... and I keep dancing

Welcome to my Argentine Tango blog! I began this blog about a year after starting to dance Argentine Tango. That year had been both wonderful and frustrating. I started recording my progress and feelings from that point on... and both wonder and frustration have continued, only even more intensely.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Of Tango and Life: lessons on adapting

Last year I was a Tango Salon contestant in the first Official USA Argentine Tango Competition. That experience had been both exciting and “challenging” in ways I was not expecting (see the April 2011 post), but, when the competition was announced again for this year, it didn’t take me long to decide that I would take again a chance at some emotional upheaval and participate again. Little did I know how much “upheaval” I was up for…

I had a new life/dance partner I felt reasonably comfortable dancing with. She had less Tango experience than I, but I thought we looked good together, and good enough to enter the salon competition without fear of embarrassment, whatever that might mean. So, I asked her if she would be willing and interested in participating. Her basic answer was a “let’s see what happens and I how I feel in a month or so”, so we started on a plan for practicing, with some added private lessons and workshops.

To my complete surprise, as we started dancing with a thought to the upcoming competition, I started feeling like I was dancing with an entirely different follower, and one that, frankly, I was no longer enjoying dancing with. The problem seemed to be that while I felt ready to dance in the competition “the next day”, she had become “obsessed” (my value judgment…) with not making any “mistakes” and with a need to understand exactly “which” figure I was leading, with no room for accepting that sometimes my lead might not be completely clear, or it might be for a figure she had forgotten about. From my point of view, ironically, she was following exactly what I was leading 95% of the time, with the other 5% creating what I considered “opportunities” for variations I actually enjoyed.  So, to me, what was happening would have been just fine, except for her continuous asking “what was that?”. “Was that a molinete?” became our inside joke. “Yes!” I would say with some exasperation, “you just did five of them… with no problem at all!”, but, unfortunately, in her mind she wasn’t sure whether she had put down her feet exactly in the correct position or in some horrible contorted way (I was confident that she hadn’t…).

Obviously the transition from simple, unpressured, social dancing to the possibility of competing and being “judged” was not one we had an easy time making. I started giving serious thought to asking someone else to be in the competition, at the risk of hurt feelings (although she actually had never said an unequivocal “yes” about participating). Then I had an epiphany: maybe… just maybe, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for me to clean up my own act… What did it mean that she often wasn’t sure what figure I was leading? Was it really her “fault”? Was it enough that she would end up following as I intended, even though she wasn’t confident that she had?

So we agreed on a new plan. I started painstakingly listing all the figures I might be leading, and we agreed that I would “package” each within some specific entry and exit steps, so that we would have some short choreographed patterns. The problem with the salon competition, is that you don’t pick the music, so you can’t really choreograph the whole dance as you can for the stage competition, but some small choreographed pieces strung together in different ways might be a workable compromise. I actually embraced this idea and enjoyed working in this more precise way. It was a challenge for me to “renounce” my cherished  (by me…) improvisational style, but I thought of it as a challenge that might compel me to rethink many aspects of how I dance and might well end up doing me a lot of good.

With this new attitude from me, and her willingness to accept more readily “some” improvisation, we started having fun dancing again. We still had a month to go and it seemed like we would be able to enter the competition, each with what we needed to feel good about it, no matter what the outcome would be.

Then life handed us a new surprise, and one that threw all our previous concerns and issues into complete irrelevance. My partner was diagnosed with breast cancer. Practicing tango became the last thing we were worried about. Surgery was recommended right away, and right before the competition. We had to withdraw. Fortunately her prognosis is good, but, again, and this time for far more serious reasons, we had to adapt, not to a new style of dancing, but to being spectators, and to meeting the new challenge of therapy and recovery.

It never rang so true: “life is what happens to you while you are making other plans”.


Rogger Mcloud said...

Hello I lived in Argentina a lot of years. And let me tell you that is great to go to Tango Salon. You feel like you are in Argentina, in Abasto in some place like there. Like La Boca.

I lke Tango very much but i am not a really good dance, so I try to dance as well as I can, but you know... It is an awsome music and a way of life. I have met some old people while when I rented the apartment in buenos aires and they spoke like tango mans. They where from Boedo, which is a place of the Tango in Buenos Aires.

There are some places like the Omero Mansi, which is a traditional corner of Tango in Buenos Aires.

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Christy said...

I found your tango blog, and it's wonderful Silvano! I've only read two articles so far, but enjoyed them immensely. Thank you! Please, keep writing!

Christy said...

Hi Silvano,

I discovered your tango blog! I've read two articles and very much enjoyed them (Followers you love to hate and the one about preparing for competition and then having life interrupt plans, as it's wont to do).

Please, keep writing! It's wonderful.