Peacocks & Pole Dancers

I used to be a pole dancer. In my early days of swing dancing, after I got confident in my movement and musicality, I was guilty of treating the lead like he was a pole… Just something for me to hold onto while I did whatever I felt in the music. I remember a guy once saying (with a bit of awe), “But I didn’t lead any of that”. I smiled knowingly and said, “I know….” So I was a pole dancer AND a brat.

Well, karma found me last week and nipped me on my little pink butt.

I was approached by an advanced guy in another scene who I’d seen around but had never danced with. Pickings must have been low that night because he hit me up for a dance.

He started the dance in open position. Which was a red flag because this particular dance nearly always starts in a close, intimate embrace.

Pole dancers love being in open because it gives them the maximum freedom to do whatever they want, which usually means showing off fancy footwork, styling and at times, solo movements. Which he did. Repeatedly.

I shouldn’t have encouraged him, but I felt compelled to keep saying things like, “Wow” and “Check you out…” because this guy put on quite a show.

Turns out not only was he a pole dancer, but he was a peacock too. He dominated the dance by showcasing two decades of styling mastery into a three minute song, leaving me do do nothing more than go, “Okay, okay… I get it – you are clearly the superior human”.

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This guy is far more interesting to watch than to play with.

 

I don’t know whether he was trying to impress me (or the four people totally not watching us), school me or use me to show off. What I do know is that he needed me to give him the counterbalance needed to pull off some of those moves.

The dance wasn’t about me and it sure wasn’t about us. It was all about him.

Based on his skill level, I thought that dance was going to be more than “just a dance”. Instead I sat down feeling confused, a bit annoyed and very used. One might say… the antithesis of a tangasm. :/

Dancing is about connection. We connect in ways that are physical, musical, emotional and energetic. Great dancers employ multiple levels of connection.

Ego isn’t one of them.

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you should.

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If you’re going to be a pole dancer, make sure you’re dancing with an actual pole.

 

An Odd Time to Be Kind

Just before 3:16 today, I narrowly missed being in an accident with a car that ran a red light. A difference of one second would have made this a drastically different story – assuming I survived it to tell it.

It took me a moment to realize what had just happened. When the shock wore off, I saw the car ahead of me. I hit the gas and went after it, and when I caught up to it at the next light, I made a hard stop right next to it. I had words for this driver.

It was a middle aged woman. Short hair. Glasses. The kind who probably lives for her grandkids and secretly loves reality TV. I beeped. Rolled down my window. She rolled down hers.

“Did you just run that red light?” I asked with an equanimity uncharacteristic of any redhead in history. Karen Kaye must have stepped out of my body because I was clearly channeling some higher being at this particular moment.

The woman looked shocked. I said, “You nearly hit me.” She begins apologizing… confessing she heard screeching… she doesn’t know what happened…

I could have launched a tirade of anger and self-righteous pontification (drawing from my newfound wisdom from recently completing traffic school after tailgating a police officer).

What I said next actually took me aback.

I asked her, “Are you okay?”.

And I realized that I was asking her that out of sincere concern. Was she safe to be driving? Was she simply distracted by troubled thoughts? Was she deeply shaken from realizing her distraction could have been fatal for an innocent soul? Did she need a hug?

The last thing I remember is the woman desperately reaching her hand toward me – perhaps in an odd attempt to connect with me… And I realized then that in a way, we HAD connected. We connected because for some insane reason, I responded with concern, compassion and forgiveness – instead of anger.

Why did I respond with kindness? Perhaps it’s a side effect of gratitude. I was reminded of the Lady Gaga interview where she talks about how hatred and evil divides. How we are unified in our humanity. In that moment, I was able to see her as another human being, understandably imperfect. Just like me.

Three minutes later, I arrived at my destination. Just as I am about to exit my car, my phone begins playing a beautiful violin song. It was my 3:16 alarm reminding me to take a moment of gratitude.

I brought my hands to my heart and said, “thank you, thank you, thank you”… and today, I took longer than usual to express my gratitudes for all the blessings before me.

