Our last Salem Tango class was last night. We didn’t go to it but were there in spirit.
It isn’t possible for Peter, the instructor, to drive up from Corvallis each week anymore. Laurel and I are deeply appreciative of all the time and energy he and Joy, the organizer of the classes, put into bringing Tango to Salem for most of 2006.
In the “Tango” category of this blog you can learn what Tango has come to mean to me (scroll down past this post, which is at the top of the category postings).
I’m still a rank beginner at this challenging dance. But I’ve managed to absorb a smidgen of what’s been conveyed in the lessons we’ve taken from Peter, Carlos, and their assistants (Roy and Jodi).
Outwardly, this has been moves. Steps. Rhythm. Balance. Centering. Inwardly, this has been attitude. Leading. Following. Confidence. Connection. It’s the inward side of Tango that will mainly remain with me.
For unless you’re into dancing along the sidewalk whenever the mood strikes you, as in “The Tango Lesson,” Tango isn’t going to be in the forefront of every day. But there are universal lessons to be learned from the dance (see “I’m learning to Tango with life”).
One of the central themes of The Tango Lesson, a great movie, is the tension between leading and following. In a climactic scene Pablo Veron tells Sally Potter, his partner: “You should do nothing. When you dance—just follow! Otherwise you destroy my freedom to move.”
All I know is that based on my dancing with myself throughout my waking hours, I sympathize with Pablo. Sometimes I’m a terrible follower. I lead myself in a certain direction, then feel resistance. From me.
“Is this the correct thing to do?” “Maybe there’s a better way.” “Are you sure?” “Shouldn’t you think some more before jumping into this?” “How will it look if you make a wrong step?”
Just follow, Brian! Be an empty vessel. Fill yourself with your self.
Sometimes I get thirsty during my Tai Chi classes. There’s a water dispenser and small paper cups in a corner. I pour myself a cup, have a drink, and then set the empty container on a shelf in the back of the room.
After class is over I engage in an oft-repeated ritual: I crumple up the cup, walk a few steps to line myself up with a waste basket on the other side of the room, and attempt a toss.
I always miss. The basket is small. The crumpled cup isn’t aerodynamic. The distance is considerable.
Last night Warren, my Tai Chi instructor, picked up the wad of paper, threw it back to me, and said, “Brian, you always miss.” “I know,” I told him.
“Try something different,” Warren said. “Look at the basket. Then shut your eyes. Just do it. Don’t think about it.”
“That’s a lot of pressure,” I replied. Other students were staring at me. I felt like the guy at the free throw line when his team is one point down and there’s a second left on the clock.
“But I’ll give it a try.” Look. Close eyes. Toss. Miss. Retry. Same result. But worse.
“You’re trying too hard,” Warren said. “Relax. Just do it. Breathe.”
One more try. This time, though, it didn’t feel like a try. There wasn’t one side of me trying, and another side of me thinking “It probably won’t go in.” I didn’t really care if it did or not. I wasn’t aware of the other people in the room.
I just looked at the basket, shut my eyes, took a deep breath, and tossed the paper cup.
Right into the basket. Swish. No net (or the wastebasket equivalent).
One crumpled cup toss, one step toward learning how to Tango with life.