All posts by aydan.tango@gmail.com

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“Yes, and … ” A tango Improv Game.

“Yes, and,” is a fascinating improvisational* theatre game that has relevance to life and tango.(*created on the spot).

The only rule of this game is:

Every dialogue transfer has to be received with a “yes, and.”

The game “yes, and” forces actors to avoid rejecting other cast members’ ideas, and, instead, to find a way to go with the flow. Receiving every story line presented by the previous actor with a “yes and” implies unconditional acceptance of what was passed to them and an energetic commitment to pick up the story line and continue on enthusiastically.

The alternative response is “No, but,” meaning:

“I cannot accept or work with the story line that you have set up for me.”

This kills the energy instantly and irrevocably. End of game.

Tango Improv

We play the same game in tango, although we don’t use these phrases.

Tango is an improvisational dance. Like theatre this means:

1 ) Every step can be sequenced in a variety of ways.

2) There are several suitable responses to  each step sequence.

3) No response of your partner can be entirely predetermined or predicted.

4) Every dancer brings their own individualized nuances and expressions to every step.

5) A positive, accepting response to your partner’s movement feeds the generative, creative energy. A negative, judgemental response/ attitude kills it.

6) The most engaging and generative moves and music are the unpredictable ones.

The improvisational genius of tango is:

A skilled dancer never has to be stuck for a response to his/her partner’s moves.

Every move is an invitation to do something creative and novel. And every step can be met with the response, “yes, and.”

If we respond with a “no, but,” i.e.,

“That is not the move I was expecting/ wanting.”

“I can’t work with that.”

“I need to fix and change your response before we can continue.”

the creative dance-energy dies instantly.

An invitation:

Let’s play the tango improve game next milonga by responding to whatever dance step our partner makes with a “yes, and.”

If it is not what we were expecting or desiring, we can chose to welcome it as an invitation to be creative.

Last rule: There are no mistakes, only invitations to be more creative.

Nothing kills the spirit of creativity faster than the the fear of making a mistake. Apologies be damned!

P.S. Thanks to Julia for reminding me of the “yes, and” game of life.

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Equinox – a time of balance.

The equinox (vernal and autumnal) marks a  point of balance and equanimity in the calendar year, the time when day and night are equal duration.

 

The equinox is the tipping point. In traditional cultures, it also marks the time where all of life’s polarities and archetypal energies come into balance: sun and moon, light and dark, introspection and manifestation, masculine and feminine, abundance and scarcity, power and weakness, etc. It only lasts a day and then we move forward with recharged batteries and deepened wisdom into a time of productivity, planting and harvesting.

 

In former times the changing of the seasons were great cultural and religious festivals, marked by music and dance as well as sensual excesses (any excuse for a good party). To the pre-scientific mindset, not only was the change in seasons being acknowledged and honoured but that in some way tension between archetypal polarities were being lessoned and drawn toward resolution. In the dancing and celebration they were participating in and facilitating the shifts.

 

Tango clearly represents the tension between masculine and feminine energies and provides, at the same time, an exquisite social exercise in intensifying or resolving them, depending on how we dance we. The opportunity is  presented for shared leadership and co-creative expression.

 

As male leads, if we dance with disrespect to our partner’s abilities or preferences, if we refuse to create space for our partner for embellishments, or force compliance to our lead by using physical strength, we are intensifying the power over and male dominance.

 

If, on the other hand, we sensitively interpret the music and adapt our dancing to our partners strengths and interests, open our hearts in positive affirmation to our partner, then we are in reinforcing a consciousness shift toward male and female partnership and resolution of masculine/ feminine tensions.

 

The opportunity for this harmonic alignment is particularly strong during the equinox. I invite everyone to dance with attentiveness, attunement, and alignment with the stars as well as the music and your dance partner.

 

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International Women’s Day

March 8th is international women’s day.

Can tango be celebrated in conjunction with international women’s day?

The notion would have had my mother rolling over in her grave. The impression often given by stage, performance tango belies everything she believed in as an ardent feminist: scantily clad women draped over men in suits, flung about by their partners at will. Artistry perhaps, but bordering on the burlesque and seeping with sexism. (Fortunately that there is a huge difference between social tango and performance tango.)

From my mother’s strong modelling I learned respect for feminine attitudes and aptitudes and equality of the sexes. I learned to recognize and avoid genderalizations. I learned to value consensus and the style of leadership that invests the prerequisite effort into understanding the other side’s point of view.

Problem. Consensus leadership does not work in tango. I learned that early and with great difficulty and discomfort. There must  be a lead and a follow, typically a male lead and a female follow.* The lead must act with conviction and the follow must adapt. Tango is no place for  indecision or inaction, mincing or meandering. The clearer and stronger the lead the better.

To be fair to tango, there are certainly historical and customary exceptions to the male lead, female follow formula. When tango first originated there were very few female dance partners. This necessitated men learning to dance with each other and learn both the lead and the follow. This seldom happens today as there are usually more women on the dance floor crying for a good lead. So much so that women are often now learning how to lead as well. Then there is the more recent gay and queer tango dance scene where partners alternate lead and follow, which benefits everyone; the more experience you have on both sides of the embrace, the better dancer you become. Life lesson?

