For me, Argentine Tango offers up a glimpse of what it must be like to have mild Alzheimer's.
I've had a bunch of classes in this challenging dance style, starting over five years ago (see "We tango, and also get tangled"). Yet when my wife and I are in an off phase of our off-and-on relationship with Argentine Tango, almost instantly I forget just about everything I knew about how to dance it.
The main reason is that Argentine Tango is the most spontaneous and unpatterned of partner dances. I'm at least mildly competent in quite a few ballroom styles -- waltz, foxtrot, swing, American tango, salsa, cha-cha-cha, hustle.
But Argentine Tango is a whole other dance animal.
So far I haven't been able to tame it. I'm pretty sure this is because of the nature of the beast. Other styles have a basic rhythm and step pattern that offers a "leash," so to speak, that both the leader and follower can hold on to.
Argentine Tango, not nearly so much. As noted in this post:
The essence of Tango is simply walking. As Carlos, another instructor, told us: "Guys, Tango is simple. It's just walking with the woman in a way that will make her fall in love with you." (For the duration of the dance, at least.)
What I discovered last night -- again -- at the first session of Tango4Salem's Beginner Tango Intensive at the Middle Earth Dance Studio is that "simply walking" with a partner isn't simple at all.
However, Frank and Karen Davis, the instructors, did a great job of introducing (or reintroducing) me and my classmates to Argentine Tango.
Like I said, every time I meet up with this dance style again, it feels like the very first time. Basic lead and follow practice was both fun and challenging. I'd done the drills before, yet right from the start I realized why I needed to do them again... and again... and again.
Tonight I re-read my "I'm learning to tango with life" post from 2006. What I said then makes just as much sense to me now.
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.
Frank pointed out several problems with my Tango'ing that elicited a hearty right on in my mind. I wasn't projecting enough leader-energy through my chest, which makes it tough for the follower (usually, a woman) to sense my intention.
I wanted to blame this fault of mine on Tai Chi, because in this movement art one's energetic center is nearer the waist/abdomen, whereas in partner dancing the upper body needs to do the leading or male and female knees are going to collide.
But the truth is that I'm often overly tentative, both on the dance floor and in everyday life. I secondguess myself; I overanalyze; I ponder options rather than intuitively choosing a course.
On a recent Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui I watched "The Tourist." I liked the movie, though it got mostly mediocre reviews. A favorite scene featured Johnny Depp, the (seemingly) mild-mannered tourist, meeting super-hot Angelina Jolie on a train to Venice.
She tells him he should arrange for them to have dinner together. Depp says, "Will you have dinner with me?" Jolie replies, "That's a question. Women don't like questions. Try again."
"I want you to have dinner with me." But there's a question mark at the end of his words, the way he says them. "Not good enough," Jolie tells him. "You and I are having dinner in the dining car," Depp finally says confidently. "I'd love to," she says.
(This isn't exact, just the way I remember the scene.)
I thought of the movie last night, as Frank was encouraging me to be more energetic and bold with my leading. There's a place and time for asking questions of a woman, but that isn't on the Argentine Tango dance floor -- where the man proposes what to do, and the woman follows.
Here's the thing, though: after the man leads and the woman follows, the man becomes the follower.
Meaning, he needs to let her finish her moves, whatever they are. So there's a constant interplay of yin and yang for both the leader and follower; each has to be attuned to the other, sensitive to what his/her partner is doing.
Just as in life.
For me this is the biggest fascination of Argentine Tango, what keeps bringing me back to this dance even though I'm perpetually perplexed by it.
Tango is a marvelous reflection of ourselves. How we move on the Argentine Tango dance floor will tell us a lot about how we move through life, including how we relate to other people.
[Update: I found the actual dialogue from "The Tourist." I didn't do too bad in my recollecting. Forgot the too demanding line, which also is a no-no when leading in dance.]
Elise: Invite me to dinner, Frank?
Frank Taylor: What?
Elise: [gives him a look]
Frank Taylor: Would you like to have dinner?
Elise: Women don't like questions.
Frank Taylor: Join me for dinner.
Elise: Too demanding.
Frank Taylor: Join me for dinner?
Elise: Another question.
Frank Taylor: [thinks for a moment] I'm having dinner, if you'd care to join me.
Elise: [smiles at him]