This morning I posted an article titled, “Every Day at 3:16“. I didn’t mention this next part in the article because I didn’t think it mattered. But it needs to be shared now.

Every day I passionately thank my angels, guides and the universe for keeping me divinely protected.

Missing a horrible car accident by one second IS being divinely protected.

I know gratitude protects, directs and rewards me in many ways. But today I realized that it also softens my heart, allowing me to be the kindness our world needs most right now.

Set your alarm. And take a moment each day to say thank you.

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Never take your angels for granted. ❤ And thank them every day.

 

Every Day at 3:16…

An alarm goes off on my phone every day at 3:16 that plays a beautiful violin song. It’s my reminder to stop whatever I am doing and feel gratitude for the things happening in my world – no matter how small or few.

Lately I have been quick to dismiss the alarm and continue on with my day, but today (despite feeling totally overwhelmed) I stopped. I set that alarm for a reason, with an intention to have a moment – even just 10 secondsto say thank you. 

But life is having some weird twists right now – many of them very stressful and a bit scary. When the 3:16 alarm went off today, I struggled to find gratitude. How does one find gratitude in total chaos?

Then I remembered that chaos always brings change. The world crashing down brings surrender – usually to a higher power. The demon on my doorstep was forcing me to face it head on (doing so would actually give me peace of mind). And yeah; maybe rejection really is god’s protection. The closed doors were nudging me to change direction – toward something a little scary, but much more fulfilling for me. This mess was sparking action – the action my life desperately needed.

Maybe this chaos is guiding me toward something better, building something new within me, or clearing away things that are no longer serving me. Maybe this chaos is propelling me to take the action needed to heal old wounds, break patterns or overcome setbacks.

Sometimes we have to break down before we can break through.

And sometimes chaos is simply our art “getting ruined” so we end up with something far better.

That epiphany changed how I see the mess and chaos in life. I can now find gratitude and blessings in those places – no matter how small or few.



3:16 is my moment to view the world with fresh eyes each day
. The numbers 3:16 represent the time of my birth. This is my reminder to renew my life force each day… to be in wonder, awe and gratitude with where I am right now, every day – just as I did the moment I took my very first breath.

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Gratitude is the single most powerful change I’ve made in my life.

Intrigued? Try my Gratitude Challenge.

When Dancing isn’t Fun Anymore

Two friends of mine just quit dancing. One quit because the rejection was too much. The other quit because she hated the scene; it wasn’t supporting what she needed as a dancer and she wasn’t growing.

Here are a few things I’ve done in this situation (and a few I need to do more of).

#1. You gotta train. Let’s be honest: Dancing is a lot more fun when you are in high demand (especially with good dancers). No one really wants to pay $15 to sit for 3 hours. You get to be in demand by being well trained. I’m constantly amazed at how much detail goes into making someone a desirable dancer. If I want to dance with awesome dancers, I have to put in the same amount of work they did. And yep, the secret here is private lessons. Lots of them.

#2. Take the lead. If dancing isn’t fun because the skill level is low in your community, take the lead in getting people better trained. Host a practica where people share feedback. Have friends over to work on stuff. Invite a pro to your area to teach a workshop and host them if you can. If you are the most skilled person in the room and everyone else is struggling, build relations with those who show sincere interest in growing. Kindly offer some guidance and coaching for how to advance (i.e., point them to the best pro to work with). Sometimes people simply don’t know what they are missing.

The other option is to literally “take the lead”. Followers, you may love the challenge of learning to lead (and some guys love to follow!). I was amazed at how cool it was to be on the other side. Learning the other role can infuse all new energy to a stale dance life.

#3. Social dancing takes work. I’m an introvert. But when I show up at a dance, I work that room. I do my best to walk the room greeting everyone I know. I may even introduce myself to people I don’t know yet. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for it and I’ll hide in a corner, but it truly makes a difference when I do it. This also helps you stay in high demand because most people like to dance with their friends and those perceived as warm, open and friendly.

Community is a huge part of any partner dance, so do the work to become part of the community you are in. There is a reason it’s called social dancing – we need to be social. On and off the floor.

