Chapter 10   Leave a comment

Fear of learning

Like in any good milonga when the music stops or the tanda ends, the socializing aspect of the encounter is a very important ingredient to round out an enjoyable evening. What makes socializing at a milonga different from an office party or the local bar scene is the fact that at the milonga there are many moments of truth when we have to deal with our own issues and those of our partners.

What follows is an opinion or a series of opinions based mostly on subjective aspects of the learning process of the Argentine Tango, and by no means there is scientific data or academic research to make these commentaries anything but positive conversation.

We believe that Argentine Tango is mostly about attitude and unconditional self acceptance of oneself. To truly understand this can make a difference to whether you will ever “get it” or you will be part of the cast of Tango zombies who night after night stroll the dance floors.

First we need to deal with the thin line that separates selfishness from the willingness to choose to love ourselves as the ones we will never lose, because our lives are loaded to various degrees with criticism, guilt trips, fear of rejection, negative feelings and a generous dose of what some experts call toxic shame, courtesy of parental figures and others who never considered in their well intended ways that they were the driving force that makes some of us to act as human doings instead of human beings. Human doings can drive themselves looking for more and more achievement in order to feel okay about themselves. It is a very difficult step to love and accept ourselves unconditionally to allow ourselves time to just be. To take time for fun and entertainment as well as to make time a nourishment moment of aloneness. In other words, to be willing to give ourselves pleasure and enjoyment.

Dancing Argentine Tango is about pleasure and enjoyment.

Befriend your mistakes

A man looks around the dance floor and finds a new face looking back. A smile, a nod and a walk brings them together and as the arms wrap around their bodies, I’m just a beginner is overheard. I’m afraid to make mistakes is implied. I am a mistake could be construed. Pleasure and enjoyment now takes a back seat to the intriguing question of whether some people are more than human so they don’t make mistakes, or others are less than human believing they are a mistake.

Because as disturbing and uncomfortable as it is, the thought of dealing with somebody who apologizes beforehand for upcoming mistakes is as stressful as finding ways to deal with the ones that don’t ever, ever make mistakes.

There is no way that we can learn anything without errors. It is after all, (how quickly we forgot our infant years) a process of successive approximation. First we crawl, then we stand, then we walk after falling down many times and adjusting our balance and trying again, and eventually we are capable to run.

Mistakes are a form of feedback, but as the buzzer in the car may warn us about the perils of driving without a seat belt, wearing a mask of perfectionism changes the warning into a moral indictment. At the point of encountering a mistake we can become so preoccupied with defending ourselves against the inner critical voices that we miss the opportunity to heed the warning of a mistake. If a defense mechanism also is cocked to fire back at the “attacker” with the aim to hit his/her hot buttons, then you have a conflagration of major proportions that gets in the way of pleasure and enjoyment. Teachers need to know how to deal with their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and the way different people, including themselves frame their mistakes.

Back to the attitude issue, a good Tango seems to result from the combination of the quasi arrogant and self confidence profile of the man and the self assertive, aggressive in your chest, standing tall body line of the woman. These are difficult attitudes to internalize because it means coming to the dance with a clear understanding and belief of our individual Bill of Rights. The right to judge our own behavior, thoughts and emotions and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon ourselves. The right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying our behavior. The right to say “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” or “I don’t care.” The right to make mistakes and be responsible for them. The right to seek pleasure and enjoyment. The right to befriend mistakes as information about what works and what doesn’t work.

You be the teacher

A couple is dancing removed from the rest of the crowd. In their own world we can’t see whether they are giving each other pleasure and enjoyment or they are trading wits blaming each other for their mistakes. Only they can tell, but they won’t. We can only guess unless we are one part of that couple. Then it behooves us to know that the fear of mistakes kills creativity and spontaneity, makes one walk on eggs, always afraid to say what we think or feel. The Argentine Tango thrives on creativity, spontaneity and improvisational journeys walked with poise and confidence on a solid yet trustworthy dance floor. Knowing that mistakes will be made can help seek new information and new solutions keeping away the belief of knowing it all. Assuming responsibility for our mistakes and accepting them as teaching tools may develop a habit to focus on the benefit of a mistake rather than its culpability. The same way that a speeding ticket can be a mistake that saves our life by accepting it as a warning to drive more slowly and concentrate on our driving, the mistakes that suitable teachers or friends may point out to us, may save our Tango dancing life. But before we are ready to implement our self assertive open mind to the warnings from others, we need to make peace with our own inner teacher, our mistakes, mistakes that we are willing to befriend, reformat and accept as a vital element of who we are, human beings embracing other human beings for pleasure and enjoyment while we ride the sounds of the orchestra.

When the music stops or the tanda ends, we will be looking forward to repeating the ritual again, and as we approach each other for the embrace, a glimpse in our eyes will tell of a thousand stories and countless Tangos promising moments of pleasure and enjoyment three minutes at a time.

Making a commitment

One day sitting in our living room sucking from a metal straw the traditional green infusion from the Rio de la Plata known as mate, we listened how Orlando Paiva described his younger years when in the process of learning to dance and later to teach Tango, he had spent countless hours in front of a mirror in his room working on every detail of his posture, foot placement, arm holding and his desired look. Those who have seen Orlando carrying more than sixty years of life on his shoulders, can immediately notice that there is something especial about this man the moment he stands up and readies himself to dance. There is a distinctive stance in his form to walk, turn and pause that generates gasps of admiration at the fluidity, elegance and personality of Orlando Paiva.

Many wish they could dance like him, some have attempted to copy him, very few realize that there is only one Orlando Paiva and he is who he is because of a commitment he made to himself many years ago to put everything he had learned from others into a unique style and personality of his own, while in the process developing his own skills as a teacher.

Making a commitment to find out what works better for ourselves is a very cool step to becoming unique and recognizable in our style and personality.


Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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