In the meantime, tango happened.

Other things too – new protests, new friendships, a new organization – but this is the most important one; because tango, like a lot of things, but more than most, is a paradigm of life.

Before the eye rolling begins, here’s why:

It’s a constant fight with your ego.  You think you’re trying hard, but you notice someone watching you and all of a sudden you find new motivation to try even harder. You dance in front of your friend, and you’re doing fancy moves, trying to impress, forgetting that there’s a person, a partner, in your embrace – or you don’t even need an audience, because you want to impress yourself. You get a lot of praise, but you’d still like to hear a bit more, to be really certain you’re doing so well.

It’s a skill. The more you practice, the better you get. The way you practice is as important as the amount of hours you put in. It’s a constant trial of being present, focusing, thinking, not thinking, feeling, doing. The results are plain to see, and you can’t hide them behind a piece of paper or certificate. And the way and amount of practice all depend on what tango means to you and why’ve chosen to dance it.

So it’s also an attitude, an expression of you. Why do you do it? Do you like the praise? Doing a skill well? Meeting new people? Or is there something more? It’s a question that pulsates in you all the time, that determines the quality of every step you make, that makes you constantly reevaluate yourself as a dancer, as a person. You get (un)pleasantly surprised by the way you react to new sensations, new people, praise, critique, hard work, gossip. Yes, gossip.

Because it’s a social thing too. You meet all sorts of people (and I do mean all sorts). You talk with them at the table, after the communication which happened on the dance floor, and you soon start to notice various social dynamics behind the wide smiles. The cliques, the envy and, yes, the gossip are all there, and you’re soon drawn in. But ever so often the quiet and the humble and the passionate few appear – those individuals who inspire you, who humble you, who remind you that you’re slipping up into pettiness, who draw you out and push you over your limits, because they have created their little tango universe and are now sharing it with you.

And it is a universe. It is infinite. You will never completely learn it – you could spend years learning how to do one single step and yet you will still find new depths of sensation in it and new, better ways of doing it (There’s a reason why even dancers with years of experience also take beginner classes in seminars – you can never get enough of the basics). At any given moment, you could be focusing on better feeling your partner’s movements, on the music, on the two of you, on yourself, on where your feet are, on where your left elbow is – and all of this has a consequence; all of this produces a different experience. Further still, your body, ego, emotions, sensibility, skill level and much more all combine to create your own unique way of doing tango, which is constantly shifting and evolving, as it is in other people. No two people have the same tango, and even with the same person no two dances are ever the same.

And, yes, it’s a paradigm of life. There are the joys of the realization that you’ve made progress, that your friends have made progress, that you’ve just had a wonderful dance in which you were completely present and in flow, that you’ve overcome some problem in your technique that two weeks ago you thought you never would, that you’ve made a small but significant step in caring less about the praise you get or the gossip you hear… There are the darker moments and periods too, when all of a sudden nothing feels right, your mind and body are tense and tango turns into a chore; and then you must stop, reevaluate, and overcome whatever it is that’s blocking you. In every moment of tango, as in life, you can see a test, a challenge both the Stoics and Viktor Frankl would be proud of – to be present, aware, and brave enough to do the right thing, to push yourself beyond your limits.

Tango is all of this, and so much more. There’s only one way to find that out, of course, so I’ll stop writing now, and you should stop reading now.

9 Comments to “Tango”

  1. Thanks for the excellent summary of what goes through everyone’s mind while learning or dancing tango. The ego gets in the way. At least there is progress in accepting tango as a paradigm of life.

    I had a flash when I read “There’s a reason why even dancers with years of experience also take beginner classes in seminars – you can never get enough of the basics.” I may be writing about it on my blog.

    Your post appeared in my tag surfer for “tango.” Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  2. Thank you for your feedback. I’ve only been dancing tango for a short while, but as I’ve said, from the very beginning it has never failed to provide lessons and challenges in practically every moment. Of course, there are the (more-and-more numerous, thankfully) moments when the brain shuts down and we simply dance and enjoy the music, the embrace.

  3. I must admit i am impressed with the way you have compared the tango and the practicing any other stuff in real life..
    Too many things have been “certified” which dont show the real value.
    But when u stand on the dance floor and dance tango, there is no other way of certification except to dance, there are no shortcuts, and “no strings and connections”. Just you, your partner, and the whole world under your feet.

    very nice.

  4. Thanks. It’s almost sad how obvious it is in tango how good you are, how much you practice, the way you practice etc.compared to so many other fields where you need diplomas, time to evaluate whether what you see is true, whether someone is bullshitting etc. Everyone is allowed a bad night or two or three, of course, but sooner or later you can have quite a clear picture (not always explainable in words, but still as useful as a written manual)

    And yet, I have to say, even in tango people can have a very skewed picture of how good they and others are… rationalizing away anything that doesn’t fit into their picture. So, a valuable lesson and reminder on how we can not notice or misread even the most obvious signs.

  5. I should start dancing now 🙂
    Great post!

    • Thank you! And yes, I’d be very happy if you start, drop me a line if you do 🙂
      Also, I wonder if you could tell me how you’ve stumbled upon my blog? 🙂

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