observes, YOU CAN REFUSE A DANCE WITH ANYONE FOR ANY REASON. Even no reason. The scene leader should be encouraging this and should strive to create an environment where that is the norm and a plain “thank you for the offer but no thanks” is 100% no big deal. I don’t know what the instructors are like in your scene but if you feel comfortable you might bring this up with them too (have there been any consent awareness workshops lately? Could you offer to hold one, or know someone who does? That kind of stuff). If the instructors are cool people they should say yes. If they give you grief about it, you have this internet stranger’s permission to leave and never look back. Good luck with everything!

  28. Great answer; as a Swing dancer, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask our teacher to approach the new smelly dancer. They are v experienced in this issue. And a couple of our more sweaty guys change their shirts once or twice during our 3 hour classes- always much appreciated. The teachers also provide breath mints at the payment counter 😃
    Nice answer Captain

  29. LW,
    I’d like to address one thing the Captain didn’t cover: push back.

    It’s likely that Febreezio (God I love that!) will say something like “I don’t smell do I?” or “Are you saying I stink?”

    It’s really hard to answer truthfully, but it’s worth it. Say yes. “Yes, Febreezio, you do.”

    I’ve done it. It gets easier.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  30. Me said:

    For all the sweaty folk out there: the super strong anti-perspirants out there can really be useful. I’m a pharmacist, and once I learned about these in school, my friends and I spread the word amongst our friends and so many guys told us how grateful they were. They can totally block sweat glands. (On the downside, they can be irritating as hell and have to be applied to completely dry skin or they burn…. but you don’t need to use the strong stuff everyday). Anyways, it’s an option for people with this problem.

    • kat said:

      Also even with the regular strength antiperspirants a lot of people are using them wrong (I only recently found out myself) the best time to apply them is just before bed. If you put them on at the start of your day or just before you’re active they just get sweated away. Putting it on before bed has made a massive difference to me!

      • BarlowGirl said:

        I’ve tried that and it’s never worked for me. *shrugs*

  31. Jackalope said:

    I also want to underline something the Captain said, but it’s important: you always have the right to say no to dancing with someone. I am a big ballroom dancing aficionado and my classes have a similar rotating structure. It’s true that it will feel awkward if if you choose not to dance with one person in the line, but you can still go ahead and do it. You still get to nope out if you want!

    (True story: some people at my studio for awhile had the habit of cutting in partway through dances, so if I started dancing with X and then Y wanted to dance with me, then Y would come up and take me away from X. I thought this was the height of rudeness — if I had wanted to dance with Y for that dance, I would have danced with Y! So I finally decided to just walk off the floor whenever this happened. Some people got offended, but this behavior stopped, at least where I was concerned. Now no one does that unless, say, I’m dancing with a teacher who has an emergency and so they switch me off with another teacher so I’m not abandoned on the floor.)

  32. Nic said:

    I have occasionally been the stinky person. I remember one time in high school where I found out, was mortifed. I mentioned it to my roommate, who said “you’ve always kind of been the stinky person. I thought you knew.”

    Speaking for the stinky people, we don’t necessarily know. Please tell us.

    • Janissary Jones said:

      My mother had to have this chat with seventh grade Janissary. I had some massive sweat blotches on my t-shirt, and so mom discreetly took me aside and said “Clearly, the antiperspirant I’ve been buying doesn’t work for you. We’re going to the store tomorrow, and will try stronger options. In the meantime, take a quick shower and change your shirt.” I was MORTIFIED, because everything is mortifying when you’re twelve, but I soon realized that not dripping over everything was far less mortifying.

  33. Moggadeet said:

    I’m on team Speak to the Organizers: in all my partner-dance experience, dealing with people who aren’t up to hygiene or behavior standards is part of their job, so I think you should rat him out and feel no guilt. Meanwhile there’s nothing wrong with declining to dance with the guy socially or in class rotation, and a tactful word of explanation isn’t wrong either, but it’s absolutely not required.
    I know it can be awkward skipping a rotation in class, or keeping an open position rather than dancing close. But if the instructor side-eyes it you can say “let’s talk for a minute after class”, and explain it then.
    I think the Captain speaks here from a place of not having been to a lot of dance classes — this is something you can manage with the guy himself if you feel like it, and these are great scripts for that, but I think it would be more usual to punt this problem to the people whose job it is to maintain a pleasant dance practice for everyone.

  34. Elenna said:

    Just adding that this answer was great and also completely hilarious. Jedi hugs to past-CA! 😀

  35. Rose Fox said:

    A note regarding cologne/perfume: for some folks it’s a cultural thing, so you may want to be sensitive to that in your approach, or at least not be surprised to get it as a response. I am very allergic to many perfumes, and I have a Latino friend who wears a lot of cologne. When I brought it up, he told me he could no more leave the house without cologne than he could leave without shoes.

    Obviously me needing to breathe and not have a sore throat is kind of important! But him being able to carry on his cultural traditions is important too, so we look for workarounds. He washes his neck before he comes to visit my house, and hangs his jacket away from my things; when I see him at social events I give him a quick hug but don’t linger, and I take one of my handy dissolving allergy tablets, and maybe I sit across the table from him instead of next to him. If we were taking dance classes together, I probably wouldn’t dance with him, but I’d check in to make sure he knew it was nothing personal.

    (Speaking of dancing, as someone who’s done a lot of social dancing where you switch partners, let me reassure you that it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS okay to say “I’m sitting this one out” or just “No thanks”. You aren’t obligated to dance with anyone, ever. You don’t need to give a reason. “No” is a complete sentence.)

