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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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Being a Captivating Dancer

I don’t aspire to be a world class dancer. I want to be a captivating dancer. Watching 15 years of various styles of dance has left me wondering why some dancers are simply captivating and others are great, but… not so interesting to watch or dance with. Here are a few insights thus far.

1. We are an art form: Yes, dancing is about fun and expression, but it is also an art. The whole package – the movement, the outfit, the shoes (if you’ve seen tango done in dance sneakers you know what I mean), the hair, the body’s physique, the lines and shapes we create in our movement, even our facial expressions and attitudes. I love how ballroom, classical and modern dancers have perfected this concept. It seems that embracing dance as an art form changes how we dance – even socially. Beautiful aesthetics are always captivating for me.

At the end of the day, looks matter (that’s why they tan in Ballroom before a comp!). People flood to the ballet to see a beautiful body, in a flattering costume, moving gracefully and artistically. I don’t believe size rules out anyone here; but know how to move YOUR body and how to flatter it and showcase it beautifully in both movement and dress. People wouldn’t have cared about Jewel McGowan’s switches if she had been wearing cargo pants.

2. We are a storyteller: Some of my best dances are with guys who are actors. They understand how to tell a great story in a dance… They get into character and take me with them. Sometimes my partner eyes me like I am a morsel of buttered steak that he’s about to devour – and the next song he looks cold and furious and won’t look at me.

For me, captivating dancers are emotionally connected. And when that happens, a fascinating story begins unfolding. Whether we intend to or not, we are telling a story when we dance. Make it a good one. Make yourself vulnerable and express the energy you feel with your partner. Make eye contact. I never understand why people don’t look at each other when they dance. For me, it creates the impression of dancing together but not actually being together – so they seem disconnected from each other and the moment being shared. I use eye contact like spice; a dash here and there for emphasis. Eye contact is styling – use it!

3. We are in a relationship: The moment you say, “sure!” when someone asks you to dance, you have officially entered into a temporary relationship. So act like it. You wouldn’t enter a relationship and just do whatever you want with zero regard for the other person. In a respected relationship, no one truly wants to inflict pain, danger or embarrassment – or leave their partner feeling ignored or used. If you wouldn’t do it in a 5 year relationship, don’t do it in a 5 minute dance. We all deserve that respect, right?

I get tremendous insight in how someone operates in a relationship by how they dance. I can tell whether someone is a good communicator and a good listener by how they dance. Good partners are very in tune with what their partner is doing and expressing. They work in collaboration with one another… they assume joint responsibility for the experience. They expect nothing, but give everything. They listen more than they talk.

When the chemistry is good, my goal is to captivate my partner. I want my partner to be fascinated by the experience we are having. Sometimes a dance is not “just a dance”. We do that by fully entering the relationship and letting ourselves connect with vulnerability, openness and respect for our partner. I don’t want to be a “pole dancer” who treats my lead like he is nothing more than a pole holding me up while I do whatever I want.

What captivates me most is when I see two dancers who are utterly captivating to one another. If they are telling a fantastic, dynamic story (or conversation) in addition to being fully lost in their relationship with one another, they have won my heart. For total perfection, make the entire experience an art form with attention to all the visual details.

THEN we have a experience that captivates me at my very soul – and inspires me to pursue that in my own dancing.

young beautiful dancer posing on a studio background

credit: istockphoto

What’s wrong with the world? Me.

After watching “I AM The Documentary” with Tom Shadyac, I sat back, trying to process a jumble of personal epiphanies from the movie. The interconnectedness of our world, the butterfly impact of our emotions, choosing cooperation over competition. Love being the solution for all things.

In reflecting on my own life, I questioned my choices and actions in light of these insights. I thought of the moments when I’ve been judgmental of another’s failure to be a perfect human (I hate that I’m guilty of this). I thought of times when I chose self-righteousness and stubbornness as a means to protect my heart (someone who knows me is nodding right now and thinking what an understatement this is).

I was reminded of moments of subvert competition; where we knowingly walk into the room playing up our sleek bodies, our designer outfits, our charmed lives. Is it pride and confidence – or competition? I’m not even sure anymore.

What is wrong with the world today? I am. It’s me. The answer is simpler than I thought. 

We have lost our sense of connectedness. These behaviors, actions, and attitudes (judgement, competition, self-interest, ego) cut the cords between us. We all live in the same box but this chronic disconnect is extirpating our bonds as a community.

Chronic disconnect. We ignore the homeless because it’s “not my problem”. We conveniently forget that we make the same mistakes we judge others for. We shun people who don’t share our beliefs. We pass people and dismiss them as unworthy for a warm smile. Neighbors pretend to not see each other on the sidewalk. I know people who don’t even make eye contact with waiters.

What is the one thing that reconnects us? Acts of love.

These acts can be simple ones, like a warm smile or acknowledging others with eye contact. Michael’s mantra is to “be the first to say hello”. People light up when we do this. Whether I am at Chipotle or at Mastro’s, I make a point to look the server and busser in the eye and ask (with sincere interest), “How you are today?”. People aren’t used to that and I must say, I’ve seen people get choked up simply from being acknowledged in this way.

It’s inevitable that people will hurt us and infuriate us. My personal challenge at the moment is to ask myself one question. If I want to shut someone out because I feel hurt, I’m doing my best to pause and ask myself, “Is this an act of love?” before reacting.

Can I find it in my heart to respond with an act of love in everything I do? By choosing an act of love, I weave webs of connection. That’s the world I want to live in.

Compassion and forgiveness doesn’t mean that I open the door to be hurt again, it means I let go of the negative energy and accept the incident as an invitation to practice an act of love.

By choosing forgiveness and compassion, we choose cooperation. Societies who value cooperation allow failure and recovery to occur within the arms of total acceptance. Cooperation connects. 

In America, we love competition. But I see how competition segregates. Go ahead; prove yourself as being the smartest. Win – and tell me how friendly the 5th runner up is to you. Competition (especially with women) ineluctably leaves others feeling inferior, or feel shame for not being better. But what is the point of winning and standing alone?

So today, I’m asking myself one question. Is this an act of love? It stands to be determined if this one question will ultimately change the world. But I know one thing for sure. It will certainly change mine.

By Jim Denomie

Eminent Domain: A Brief History of America – By Jim Denomie http://www.jimdenomie.com/paintings/eminent-domain/

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