Sunday, May 3, 2009

Malevito on Ego ::: Part One

Mi compadre Malevito just made a post titled "Ouch! My ego." Malevito speaks of the "reality versus self-perception" conundrum in tango. Do we leaders think we are better dancers than we really are? All of us? Always? Or is it only a few? Sometimes?

My comment on his post was getting too lengthy, so I'm expanding that comment into a post.

He speaks of the balance between humility and ego. Humility bringing with it the ability to admit one is wrong, or the admission of a problem and the need for improvement. My own experience with this came at year one, roughly. I thought I was doing pretty good. I thought I was coming along in my tango. Dancing and practicing lots - classes every week, visiting teacher workshops out the wazoo. The Denver Memorial Day Festival with more classes, lots of classes, had just taken place, as I recall.

Then, I saw some video of myself - dancing tango - walking. God was that a painful moment. This tango fucker seems to be fraught with painful moments. Was it this humility thing that allowed me to see my tango reality - that I had a fucked up walk? (That's what I came to call it, my "fucked up walk".) Was it ego that made me angry at my teachers and friends for letting me walk like this asshole (that would me, the asshole) for a year without saying anything?

On the other side of the scale, ego. Was it ego that motivated me to immediately seek outside help? Professional help. The first private lesson involved a drive over the mountains and through the valleys down to Santa Fe for a Cecilia Gonzales workshop. Coincidentally, I just the other day re-watched the video I made of that lesson. Ouch! My ego. Painful, very painful to watch now. I couldn't even lead a molinete with my leading shoulder. That pain must come from humility. Perhaps.

Nine months later, after many more out-of-town privates, many more workshops, many more festivals, a helluva lot more awareness of my body and what it was doing in time and space, and I found myself with a group of friends in Buenos Aires. We're there to participate in one of Gustavo & Giselle's intensive six day seminarios. Luckily, I've done a little advance research, and I know my partner and I are going to be in over our heads. I know what we're in for kindasorta. Their seminarios intensivos are designed for advanced and professional dancers. We were barely strong beginners. Barely.

This seminario was at the C/D level - their thematic program in "Cambios de dirrecion" - Changes of Direction. When we walked in to Leonesa the first day, there were dancers milling about, stretching in various positions, looking like professional ballet dancers. The freight train of memories came pulling into the stop of my mind. Eleven years old. Fifth grade. New Orleans, Louisiana. Basketball try outs. My mom and I opening the large, squeaking door to the gymnasium. Everyone on the far side of the gym stopped and turned to look when the door opened. I promptly wheeled about and told my mom "Let's go, I don't want to do this anymore".

How many times have we all felt this in our tango? "I don't want to do this any more." Which is it that beats us down? Ego or humility?

That first day of the seminario, I very nearly walked back to the apartment, packed my bags, and taxi'd to the airport to catch the next flight home. I was there for the wrong reasons. Female problems. Partner issues. I knew we were in over our heads. Our teacher had organized the trip for herself. We were simply along for the ride - to pay her way to BA really. Did ego trigger the "walk away" response in me? Was it humility that told me I had no business being there?

Was it ego that reasoned with me to stay, buck up, and make the best of it? Or was it humility? I'm glad I did stay. I didn't want to abandon my partner. I didn't want to abandon my own adventure of my first trip to Buenos Aires. My partner and I went from being at the bottom of the class (40 couples) the first two days, to being in the middle of the pack for the remainder. I reasoned that if I did not retain one single element from the six days, not one single concept, that it would still make me a better dancer. Not immediately. Not the next month. The next year? Perhaps. My rationale was that the workshop material would sink in through osmosis - over time, things would come back to me. And I was right about that. It was a humbling experience for me, that first trip to Buenos Aires. Tango has been a humbling experience for me. Methinks if it's not humbling you, there's something amiss.

In my life (thanks to a few books on Taoist principles), and in tango, I try to tend ego to zero, and tend humility to the infinite. I joke, mostly to myself, about "Me, myself and I" - the three entities at work with regards to "Alex". I say to myself, "Self, now is this me, myself, or I at work?" Me is me. The true being, the true essence of energy that is me. Myself is my self. Perhaps my physical self that is closer to the me side of things. I is the asshole, the pure bad ego sonofabitch that I have pretty much rid myself of. I count myself lucky that I never really had much I in me. Me is the humble. I is the arrogant.