    I once had to write a note to the principal of my baby’s daycare because the baby was coming home reeking of the teachers’ perfume. “I’m thrilled that K is obviously getting lots of hugs all day, but…” To their credit, they passed the request on to the teachers and the problem mostly went away. I can always tell when there’s been a substitute teacher, though, because suddenly K smells like fake flowers instead of baby spit.

  36. trs2and3 said:

    Interestingly, my husband is the stinky one, and I have told him straight out many times. (We’ve been married for over 30 years, and I’ve long since dropped the “hinting” thing. I tell him that no one else will tell him, and so I am, *because* I love him.) But, for some reason, he seems to think I’m exaggerating or just more sensitive than other people.

    He will wear clothing multiple days (and he’s a big man, who really CANNOT do that). He showers every few days. (Again, he’s a big man, who absolutely CANNOT do that.)

    I too wish that someone else in his life, someone that he isn’t so comfortable with and isn’t so willing to just assume things about, would tell him (and, yes, we have a good relationship for the most part. He just really thinks I’m over-sensitive to smells.) Our kids have tried to tell him too, but only occasionally (although they’ve mentioned it to me), but they’re his kids (despite being adults or almost adults), so it’s easy for him to ignore them.

    So, yeah, speak up if you can! It could help a lot!

    • Have you tried, ‘Even if I am more sensitive-nosed than other people, the fact is that you smell bad to me and I want you to wash more often’? I mean, you’re the one who lives with him, right?

    • Hey friend, I noticed that you said your husband is “a big man” twice in relation to his degree of smelliness. The idea that large/fat people are generally smellier than smaller/thin people is a stereotype that is often used to be cruel to fat people. It hurts to hear you say it. Some fat people smell, but so do some thin people. I’m sure you didn’t mean anything and your situation sounds totally frustrating, but please adjust your language. Thanks!

      • JenniferP said:

        Agree, and this is a very good catch! Thank you.

  37. Angela said:

    As a person who has been on the receiving end of this sort of talk this is good advice.
    But ( to add one more reason to the why a person might smell list) I had a reason that stimied easy correction. I lived with a hoarder in a house that stunk and was underage/underemployed with limited ability to go elsewhere to clean. I showered regularly, washed my clothes diligently and still stunk to high heaven because her house smelled to high heaven. I tried everything I could think of and the only thing that worked was finally getting out.
    The effects of that situation gave me a serious complex about feeling like I smell all of the time. But honesty and direct statements helped a lot more than half hearted hints, talking behind backs and blow ups.

    • Lurker in the light said:

      Oh, that’s hard. I’m sorry you went through that.

      I went to middle school with a boy whole smelled heavily of cigarette smoke. He was clearly not smoking packs per day himself; he just didn’t have a way to avoid his parent’s smoking. I don’t remember anyone giving him trouble about it, but there’s no doubt it affected him socially.

  38. If you decide to tell him yourself, LW, it’s probably kindest to tell him at the end of class. He will be embarrassed, and that way he can scuttle straight home and think it over, rather than having to choose between leaving mid-class and having to come up with an explanation why, and dancing with people while thinking ‘You’re all thinking I stink right now!’ Both of those would double the embarrassment, so keep it down to a minimum and tell him when he’s leaving anyway.

  39. vass said:

    The Captain’s advice is good. Just one thing: you may be tempted to use euphemisms, or to hint instead of stating the problem outright. Please don’t. You’ll only increase the chance that Febreezio has no idea what you’re on about.

    “It’s very hot weather, isn’t it?”
    “Um, yeah.”
    “And this dance is hard work, isn’t it?”
    “Ye-es?”
    “So I was noticing that you’re seeming very… hot and bothered during it.”
    “Oh.”
    “Good, I’m glad we had this chat.”

    You may think you’ve communicated something. You have not.

    Signed, someone more likely to be on Febreezio’s end of this dynamic than yours.

    • Seconded. And the phrase “hot and bothered” reads to me as sexual innuendo, not “take a shower and wear some damn deodorant already!” Euphemisms are always misunderstood or missed when aimed at me.

  40. Lynne said:

    I was the stinky kid when I hit puberty at eleven or twelve, and my classmates picked on me about it and teacher sent me to the school counsellor to address it, whose idea of the problem was apparently that I needed to be told there WAS a problem.

    What was actually going on was that we were poor, and while my mother would scrape up money for things that boosted her ego and let her lie to herself that she was a good parent…like putting me in dance class, come to think…she wouldn’t spend money on things like deodorant for the kids, even though she knew I was getting blowback about it – she just told me to wash more. And my father didn’t care. It was clearly my responsibility to solve, but I had no money, and was too rule-abiding a kid to shoplift some deodorant, or steal money for it from my parents. (And yes, I got this chat from my dance teacher too, who was kind about it, but again, wanted me to solve it. Which I did, by dropping out of dance class after that year.)

    Only some of my parents’ neglect was visible, but, you know…enough was, and it should have been fairly obvious that it was the tip of the iceberg, to a thoughtful onlooker. I hope a child like I was would get reported to social services today; apparently twenty-five years ago in the town where I grew up, that didn’t cross anyone’s mind, and all they felt they needed to do was give me a talking to. And I didn’t have the words to explain, not without talking about my family’s dysfunction, which I’d been pretty well trained not to do. 😦

    • clorinda said:

      Gentle time-travel hug for younger Lynne. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

  41. MoominGirl said:

    Just be aware that sometimes, even with the best will in the world, the person *can’t* solve the problem.

