When we study tango, we often look down. We should look up. Or out. Or beyond. Anywhere but down. We concentrate on steps, on fancy figures, on balance, about where to place our feet. We should be wondering about where we place our soul.
Can you approach a complete stranger, open yourself to their deep embrace and accept the consequences? Those consequences can (and will) be marvelous or terrible. If the person is rude, arrogant, not listening to you, can you let go at the end of the tanda and let it all roll off you?
Or if the person came with expectations that you cannot fulfill (because you don’t understand their lead or they are asking you to do steps you are not ready for) can you see that it is about them and not you? Can you let go and move on to your own solitude or to another partner without prejudice?
Or, if you are the person who knows more, are you willing to simplify your dance so that your partner can enjoy the dance without second thoughts – even if other people might look at you and think you know less than you do? Are you willing to play the fool?
We talk about equilibrium in the dance, in our bodies, in our footsteps. But what about the mental equilibrium that comes even before that? Can you accept someone’s shortcomings when they dance with you? Can you accept your own?
The spiritual side of tango is the side that fascinates me. Can we become better, more generous people through the dance?
That to me is the only step worth mastering.
P.S. You may be wondering why this piece is called “Draft Mastery” rather than plain old “Mastery.” I have the habit when I am working on a piece of putting “draft” in front of the title until it is finished, though everything — even our lives — is just a work-in-progress. It is in honor of that idea — that we are forever a work-in-progress — that I left the “draft” in place this morning. The piece is no more or less finished than any other, but perhaps it is just a tad more honest about its pedigree.
great to read you every sunday, Kevin. Enjoy your concerts.
I have an acquaintance who is a marriage counselor. First visit, he takes the couple to a ballroom lesson; he says he finds out everything he needs to know from observing their interaction.
I love that photo Kevin! (which ‘effect’ did you use?) And, Marti – as a counselor – I like the idea of taking the couple to a dance class. You learn a lot about a person/couple from the way they dance.
Dear Andrew, Marti and Maraya, many thanks for your messages!
Yes, when you dance close with someone there is so much communication, most of it involuntary and out of our control. You better be ready to open up — because it’s going to happen anyway!
I love the idea of the marriage counselor using dance to cut to the quick of it all.
Maraya, the effect is the “stained glass” filter that is one of the standard artistic effects in Adobe Photoshop. Seemed fitting, being in Paris and it looked right for that photo which was a bit “noisy” because of the lack of light. (You would have loved that milonga.)
Kevin, I posted this on fb before I even realized that it’s you! Oh, that Kevin! I find that when I am teaching a couple in a private lesson, it often becomes very much a kinetic couples therapy hour (though since I was once an actual mental health counselor, I don’t label it (nor charge for) “therapy”. And when I am on and off the pista, it is mostly this spiritual side of tango – way more than technique and “steps” – that engages me most deeply. Thanks for posting. And come back to Portland asap!
Another aspect: we know about tango as useful physical therapy for diseases such as Parkinson’s, the effect of tango even more than other music, on the brain. But many people who have such conditions also become depressed or emotionally withdrawn, and the human interaction and multi-level communication tango requires also combats that. I credit our tango with keeping my husband, who has Parkinson’s, not only on his feet and better balanced physically, but also emotionally and socially.
As a follower (in tango as in other dances), I have often preferred a simpler pattern that expresses the music, to a complex one that doesn’t. A leader may have a sequence of steps memorized, but getting a follower to, well, follow, while still connecting to the music can be challenging.
On good dances, I actually close my eyes. I hear the music better, and feel the lead better. I let go of nervous anticipation and give myself to the leader, whom I obviously trust. When I can do that, it is a gift of relaxation, pleasure, total oblivion for me.
Last Sunday, I was lucky enough to close my eyes a few times on the dance floor.
P.S. My dance teacher (pre-tango) used to say the exact same thing about teaching couples, and being able to tell the dynamics of the couple.