Thursday, November 16, 2017

Twenty Tango Lessons: Part 15: Work hard, have fun

In tango, work and play go hand in hand.
To mark my 20th year in tango, I have come up with 20 lessons I have learned through this pleasurable and challenging dance.

Lesson No. 15. Working hard and having fun are not mutually exclusive.

Somewhere between the beginner and intermediate phases, it becomes clear to many if not most tango students that this fun social dance is harder and takes more work than they anticipated.

This realization can have wide-ranging effects on different people.

Some decide that hours of practice every week and regular blows to the ego in the form of corrections and adjustments by their teachers are not the fun date-night activity they had in mind and they drop out.

Others keep going, but stop really moving forward. They eventually have enough moves and partners to enjoy themselves at milongas so why kill the buzz with hard and boring stuff like posture and – yuck – technique? They are content where they are and don't feel driven to take things further.

Then there are those who are fuelled by the challenge of this simple-yet-complex dance and they work ever harder, feeling rewarded every time they overcome a hurdle – only to be faced with the next. For these dancers the hard work isn't just a means to an end, it in itself is a huge part of the enjoyment.

The cool thing is, the harder you work the easier it gets. As you improve your posture and alignment, strengthen your legs and develop your tango communication skills, the physical and mental effort of dancing and all the multitasking it requires decreases. So if you're feeling like you might give up sometime soon, I suggest reading on, and giving it at least one more shot.

Here are some ways you can have fun while still working hard to improve your dancing:

Focus on the important stuff. Almost every beginner dancer is impressed by the fancy moves they see in shows and on YouTube. Dancers put pressure on themselves (and their partners) to learn lots and lots of these cool moves and to execute as many of them as possible in as short a time as possible. Your teachers might even tell you that the moves are not the important thing, but this is not easy to believe at first. After all, it is difficult to grasp the importance of a caring and comfortable embrace, musical precision and a mastery of floorcraft when you haven't yet felt the pleasure that can be derived from those things. What can I say besides: "Believe us!" A few simple moves well-executed inside the framework of a comfortable and sincere embrace, precise and playful musicality and a smooth dance-floor flow are a better and less stressful goal than trying to remember and execute all the crazy moves and adornos you have seen in your tango life. Yes, you need some vocabulary, but you don't need to use all your vocabulary all the time.

Believe that hard work truly is its own reward. The process of learning and practicing doesn't have to be a means to an end. There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from the simple act of making an effort. Nowhere is this more true than in an activity like tango. And then, of course, there will be so many rewards that automatically stem from the work, from being an increasingly sought-after tango partner to improving brain function (as more and more studies tell us) to keeping good posture and joint mobility throughout life.

Concentrate more on self-improvement than what everyone else is doing wrong. Focus on your partner's shortcomings and you will find more and more of them, guaranteed. This will lead to frustration and impatience on both sides. But focus on what you can do to make your partner more comfortable and the dance will run more smoothly for sure, even if your partner really isn't very good. Feel annoyed every time another couple cuts it a little too close and you will spend a lot of your floor time feeling annoyed. Come up with a few fun go-to solutions to these inevitable realities and you can practically turn the whole thing into a game. You have probably heard that you cannot control events, but only how you react to them. On the tango dance floor, this means you can neither control how your partner nor the couples around will react, but you do have control over how you handle your side of the equation. So when it's not going according to plan, or just not going well at all, resist the urge to make impatient sounds or to correct your partner. Instead, examine and work on your own skills: stand straighter, drop your shoulders, fully connect your legs in between steps, listen more, slow down. You will have worked to improve yourself, given your partner a more pleasurable experience and made yourself a more desirable dancer in the process.

Remember that others are not to blame for your bad nights. Sometimes you will have a bad night, no matter who you are. Maybe at last week's lesson you finally felt you were moving up the learning curve but tonight you hit not just a plateau but a wall. Perhaps you arrived at the milonga dressed to the nines and ready to dance the night away, but you only got two tandas in and both felt sub-standard. Hard as it is, the best thing to do is to accept that yes, you had a disappointing night, and then move on. Don't wallow in it, blame your inadequate partner, resent your teacher or the milonga organizer or hold a grudge against all the dancers who didn't invite you. And maybe don't vent all over Facebook either. Feel how you feel, accept both the events and your thoughts about them, then do whatever you can to let it all go. But also don't let one bad night (or even two or three) crush you. Instead, use it to drive you further along that learning curve. Sign up for a private lesson, ask a teacher or admired dancer for advice, arrange to practice with a friend, make an agreement with your partner to be less critical of each other in class.

I live this work hard-play hard balance in running my business every day. Yes, I work hard. Really, really hard. Many people do, and anyone who runs a small, hand-on business does. The work sometimes overwhelms me and there are days that get me down. I worry about my injured feet, get frustrated with my own dancing, butt heads with my (equally hard-working) partner, face unfriendly competition, cringe at my bank balance … but the rewards! I am constantly surrounded by movement and music and wonderful people. I dance and teach and host parties and create playlists of my favourite music every single week. So I also have fun. So much fun. Not despite, but because of the fact I work really, really hard.

So work hard to have fun, and have fun working hard.

Next: Lesson No. 16. The tango business and the tango community don't always coexist seamlessly.

Previously: Lesson No. 14. It is as important to be kind and generous as to follow the codigos.

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