Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Twenty tango lessons: Part 19: Getting to know yourself

The tango dance floor is one of the few places where I can truly let go.
To mark my 20th year in tango, I have come up with 20 lessons I've learned through this dance, many of which are about myself.

Lesson No. 19. Tango is a voyage of self-discovery. 
Just as we learn a lot about others through the way they dance, we can also learn a lot about ourselves.

Studying dance is as much about developing awareness as developing specific skills; we discover our bodies as we work with them and we also discover ourselves.

Body awareness is the ability to understand how our bodies move and where they are in space. Such physical disciplines as dance both require and improve our proprioception, which is the sense that allows us to control our body parts without looking at them.

Self-awareness is having a clear perception of our personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation and emotions, and then taking control of them. Tango can help us build this understanding as well.

So, to improve in tango we need to know not only what our physical strengths, weaknesses and tendencies are, but also our psycho-emotional ones: Am I receptive? Reactive? Defensive? Passive? Impatient? Is it easy for me to assert myself? To let go?

Here are a few things I have learned or confirmed about myself over the years, with a little help from tango:
  • I enjoy intensity. I am quite sure this is one of the principle qualities that attracts me to tango. Not much of a lukewarm kind of person, I enjoy rich food, strong coffee, robust wine, scary movies, loud music, hot showers and demanding workouts. I also like intense human connections: While I'm not big on small talk, I love deep conversation – or a profoundly connected tanda. Tango dancers are such an eclectic bunch and I have often wondered if one of the common threads that weave us together is a desire for intense sensations or connections.
  • Tango allows me to let go. This is one of the other main attractions of the dance for me. Stillness of my mind doesn't come easy. I am a busy person whose busy brain can keep me awake at night for hours. And I worry and I stress – until I hit the dance floor, where the music, movement and human contact all combine to create my great escape. Out on the floor in the arms of a dancer to the beat of a beautiful soundtrack everything disappears but the here and now. Not only is it so completely enjoyable, it is also, I believe, tremendously therapeutic.
  • I go with the flow. I have always loved surprises and am quite able to take the situation I am given and run with it. I roll with the punches, so to speak. This makes me a natural follower, because I don't overthink what's happening and I'm pretty good at accepting what comes, no matter how unexpected. I think all this all makes me a patient leader, as well, because I'm not overly attached to the past or the previous plan.
  • So I may be a patient leader, but it took time for me to become a confident one. As I mentioned in my blog post on assertiveness, it's important to have clear intentions, in life and in tango. Know what you want, say what you want, go after what you want. None of these are skills that come naturally to me, but tango and teaching have helped me develop them. Besides, I did go after what I wanted when my partner and I opened our school, MonTango, a decade ago, and it has since grown into one of the city's main tango spots. This has taught me that dreams are worth pursuing.
  • I don't always fit in. I think one of the reasons I like to be the host, the teacher, the DJ is because if I'm just another participant I sometimes feel like a bit of a misfit. And I've always felt this way: throughout school and in my previous career I was never part of the "in" crowd or the cool clique. I never knew how to pretend to be just like everybody else, or to act a certain way or say the "right" things to get into the "right" crowd. Don't get me wrong: I had friends – a small group of very close ones – and I always got along with most people; while I was a bit of an outsider, I was never an outcast. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't another common thread in tango – this world is so full of odd (and wonderful) characters that it sometimes feels like a reunion of misfits. But then again, there are cliques in tango. I'm just not a part of them and they don't thrive at my milongas. I think what I've figured out is that in tango as in life I always prefer inclusivity to exclusivity.
  • My limits exist to be pushed. Sometimes I think I would like to live a simpler, quieter life. But every time I go for something simple I end up taking it further than intended. This has been evident in my tango journey: not content to just dance, I began to teach; not content to just teach, I opened my own school; not content with teaching and running a school, I also perform and produce shows, DJ, blog … And, of course, I have continued my own dance, movement and teacher training, taking privates whenever possible, learning to lead and getting certified as a fitness instructor and now a yoga instructor. I don't know what my next big step will be, but I know once I get comfortable where I am I won't stay there for long.
  • I will never believe I am enough. I think the continued desire to learn, advance and grow is a good thing, but in my case it's also a sign that I never feel I do enough or that I'm good enough at anything I do. For example, I will never be the dancer I want to be. This is both a good and bad thing. It means I get very down on myself at times – especially after watching myself perform. But it also means I push myself harder every time and therefore – I can admit it – I improve.
  • I love teaching. I may not feel I've become the dancer I strive to be, but I do know that I am a good teacher, and that is because I am as passionate about teaching as I am about dancing. I think I am twice (or more) the teacher now that I was when I started out, and I plan to continue my growth. All the lessons I have mentioned here – and more – have taught me how to better teach others. 

So, what have you learned through tango? Has it helped you grow and evolve as a person as well as a dancer? Has it opened your eyes to something you didn't know about yourself before?

Next: Lesson No. 20. I have the best job in the world.

Previously: Lesson No. 18. Tango can be hard on couples.

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