    I remember at primary school a senior teacher/deputy principal taking me aside to say “you smell” when I was 11 or 12, and it was, well

    a) this primary school has no air conditioning or fans;

    b) this is a very hot climate;

    c) I’m fat, I sweat a lot;

    d) I have to walk to and from school, that makes me sweat too;

    e) I shower every single day, but that doesn’t make much difference;

    f) my mother yells at me if I do laundry by myself because I do it “wrong”;

    g) but my mother also won’t do enough laundry herself because she’s too mentally ill with bipolar;

    h) there is no money for me to buy deodorant, my family are literally living off food parcels from the church and my mother gets angry if I eat “too much bread” on one day because then there won’t be any for later on in the week – where is deodorant supposed to come from in this scenario?

    So, that talk accomplished nothing but making me feel ashamed and embarrassed.

    • I’m so sorry you had to go through that. The teacher should have asked what was going on and given you deodorant, at the very least. *smacks that teacher with a fire hose*

  42. Kaenwen said:

    Something that I don’t think has been covered in the thread yet: sweating to some degree is more or less inevitable for most people when they do vigorous exercise such as dancing, regardless of their normal hygiene routine. I’m a ceilidh dancer, which is a more vigorous form of dance than most (albeit one in which you usually stand at more of a distance from your partner than in ballroom or salsa or some other forms of dance, which helps a bit). I do my best to blot/clean up during breaks (wet wipes and handbag-sized anti-perspirant are really great investments, as is a small towel that can be regularly washed) and so do most of the other experienced dancers I know. With the best will in the world, though, none of us reaches the end of a class or ceilidh smelling like we have just had a shower. We are humans, and we have glands.

    When I invite people who have never done ceilidh before to dances I always stress this, because if being near people who are sweating is a dealbreaker for them, then they usually aren’t going to enjoy ceilidh and should probably try a different form of dance.

    That said, everyone has a duty to make sure their sweat or smell doesn’t spoil other people’s enjoyment of the dancing. Turning up to a class or dance clean is a very basic courtesy which everyone should follow. Beyond this, beginners may need a little prompting about what to bring to a class and when to take the opportunity to clean up, especially if their hygiene routine is otherwise good. Instructors generally have lots of experience with telling people how to do this kindly and matter-of-factly. And if that doesn’t produce an improvement, please, don’t ever feel you have to dance with the guy anyway. In no well-run class should it ever be a problem for someone to refuse to dance with a partner who makes them uncomfortable.

  43. As someone who is often the stink-offender, PLEASE TELL HIM! I take a medication that both makes me sweaty and somewhat reduces my sense of smell, and I work a physical job and commute on a bike. I usually am able to mitigate the issue with a change of clothes and a baby wipe but sometimes you just don’t know that you need to add another shirt swap and deoderant application to your routine, and there’s nothing more mortifying than realising that it’s been going on for months and nobody told you! He may or may not be used to navigating this conversation but doing as the captain suggests (be direct, in private, predicated with the words “It’s sometimes hard to notice when it’s your own smell, but…”) is really the kindest option

  44. strophoria said:

    I’m very used to being on the recieving end of this conversation – I work a very physical job, I commute exclusively by bike, I’m allergic to many deoderants, and I take a medication that makes me extra sweaty and reduces my sense of smell. Please tell him! I have been able to mostly avoid being offensively stinky with a routine of rubbing alcohol, baby wipes and fresh shirts but I still sometimes don’t know! There’s nothing more mortifying than slowly coming to the realisation that people have been avoiding you because you stink! This guy may or may not be used to handling those conversations with grace, but the captain’s advice here should get you the results you want. Personally I would prefer the personal approach rather than going to the instructor but either one is acceptable. Prefacing it with “I know it’s really easy to get used to your own smell and not notice, but…” is a nice soft intro that gives the person an easy out.

  45. I go to dance classes held at a studio for kids and adults, there is a lot of very girly ballet classes and the studio has the most princess-y pink bathrooms EVER. On the window sill of the toilet area is a line of spray deodorants and perfumes, free for any dancer to use. I’ve been glad of the supply on days when dance class was especially intense, or when I forgot my own.

    Maybe the dance venue could consider adding that to the venue bathrooms? I think having a chat with Febreezio is definitely needed, but reading your post made me think of the pink diamanté perfume bathrooms!

  46. Azla said:

    I’m a permanently (pathologically) sweaty person.
    As in, I get Botox injections in my hands and armpits to al least be able to function in a society. I sweat all over though, as in I’m literally dripping. Luckily (or perhaps due to the amount of time I spend on personal hygiene), I don’t smell that much.
    But I drip. Occasionally it will end up on the floor, machine or person next to me, no matter how careful I am and how many towels I bring.

    I’m VERY ashamed about it but there isn’t much I can do since not going out in public, not taking exercise classes or going out to dance just aren’t options! But with Botox and not being a teenager anymore, things are as good as they’re gonna get. Hyperhidrosis just seems to be running in my family.

    I agree with everything that the good Captain said but would like to stress the fact that smelling bad might be fixable but occasionally sweat drops might not. (I’m not advocating spraying other people with sweat! Bananas and towels and so on should be used!)

    Good luck LW and enjoy your dance class!

    • BarlowGirl said:

      I’m super picturing you wiping yourself down with a banana now XD

      Just out of curiosity and you don’t have to answer – does the Botox feel weird in your hands?

      • Azla said:

        Haha! That is something I haven’t tried yet, maybe I was unconsciously inventing the perfect solution?

        Weird, that’s hard to answer.
        It’s not pleasant to get 30+ shots in your palms though there are various forms of very effective pain relief and the medical professional who do them are incredibly quick. It takes maybe a few minutes per hand.
        In the first week or so after a treatment, my hands are TOO dry. It makes it strange and pretty hard to grip things, so one realizes how important hand sweat is for friction.

        But after a few weeks, it’s just… normal. And delightful to not ruin papers soon as I touch them.

        I’d recommend it to anyone who’s considering it.

