Alchemical Tango

5th March 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)

"Turning knowledge into understanding" ~ an advertising slogan I never got around to using


I like asking "Why?"...

Why are there Practica and Milonga?

Beginner leaders get a hard time at first. You have to work out how to actually lead a few moves, ideally without colliding with the people around you. Oh and there's music playing too...

But there comes a point where you can lead a few bits and pieces. This is where it gets interesting. You can learn in the lesson, practice in the Practica and dance in the Milonga. It's a good system. But it's really tempting to practice in the Milonga as well, to help "speed up" the process.

But does it?

Medical science is doing interesting things with brain scans. A while ago they scanned a Buddhist monk to see what happened to his brain when he meditated and then what the effect of different types of meditation had. It still has a long way to go, but what I've noticed is that if I just relax and dance in Milonga "stuff happens". Not necessarily what I was working on this week; it might be something I started working on a few months ago. But when it does, it feels natural. I don't so much lead a move as realise I've created the right conditions for it to occur. And then it just happens.

The part of your brain which thinks in "English" is just too slow to cope with this level and speed of physical complexity. You need to learn this stuff with the other parts. And they seem to prefer the thinking part of your brain to shut up and stop back-seat driving!

The cauldron

It's like putting the ingredients of a Philosophers Stone (or Sorcerer's stone if you're American) into a cauldron. Yes, you have to keep it at a certain temperature, but the exact process of how lead changes into gold remains a mystery. It bubbles away and things float to the surface and gradually changes occur.

But it's not something to be rushed or messed around with.

How it works

You can see the physical effects too. For example, many leaders tense and raise their shoulders when they're learning.

It's something I've read over and over again in many different disciplines. The poor soul tries really hard, practices a lot, but just can't get it to work "live". Eventually they get fed up, and abandon it - and suddenly it happens.

So the next time you're tempted to practice in a milonga, remember you'll probably learn faster in the long run if you don't. And you'll have a lot more fun too which is always good. The only real catch is that you'll still have to practice somewhere else as well, otherwise you'll just have an empty cauldron.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 5th March 2009

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