#4. Drop the expectations. If you aren’t having fun anymore, take a moment to really consider why. How many of those reasons are due to unmet expectations? Just showing up doesn’t guarantee you dances. The best dancers may never notice you or seek you out. Life is a lot easier when you drop the expectations and find a way to make the best of whatever you find yourself in.

No good dancers? Use it as an opportunity to be social and build relationships. Feeling overlooked? Work on your solo dancing or study other dancers. Learn to embrace whatever is happening and make something good out of it.

#5. Go solo. If you dread “working the room” or just want to have fun or simply don’t want to depend on others to make your night fulfilling, try a dance you can do solo. Blues, ecstatic dance, belly dancing, tribal fusion, hip hop, african dance, pole dancing, aerial silks – there are tons of options that put you in full command of your experience.

#6. Take a break. I do this all the time… Sometimes it’s not fun RIGHT NOW. Walk away for a few weeks and you’ll likely come back feeling rejuvenated.  You may realize that what you really need is to try a different style of dance. Your body may simply be worn out. I burn out on dances all the time and rotate through several of them based on my mood.

You may realize that you have some personal issues to work through (rejection, insecurity, lack of confidence) – if so, address it so it stops haunting you. Whatever it is, give yourself a break to rest, heal and reset. And it always feels good when you reappear and people are excited to see you back again.

When it just isn’t fun anymore, all you need to do is something different.

The scene you are in may never change. But you can.

And that is what changes a scene. 

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You don’t REALLY know that move…

I am in a group class, secretly feeling pretty cocky because I just nailed the pattern the instructor taught. I continue practicing it on my own until I see the instructor making a beeline for me.

He stops me. And inside 30 seconds, tells me the 5 things I was doing completely wrong. To be fair, he conveyed this kindly as “corrections and adjustments”, but I immediately realized I had made some serious assumptions regarding how well I was doing that move.

Lesson learned: There’s a huge difference between doing a move and doing it correctly

Truly learning a move means that I can do it with correct technique so it feels good to my partner and is properly executed. It means doing it while sustaining correct posture, body mechanics, balance, timing, connection, aesthetics and lead/follow technique. It means it doesn’t fall apart when I add expression, musicality and a room of dancers around me. It also means I can lead/follow it with a variety of body types/sizes, skill levels and abilities.

That’s a hell of a lot stuff. 

Until I started learning technique, I had no idea how detailed it truly is. There is a huge difference between the “technique” taught in the group class and the TECHNIQUE I am learning in private lessons. It also explains why I never look like the instructor when I do the move.

My delusions of technique used to lead to me proudly proclaim, “I can follow anything!”. Being able to “follow” versus “dance as a follower” is like the difference between, “I can walk!” and being able to walk on a tightrope while knitting.

It is not the same skill set. 

For me, it means the difference between being able to “dance” and being able to dance tango (or west coast swing, blues, etc.). Technique is what empowers me to do a specific dance correctly, effectively and * ahem * – enjoyably for my partner.

As a follower, I can’t be a passive participant. I can’t expect the lead to do all the work. And I know leads who take every class and still get turned down by good dancers. Don’t hate me for saying this but… it’s more than going through the motions of the pattern and expecting our partner to “do their part”.

Both roles must actively contribute more than just the surface level motions. There are underlying mechanics that make a huge difference in our dancing. 

I knew an instructor who ended every class with, “If you liked the moves we taught today and want to learn the technique necessary to do this on the social floor, talk to us about private lessons or come join us at our practica”.

They emphasized that the class was only the start of learning a move. There is still much more to learn before taking it the social floor.

We rarely realize how much we don’t know. We often assume we are at a higher level than we truly are. If you are sitting more than you think you should be, consider that there just might be more to learn.

Related: Delusions of Competence & The Lead is Not a Ride.

An Alvin Ailey dancer showing the power and exquisite beauty of phenomenal technique.

 

The real reason we go to the Milonga

My former teacher had a student who confessed she was feeling frustrated at milongas. She said she wasn’t getting the dances she wanted – or thought she deserved. There weren’t enough dancers at her level to dance with. There were too many beginners and dancers with bad habits that made them undesirable. On top of that, she wished some of the leads were more exciting to dance with.