        • Mira said:

          Thanks, that is good to hear! My partner is an chronically sweaty person as well – he’s been using all kind of medical solutions to mitigate his sweaty hands problems (ointments / electrolysis etc) and has recently been considering botox as well.
          Funnily enough, I only found out about his hyperhidrosis when we were dating about half a year, and only because he told me. I hadn’t noticed anything myself. I guess most people with this issue are hyper conscious about it and take very good care to hide it.
          Take care Azla, hopefully you’ll need less and less botox (I heard this could happen as well). Or hopefully there will be better solutions in the future.

    • WT said:

      Sad, sweaty hyperhidrosis fistbump– I’ve got a Drysol prescription that works pretty well for my underarms, but that doesn’t help so much with my scalp, nose, upper lip, underboob, etc. Maybe someday there will be some better solutions for us moisture-challenged folks so that we can participate in public exercise without dripping on everyone else!

      • Azla said:

        I sure hope so!

        I belong to the unfortunate subset of people who sweat too much for Drysol and other similar products. They need to be applied to dry skin and I simply get sweaty too fast. Let’s just say the MANY times I’ve tried were very very painful.

        Underboob drippiness sucks! And I always get a big wet patch on my lower back, just under my stomach rolls, and it’s so unpleasant when I’m wearing the wrong type of fabric.

        (don’t get me started on which fabrics and colors show sweat stains and which don’t. the agony! can you relate)

      • Another hyperhidrosis person offering fistbumps of sympathy & empathy here.

        My trunkal hyperhidrosis means that I need to dress carefully and always have a superlong-vest-or-tunic-or-jacket on, because otherwise it often looks like I’ve peed my pants. My hyperhidrosis of the scalp means I’ve never owned an iPhone that I haven’t voided the warranty on the first day, because of moisture. (The screen changes to a background photo of water droplets if you void your warranty this way. My ears are apparently sweaty enough to accomplish this very quickly in normal phone use.) So basically the hyperhidrosis means that I’m a watering can at least part of the time.

        Stopping the sweat hasn’t been achievable. But I’m always looking for things to keep “I am very sweaty” from turning into “I am very stinky.” It’s a challenge. Some unscented soaps contain something which combines very badly with my body chemistry and makes a new stink. (I have many friends with scent sensitivities, and am accustomed to preparing to see them by using only unscented products for a period of time before I go.) I’m about to start testing new antiperspirants and deodorants to see if anything’s come on the market that doesn’t give me a rash.

        All that said, though, I am TREMENDOUSLY grateful if my friends tell me what’s working and what’s not working, as far as funky smells go. I need to know, because I want things to be better for all of us.

        I wish you luck in the class, OP, and hope that your instructor is helpful and effective with this, if you choose to go for that way of addressing the problem.

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          The solid antiperspirant bars from Lush are the only thing my super, super-sensitive skin can cope with, and I’m still limited to a couple of times a week. (Inflamed skin = not able to wash with soap for a couple of weeks = much, much worse).

          Luckily, I don’t sweat much, but you have my sympathies.

  47. Affi said:

    This is a super handy infographic about dancefloor etiquette. It’s for lindy hop but most of it should apply to any partnered dance. There is a little picture both for bringing extra shirts, showering before and that you can always say no to a dance. http://www.lindyhopstlouis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Lindy-Hoppers-etiquette-1024×724.jpg
    I agree that it’s probably best to let the salsa teacher talk to mr sweaty, they will know what specific things he can do to solve the issue. And it’s better to have it come from someone who has surely met tons of sweaty and smelly people and know how that can be part of being new at dancing and something that isn’t about him.
    One other small point about the captains advice. Don’t tell him to bring a hanky, they just won’t help enough. There are small towels for dancers that can go in his pocket, or he can just cut up a bath towel into smaller ones to keep in his pocket during class to wipe that extra sweat before it drips on you.

  48. thathat said:

    Back when I did swing dancing, it wasn’t particularly uncommon for some of the guys to bring a towel with them, and occasionally a fresh shirt. Dancing swing or salsa is a really intense work-out, and some folks get soaked very quickly. I don’t know if I’d have the guts to talk to the guy myself, but I’d definitely suggest going to the instructor and asking if they could tell him to at least bring a towel.

    I guess I was lucky because I never quite had to deal with that level of gross (there was one guy who ate very spicy things who got kind of…pungent about an hour in tho). It sounds miserable.

  49. This is quite a timely post for me to read, as it’s heading into summer and the office gets very warm and stuffy even if it isn’t *that* hot outside. One of my colleagues does not smell good. She hasn’t smelled good for some time, but it’s worse in summer, for obvious reasons. She walks to work, so I totally get it, and it’s great that she can walk to work. But sometimes it’s so bad it’s hard to eat lunch near her. I think someone once mentioned something to her, so I think she knows (or she knows we are aware), but nothing has changed. For a while she wore body spray, which wasn’t a huge amount better, to be honest – it masked the smell a bit, but eventually it was just the smell plus the leftover body spray smell. Our office is small, we all know each other and talk to each other, and she’s a sweet girl. I feel it’s my manager’s job to say something, but this doesn’t seem to have happened. The thing is, what if this is something she can’t really help? I want action to be taken but I don’t want her to feel bad or feel that she’s stuck with a problem she’s already tried to solve (if she sees it as one, of course: aware some people don’t like deodorants and sprays, etc., and I get that too). It’s just really hard to be in the room when it’s bad. It makes me feel ill. Opening windows only does so much, and in winter it’s not something we can really do anyway.

    The advice here is good, but I just don’t know how to put it into practice at my workplace. I wish I (we) could, because it just makes work unpleasant some days. She should be allowed to just be, but also I should be allowed to not feel sick at my desk. This is one area I haven’t quite managed to conquer my awkwardness in!

