Ever since my earliest childhood, I wanted to be a dancer. I was fascinated by ballet. I wanted to be like them, like those graceful, weightless fairies. They didn't take me to ballet school though. When I was still a toddler, they could already see I would be tall, and refused me. Despite all my desire, I could not overcome my limitations.
Nowadays, I am still a dancer, even though I never did ballet. On top of being tall, which in itself is a challenge in ballet and in tango, I also have serious anatomical limitations: my spines in the lower back are practically grown together and that substantially limits my flexibility. This means I am struggling with paradas, boleos, forward kicks and even disassociation in pivots. Every one of these movements brings me to the edge of my abilities and sometimes gives me pain.
We all have our limitations.
Yours might be very different than mine. They might feel like better or worse, but remember we all have our struggles to live with. Does it mean we can't dance? No. Otherwise I wouldn't be dancing. I wouldn't be teaching. Most of you, if you see me on the dance floor, probably don't even know I have some problems. I enjoy my tango to the absolute fullest, no matter what. I feel like a panther and a queen sometimes, and sometimes I feel the limitations. And yet, I dance.
More than that, as I worked my way around my own limitations, I learned to live with them, and also discovered the deepest, most fascinating things about my body! I learned for example how to “trick” it into doing things it is actually incapable of! Over years, these experiences proved helpful not just to me but also to my students. Often, to fix one big thing, you need to just change a tiny little something somewhere in your body, and suddenly it works!
Are you ever fascinated by beautiful feet or exceptional abilities of former ballerinas or gymnasts, when they do tango?
Those dancers have things that most of us can't achieve. They have been training since the earliest ages, and many of them dedicated their whole lives to dance and training their bodies to be the way they are. Meanwhile, most of us spend our lives sitting, hunched over tables and computers. We are lucky if we squeeze in two hours of gym a week, a tango class and a bit of social dancing. Until 9 months ago, I was doing the same: intense office life with training whenever possible afterwards.
We might never achieve what the beautiful fairies have. But does it mean we can't work on it? If for a former ballerina a kick in a show goes so high we gasp, because her foot reaches her head, then is our parada with a semi-bent leg that goes up 40 cm not a valid element? No. It is a beautiful, valid, hard-earned element. It is OUR dance, and the way WE do it makes it OUR tango.
Keep on working. Progress is there, it just might not be going at the speed of light.
I have been working on my back flexibility for years. I have a trainer, a personalised stretching program directed at that particular issue, and do an intense pilates class every day of the week. Do I notice progress? Yes and no. I am exceptionally happy if at the end of the stretching I can bend my back 1/4mm lower without allowing my knees to give in. Progress is slow, and yet it is there. I feel it in my dance, and I see it in my practice videos I take of myself. A year ago and now are two different dancers.
I know I will never be able to do escenario-kind of crazy kicks and boleos. But do I need to? If I don't get my leg to fly up 2m high into the air, can I still be a good dancer? Yes. If my feet will never be like those seemingly boneless feet of some professionals, can I still be a good dancer and a good teacher? Yes.
If YOU don't get to be perfect, can you be a good dancer? YES.
Keep on working.
If there is something you want, go for it! Progress might be slow, but if you don't work on it, progress will be negative, meaning instead of increasing your disassociation by 1/2mm over the last month, you decreased it by 1/2!
Don't try to be a copy.
Do not strive to be exactly like other dancers you admire. Take all you can from them, try to replicate it, but don't put your hands down if something doesn't work. This is you, and that is them. You might not be as flexible as a 25 y.o. former ballerina, but you at your 45 might bring so much depth, feeling and emotion into the dance, that you will be loved by all partners even if your feet are not perfect!
Go to maestros, take their classes, ask questions, try. And then make what you learned YOURS. Don't make it a copy of theirs, but make it yours. If it's a beautiful adorno or an amazing enrosque, learn all you can from the maestro and then work to make these things match and feel natural for your own body.
Find your strengths.
Is your emotional side your strongest? Is it your flexibility? Is it your creativity? Are you able to hear the music in a really special way? Whatever your strength, know it and grow it.
Identify your weaknesses.
They won't get better if you run away from them. Work on them, set yourself a goal. The more, the higher, the better. My weaknesses for example lay in anything with a leg going forward and up and disassociating, so I work on my ochos and paradas and kicks as much as I can.
Believe in your ability to fix whatever you want. And then FIX it!
Please try to remember there is no “end goal” in tango. It's the process. There is nothing but process in this dance. So whatever you do, make it about enjoying the process and that 1/4mm of progess a month that you may make.
If a mountain is too high for you, choose a smaller hill, but keep going and enjoying the scenery around :)