So he asked her, “Why do you REALLY go to the Milonga?”. She stumbled through various explanations.

“I go to dance with my favorite dancers… and to get good dances.”

“I go to practice my moves and show off my skills.”

“I go to have fun… and socialize… and it’s good exercise too.”

She was going to milongas with the intention of “getting” something. She was going to the milonga with the expectation of having a good time, getting amazing tandas and scoring compliments for her beautiful footwork, elegant outfit and fabulous new Comme Il Faut shoes. She expected to be sought after all night because she believed she had developed some skills.

Instead, she found herself sitting out tandas, feeling frustrated, waiting for a cabeceo that would excite her.

Meanwhile we see men looking frustrated as they scan the room looking for the followers they desire… the ones who are excited to dance with them, who appreciate them and are fun to dance with (i.e., kindly forgiving of their imperfections). They might be looking to try out some new moves. Or perhaps just have a good time.

But a milonga is not just a place to find a good time and great dances. A milonga is where we go to find ourselves. We find ourselves in others, oftentimes in those who are like us in some way.

We may dance with a beginner and be reminded our own journey and struggles. That beginner may elicit kindness and compassion – the kind that builds and sustains communities of warmth and growth. They may remind us what it’s like to dance without ego… to simply be happy in another’s embrace moving to music that is new and exciting.

In beginners, we may find a part of ourselves that we lost touch with long ago.

We may dance with someone more advanced and discover something in them that is just beginning to bloom within us… Perhaps they emulate vulnerability or expression that we ache to embrace in ourselves. We may see our own future in that dancer and become inspired to deepen our development.

A dancer may evoke parts of ourselves to come out to play… expressions and abilities we didn’t know existed or were capable of executing. That same person may trigger insecurity or anxiety. Finding those emotions gives us direction on what to work on next (i.e., staying calm, building confidence, or simply enjoying the dance).

And some nights, we may find ourselves sitting alone. Waiting and expecting. Wondering why we are invisible as others overlook us. We can find ourselves in those moments too. Finding oneself in an undesired state is a nudge to change something.

Perhaps we need to circulate more… walk the room and greet everyone we know in the room. Spark conversation with a new person, perhaps someone we wouldn’t normally engage with. You never know what part of yourself you will find in another. When we are truly being authentic, we will find some part of ourselves in every person.

Sometimes it’s as simple as being open to the moment without any expectation. When we stop going to the milonga with an expectation of getting something specific, we change our entire experience. Instead of seeking the “perfect tanda”, seek to find yourself in every moment, with every person in every dance.

Pay attention to what each person elicits in you; joy, inspiration, insecurity, anxiety, playfulness, vulnerability, artistry, sensuality, fear, hesitation, perhaps envy! Challenge yourself to surrender fully to whatever you feel, and allow yourself to feel the rawness of that emotion into your dance.

Remember the dancer who wished the leads were more exciting to dance with? Perhaps what she REALLY wanted was to experience more dynamic and playfulness in her own dancing.

Instead of seeking to “get” what we need from others, perhaps it’s time we find what’s missing in ourselves – and build it within.

 

Written in collaboration with Marcos Questas @ marcosrutatango.com.

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Levels of Connection

The concept of connection has always fascinated me. Below are my personal thoughts on how I’ve experienced connection in a variety of dances and movement practices over two decades.

PHYSICAL 
At the most basic level, I believe connection is about the physical touchpoints that connect two partners together. 

Connection Points: Every beginner needs to learn the appropriate connection points and which places should be avoided. Catching me at the hip bone is good. The squishy parts around my ovaries are not. And I don’t care what partner dance you’re doing, the groin is not a desired connection point.

Physical Touch: I don’t need the grip of a kidnapper. I don’t want fingers gouging out my kidneys or a thumb crushing the top of my hand. All I want is a gentle, but fully present hold – wherever you are touching me.