    • Janissary Jones said:

      I would recommend checking out the website Ask A Manager, which is a workplace advice blog. She actually has posts that deal with this exact issue, which as you mention, has some different dynamics at play than a social dance situation.

    • It would help her if she were told. She may have an untreated medical condition that is causing the odor. Telling her could enable her to get the care she needs.

  50. Anon, Goodnight said:

    I don’t have anything to add to the advice that’s been shared, I just wanted to pop in and offer sympathy for past Captain in her adventures with conflict avoidance and funky coworkers. I struggled with conflict avoidance to an extreme degree when I was younger too. I never had a situation quite as bad as the one you described, but only through sheer luck at never having to share an office with someone with that much funk. I was laughing and cringing through the whole “less optimal” script, because OMG, that could have been me!

  51. sweaty_dancer said:

    I specifically want to talk about the sweat issue – personally I sweat a lot, particularly on my face. You can’t use strong anti-perspirants on your face, and it doesn’t matter how often I dry myself off, I’ll be dripping within less than a minute (from experience, I’ve wiped my face off so often in some classes I’ve actually irritated the skin even though I use a soft towel). Sweat is part of the human experience and can’t be fully controlled. Does that mean it’s inconsiderate of me to go to swing/salsa/ballroom dancing because I know I sweat a lot? I don’t think so. I shower at least once a day, change into fresh clean clothes before going to dance, reapply deodorant throughout the day. I don’t stink, but I do get dripping wet.
    No, you don’t have to dance with anyone you don’t want to. Everyone always has the right to say no in any situation. But I do think that if you choose to participate in an aerobic exercise in pairs, you should come into it with an understanding that human beings sweat, and try to avoid making someone feel bad for a bodily function they can’t control.
    (the stink is a bit of a different issue than the sweat, as generally speaking it comes from bacteria that can be kept under control with proper hygiene)

    • This is my problem too. I sweat from my scalp downward – if I am really hot my shirt will be soaked at the chest. It doesn’t matter if I take a shower, wash my hair, and wear fresh, super-absorbent clothes. 3/4 into class, I am a hot mess.

      I am too embarrassed to dance in public because of it, except when it is very cool and breezy.

      • That’s a shame, some of the best Ceroc/blues dances of my life were with sweaty but awesome dancers. Don’t be shy.

    • Cicci said:

      Solidarity fist bumps from another Very Sweaty Person!

    • (I suspect that clean sweat bothers fewer people than grungy stinks)

      • sweaty_dancer said:

        I really hope you’re right!

        • Well, I don’t know about the dance styles you do, but I do know about martial arts, and the dancing I did.

          For us, sweat off an essentially clean body is at worst an impediment to technique. Dirt and the smell of dirty clothes and people is really annoying

        • You are. I have a very weak sense of smell, so if someone stinks to me, they need to take a shower or see a doctor.

        • I’d say so. Some people’s clean sweat smells quite pleasant. It may be affected by that whole genetic-compatibility thing – apparently different people prefer different sweat smells depending on what appeals to their DNA – but I’ve certainly been around people who smelled sweaty in a perfectly nice way. In an environment like dancing where everybody sweats, it might even be a bit reassuring: if somebody smells of nothing worse than fresh sweat, it lets you know know that the person is clean and hiding no nasty bio-surprises. I’ve been around people who smelled strongly of clean sweat, and around people who didn’t particularly smell but whose clothes had visible crusts and whose hair and skin were thick with old grease, and let me tell you, I’d pick the sweaty folks every time!

    • trs2and3 said:

      You can wear a bandana or some sort of sweatband. I do. I don’t even apologize about it anymore. I laugh and say, “Yeah, when I work out in any way, I need this. Don’t I look cool?” and just smile away any issues. It sure makes my life easier too, since I don’t get sweat in my eyes. 🙂

      • sweaty_dancer said:

        That would work if the sweat were coming down from my scalp. Sadly, for me at least, it’s on my face itself… Literally dripping off my forehead, nose, cheeks etc. I don’t even need to be particularly hot or active, from spring through fall just stepping outside is enough to start the waterfall 😦 And yeah, the sweat in my eyes is no fun at all…
        I guess this post just kind of hit a sore spot for me because I’m super self conscious about my sweat, but there is literally nothing I can do to stop it (that doesn’t impair my health). I have a hard enough time feeling comfortable walking around sweating outside without reading about even more people saying how lousy people are for sweating in public around others…

        • laina1312 said:

          I get sweaty under my eyes – you know where you put concealer? Murder on my eye makeup some days.

  52. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class
    Now is not the time for vague euphemisms like “be more aware of hygiene.”

    “Freshen up” is also a euphemism. Go straight for “shower within two hours of class.”

  53. Malia76 said:

    At an old job I had there was this one guy (worked outside, in Houston, a city on a swamp) and he smelled like really bad Limberger cheese. He liked to come into my shared tiny office and chat. One sales rep smelled him minutes after he’d left and finally believed the admin staff. He went to have a man to man chat with the guy. Guy laughed him off – he didn’t care that he stank and boasted about never showering. The other outside crew dealt with this by making him work downwind.

  54. kokairu said:

    Loving the regular Better Call Saul refs!

  55. slythwolf said:

    I have had times in my life when my hygiene was not the greatest, and what kept that happening was that I thought if nobody said anything it meant nobody could tell. It took a truly embarrassing number of times when my friend group would talk about someone ELSE’s bad hygiene behind that person’s back but never say anything to their face before I twigged to the idea that the same applied to me.

