Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance

Today’s Tango Thought 109: The Negative of Tango.

There is distinct negative side to Tango. It’s not all flowers and love as some would have you believe. It is a very challenging, and difficult dance to master physically, emotionally, intellectually, musically, psychologically, kinesthetically, and sociologically. Ask anyone that has done any deeper level of work to improve their dance, and they’ll tell you that it is at once eye-opening, blistering, noxious and wholly demoralizing. Demoralizing to the point where they want to quit dancing altogether. Take for instance Gustavo Naveira’s weeklong seminars, anyone that’s done them will tell you that after the first hour (and they’re generally 3 to 6 hrs each day), that their heads are spinning and they feel like children afterward. So this isn’t supposition, it’s a demonstrable, repeatable, concrete fact of happenstance. It happens.

Depending on the teacher that they’ve chosen to help them with their dance can change the quality of that experience for the student. If that particular teacher bases their entire teaching apparatus on honesty and truth in what the student is doing, then it’s going to be one helluva ride, emotionally (and that’s putting it mildly) for a variety of reasons. Most notably self-incrimination, hyper self-awareness, and feelings of isolation. If said chosen teacher does not base their teaching on truth but rather catering to the ‘feelings’ of the student, and very little substance of technique, then well…the teaching/student/learning experience itself will be a very joyful one. However there won’t be a whole lot of change in the student’s dance and/or technique, and the student will never know the difference either, except when later on they realize that they’re dancing with the same people, doing the same things, and they’re still not ‘improving’. Put simply the student must be challenged on every level, otherwise, the teacher isn’t doing their job.

In both cases, the student will be out money. It’s just that one of those cases the student will start the long process to improve, and the other, not so much with that. Honesty, or truth in this case, is absolutely crucial to their improvement and their continued development. Without that honesty of how the student is walking, how stable they are, whether or not they’re using their arms or hands, whether or not the student is pushing or pulling or hanging, for example then there is no honest assessment of skills, and abilities. And without that honest assessment, change in the student can not happen.

Just as a side note — Change comes from 2 factors: 1.) An clear, unvarnished, appraisal of a given situation. 2.) A desire for said situation to be better (not different) than before. Put this another way. If you go into your mechanic to have your car examined because it’s making a noise that it didn’t make before, and s/he tells you that it’s nothing and to ignore it. You generally listen, right ? However, when your car starts billowing smoke a few weeks later, you realize that you shouldn’t have ignored it, and in fact you’re going to fire that mechanic and find one that can get things fixed quickly, easily, and albeit cheaply. The same thing is true in Tango. You’re going to find a teacher that will be honest with you and not blow smoke up your ass. What is not true is that while there is billowing smoke from the heaping wreckage of your Tango life, or so you believe, is that it is fixable. It’s changeable. It’s just going to take time, patience, and lots of due diligence. And in case you’re not clear, that’s the ‘blistering’ part noted above. 😉 

This is the negative of Tango. Unfortunately, the honesty that you need, that you require, also has a major detracting factor: It’s wholly disheartening! The more honest you are, the more that you begin to nitpick everything that you thought was safe, and that makes you feel as if you can’t do anything right. While at the same time feeling as if you shouldn’t bother to improve at all if you can’t do anything right. Which is why most Tango teachers take it easy on their students because they fear that they’ll never, ever, come back if they spoke the unvarnished truth. While this is easier on the younger student, it’s even more challenging with the older one. The older that you are, the longer the process takes for change to occur. And that means more time spent on one’s foundation doing drills and exercises to improve the clarity of your movements so that you respond as though it’s instinctual. The problem is that it’s depressing. It’s awful. It’s painful. And everyone that you dance with feels wrong. Everything you do is just one long screw up. There’s an error here, an error there, error, error, error.

Before we go any further you’re going to ask “Jesus! When does it get better ?”. Answer ? Poco a poco. Little by little. Change does not come in one heaping basket, it comes in little tiny bits and fits. Change doesn’t happen over night. It happens over a period of time. That period of time depends on many factors. Not the least of which is the effort that you put into that change.

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How do you deal with the Negative ? The answer to this question is wide and varied. And it really depends on the personality of the person involved. However, here are some helpful things that can help you to cope with the depression that is going to come from that needed honesty and change.

1.) Breathe. No. Seriously breathe. This isn’t personal. You’re only making it personal. This is about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. It will change with time, patience, and understanding.

2.) “It’s Not The End of the World”. The fact is that it’s just a dance, and it’s just Tango and the world is not going to suddenly stop spinning if you can’t do an Ocho properly (proper is sometimes ‘subjective). This statement is one way to at once distance yourself from what you’re doing but at the same time make it not so life-threatening. To be fair there does need to be a personal investment in how and what you’re doing otherwise the whole process of change isn’t going to happen. However, this tiny little statement will keep things real for you.

