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.
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. ❤
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
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 partners? Because 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.
It’s a major dilemma every time. You see someone struggling and you can see exactly what the problem is. Do you say anything or not?
There is an unfortunate “best practice” of life that says that if you haven’t been asked for your advice, keep it to yourself.
My big struggle is keeping my mouth shut. The more skilled, knowledgable, experienced and wiser we get, the more we want to help the struggling, confused and oblivious ones, right?
*sigh* It’s not our job to tell others how to fix their lives. Not unless they ASK for our help, guidance or advice. And doesn’t it seem like those who need it most are the ones who don’t think anything is wrong?
That’s when I realized the value of asking for guidance even when I don’t think I need it. Even though I usually welcome uninvited feedback, I also actively seek it out. Everyone has something to teach you. Matthew Ferry advises us to find the person you resist most because that person has the most to teach you. I believe he is right.
As a partner dancer, I dance with a lot of people who can give me immediate feedback. Even though I’m pretty confident as a dancer, I frequently ask for input on what I’m doing and how I feel to them. Thank goodness I do that… Shockingly, it turns out I’m not perfect.
If someone out there is living the life (or mastering the skill) you dream of having, ASK them how they do it. ASK for their expertise. ASK for their recommendations. Most people LOVE offering advice and will do so kindly and compassionately. Everyone loves to share their “secrets” to success.
With the exception of this blog, which ironically, is filled with uninvited advice, I’m really working on asking more and saying less. Which can be painfully hard to do, especially when you feel like you’re really starting to figure things out. The reality is that I still have SO much to learn.
The best part? When more people embrace asking, those with a wealth of knowledge and experience can finally offer the help they long to give.