On Halloween one year, way back when I was in college, one of my professors had us watch the horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This was a film directing class, in case you were wondering. And we were watching the original version from 1974, not the sh*tty remake.
My classmates and I were soon drawn into the twisted narrative, eyes glued to the screen. Everything was going fine, until the movie’s first chainsaw murder scene (which takes place off-screen so your imagination does the legwork of terrifying you). At that moment, the professor suddenly ran to the front of the classroom wearing a glow-in-the-dark hockey mask. He was also wielding a circular power saw, which he secretly borrowed from the maintenance staff. Standing a few feet in front of us in the dark space, he playfully revved the loud motorized blade.
As you would expect, the spectacle made us all jump out of our seats. And the brilliant pre-meditated prank would have been quickly laughed off had it not been for one of my friends. She was sitting next to me, and once we heard the saw, she let out a perfect yet unrehearsed horror-movie scream almost directly in my ear.
Her scream scared the hell out of the class more than the movie or the professor’s prank. It made several other people scream like crazy, too, which caused a brief snow-ball effect of terror.
Looking back, the most significant thing I remember learning in that class is that a reaction to something scary can be much worse than the actual thing that’s supposed to be scaring you.
So what does all this have to do with tango?
Even though chainsaws are generally absent from milongas, these events can still be scary for us if we’re less experienced dancers. Feeling nervous, or maybe even a bit terrified at a milonga is understandable. But behaving in a way that reflects our fear (e.g. heavy breathing, tensing up, vise-gripping partner’s hand, etc) will have a negative effect on our partners and others.
But appearing calm, even if we aren’t feeling calm, creates more desirable outcomes. If you look like someone who’s keeping his/her cool during tango, it’ll be reassuring for a nervous partner. And it’ll likely motivate others to do the same.
Then maybe we’ll all have more fun, knowing things are under control…simply because we’re acting as though it is. Promoting fear tends to create more fear. But making an effort to promote calm achieves the opposite.