Week 3: On Being Ideal

Learn something. Forget what you’ve learned and then listen to your own truth. Learn something else. Forget what you’ve learned and then listen to your own truth. Repeat.

I came to Buenos Aires to learn tango. Now I must unlearn tango.

Anyone familiar with tango knows that there are more variations on tango technique than there are similarities. Searching for the “right” way to dance tango can be maddening to say the least, and one will ultimately find that this is an unattainable goal. So to this many respond, “find your own style, and dance that.” OK, that sounds great, but to that I respond, “Tango is a dance of extreme interdependency. How can we function and communicate if we aren’t speaking the same language? And so what is the common language? And secondly, I want to learn how to respond to everyone’s lead and therefore my posture and my figures must be poised to accommodate that. Lastly, I want to do all of the above flawlessly.”

Ha.

You may start to see where this is heading. It’s a crippling tendency towards perfectionism. A wikipedia entry describes a perfectionist as someone who is “unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things [well] enough to warrant that feeling of satisfaction.” I want to understand it all, know it all, and do it all really well. And if I don’t? I freeze. My body tenses. My words cease. My flow binds.

While I have been mentally aware for quite some time now that this is a major impediment as a follower in tango, it doesn’t cease to be a problem for me. What happens is that I just become more familiar with all of the possible marks and steps I may be led into, or more familiar with people’s patterns so that I have a really wide cognitive range of what to expect.

Enter dancing in Buenos Aires. They don’t let me get away with that here. The range is too huge. The people too varied. The improvisation too great. The teachers too smart. I can not get away with anticipating my partners’ moves. I can not know how to do all of the steps. I can not be right all of the time. I can not be neat. I can not dance with my head.

SHIT.

Tango is an interesting contradiction in that it is on one hand a dance of fantasy and ideals: the ideal man, the ideal woman, ideal union, extreme athletics, and extreme aesthetics. It is on the other hand a dance of reality: of improvisation, freedom, authenticity, connection, presence, and creativity. However, I don’t believe that one form of the dance is reserved for stage performance only (tango fantasia) and the other is expressed in the social clubs (tango milonguero/salon/nuevo). I believe that all tangueros/as dance between these two polarities: dancing ideally and dancing authentically.

And while my life’s work as an artist, mystic, and therapist consists of living authentically, I find myself constantly tripping over my own attachment to ideals.

I have been training at DNI tango studio for most of my time here, learning their very specific approach to tango. By the beginning of my third week, my teachers were starting to give me huge compliments. I was really getting it. I was dancing well. Off I went one night to another tango class, new teachers, totally different style (salon). The result? It was as if it was my first dance class. The teachers themselves could not even lead me into the step after trying repeated times. No one, including me could figure out what the heck was happening. Where do I go from here?, I thought. I started blaming DNI thinking that they had broken me. Taught me a way of moving that was inapplicable elsewhere. My confidence dropped to the ground, feeling as if two weeks of private lessons had done nothing to improve my dance.

The last three days I have had the honor of doing an intensive training with Federico Trossero, who has formulated a method of practicing Tango Therapy (which is my vocational trajectory). He dances milonguero style which is very different from the nuevo style taught at DNI. I was tentative about learning another way of positioning myself in the dance but had faith that the process would benefit me if I stayed open minded.

The aim of tango therapy is not to train to be a dancer, but rather to use the dance as a conduit for emotional expression. It struck me how hyperfocused I had been during my time in Buenos Aires on proper technique, and how little space I had allowed for actual enjoyment of the dance. It came to the surface how concerned I was with doing the dance well. Being in the right posture, doing the movement correctly, answering the lead correctly. “What do you want from me?” I constantly ask my partner non-verbally.

Federico responded, “I want you to be you. Sometimes you disappear. You are not present. You back away. I stop and wait for you to respond and you don’t do anything. This is a dialogue. What do YOU want out of this dance? Are you comfortable? Do you feel you have a voice? Can we create something together in this dance? Let go of the idea of the mark (the lead). Instead, be guided by your inner sense of how your body wants to respond to the lead.”

It may sound silly to you, but the concept of being comfortable in the dance was an epiphany for me. Sure I had heard it before, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how incredibly often I am uncomfortable in the dance. Why? Because I am trying to be right. I am trying to be good for the other person. I am trying to be pretty. Trying to be light. Accommodating. Because I am often ignoring my own needs in partnership.

An absurdity! Before tango, dance was completely about comfort for me! About fluidity and self-expression! Anyone who has seen me dance will tell you this (says the proud little girl)! When external form or rules are thrown into the mix, I lose my flow. When partnership is thrown into the mix, I also lose my flow.

So as you know by now, everything in my tango life mirrors my personal life. And so, I contemplate my tendency for all-or-nothingness in relationships. Complete individuality and self expression? Or intimate relationship and compromised sense of self? Ahhh, it is that middle ground we so beautifully play with in tango.

I went back to DNI the next day and attended the group practica. With my newfound insights discovered in apilado milonguero style, I went and danced tango nuevo. This was my mantra: I am here, I am comfortable, I can express myself. I thought nothing of steps. Of posture. Of leads.

And if I must say so myself, I rocked it. And maybe I rocked my partners too.

In letting go of ideals, I found that something more profoundly beautiful emerged. An authentic expression of self. An authentic expression of the partnership. The creation of a dance that had never been danced in that exact way ever before…and could never be replicated again.

And in that lies perfection.

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