Initiating & Adjusting: In tango, I do my best to present my chest connection softly and gently, entering into the connection mutually by letting him meet me there instead of imposing my connection upon him. If it is a weight bearing or counterbalanced connection, I have to sense whether there is mutual consent before engaging and adjusting the degree of connection. It takes finesse to learn when and how to intensify (or lighten) connection fluidly throughout a dance.

MUSICAL CONNECTION
This might just be the most important element of connection simply because it’s the one thing that puts both dancers on the same page. If both people are connected to the basic timing of a song, it opens the door for everything else to occur. 

Timing, rhythms and structure of the music. It’s tricky to have musicality skills without a solid understanding of these elements. It can be tedious and boring to learn but it’s worth studying. I was guilty of doing this intuitively until I found tango and realized that wasn’t going to fly.

The energy of the music. The energy of the music needs to fit the movement in the dance. If I’m at an alternative milonga and the DJ plays Radioactive, I want to put some grit into my tango to get it to match the energy of the song I’m actually dancing to. So yeah, throw some dirt on it.

Musical element: Am I dancing to the vocals, the melody, the bass, the violins, the percussion? Being aware of what my main connection point is to the music helps me build an even richer connection with my partner, especially if we are doing call and response with specific instruments.

ENERGETIC CONNECTION
There is a ton of energy around movement and music. This is about the interconnectedness of the elements that influence our dance and how we are connected to other energies around us. 

Inner Mechanics. I think of this as connecting my own physical body to my inner mechanical system that allows me to connect effectively with a partner. This includes everything from engaging my core to maintaining proper tone to my overall body organization. Great dancers do a lot of stuff internally that aren’t easily visible, but make a huge difference with how the person feels and executes movements.

The floor. As dancers, we pull our energy from the ground (or push our energy into it). For me, it’s not just about being grounded or weighted, it’s about sustaining that “push and pull” of energy with the floor that creates this connection. We are either sending or receiving energy at all times with each foot. Feeling the floor is a major connection focus for me.

Tradition and Roots. It’s always good to be connected to the historic energy of the dance, the music and culture. Blues and tango have deeply rich histories in the roots of the dance, the music and the culture. Honoring those roots and weaving them into your movement and expression is a way to connect to the energetic core of the dance. And yes, this matters.

The Moment. For me, dancing is very zen. I do my best to be in this moment, right here, right now. If I’m connected to a future moment or an outside thought (i.e., how does this look in the mirror), then I’ve lost connection to what’s happening with my partner right now. If my mind wanders away, my partner feels it. And they feel it as a drop in connection.

The Space. Space on a dance floor is constantly opening and closing all around you, especially in dances like lindy hop or salsa, where it can feel chaotic. Dancers must be connected to what’s happening around them so they can operate smoothly and safely with their partner.

Other Dancers. You know all those other dancers around you? What we do on the dance floor affects our partner AND everyone dancing around us. An oblivious dancer can create havoc on a floor. Distraction can cause disconnection. Don’t be the reason other dancers disconnect. On some level, we are essentially dancing with everyone in the room. Deep, right?

The Audience. I love dancing to live music at venues with a captive audience to entertain. I love connecting with the audience by including them into the experience I’m having, especially when I’m doing blues, lindy or west coast swing. Whether it’s a knowing wink over the lead’s shoulder or a “oopsie!” expression behind his back, I find people light up when they realize they are “in on” what I’m experiencing. And that’s when I know I’ve connected with them.

EMOTIONAL CONNECTION
Where the real magic starts to happen. 

Your Emotions (and theirs). Being aware of what the song evokes in me – and letting it express itself – is an amazing journey through learning to be vulnerable. My emotional state drives my styling. Sometimes I see dancers go into the emotional state of a character or persona in the song… very powerful when done well. Bonus points for noticing and connecting to your partner’s emotional state as well. During songs of angst, my old fusion partner would get super fierce during our dances. I’d flow right along with whatever emotion he showed – and vice versa. Sometimes great dancers are  also amazing actors (or channelers).