It's kinda like cholesterol. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. I think there are two egos. Good ego, the me ego. Bad ego, the I ego. Good ego, the spiritual acknowledgment of self, the ego of humility, the ego of selflessness. Bad ego, the earthly manifestation of self interest and selfishness.

But now I sit here and wonder, is this post, this entire blog, fueled by ego? Fueled by I? Or me? Or myself? I once updated my Facebook status line to read, "Alex is glad I'm me." I like that. Or is it me likes that? Third person verbal worm hole.

Dammit! I got sidetracked again. Once again, thinking too damn much. More on the tango-centric aspects of this post another time. I've got to get ready to drive out to Bandera. Sweetie-pie honey bunch has a gig out there on the banks of the Medina River. Plus, I've got to go get those photos of the wild chatterbox orchids we found on our bike ride yesterday.


Mari said...

I'm so glad you posted that. Almost every time I enter a milonga/practica/class (and I'm attending milongas/practicas/classes about 12 hours a week) I have *that* feeling. Like Baby in Dirty Dancing saying, "I carried a watermelon" - on first seeing the dancers in their club house. *That* feeling. What another blogger calls the VOD - the Voice of Doom. The VOD is screeching, 'you don't belong here.' You'll be the worst dancer here (which, as it turns out, isn't the most awful thing that can happen.)

To which I answer to myself, so why am I here? To put in the miles. To learn. To get the feedback. To ask for guidance whenever I can. To put aside defensiveness (which creeps up every so often) and accept the help of others on my tango journey.

Everyone always seems to consistently confident about their dancing that it seems overwhelming - way over my head. I'm relieved to know that other dancers have to occasionally face reality checks and then get back on the floor.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Alex. This is your best sort of writing - the kind that gets off track and self-examining :-)

Elizabeth said...

Good cholesterol, bad cholerterol...good one Alex!
Well, I have so many thoughts about this that I cannot even organize them all. So I wrote about the horror of looking at mylself on video. Yikes.
Oh, well, it still feels great..even if I think it looks like a freak show. You are much more able to sort it out than I will ever be.

Pantina said...

Great post! The first time I saw myself on video I was absolutely horrified. It was (and still is) painful to watch. I immediately signed up for private lessons. EVERYTHING needed to be fixed.

These reality checks are so painful but after fighting through them I notice something.. I get stronger as a person and better as a dancer.

Love your blog!

Malevito said...

Hi Alex, how are you?

I've been told that I am one whose self-assessment is far lower than it is in reality. Of course, if only he could get inside my head :P

I will say, whenever something goes wonky in the dance my tendency is to always blame myself as leader. I'm not sure how fair that is to myself but at the very least it helps to keep me conscientious and mindful of my partner and also looking for ways to improve.

Re: those who "let you walk like this asshole"--I think that sometimes teachers and peers have to walk on rice paper to avoid situations with upcoming dancers. As you've mentioned, the "I don't want to do this anymore" reaction is always so close and nobody wants to push that. And also, I think it's a matter of trust that eventually things will come along, and it can be pointless or even potentially damaging to move into things too fast or too early.

As you look at your "fucked up walk" at this point in your dance, I'm sure it's from the perspective of someone who's come a long way since then, and if anything I'd think it could be a source of pride to see how your dance has evolved. Kind of like those Old Spice commercials where LL Cool J shows old videos of himself as a teen, geeky and awkward with girls, "and now look at me! Nice!"

Reading over the responses to your post, it's interesting to see how people get intimidated by the apparent confidence radiated by others, which perhaps runs counter to their own internal voice. It reminded me of someone I knew who was intimidated to go to the gym because she wasn't in good enough shape. The point being: no one is born into this. Everybody has worked to get to where they are and everybody remembers how hard it was at the beginning, and everybody who is any good continues to work. As such, I don't think that inexperience is commonly disrespected. Going back to the gym metaphor, I have much more respect for the person who is out of shape but working their ass off than the one who is fitter but seems to be slacking off and taking up space.

Anyway, don't mean to hijack your thread. Nice post, and thanks for the acknowledgment!