  56. Angel said:

    I go to a weekly swing dance with a good friend of mine. It’s three hours long and the dude dances nearly every dance. Energetically. Some sweat goes on. He doesn’t smell, but he is incredibly self-aware concerning possible unpleasantness. So, he wears loose/cool clothing, and he pays attention to his partners’ body language to determine the “sweat threshold”. There’s a move where the leader does a turn and the follower’s hand skims over the leader’s waist (…belt loop? Idk), and he told me once that there’s a point in the night where he always stops doing it at close range and instead approximates it at slight distance because he knows he’s too sweaty for touching. He makes other adjustments to be a little less physically close to his partners as well. I know everyone is grateful, because I love him to death but even I am THE MOST GRATEFUL.

    This self-awareness is so important and if he doesn’t have it naturally it would be kind and so useful to everyone if someone helps him gain it. I n-th the suggestion to alert the dance teacher. And also n-th the point that you don’t have to dance with him. There are dudes I turn down every week because my dancing style does not mesh with their dancing style. There are dudes I turn down because their hands are clammy. You can absolutely duck out for water out a restroom when it’s your turn to dance with this dude!

  57. OTWF said:

    I help teach a partner dance and organize the local community for that dance, and would absolutely want someone with this concern to come to me or one of my team members. If the instructor is getting paid for this class, they have probably run into this issue before and would be doubly motivated to help everyone feel comfortable enough to keep coming back to class.

  58. h. said:

    I probably count as one of the stinky ones.

    I have literally (not joking or exaggerating) been told by a total stranger on a bus that I smell & maybe I should shower more often, 1/2 an hour after stepping out of the shower into all clean clothes. You do what you can, but there are limited options available.

    There’s something in my sweat that interacts with the chemicals in anti-perspirants / deodorants and those in washing powder. (Yes I’ve tried different varieties). Even if there are no white marks or obvious sweat stains on the clothes when the enter the washign machine, by the time they’re washed and dried – if I’ve won a deodorant / antiperspirant – then there will be a hard, white, very malodourous precipitate lodged in the armpits of my top. I’ve lost count of the number of favourite clothes that I’ve lost to “it’s a really important today, and I don’t want to smell, maybe if I wear deodorant THIS time it won’t happen”, but it does. I have never succeeded in removing the precipitate, and believe me, I have tried. The only thing to do is to bin the garment . I’m over doing this – it’s incredibly wasteful.

    The best work-around I’ve found, NEVER wearing deodorant /antiperspirant , but wearing one top to work & changing into another one when I get there. Both are only ever worn on one day before being washed.

    (If I go to the gym on the way home & change back into my going-to-work top there – then it usually REALLY stinks by then – even though it’s probably been worn for a maximum of 90 minutes, had very little sweat on it, and sat in a bag for 8 hours).
    If the person at your class was me, the best solution would be to ask him if he could change into a clean shirt when he got to class.

  59. BigDogLittleCat said:

    I am imagining the Word of the Week game combined with Peewee Herman’s Secret Word and thoroughly enjoying the resulting confusion and fear of upper management.

    /OT

  60. Angiportus said:

    I can hardly imagine anyone wanting to be told that someone doesn’t like their smell. If anyone criticized mine, I’d probably punch them. Or at least tell them to make like a teddy-bear and get stuffed. Not just because I already have enough body-hatred issues to deal with, and not just because I know that my own habits are above the national average according to one survey I read so asking more of me is just plain discrimination. It’s because there is some hysteria out there, when an hour’s worth of clean sweat is considered as problematic as those creatures shambling around downtown who seem to darken the air itself with their stench. Only a century past people were grateful for 1 bath every week, so how the hell did *they* stand it, how did any of them survive?
    My theory is, apart from cultural drift engineered by the soap manufacturers and their salespeople, there was some sort of mutation arose a few decades back that made some people not like normal people-type smells. Look at the animals, you never see them objecting to the scents of their conspecifics. So no one can help how their sweat glands work, but no one can help how their noses are wired up either. It isn’t all cultural. Else I would not mind the people whose smell I now don’t like. I’m just lucky that I’m not interested in dancing or any other close contact. It is an impasse, and a conundrum. I know someone who just can’t bathe every day because of 92-year-old skin fragility. She does not smell bad to me, and if she did I’d just sit upwind.
    I think I read that rubbing Mentholatum or some similar volatile substance on your nose will help. And if you absolutely have to complain about someone’s smell, emphasize that they are probably clean but your nose is wired up funny, and make it about you needing a huge favor not about them being remiss.
    Thanks, though, for mentioning the cleansing wipes and so on [reaches for shopping list].

    • Dia said:

      Obviously one would want to be polite, but I sort of feel like emphasizing “you’re probably clean” is kind of overdoing it in a way that would actually end up sounding less believable? YMMV.

      Also um, I have an issue with some of your wording. “Discrimination” (unless people are coming at you because of your culture or something, but just being asked to do something that you’re already doing but they have no way to know you’re doing doesn’t seem to be discriminatory, apologies if I’m missing something here) and “hysteria” (just a not great word in general) and um, the dehumanization of people (again, I’m assuming here, apologies if you mean actual animals) by calling them “creatures”, which I can’t tell if that’s your viewpoint or you’re quoting somebody else’s and trying to make it seem like they viewpoint they had would not be okay, but it seems like you thought it was okay.

    • Dia said:

      I’m sorry, Angiportus. With all the assumptions I knew I was making, I should have worded my earlier comment in a much more questioning and less “I have a problem” manner.

    • Are you getting help for your body issues? You’re getting extremely angry and defensive there, when it seems that actually nobody is telling you that you smell bad.

    • thathat said:

      “If anyone criticized mine, I’d probably punch them.”

      WOW.