Sensuality: Some dances call for us to unveil our sensuality… our masculinity, our femininity, and all the powers and vulnerabilities that come with that. This is an important dynamic to get personally connected to. If I’m super connected to my feminine sensuality and he’s connected to his masculine sensuality – oh my god HELLO. If only one person brings their sensuality, it’s like having a plug with no outlet to connect to. No power.

The Conversation. If we dance “conversationally”, we have to be connected to our partner’s calls and responses. If I’m not connected here I’m basically not listening and might be guilty of pole dancing (i.e., treating my partner like he’s just a pole that holds me up while I do all my fancy stuff). Or I’m being a peacock and dominating the dance by showing off all my styling leaving my partner to do nothing more than go, “uh huh…”.

The Story. Every dance is telling a story (even if it’s a boring one). I love getting connected to the story that builds from the music and the emotional dynamics brewing between the two of us. Therefore, I have to watch and listen for those cues. Ideally, the story we build in our dance should naturally connect to the story of the song. I’ve certainly been guilty of doing a sexy, playful dance to a song about murder or brutal heartbreak. Lyrics matter.

Heart to Heart. This goes well beyond chest connection. This is about embracing my partner unconditionally, fully accepting the wholeness of who they are, finding beauty in every essence of their being, creating that safe space where they can be totally vulnerable with me… and within our space together. It means there is no ego. I’m not trying to show off or prove anything. I don’t feel secretly disappointed at what my partner isn’t doing right. When I connect here, I allow myself to simply “be in love” with my partner for those 10 minutes. Or rather, I enter a state of loving-kindness, openness and compassion. And I allow myself to be fully embraced by my partner, accepting whatever he or she offers.

MERGING
For me, some dances transcend connection – and enter into merging. This is where I feel so beautifully lost in my partner and the music that I can no longer tell where I end and everything else begins. This is where the dance becomes flawlessly effortless, we are connecting on a purely intuitive sense and the flow is beyond what either of us felt possible. Both of us find ourselves going beyond what we know to be possible and begin arching into the deepest corners of our creativity, expression and vulnerability.

It doesn’t happen often, but every time I’ve had a dance like this, it ends the exact same way. Both of us emerge in this state of awe and immediately go, “WOW – WHAT WAS THAT?”. I find those moments come unexpectedly, without us trying, but by simply being.

The intention here is not to over-analyze connection, but to appreciate the scope of what phenomenal dancers do. To emphasize how much of connection is about feeling and not just doing.

I certainly haven’t mastered connection. I’m still experimenting and discovering new aspects of it.

Ultimately, I want to do more than just dance. I want to create a moment with my partner. For me, dancing should be more than just a dance – it should be an experience that sticks with us… And we never forget dances with amazing connection.

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Artist: Larissa Morais @  www.larissamorais.com

Another Awkward Year in Tango

After I wrote An Awkward First Year in Tango, I realized there was much more to say. Here are a few more things I realized.

#1. My heels were too high. Don’t buy the first pair of 3.5 inch heels you find – that height may not be the right height for you. I spent 2 years dancing in heels that were actually too high for me. It wasn’t until I bought a pair of lower heels for a “practice shoe” that an instructor mentioned they were the perfect height for me based on how they positioned my body for tango. Tango is way easier now that I’m in the right shoes for my body.

#2. Posture matters. This isn’t just about standing tall and looking nice from the outside. It’s about what you are doing internally with your entire core. A professional will tell you all the secrets on what good dancers do with their body – on the outside and inside to make the dance work effectively and beautifully. Concave bodies aren’t easy or fun to dance with. Bad posture can also be painful and incredibly awkward for your partner.

#3. Learn the rhythms. Timing is the one thing that keeps partners on the same page. I was late to the game on learning rhythms of tango music. This is an easy thing to gloss over especially for ladies who depend on leads to direct the show. But knowing when to step is a huge factor for being desirable to dance with. If you are chronically off time, it can throw the lead off or make him work harder to adjust for your wanton disregard of musical structure.

