Monday, May 18, 2009

Tango Demons

I just went-a-checking on my MySpace page after a long hiatus/absence. I had asked another MySpacer if I could post one of her (myspace) blog entries on my blog a long time ago. I thought it was a very good treatment of "tango demons", from a follower's perspective obviously.

It seems that there is an undercurrent of tango demons running through the blog and dancing worlds these days. Things just don't seem to be, or feel, 'in the groove' for many of us. For me, I think it's a natural evolution or growth in my own tango world. I think it's partly due to the ongoing economic destabilization. I've got other things on my mind. There is a world out there that needs changing. Change by sheer force of will by the knowing minority. Change by doing and not talking. As they say, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way..."

Anyway, tango seems to be taking a reduced part in my life - really over the past year. It's as strong as ever in my heart and soul, I think about it every day, but I don't 'need' it as badly as I did in the past. I don't need it as frequently. I developed a 'quality over quantity' mindset fairly early on in my tango. It seems that mindset is solidifying to the point I can go for a few months with no milongas.

My demons. We all have our demons in life, and in our tango. It's part of life and it's part of tango. They will make you a better dancer, those demons will.

So on to the primary subject of this post...

Her name is Carrie Whipple. She's a dancer/teacher/Comme il Faut pusher in Portland. With her permission, here it is...thanks Carrie!

Tango Demons
January 23, 2008
By Carrie Whipple

The last time I visited Argentina, I went reluctantly. I went because I had a plane ticket, purchased a year before, that I'd already postponed once and I couldn't push it back again. I went because I felt like I had to, but I wasn't excited about it.

I was nervous to go because I had recently had a tango epiphany, and it was this: I didn't care. I didn't care about doing the technique of a particular turn perfectly, or of pointing my toes or using my heels or lifting my sternum or tucking in my tailbone. I was over it.

The first two and a half years of my tango life were full of these kinds of obsessions, these tango technique nightmares. I was constantly practicing, even when I was at a milonga, I was always thinking about everything I was doing wrong. Everything that proved I was failing.

Part of this self-destructive mindset was a result my unique situation at the time, which put me under an unusually bright spotlight while out dancing tango, but I now know that this particular brand of self-torture is not uncommon for the women of tango. There's a certain kind of personality that finds herself attracted to this dance. The perfectionist excels here, for a while at least. There's something in the fierce challenge of the dance, it is so hard, and so complex, and there's so much to think about, it's a thrill at first. But for some of us, after a time, it becomes impossible to shut down that internal dialogue cataloging all of your mistakes in your head.

At around that two and a half year marker, my personal life caved in around me, and I just gave up on tango. My situation forced me to realize that I wasn't perfect, that I never would be, and surprise, even if I did manage to attain perfection, it wouldn't make me any more in demand as a partner (in life or tango). In fact, the more precise I became in my technique, the less in demand on the social dance floor I seemed to become. I realized that this was because the unique nature of tango. The teamwork required to dance tango well is so much more important than any one person's individual technique.

Here was my big "I get it" moment: I discovered that I was spending all this time in my head critiquing my dance, and my partners could feel my judgment and they felt that I was judging them. Often, I was. When you're in that self-degrading headspace it just flows right over onto those around you, so of course the person in my arms could feel it. If something wasn't going right, I was quick to judge and blame, both myself and my partner. Neither of us was immune. No fun for my partner, I'm sure. And no fun for me, either. I hated tango. Why am I doing this? I asked, again and again.

So, when my world collapsed, and that critical something in me broke, I gave in to my imperfections. I stopped caring about mistakes, and I just started dancing, and the joy of the partnership was suddenly clear to me in a way it hadn't been before. Suddenly, I realized that there was a human being on the other side of my embrace. A person who had maybe had a really rough day at work, or had just received great news from far away, or had just eaten a huge dinner and felt uncomfortable with me leaning against his spaghetti belly. A person who had his own things going on, someone outside my perfectionism, a partner to meet in the middle. It took me out of my head, my relentless thoughts, and gave me something else to focus on, which was good for me.

This was my mindset when I realized I had a free ticket to BsAs that was nearing its expiration date. Going to Argentina was scary for me because I didn't know how to hold on to this new side of tango, the part outside my head. I was worried about the dance floors of Buenos Aires, with all of those experienced dancers sitting on the sides watching everything. And talking about it. I was terrified of dancing with the old milongueros who seemed to be looking for something in me that I wasn't sure I had, even with all that technique. I was worried that I'd slip back into my head too easily if I didn't learn how to stop myself.

So, I made a choice. A choice that seemed incredulous to those whom I told about it. I decided not to take any privates and few classes during my two months in Argentina. I decided to go to the milongas and practicas, and just dance. That's it.

I had demons I was wrestling. Personal, internal, and mean. I needed to focus on the really hard parts of tango. Not the physical, where-do-I-put-my-foot-during-that-sacada parts, but the really hard stuff; the emotional and mental sides of tango. The fears and self-doubt that come up when so-and-so doesn't ask you to dance, or when he does ask you to dance and you mess up. The feelings of exclusion and not being good enough, and even just the incredible frustration of the learning process. These are the hard parts. These are the things I was working on during my last trip to BsAs. I didn't want technique to distract me from that stuff, as it had for the two years before.

And, I believe that that's really the moment that I became a good dancer. It was when I stopped caring about the stuff that really doesn't matter. The partnership. Mutual respect, teamwork, compassion, that's the good stuff.

I'm writing about this now, 2 years later, because I am finding that the stumbling blocks for my students in tango aren't the moves, the steps, the physical parts, though those things can be challenging, for sure. I find that people give up on tango because of the emotional and mental sides of tango. The social interactions that irritate, the frustrations of the learning curve, the downward spiral, all of that. Those things that cause the exact same problems in one's everyday life, but are magnified in tango because of its intensity. People don't leave because they are unable to master ganchos. They leave because they don't want to deal with their demons, and I think that you have to, to stay in tango.


Mari said...

Alex, I truly can't express how perfectly timed that post was for me. I spent my last practica at the point of tears and on the verge of doing something I swore I wouldn't do - feel sorry for myself. For not "getting it", for not being invited to dance, for not being strong enough (for life or for tango). So, thank you to Carrie, and to you for posting this.

Elizabeth said...

Fantastic. Just when I needed it. Words of wisdom. Thanks Carrie, Thanks Alex.

tangojunkie said...

Hi Alex,

I don't know Carri but my feeling on this is that she is right on in her thinking.

Tango is like a giant magnifying glass for a dancers personality, it shows people what they really are (larger than life), strengths, talents, flaws, insecurities, jealousies, etc... some people blossom under the glass and some burn up like so many ants.

Like her, I went to Buenos Aires with only one agenda, I went to dance tango, I took exactly zero lessons, And I feel that this approach has improved my dance, the experience, has boosted my confidence level, and shown me the things in tango that are really important.

However my next trip there will have a totally different focus, maybe many lessons and a lot less milongas. No one should ever be satisfied with their current level in any aspect of life, there are only two directions to go when it comes to self improvement, grow or wither.

It is my feeling that to grow in any area of life, one must accept themself as they really are before any growth can take place.

As for the demons, these are really just monsters in the closet, that we imagine to justify some other need that we have at any particular moment of our life aren't they?

cindy said...

hi alex,
thank you, & thank you carrie, for this moving post.

Red Shoes said...

Ah, bless. I hope you won't mind if I link...

Alex said...

No problema...

Limerick Tango said...

"The teamwork required to dance tango well is so much more important than any one person's individual technique"

Now there's a line.

A definite shoe-in for my list of posts to read before you d..