      I mean…wow. Ok, violent reaction to criticism, got it. Also, I feel like you’re ignoring the context of this. We’re not talking about a random stranger coming up to you. Dancing is intimate, and we’ve discussed here how it is not Beyond the Pale to ask a partner you’re about to do something close/intimate with to freshen up a bit.

      ” when an hour’s worth of clean sweat is considered as problematic as those creatures shambling around downtown who seem to darken the air itself with their stench.”



      /WOW/

      Are…are you talking about homeless people? I mean, that would be a horrible way to refer to anyone, let alone an amorphous group of Other People (Who Are Bad/Subhuman). But the context and language sounds an awful lot like a very classist and gross way to refer to homeless/poor people. I mean, this sounds straight up Victorian–virtuous people have “an hours worth of clean sweat,” and how dare they be criticized when there are low-class ~creatures~ shambling about “who seem to darken the air itself with their stench.”

      Like just…wow.

      “Only a century past people were grateful for 1 bath every week, so how the hell did *they* stand it, how did any of them survive?”

      Incorrect. Bathing in a tub was a time-consuming and expensive luxury, but most people still bathed on a daily basis with a basin and washcloth. However, humans do go noseblind to strong odors after awhile. I mean, what, you’ve never gone over to a smoker’s house? I had a friend who’s stepfather smoked. It was torture for the first few hours to be in her house, and I’d smell it on my clothes and hair afterward. But she lived with it and grew up with it so she was used to it.

      This is all just…incredibly hostile.

      I’m sorry, but sometimes, especially when folks are sharing a small space or about to engage in something close and sweaty like dancing or sex, embarrassing things like body odor need to be discussed.

    • PandaGrrl said:

      I can speak to historical hygiene. They didn’t sit in full body immersive baths the way we think of them today, but it’s not like people never practiced hygiene. They basically did the baby wipe thing. We also wore clothes differently before washing machines, with layers against the skin that protected the outer clothes and got changed and washed more frequently. There are many living history sources to back this up if you’d care to look them up.

      On a different note:

      those creatures shambling around downtown

      Really? Not cool. You’re objecting to people making value judgments about you (this post is 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% not about you) and then you throw this out there? Unless you are living in a city with literal “creatures shambling around” like an urban fantasy novel, this a very dehumanising way to speak about people who may not be able to help their circumstances any more than you can.

  61. Angiportus said:

    Thanks, Dia, apologies here too, and I’ll try to be clearer. I don’t know the exact term for the extremely annoying act of yapping at someone to do what they are already doing; for hysteria I will substitute overreacting or obsession, and I will try not to dehumanize that which is simply unknown. Yes, I am helping myself with those body issues. But I can’t help noticing that what’s good or bad in the way of smell, just like everything else, is subjective. My dad liked dogs, but their smell sickened me. In spring there are hawthorns, which on just the right day are like catnip for me. And so on. Anecdotes recalled, of varying authenticity–a woman who ran a fermented-fish store and found men flocking around her; Napoleon asking Josephine not to wash when he was due home, and don’t get me started on the devotees of surstromming and “high meat” (NSFM–Not Safe For Mealtime].
    In any aesthetic reaction, there’s 2 components, and beauty is partly in the nose of the beholder. And the bank accounts of those who invented hygiene products that mask odors for a while instead of wipe them out permanently, so we have to keep buying them. Another realpolitik-type dimension–anyone else ever wondered how come there are so many more deodorants and so on for the personal regions of women than for the same parts of men? What does that say about this culture? You start to see how it’s a tangled issue. Not just cultural inequity in evidence but failure to take into account how people’s noses differ.
    For unwanted noise levels there are earplugs; one can only hope that science will come up with something similar for the sense of smell.
    I’m glad that you all are trying to have an intelligent discussion of these matters, so carry on.

  62. Angiportus said:

    …and will try to sound less classist…

  63. Angiportus said:

    Make that “I’ll be less classist”.

  64. “I can’t help noticing that what’s good or bad in the way of smell, just like everything else, is subjective.”

    Up to a point. If something is rife with bacteria likely to cause disease, that’s not cultural or subjective, that’s your sense of smell doing what it’s supposed to do and warning you to stay away. Almost everybody with an undamaged sense of smell is going to be repelled by pathogen-laden matter. Faeces come under that heading. Rotten food comes under that heading. (‘High’ meat is cooked before being eaten, which changes the smell; fermentation prevents decomposition, so neither of your examples are actually rotten when consumed.) And sometimes, the skin of a person with extremely poor hygiene comes under that heading. Human dirt can cause infections; that’s why wound cleaning matters.

    With body products, I assume you’re referring to douches. And yes, those are a bad idea. But it doesn’t mean that all hygiene products are a conspiracy. Under-arm deodorant is used by almost everybody.

    Look, it’s good that you’re working on your issues, but it really isn’t practical to try to argue that there’s no such thing as a bad smell. Our sense of smell primarily exists so we can distinguish between ‘safely edible/touchable’ and ‘contains poison or pathogens’. Some people have personal scents that appeal to some noses but not others; some people smell bad because they’re unhealthily dirty, have a bacterial infection or something similar. The fact that it’s possible for a person to smell bad doesn’t mean that you personally are iredeemably stinky – or even if you were, it wouldn’t mean that you were worthless. I think you personalized this very fast, and the solution to that is not to say ‘Actually bad smells don’t exist’, it’s to recognise that the fact that they do isn’t going to destroy you. Really, you’re safe.

