Tango can be a beauty and a beast.
Bad news: there is nothing we can do to change that. We enjoy total bliss, and next week it can be the worst experience ever.
Good news: generally, if you keep on working and improving, bad experiences either go away almost completely, or you start paying less attention to them and they don't spoil your life to the verge of “I hate tango, I want to quit!”
Let's have a talk about the less positive sides of tango, and how to deal with them, because if we are to be totally honest, tango can be really tough. We need to acknowledge it, address it and then find a way to deal with it.
When something bad happens
Sometimes, some moments can be soul-crushing. Whether it is because of countless rejections, or harsh comments, or unfriendly feedback, or rumours, or a difficult break-up of a tango-partnership, or anything else, we need to first face it. Trust me, EVERYONE in tango, including superstars, sometimes feels doubts and despair. It's normal. But it doesn't and shouldn't be a curse!
Too many students come to me for privates with one description of their problem and things they want to achieve: “I am not confident. I can't invite or get invited. I am too nervous to even try. I sometimes wonder if I should quit tango?” Often this occurs after something bad happened to them, and they are full of self-doubt and lose trust in themselves and their abilities.
Problems and Solutions
And over and over I tell them: do not quit. We can work on it, we can fix it, and you can emerge stronger, more confident and more able. But first, let's analyse the issue and LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS, NOT DISCUSS PROBLEMS!
Often dancers get into the mindset of “I have problems”, and want to discuss these problems again and again. When have you ever solved any issue in life by only thinking and acting negatively, by complaining, by sulking in the problem, and pitying yourself? I can tell you with confidence: never. You must, must, must look at what solutions can be, not what the problems are!
Did you get really bad feedback from someone, and it completely destroyed your ability to relax into the embrace? OK. Breathe in, breathe out slowly. Get some oxygen. Lower your shoulders, and consciously, with effort relax your upper body. Keep your mind at it.
If you're a leader, reduce the amount of “moves” you're doing, go back to very basics, but do those simple things with relaxed upper body, with dignity, with love for what you're doing. Enjoy your power to do simple things beautifully! But do those simplest things like walk, change of weight and breathing with power, with beauty and with joy. When you feel the love for what you do and not stress, your partner will enjoy it, too! With time, after you regain confidence in being able to enjoy and give joy to your followers, you might add more moves and elements to your dance. But always start rebuilding confidence with simplicity and relaxation!
If you're a follower, and suffer from not being able to relax, feel confident and enjoy, get rid of any decorations to start with. There is not much control you have over what moves your partner leads you (although you DO have a certain amount of control, but we'll talk about it some other time), but you have FULL control over how “busy” your make your moves. Too busy = stressed. Don't decorate, don't lift your free leg off the floor, add a little more groundedness and breathe steadily. So often dancers forget to breathe! Actively and consciously force your upper body to ease all tensions. When you ease tension, leaders feel it and slow down, which helps you to relax even more.
I can tell you a story about the effect of consciously easing tension
6 years ago I was at a marathon in Malmo. I danced like there was no tomorrow, not skipping a tanda, not sleeping enough, not eating enough, because I didn't want to miss out on dancing. At the end of the Saturday night milonga, at about 6am, I was dancing with a leader, still going with all my energy, all the force I had in my body, and the leader, feeling my energy, kept going fast and furious. I was exhausted but I pushed myself. And suddenly, in the middle of the tanda, I felt nauseous. My body was too exhausted. I was crazy enough not to stop dancing altogether, but I released my muscles, made them soft, lowered shoulders, inhaled a lot deeper and exhaled slower. I needed to finish that tanda. And you know what? The second I released the tension, my leader slowed down. He felt the relaxation, and stopped pushing me. And we finished the tanda with smiles and I felt good again.
If your confidence is shattered so much that you can't even get dances, LOWER YOUR EXPECTATION.
Again, start with the simpler things. Invite and accept invites from beginners. You will make them feel absolutely thrilled, and that in return will give you the vital portion of confidence. With beginners, you can relax, and that is exactly what you need. Allow your ego to be stroked, because beginners will probably be really happy to dance with you. With time, you can move up, but not until you start feeling better about your dancing again!
Like this, you manage to do two things in one go: fix your confidence and make a bunch of friends among people who might soon be great dancers, as beginners progress in tango! Great, right?
And lastly, be nice. ALWAYS. Say hi to people. Give constructive feedback, not negative (there's a big difference!) Do not spread rumors. Smile. Keep your consciousness free of guilt by not destroying someone else's confidence and joy in tango.
Followers, remember that while you progress faster in the beginning, leaders will eventually catch up with you. And if you hurt some leaders along the way, they will not dance with you when they become good, they will remember. And trust me, leaders WILL catch up with you.
Leaders, do not use your followers as machines for workout. They are humans, often delicate, and they want to feel and look beautiful in the dance, not contorted and stressed. Make them feel relaxed and beautiful, and they will love you for it!
And remember: no matter what, there is more beauty in tango than problems. And you can find this beauty, just keep searching!
Photo by Zrinko Maloseja from that very Malmo Tango Marathon I described here. Not that partner though :)