#4. Forget moves; just learn how to walk. Tango is a walking dance, so… learn how to walk. Yes, this will take years to refine. But I truly believe that if you can’t do a basic tango walk, I’d venture to say you can’t dance tango. In just learning how to walk, you’ll get to work on timing, posture and a ton of technique that you’ll apply to virtually everything else you do. Learning how to walk gives you a transferable skill that is immeasurable and widely applicable. I would have spent a lot more time working on my walk before trying to learn styling and moves.

#5. There will be egos and insecurity. And I don’t just mean yours – I mean from other people. Some people may not be friendly or welcoming and you’ll have no idea why. You may come onto the scene and be dismissed as the “flavor of the week”. Some ladies may view you as the reason they are sitting out all night. If you are a high potential dancer with a drive to be the next rockstar, some people may feel threatened. Even guys have told me that they experience coldness from other men.

#6. You’ll be critiqued. You show up at a milonga. There are tables surrounding the dance floor with people sitting at them… watching the dance floor… perhaps with guarded expressions. Men are trying to determine who to cabeceo next. Ladies are making mental notes of who to avoid – and who to mirada. Someone is probably watching the floor and muttering, “No one here can dance“. I had to learn to get comfortable with feeling insecure – which tango will do to you. We need thick skin for tango.

#7. It’s truly a partner dance. Tango isn’t like Lindy where people happily dance with anyone and everyone. Some people stick primarily with their partner or a select few. You will quickly realize that you will want practice partners and friends to attend classes, workshops and milongas with (or at least a few who get excited when you show up). If you start to feel like everyone is always paired up while you are politely sitting out, this may be why.

#8. Learn from the best instructor you can afford. Some teachers may simply parrot what they learned from their tango gurus – but parroting is not teaching. Good teachers have years of being able to 1) diagnose what to correct (and in what order and when), 2) break down complex concepts and 3) explain concepts in a variety of ways. If you are going to spend money; spend it wisely with someone who is truly a master instructor (not just a great stage dancer).

#9. Practicas are a must. If you can’t afford private lessons, take advantage of practicas where a pro will provide some guidance and everyone is encouraged to share feedback. If you are serious about your dancing, you don’t want to learn years later that everyone you’ve been dancing with has been secretly miserable about how you crush their hand or crouch over them. Actively seek – and insist upon – honest feedback.

#10. Don’t forget the pedicure. Those sexy, skimpy tango shoes show off the entire foot. Your feet can easily be a focal point when you are dancing. And some photographers like to focus shots on dancer’s shoes. Tango is an elegant dance; from head to toe – so don’t neglect the toes.

In the last few years, I’ve watched many people get totally turned off, madly frustrated or emotionally wounded by their tango experience. Tango isn’t for everyone. We need to do the boring, gritty work. We need thick skin. Tango demands hard work, humbleness and total surrender to the learning process. But if you can survive the first few years, I guarantee you’ll find it’s all worth it.

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Scoffing at Dancers

I’m in a room filled with enthusiastic dancers and one self-righteous critic. She leans in close and mutters, “No one here can dance”. I smile politely but cringe inside.

When people scoff at how others dance, I want to remind them that not everyone can afford to drop thousands of dollars for private lessons. Many dancers are struggling to get by as students or single parents. I started dancing when I was in grad school completing two Masters degrees. Private lessons wasn’t an option for me for many, many years. Most people would love to invest in their dancing, but it isn’t always feasible. It isn’t fair to mock people who have the passion but don’t have the financial means to do the kind of training others do.

Let’s also not forget that most of us get into dancing just to have fun. Not everyone seeks to compete or perform. Some dance to be more expressive or playful. Some are experimenting with new concepts and ideas. Not everyone wants to dance the same way or the same style. Others seek to innovate, not recreate… and let’s be honest: innovating and experimenting is a wonky looking process, and everyone deserves a safe space to explore and create their magic.

I realize that the path I’ve chosen for myself isn’t necessarily the right path for everyone else. I love private lessons and practicas and seeking feedback. And yes, I know a lot of people get exasperated by the skill level in their scene and wish their peers would train more. However, if I want to raise the level in my scene, I need to be someone who inspires and helps others, not shames them or shuts them out. Serious dancers have the power to create glass ceilings in their community and they have the power to break them.