    • Angiportus Librarysaver said:

      Good. I wasn’t so sure that time when I actually had to get off the bus due to “something wrong with the air”, but I figured it was my nose as much as …whatever. Anyway, the thought of asking someone to do more than others because of something they can’t help, singling them out, sets off my unfairness detection module, or whatever the ev. psych. people call it.
      Every culture has some form of hygiene all right, but circumstances differ; someone who lives in the tropics, is mostly naked and can jump in a stream will smell different from someone in the Arctic before “Western” contact,wearing furs outside and half-naked inside but with no spare water to wash with.
      What a few folks call “high” meat is what others call rotten, and they eat it raw because their fermentation process supposedly replaces cooking. This is different from normal aging in the meat industry, and if it isn’t all a hoax–and the same people have been posting for years; I don’t recall names but a bit of Googling might do–they might be the next stage in human evolution. They say it tastes peppery–and they have no ill effects apparently, but it takes getting used to. The line between fermentation and decomposition might be thin, with different populations of bacteria involved. Don’t know if I will get around to digging out the truth on this one. I’m not big on peppery tastes…

      • AllanV said:

        I don’t think it’s singling someone out to ask that everyone try to keep below approximately the same smell threshold. And there are always going to be things we ask everyone to do for the common good that some people have a harder time doing than others; it’s not automatically unfair every time there’s any difference at all in what different people have to do to meet the same standards.

        • Or sometimes it is unfair, but only in the sense that life is unfair and you just have to deal with it. There’s a difference between human-created injustice, which is best addressed by making the people responsible stop creating it, and circumstance-created unfairness, which needs to be worked with, including by the person it’s unfair to.

          There’s actually no evidence here that the guy can’t help it – it could very well be fixable by his adopting the same hygiene standards as everybody else, ie doing his fair share of effort – so jumping from a speculation to accusations is not actually fair, it’s unfair. But even if he can’t – well, he’s an adult, and gently raising the issue with him in a constructive spirit is much less unfair than expecting everyone else in a closed space to say nothing about the smell just in case there’s a more complicated explanation than ‘He needs to adopt the same shower regime as the other dancers.’

          Fairness is good, but it’s also a big-picture issue.

  65. Libritech said:

    As a former martial arts instructor (and student in grappling classes with close physical contact), Nthing that it is the instructor’s job to have such conversations. I had the “you need to wash your uniform more often” talk with quite a range of people. I was pretty big on anyone who was tall enough to make the washer function being responsible for their own clean clothes, including telling parents (every once in a great while) that youth being responsible for their own clean clothes was -part of the independence and service-mindedness we were trying to teach them-, so even though they thought the kid would break the washer/dryer, we’d appreciate them requiring the kid to do it. We also had a couple students where that was clearly not the issue with their uniforms not getting cleaned, and I wish I’d thought then to offer more options for cleaning things at the school itself. I did once have a conversation with a student about washing more often where it became clear he couldn’t do so (for unclear reasons), and I suggested he store his uniform somewhere other than inside his gym bag. After that, it was still often grey, but slightly less smelly.

    Additional awkward martial-arts-instructor conversations: “You would be more comfortable with a sports bra”
    Which only gets better when the reply is : “I know, but my parents won’t get me one.”
    To which the appropriate instructor response is: “Hi, your kid needs a sportsbra. Here’s where to get one. Yes, I know she’s still a little girl, but she is growing up, and needs sports equipment that will allow her to continue to be comfortable while doing sports!”

    These days I haven’t taught martial arts in a long time, but I am a daily bike-commuter. Two possible smelliness tips I’d share now:
    * Wipes: baby wipes and a lot of their scented adult relatives feel and smell yucky to me, but Trader Joe’s has tea-tree oil cleansing wipes, and I recently found some witch hazel wipes from Dickinson’s (formulated for makeup removal, as opposed to witch hazel wipes formulated for hemorrhoid treatment, quite probably an important distinction!) which are also really nice for quick in-office cleanups. I use these on most of my exposed skin, including sometimes for a quick pit-cleanup before reapplying deodorant.
    * Shoes: I have a couple pairs of flats made of synthetic-materials that I wear while biking w/no socks. They get GROSS. Magically, thoroughly soaking the insides in alcohol-based hand sanitizer and letting them dry fixes the smell for -days-. (Not magic, of course. As pointed out above, it just kills the bacteria that causes the smell.)
    For a school-y situation like a dance class with a fixed location, wipes and sanitizer gel can be provided for all in changing rooms/restrooms!

  66. Thanks to the “joys” of perimenopause, I have suddenly become a sweaty person, at least at night. I never, ever perspired much before, and even ran in the other direction with issues of dry skin and chapped lips year-round that occasionally required skipping a day between showers with gentle soap unless I wanted hair like straw and irritated, flaking skin. I owned deodorant, but not antiperspirant. Growing up in an extremely hot and humid area (up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit one July and 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Xmas day a couple of years back, whereas the temperature dropping low enough to warrant dripping your outdoor taps is rare), my body seemed to adjust to the constant heat by learning to cool off without getting me drenched. What I’m saying is that I didn’t understand “uncontrollable perspiration” until now. Now, no amount of precautionary effort — from extra showering, trying new soaps, powders, antiperspirant (of normal to super-heavy-duty-industrial strength), fans and A/C, cold drinks, herbal remedies, light natural fiber clothes, even stuffing paper towels in a sports bra, a towel on top of the bedsheets and a refrigerated pad, etc. — has cut the sweating out entirely. It makes me feel awkward indeed! I have also discovered that I HATE sweating.

    So. I have to say that I really get it now. I knew it wasn’t fun dealing with perspiration issues, but feeling how Not Fun it is experientially really brings it home. I would DEFINITELY prefer to be told I was smelly than to live in blissful ignorance while everyone thinks ill of me and comes to incorrect conclusions about my hypothetically substandard hygienic practices.

    It looks like witch hazel and baby wipes are going on my grocery list, and thank you folks SO MUCH for the suggestions.

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