3.) Talk a little. Get it out of your system. You’re spending waaaaay too much time in your own head. So get it out of your head, and that means talk to your Tango friends, they won’t understand it all that much because the process is different for each of us. But talking about what you’re going through will help. However, that’s not enough. Be careful with this one, because a good portion of them, especially the men will try to show you ‘X’ trying to problem solve, when this isn’t about ‘X’, but rather about how you’re feeling about ‘X’.

4.) Write a little and then Burn it. Yup. You read that rightly. Burn it. Trash what you’ve written. This is really just a way to get what’s in your head, out of your head, and then to discard those thoughts. That’s all. You don’t need to send this to anyone, it’s just for you. If you need to publish this stuff, then go ahead, but it’s not necessary. Write it down, write out how you’re feeling and then here’s the hard part, dump it. And then start again until you don’t need to write it down anymore.

and lastly…

5.) Talk To Your Teacher. Tell them how you’re feeling. They’ve been where you are more than likely. They may actually have something can help you to change your perspective slightly, and really that slightness is probably all you really need to hear. Don’t mishear this as you want them to change what they’re doing (assuming they’re the honest type of teacher), because it’s actually changing you, and you want the change, no….you’re just expressing the fact that you’re feeling depressed and feel like you can’t do anything right. That’s all.

The fact is… The reality is that if you’re doing your job right, you’re going to feel absolutely awful about your ‘progress’. Things are going to suck for a while. That is a fact. However, how you deal with that ‘suckage’ is entirely up to you. Put this another way “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional”. Which is to say that pain in life is going to happen. It’s part of the human experience. Suffering, on the other hand, is entirely within your grasp to change.

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The Tango Topics Opinion: There is another ‘Negative’ with regards to Tango. And it has to do with the seedy side of the dance. And it’s the part that almost no one talks about. And it needs to be given voice. Rightfully this thing deserves its own topic and it will get one on its own very soon. There’s just a lot of other stuff to get to along the way that helps to drive the point home! So what’s the topic ? Women In Tango. Specifically, the pretty girl that’s just started out. Who, sadly, becomes the tango flavor du jour. A pretty girl, not only does she have to contend with a whole bunch of technique, she also has to deal with men of a certain proclivity hitting on her left, right, and center! UUUUUUGH! And quite honestly because of the nature of the dance, it’s just assumed that that’s how things are. Uuugh. Ummmm, NOT!

Let’s get something right out of the way first and foremost: That’s not how things are supposed to be. Just because you are holding someone close to your body is not license to engage in inappropriate behavior. Touching someone inappropriately is not ok. Speaking to them in a sexually or intimate or suggestive manner that crosses boundaries, social conventions, is not ok. Pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable social behavior is not ok. Let’s put this another way, if you’re a man and you’re reading this: Would you want your own mother to be talked to as if she were a sexual play thing ? Or as if she was someone’s doll ? Probably not. So why is it ok for you to suggest to a Follower that they do X ? Simply because it’s part of the dance ? Rubbing, grinding, compressing the frak out of a particular Follower because they’ve got a larger than average chest is just NOT ‘ok’. Never. Ever. And so that we’re clear that also means keeping a civil f*cking tongue in your head!!!! Keep your thoughts to yourself. Keep your private parts private. Got it ?

Followers ? If this is happening to you, if you’re in a situation where a Lead is being verbally or physically suggestive with you, or you don’t feel safe, or you don’t feel comfortable, or you’d like an escort out to your car, try as hard as you can to extricate yourself from the embrace of that partner, and then find the organizer of the event and explain the situation to them. Do not under any circumstances confront that individual directly. It just may exacerbate the situation. Find the organizer, and explain, that’s their job believe it or not, to deal with this stuff. Yes it’s uncomfortable, yes it’s unsavory and you shouldn’t have to put up with it at all. But there are some men that inhabit Argentine Tango as a social dancing form that do not understand that the social boundaries of the real world and the tango world are exactly the same. Some men take it upon themselves to cross those boundaries simply because it’s tango. UUUUGH! So we have to take some drastic measures with this stuff and explain it to them like they’re a five year old!

Men that know how to act accordingly ? This part is for you: You also have a responsibility! What’s that ? It’s to keep a watchful eye out for the pretty girls that just walked in the door, and have been dancing for about 5 minutes (metaphorically speaking) and to make certain that they’re treated with the utmost. This should be true of all women, not just the pretty girls. But the fact is that the pretty girls get all the attention, so we focus on them here. Watch out for the guys, you know the ones that squeeze the daylights out of their Followers, holding them a little too close, and usually dance with the young, pretty girls that don’t know the lay of the land yet about who to avoid like the plague. It’s your responsibility that when you see this stuff to have a few choice words with the creepy Lead/er and explain the facts of social convention to them, while showing them the door. Got it ?

That said…that’s all we have to say on this issue for now. More on it later.

  108: Tango Discomfort | 110: Practice Part 8 

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