It’s easy to get self-righteous as we progress. I know several beginners who grew very critical of others once they got serious with their training.

When I find myself falling into judgement, I know it’s ego (which is driven by insecurity) sparking that. I turn my attention inward to focus on how I can better my dancing – or how I can help support others along their journey.

Dance communities are small. So much is gained by being kind, supportive and helpful of one another. I’m less interested in judging what my peers are doing and I’m more interested in finding ways I can inspire or invite people to explore new concepts and ideas along with me.

And I love sharing what (or most importantly, who) has been helpful for me. Serious dancers and scene leaders can gently offer guidance to those who are struggling, lost or going down the wrong paths for the result they seek.

True scene leaders help each other UP the ladder, not kick them down to the ground, block the ladder or scoff at how no one knows how to climb a ladder. You never know why people are where they are and why. It’s worth staying humble and kind. ❤

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We may never know what issues people are facing which make them think, act and react in certain ways. Be helpful rather than judgmental. – Mufti Ismail Menk

Related: The 9th Way to Get Asked to Dance & Snubbed. 

An Insecure Dancer

I was just about to leave for my first big tango festival when a message popped up on my phone. It was from a skilled dancer raving over the amazing followers and how every dance was the “best one ever”. Then he said how excited he was to dance with me that afternoon.

My excitement shifted – without a clutch – to anxiety. Was I going to be totally out of my league? I had been working on my tango but I still had much to learn. I didn’t want to disappoint any kind-hearted, unsuspecting leads who took a chance on an unknown girl. First impressions matter – especially in tango.

That weekend, I felt this anxiety pulsing through my body with every guy who asked me to dance. Sure, the dances were amazing for me, but were they amazing for my partnersBecause I truly cared about that. 

My focus when dancing is on giving and creating. I seek to give perfect balance, timing and responsiveness. I seek to create a moment with my partner that leaves them feeling awe over what just transpired between us and the music.

That level of giving and creating takes time and work to master. Meanwhile, I wrestle with the insecurity of knowing that I’m not there yet.

When I began tango I discovered something terribly awkward. With it’s complex technique, requisite intimacy and demand for total vulnerability, tango makes people insecure. Could I get truly comfortable with being raw, vulnerable and (gasp) – imperfect in this unforgiving dance?

I could handle being raw and vulnerable – hey, I was once naked on stage. But the idea of people politely suffering through dances with me while making mental notes to avoid me for the next decade was unacceptable.

I am secretly obsessed with how I feel to my partner. I never want a lead to feel burdened by a lack of balance, or thrown off by bad timing or wonder how to control something that doesn’t listen and moves on auto-pilot. The insecurity is a result of how much I care about how I affect my partner and what we are collaboratively seeking to do.

Insecurity drove me to action. 

Therefore, I work regularly with a pro. I insist he is brutally honest when training me. I attend weekly practicas (and probably annoy the leads with how much I ask how something felt or what would make it feel better). I ask for specific feedback. I assume nothing because I’ve been surprised in the past. Insecurity has kept me open to growing. It drives me to root out and fix everything that doesn’t feel good to a partner. Insecurity drives me to take an experience and seek ways to make it better.

This all served to help build greater confidence. However….

Confidence carries an ugly risk – assumptions. Sometimes we get so comfortable or confident that we get sloppy over time without realizing it. Or we think we know more than we truly do. A “good” embrace isn’t the same as a “phenomenal” embrace. Everything can be done better with new layers of technique.

As I develop confidence in an area, I keep it on my radar to check regularly with practice partners and my pro.  I’ve grown sloppy two weeks later on something I thought I had nailed down.

So perhaps a dash of insecurity is a good thing after all… something to keep me humble and driven to stay on top of my game. A few weeks ago, I travelled to a festival out of state and had a drastically different experience. I felt confident. I felt humble. And even though I felt that tinge of insecurity, this time I knew what to do with it. I embraced it.

Related: Tango isn’t for Everyone & The 9th Way to Get Asked to Dance.

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