ACT LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING
(From June 10, 2013)
I am not an outgoing person.
If I have to interact with more than 3 people or animals, I start getting nervous. I’m very private, and it doesn’t take much to make me feel awkward. For instance, I’m far more comfortable staying at home reading (or writing) books than going out to a bar.
Growing up, most of my teachers often commented (complained is more like it) that “Joe does not participate enough in class.” Despite decent grades, my final GPA was always affected by that silly “class participation” thing. Oh well.
Anyway, let’s fast forward several years. I now make a living teaching (talking in front of people) and hosting tango events in the very types of places I spent years avoiding.
I guess life sometimes goes out of its way to mess with you.
But don’t get me wrong.
I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE what I do. It’s turned out to be a dream job, but I’d be lying if I said that any of it comes naturally. What I do is the polar opposite of what every career matching quiz I took says I ought to be doing.
Yet, here I am.
Greeting people, introducing myself to complete strangers, spending time among large crowds….despite having done it for years I admit it can still be scary.
And I do it every…
For all you tango newcomers out there experiencing the anxiety of going out dancing in public, I know exactly how you feel.
The environment at a milonga is alot different from the one we’re used to in class. The music is louder, people are more dressed-up, and the lighting is more dramatic than the pale fluorescents of the studio where we have lessons.
And right away, we notice there are a lot of good dancers sharing the floor with us.
All of this stimulation causes our brains to freeze up. We feel as though we’ve forgotten the few steps we learned in class and instantly believe that everyone is judging us. And pretty soon, we’re wondering if we’ll make it through the current tango song without suffering a panic attack.
Oh, and just a while ago your teacher promised that this was going to be a “fun time,” right?
So how do we deal with this?
The technical answer is to just keep things simple. For leaders, that means walking forward, keeping up with traffic, and taking the time to occasionally pause. For followers, that means staying on your own balance and not going anywhere until your partner gives you a clear signal to move.
The above advice might be true, but it’s not helpful. And it won’t mean squat unless you add a special ingredient. As the title of this blog suggests, you should act like you know what you’re doing.
Assume the “role” of a confident dancer: cool/calm expression, simple but fully committed steps, and do what you visualize a confident dancer would do. It feels weird at first, but you’ll have a much better chance of success if you try. No one knows what’s going on in your head so use your imagination.
As an organizer, that’s pretty much what I did. At first, I had to pretty much fake a certain amount of extraversion. But as I got better at “playing” the role of a more outgoing person, it eventually became part of the real me. Deep down, I haven’t changed that much. I’m still not a spotlight chaser or a big talker. However, there’s a part of myself I can now call upon whenever I’m caught in a situation that requires social skills.
I’m not suggesting that you become a fraud or to be insincere. The purpose is not to con anybody. Instead, you’re strengthening the mental aspect of becoming a good tango dancer while making things enjoyable for your partner. And when “faking” confidence helps you achieve the “fun” that your tango teacher keeps talking about, in time it’ll turn into real confidence.
THE EMBRACE…OF ANARCHY
(From June 9, 2013)
In our daily lives (work, school, at the DMV, etc) we’re used to following orders. Someone is telling us what procedures to follow, where to print our names, which forms to fill out, where the signed paperwork is supposed to be submitted, etc.
We’re treated a bit like numbers to be processed as quickly as possible.
But on the dance floor:
There is no tango middle manager.
There is no tango police.
There is no tango bureau of central planning.
There is no tango parliament or tango oversight committees.
Your tango teachers, the “experts” you rely on to improve your dancing, are unlicensed, uncertified, and unelected (and in some cases, unmedicated).
There is no state-approved tango “curriculum” that one must follow.
There is no test you take or piece of paper you can frame and mount on your wall that officially declares you a “tango dancer.”
This is how it’s been since people started doing tango way back in the day.
Sounds like anarchy. And maybe it is…
…but it works.
The lack of centralized “authority” in tango is one of the big reasons why it’s so fascinating.
Where does the guy place his right hand and where does the lady place her left while dancing close embrace? A dozen teachers may give a dozen different answers. And that’s before anyone begins to actually move.
I remember three instructors, all of whom I greatly respect, telling me how to lead molinetes in three very different, and almost contradictory ways. So which teacher was right?
They all were.
When given different or conflicting information on how to lead/follow specific figures, it’s not time to panic. Instead, it’s up to us as individual dancers to experiment and figure out which methods work best with whomever we happen to be dancing with at the moment.
Every partner is unique, every dance experience is a small adventure (if you think about it), and the “right” way to lead a step might be different each time.
There’s no referring to the user manual, flowchart, or official guidebook.
