Tango Highs and Lows

18th March 2009

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Way back when

A couple of years back, when I was just a wee naive lad starting out on the Big Tango Adventure, a comment made by one of my teachers struck me. We were all standing around and talking about the whole feeling-of-utter-uselessness we all encounter frequently when learning this dance of ours. The teacher revealed that he too, even after 10 years' dancing, suffered regular "Tango Crises" - once every three weeks, he claimed.

Now, fair enough, maybe he shouldn't have said that to us impressionable youths - on the other hand, it did make an impression, I can remember it well, whereas I haven't got a clue now what the class was about. I may also not have had a clue back then, but that's a different matter...

So, this was a tango teacher, with over 10 years' experience, who was telling us about how difficult he found the emotional highs and lows of the dance. And in a weird kind of "it's not just me" way, I've found that statement comforting, reassuring even, over the past couple of years.

And so...?

So, I did a class on Friday. The lesson was on front / back boleos, but that's not important.

What's important, at least to me, is that it depressed me. It didn't engage me, it didn't interest me, and at no point did I have a "Ah, so that's how it's done" moment. In fact, I came out from the class feeling worse than I went into it.

I seriously felt rubbish after the class, and had to sit down for 20-odd minutes trying to evaluate. Or, possibly, just feeling depressed

Why do we do this?

Whilst there are some few lucky souls who breeze through the learning process, with no "lows", or who can quickly recover from such with a positive mental attitude, I think many or most of us have experienced a Tango Crisis of our own at some point.

Why do we get this feeling when we're learning Tango, but not (I assume) if we're learning accountancy?

I think it's because we're on show, both to our partner and to other people. If I were to get frustrated learning accounting, I'd be frustrated, and maybe worried, but I wouldn't get all depressed about it (I feel the need to hasten to add at this point, I'm not an accountant). But with tango, if it goes wrong, even slightly, it's usually very obvious to our partner, and possibly to the others watching. And yes, there's always someone watching...

So there's more of a sense of public shame, which feeds into and emphasizes our sense of frustration.

It's a theory.

What not to do

So what do we do to get out of this? How do we react?

  • Do we storm off in a rage, fuming at the world in general, vowing never to return whilst breath is in our bodies?
  • Do we sit in a corner and sulk, persuading ourselves that everyone else is a member of the Snooty Cliquey Club, simply because they are for some inexplicable reason giving this glowering person in the corner a wide berth?
  • Do we spend time obsessing over our own inadequacies, and tumble into full-on Tango Crisis Mode?

I've done all three - and often in a single night. In fact I did most of that last Friday. Unsurprisingly, none of these reactions helps.

So don't do them, is my recommendation.

What to do

What does help is reaching out to a sympathetic friend and unburdening yourself to them. Hugs also help, never be afraid to hug or be hugged in life.

Writing down your problems on a notepad, then forgetting about them for the evening, may also work.

It usually also helps to "dance through" the problem with said sympathetic friend; keeping it simple, keeping it relaxed, just dancing.

(Note: I say "usually" because you may feel a desire to turn this dance into a practica - you may feel you have to work through the class, to resolve the problems you experienced. I'd avoid this - those problems caused your frustration in the first place, they're likely to do so again. Milongas are not practicas.)

And bearing in mind that, at the end of the day, you have someone in your arms, dancing with you, and there are a lot worse things in life than that.

- David Bailey, 18th March 2009

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