I got sent to remedial Tango class last Monday night. The guest instructor, Carlos Rojas, observed me dancing with my wife for a while. Then he walked over and said, “You’re not letting her finish her steps. You’re going to dance with Jodi now. Every time you interrupt her moves, she’s going to stop.”
Jodi is Carlos’ tall, slim, charming, attractive, and highly skilled dance partner. With a teacher like that, I didn’t mind getting some remedial instruction. We started dancing. Then she stopped. We started again. We stopped again.
Eventually I began to understand what I was doing wrong. Basically, I’d gotten the idea in my head that leading meant doing what I had in mind. Continually.
After leading a step, my mental focus was immediately shifting to the next anticipated step. I’d lost touch with what my partner was doing. I wasn’t aware of what position she was in when I tried to lead another move. Jodi's frequent stops were telling me that she hadn’t completed her own following step, yet I had already started to lead a new move.
I love how Tango is a reflection of life. My friend Bill, a fellow dance student, has been writing about his own Tango life lessons here and here (read them; his essays are great). I’ve done the same, most recently musing about “The Romance of Tango.”
The fresh insight that I got from Carlos and Jodi is that however I dance with a partner is a reflection of how I dance with myself. Whatever problems I have dancing Tango are intimately related to the difficulties I have partnering with me.
This morning I started to butter a piece of bread. While my knife was still spreading dabs of heart-healthy Take Control, I realized that I’d already begun to think about taking the newspaper upstairs and reading it while I watched some cable news. I was several steps ahead of myself and the day had barely begun.
Yeah, it’s a cliché: “Be here now.” But clichés often contain a lot of wisdom. That’s why they’re repeated so frequently.
You can’t dance Tango properly if you aren’t aware of what’s happening at every moment. As it is happening. Not as you think it is about to happen, or as it just happened. You and your partner are dancing in the moment, not in the future or past. If you lose touch with the moment, you lose touch with your partner.
And yourself. Carlos told us that Tango is the Ph.D. of social dancing because it is so spontaneous. There are no set patterns. Tango flows from the music, the man, the woman, the setting, the mood. It is infinitely creative, ever-changing, unrepeatable.
Just like life.
I have my daily habits. Toast, newspaper, cable news. Then cereal, checking the Internet, emailing. But every day is different. I’m not the same; my wife and dog are not the same; the world is not the same. The daily dance never repeats itself.
So I’m making a resolve to Tango more attentively with the multitudinous partners I encounter every 24 hours. Laurel, Serena, store clerks, birds, sun and sky, blogging, the toilet, food, my car. The list is endless.
One thing at a time. Allow my partner to do his/her/its own thing, as I am doing mine. Don’t rush a move—either my own or someone else’s. Lead, follow, lead, follow. Allow yin and yang to alternate. Do, relax, do, relax. Move to life’s natural harmony, not to the beat of my own self-centered intention.
Carlos said that if your partner doesn’t do what you anticipated, you don’t stop in your tracks and think “What the #&!@?” Rather, her move becomes the next step. And you Tango on.
Just like life.