Monday night at my Tango class the instructor taught us a pretty complicated move. Muy Tangoish, so it was cool. But difficult for our four-month-old Tango brains to grasp. My wife and I gave it a try, though.
From the man’s perspective: Step, step, trap her foot, turn her to left, stop her, cross step, side step, move her around with waist turn, trap her foot, step forward into centering position, step, step, step.
Well, it looks better on the dance floor than on a computer screen. However, at first I struggled to get the moves down. Then we started practicing.
And did OK. Heck, maybe better than OK. Within a few minutes Laurel and I were Tangoing along nicely. Until I started thinking, “Wow, we’re Tangoing along nicely.” That was the kiss of death for the new move.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Laurel complained. “You were doing fine before. Now you’re not.” “I know,” I said. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to make X, Y, and Z flow better.”
“Well, go back to how you started,” my non-shrinking-violet wife told me. Which I tried to do by just doing it, not by thinking about how to do it. Eventually I got back to where I had been. And then better than that, after we practiced the move for another half an hour with very little analyzing.
It was a revealing Tango Zen experience. I began by knowing that I didn’t know. Did fine. I progressed to knowing that I knew. Fell apart. I ended up not-knowing that I knew. Best of all.
In his book, Tango Zen, Chan Park talks about this sort of thing in refreshingly brief chapters.
Whatever feelings and thoughts arise while dancing Tango—just let them pass by with no attachment to anything. Zen teaches us to open our minds and see things as they are. Be ready to let feelings and thoughts come and go without engaging them. Resist the impulse of analyzing or judging them. However, don’t push away or avoid them either. Just listen to the music and dance.
…For Tango to be Tango, we need to make each and every movement with confidence. No hesitation. In Zen we strive to celebrate our own nature, our unique gifts and abilities. We are who we are and, likewise, we dance Tango the way we are. For self-confidence, we need to block our self-consciousness by stopping the self-critical monologue, e.g. the mental chatter while dancing Tango. Be easy on yourself, as you are the best you can be Here and Now!
It struck me that the attitude I had during my awkward period at the dance class was akin to feelings I had when I was overtly religious. At one time I thought that I knew a lot about the faith I was committed to, that of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB). I knew what was right and what was wrong. I was constantly afraid that I’d make the wrong move.
Eat some meat, fish, or an egg by mistake. Imbibe some alcohol. Fail to meditate for the required period of time each day. Act against the wishes of the guru. I was stumbling all over myself trying to make precisely right moves on the spiritual path. I was self-consciously attempting to be humble and lose my ego.
Didn’t work. Couldn’t work. Would never work.
Here are some quotations from the Tango Zen book.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself. –Zen Proverb
Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. –Zhuagnzi
Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things. –Dogen
Master technique and then forget about it and be natural. –Anna Pavlova
There is Buddha for those who don’t know what he is, really. There is no Buddha for those who know what he is, really. –Zen saying
I have no desire to prove anything by dancing. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance. I just put my feet in the air and move them around. –Fred Astaire