There are times when tango brings people prolonged angst. If you find yourself constantly complaining about the frustration you feel from tango, read on. Sometimes the pain comes from things within our control – and it’s up to us to decide whether to change, or move on.
#1. Expectations. The easiest way to suffer constant disappointment is to have expectations. You cannot expect the best dancers to seek you out. You cannot expect organizers to run events the way you want. And you cannot expect people to dance differently, act differently or be who they are not. Expectations will poison your life with constant resentment. Instead, focus on the real reason we go to a milonga.
#2. Negative self-fulfilling prophecy. If you constantly attribute bad nights to things like, “They are too snobby to dance with me”, or “I don’t get asked to dance because…”, you are single-handedly poisoning your own life. Our words, thoughts and beliefs create the experience we have in life. It’s called the Law of Attraction and it’s one of the most powerful things you’ll encounter in life. If you won’t change the victim mentality, you will never find true fulfillment in dance – or life. This often bleeds into #3….
#3. Not taking ownership. Some people have no idea why they sit out more than they like or get passed over by desired partners. Sometimes it is due to things we can change. We can fix poor balance, improve our technique and correct our embrace. Sometimes it’s as simple as being friendly and more social. Failure to ask for honest feedback (or work with a pro) may mean you never know why others avert their eyes when they see you. If you are paying $15 to sit all night and leave mad, it’s up to you to figure out why.
#4. Not investing. Whether you want to perform or simply social dance, tango does take work (practicas, solo practice and practice partners!). Social dancing requires us to learn the art and technique of feeling enjoyable in another person’s arms. We all have to work at it. Sometimes misery comes from not knowing how to do something skillfully and being held accountable for that. If you aren’t investing much into it, you may end up dancing mostly with people who don’t invest either. If that’s okay with you, great! If it’s not… change what you are doing or move to a dance style that is more forgiving.
#5. It just isn’t fun anymore. There is an awesome world outside of tango. Some people might be more at home in dance communities such as swing or ecstatic dance, which allows a completely different kind of expression and playfulness. Some people never fully connect to the music, tango culture or the community they are in – and that is okay! Tango isn’t for everyone. If it doesn’t feel like home, it probably isn’t. Find the community or style that nourishes your soul.
Tango is not a free ride. It asks for our commitment, our vulnerability, our heart and soul. Simply dancing tango entitles us to nothing. I have been constantly humbled in this journey. And I’ve learned that I’d rather be humbled (and make changes) than quit.
Clarification: If want to make a man cry in the fetal position, you have the wrong site. But if you want to make your man tear up, choke up and swell up with emotions he hasn’t felt since he was a proud little boy with an unbroken spirit, read on.
One year for Michael’s birthday, I found myself really struggling. I didn’t want to impress him with a big gift, I wanted to touch his heart. He was having a rough year and I felt that he really needed a reminder of what a phenomenal man he truly is.
I created a document. I wrote all the beautiful, amazing things about Michael that I wanted him to be always reminded of. Here’s a brief sample of what I did:
I ran out of room and had more to say, so I added a second page. I got as specific as I could, focusing on his character, ethics, personality and other unique things that constantly impress me.
I laminated it (as a single, double-sided page), then took him to Mastro’s Ocean Club for a super fancy dinner to compensate for his birthday present being a laminated piece of paper.
I’ll never forget handing it to him across the table… watching the transformation from skeptical curiosity to confusion to tearing up and shooing the waiter away because he was choked up and needed a moment to compose himself. When done reading it, he looked at me in wonder; as if I were the first person to truly, deeply see him.
He’s carried that laminated writing in his backpack ever since. He frequently tells me that he digs it out and reads it when he is having a rough day. Sometimes he randomly stumbles upon it in his bag… and it immediately brightens his soul and softens his spirit.
No one wants to be taken for granted. No one should go through life feeling unknown or unappreciated. Be the person who notices. Show them how much they truly matter in this world, especially yours.
Ladies: There is one downside. Anytime you get mad at him, he will send you a photo of the document along with an annoying note like, “Just saying….”.
Men: If you want your beloved to “get the hint”, just send her some other article I’ve written and casually tell her to check out my other articles. She will naturally gravitate to one titled, “How to Make a Man Cry”. And don’t forget – this works for ladies too. 🙂
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”.
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.
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.
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 seconds – to 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.
Gratitude is the single most powerful change I’ve made in my life.
Intrigued? Try my Gratitude Challenge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.