Does that seem scary? If it does, maybe it’s because we’re too accustomed to being treated (or treating others) like digits on an invoice, customer ID, or file. In that case, we should tango more. Embrace this form of anarchy because for those few precious moments in between cortinas, you and your partner are the ones who get to decide, and not be told, what to do.
DO ONE THING WELL
(From June 8, 2013)
As we learn more and more tango, we’ll inevitably gravitate towards certain steps (after getting a more solid grasp on our fundamentals). Which steps do you love? Sacadas, molinetes, ganchos, volcadas, the basic cross? If you have a favorite step, or several favorites, I’d argue that it’s best to focus on getting really good at those few moves.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a well-rounded dancer. Well-rounded means being familiar with a bunch of figures. But will you excel at any of them? Or just be mediocre at all of them?
If you really like sacadas, for example, be the one (or few) in your community who’s known for being really good at sacadas. Or if you’re great at boleos, be known for being really fun to do boleos with. Whatever step it is that you like, develop it. Practice it until you can do it in your sleep. Having a specialty will make you more memorable.
You only have so many hours in a day – wasting them on improving weaknesses only robs time away from honing your strengths.
A tango community is not a faceless mass. It is made up of unique individuals, so don’t be afraid to stand out (as long as you remember to respect the line of dance 🙂
If we all do in our own ways, the community becomes more exciting as a whole.
IT’S NEVER HER “FAULT”
(From June 7, 2013)
Leaders, while dancing with your partner at a milonga or class, and something goes wrong, never turn to your partner and start a sentence that begins with: “You were supposed to” or “you should have…”
Also, never turn to your teacher and start with the words: “well, my partner was supposed to” or “my partner should have…”
Even if you’re absolutely certain that you’re right and your partner’s wrong, don’t say those words. Just don’t. If you’re new to tango, this is basic etiquette. But sometimes, even experienced folks forget.
At a milonga, if your partner doesn’t know what you’re trying to lead (even if you’re sure you led it correctly), then quit trying to lead it. Drop it and go back to something you can both agree on, like walking.
At a class or workshop, when the teacher notices that you’re having trouble and asks why, figure out what you can be doing to improve yourself. There’s always something about your own leading that can be better, even if (you think) you’re already a good dancer.
As for your partners, trust them to be responsible for their own improvement. Or agree to work together during a práctica. Or take it outside and settle things at high noon.
Pointing out what your partner’s doing wrong all the time just makes you look like an a**hole. Then, your partner’s friends might start thinking you’re an a**hole, too. And pretty soon you may find that everyone suddenly looks away from your cabaceo. No one takes the time to get all dressed up for a milonga hoping to hear unsolicited advice. Remember: being fun to dance with is much better than being right.
THIS ISN’T LIKE WORK OR SCHOOL
(From June 6, 2013)
In my science class back in Eighth Grade, I once mishandled a vial of ether. As a result, I nearly lost consciousness, much to the amusement of my lab partner. Barely five minutes earlier, the teacher had repeatedly warned us not to hold the opening of the large ether vial right up to our faces.
Fortunately, he didn’t catch me going wobbly, otherwise I would have gotten into big trouble. It’s not that I was intentionally trying to do anything supid – I just got a little careless and made a mistake. From that day on, I think I knew better than anyone else in that class about how – or how not – to handle ether.
Making mistakes while learning tango does not generally yield consequences that are as serious (or funny) as accidentally inhaling too much ether. However, errors are inevitable regardless of how hard you pay attention in class.
Unfortunately, our schools and workplaces teach us that mistakes are always BAD. They are sources of punishment and shame. Of course, this is acceptable for some professionals (surgeons, airline pilots, members of the bomb squad, etc). But even for the majority of us who deal with non life-and-death situations in our jobs, the association between mistakes and negative outcomes has been beaten into our heads for as long as we can remember. Make too many mistakes in school and they’ll send a note home, flunk us, or hold us back a grade. Make too many mistakes at the office and they’ll reprimand or fire us.
Tango classes aren’t like the degree courses you’re taking at the university. If you make mistakes, I’m not going to make a note of it in my grade book that doesn’t exist. There are no No 2 pencils, bubble sheets, or blue book exams. And for you working professionals, I won’t report mishaps on the dance floor to your manager or HR department.
Mistakes in dance class are almost a necessity. Of course, we know you’re not making them on purpose and we try to avoid them. But without mistakes, and without learning from them, you won’t progress. During prácticas, mistakes are often opportunities to discover new steps you hadn’t learned before. So little by little, ditch the school/work indoctrination and embrace errors as they happen. Going out of your way to avoid mistakes is the same as refusing to learn.