BO and bad breath: tactful approaches to embarrassing problems

Last week, the acro-yoga people who have class before my tango class left, but their odor stayed. I had people decide to leave class for the day rather wait for the fans to move the air out. I had to email the managers of the studio to ask them to speak to the group. After all, I don’ t know these people, and they only started using the space two weeks ago. Luckily, the studio manager spoke to them for me and the situation should be resolved.

But what do you do when it’s the person dancing with you that is the problem? Tango dancers dance VERY close to one another. If someone has strong body odor, or has bad breath, it affects the dance partner. Extra perfume, heavy pot smoke (this IS Oregon), a couple martinis on the breath—sometimes it is overpowering.

Addressing these problems can be tricky. How can we help each other out without deeply embarrassing the other person?

The difficult conversation that didn’t work

One time, I had a student with very strong body odor. Several students talked to me about it; some refused to dance with the person; some threatened to skip class unless I did something about the issue. Even with all that pressure, I avoided the situation for several weeks, as I had no idea what to say to someone that would not be taken in a bad way.

I took the student aside after class, when everyone else had left, and talked face-to-face about the situation. I told him that some people had asked me to talk to him, and stressed that they wanted him to be in class: no one wanted him to leave. He thanked me for bringing up the subject gently, and we discussed it a bit. However, he never came back to class after that. I felt badly, because I wondered if there could have been a way to resolve the situation where he did not feel embarrassed.

The tactful spouse/friend

I love to eat garlicky foods. I also get bad breath when I am stressed out. I depend on my husband for tactful feedback. He will say, “After this tanda, you may want to get some water at the fountain.” That means, “Go wash out your mouth! You have bad breath!” but in a very kind, helpful way. I know that he will tell me the truth about my breath or my body odor in the same way that he helps me with fashion decisions: kind, but truthful.

I would appreciate this also from a stranger, but I think that comes from living with a very direct person with Aspergers. I don’t think most people would take bad breath feedback from anyone but a close friend.

Would you like a mint?

Another good approach for bad breath is to pull out your mints and take one, offering them to the other person. There is no deep message of bad breath—and the sugar does not help long-term—but it will make that tanda go better.

The winning approach

I told my husband I was writing about this, and he told me that the best way anyone ever approached this subject with him was by tactfully mentioning herself, and hoping he might get the message: “Oh, I ate a lot of garlic tonight. I hope that my breath isn’t very bad.” She said it in a way that he knew she was trying to tell him about his bad breath, but it was gentle and polite.

This is a great approach! I vote yes!

What’s the best way you have heard?

Tell me about the times people have helped you about with potentially bad situations (“Excuse me, I think you have toilet paper on your shoe!”). What did they do that worked well? Share it with me!