FRUSTRATION: We feel like we’re getting worse, instead of better. We practice a certain figure a thousand times and it doesn’t feel any easier. So how can this possibly be a good sign?
The key word here is “feel.” Just because we don’t feel progress doesn’t mean we’re not actually improving. Coordinating brain and body isn’t an overnight process.
Frustration is a sign that we’ve worked at tango long enough to move our dancing to the next level. It also means we care enough to do things right.
What to do about it: Consistent practice and determination are great attributes. But to deal effectively with frustration, we’ll need to implement patience. We sometimes assign negative connotations to patience, equating it to something torturous like sitting through a boring movie or waiting for a package to arrive from Amazon.
For learning tango, patience is an active attribute, not a passive one. It needs to be applied through all phases of learning. It helps us maintain a sense of calm, enables us to gauge our progress more honestly, and keeps negativity at bay.
IMPOSTER SYNDROME: We have our own ideas of what a good dancer is…and we don’t think we live up to them. In our heads, we think we have an accurate picture of what it should feel like to be that good dancer…and we chase that feeling relentlessly.
Yet people are telling us how good we are, and some even look up to us. At practicas, beginners approach us for help more frequently (if they don’t right now, they will soon). Why? Are they crazy? Okay, when we explain things, we feel we know what we’re talking about…but we just don’t believe we’re qualified to give any useful advice or feedback.
The truth is, we’ll probably never feel as “good” as we want to. We don’t internalize our accomplishments, dismissing our achievements as luck or fearing that we’ve unknowingly deceived others.
But I’m willing to bet that any tango dancer, no matter how good or famous, also feels some degree of imposter syndrome; The largely irrational fear of being a fraud or feeling unqualified. As we become better dancers, we’re likely to look at others who are further along than we are, and feel depressed. And then we’re in danger of having a distorted, negative perception of our own abilities.
What to do about it: Let’s think back to the way we danced several weeks, months, or years ago, and compare our abilities then to our abilities now. There’s a good chance that we’re much better at tango today. If we have to, let’s grab a pen and write down the number of steps we can do now compared to a few months ago. Isn’t that proof our dancing is headed in a positive direction?
Let’s also think about why tango makes us happy in the first place. Becoming a better dancer is somewhat tied to happiness, but is being that “good dancer,” the one we envision in our heads, the only way to be happy?
These instances of great discomfort aren’t fun, nor are they inescapable. In tango, or any other activity, these situations can be turned into an opportunity to improve. But discomfort can also be the result of something going right, but interpreted from the wrong perspective.