The skill set required for lead and follow are opposing, although complimentary in the dance form, (the real genius of tango). The lead must be clear, focused, cerebral, knowing ahead of time where the dance is going. The follow must be the opposite: intuitive, responsive, patient, never anticipating. The man dances with focus and direction. The woman responds with lightness and whimsy. The greatest compliment to the woman is that she dances light as a feather. The greatest compliment to the man is that he feels solid, grounded, decisive, strong.

Nonetheless, my initial conception of strong lead and adaptive follow has shifted somewhat, back toward a consensus-building communication style; more  “call and response” or “encoder and decoder.” The lead in fact does not insist on compliance to a preconceived step sequence but rather creates a safe space and marks the context for the follow’s response – without prescribing or limiting it.

With this mindset, the dance then evolves from the preoccupation with communicating and discerning intent to engaging in a dialogue in which there is negotiation, flexibility, mutuality. On this level the skills required for a good lead and follow are the same: attunement, listening, co-creativity, reading each other’s interests, intents and abilities and adapting accordingly.

Not consensus exactly, but a respecting and valuing of the differing roles, gifts and skills that each bring to the dance. Perhaps in the end, a deeper resolution of the battle of the sexes.

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No Bullying

 

Ten years ago, (february 22, 2007) two young Nova Scotia High School students started a worldwide fashion passion for pink shirts. That was not their intention. They were merely standing in solidarity with a fellow gay student who was getting bullied for wearing pink to school. David and Travis went out and bought a few dozen pink T-shirts and passed them around to fellow students and thus the no-bullying pink-shirt day was born.

What does any of this have to do with tango?

(other than giving us an opportunity to make another outrageous colour fashion statement)?

A fair bit.

Because of its subtle complexities, the tango is the ideal medium for exploring and exposing many relational dynamics, including bullying.

Tango is dependent upon the receptive and expressive communication skills of the lead and follow. Unless the partners are able to listen deeply to each other, understanding not only dance style and respective ability but also the emotional presence of the partner, they will not be able to communicate adequately to dance. They will default to bullying.

What does bullying look like?

  • Dancing beyond the ability of one’s partner.
  • Forcing compliance rather than inviting a co-creative response.
  • Executing complex sequences which detract from rather than support connection.
  • Enforcing a rigid embrace (open or close).
  • Strong-arming your partner rather than gently leading.
  • Pulling your partner off her/his axis.
  • Repeating steps that are uncomfortable, unfamiliar or unsuitable to your partner.
  • Judging and blaming your partner for missteps

Bullying manifests itself as a preset, inflexible dance style with the expectation that preset, inflexible dance style with the expectation that your partner adapt to it. It includes making demands, enforcing compliance and judging your partner’s response. It does not make for a pleasant dance experience. Your partner may actually be physically and emotionally hurt through the process.

Here’s the good news.

Just as tango can amplify dysfunctional or abusive relational patterns, it also presents an exceptional and unique opportunity to explore and express supportive, sensitive, body-based communication skills: attentiveness, intimacy, gentleness, sensuality, attunement, and just plain fun.

Here are some considerations, particularly for the lead, to move your dance style beyond bullying to co-creative mutuality:

  • Adopt an elastic flexible embrace that allows for physical closeness at times but also expands to create space for movement and emotional readjustment.
  • Negotiate the embrace repeatedly throughout the dance. Do not presume that your  partner always wants to snuggle. You can invite this closeness but you cannot insist on it.
  • Provide a gentle lead that expresses only just enough information for the follow to discern your intent. This indicates trust and confidence in your partner’s abilities and makes the dance more intriguing.
  • Never force compliance or response. Leave space for embellishments.
  • Take time for connection and creativity. Pause, Breathe. Feel. Dance as if you are in an emotional bubble.
  • Dance step by step. Jettison complex sequences and and repetitive choreography. Surprise both yourself and your partner. Stay in the moment.
  • Build on each other’s strengths as well as the strength of the music. Use the tempo and mood of the music to augment your partner’s style.
  • Take risks. Make mistakes. Go somewhere you haven’t been before and don’t rush back.
  • Make the space safe both emotionally and physically.
  • Maintain an attitude of appreciation and admiration. This is the miracle of the moment, that you are dancing to this exquisite music with this beautiful dance partner.
  • Wear pink.

 

Comic relief from my book, Trauma to Tango:

My first dance with a local in Buenos Aires comically incorporated several of these bullying postures. Neglecting the culturally sensitive cabecero I marched down the long line of unpartnered women, requesting a dance. Eventually, an elderly, pink-haired lady took pity on me and leveraged herself out of her chair. Part-way into the dance she began yelling at me vehemently, in Spanish. I knew less Spanish than I did tango so I stared stupefied, no clue what she was upset about. All I knew was that, according to tangero folklore, if a woman walked out on you in the middle of a dance, I as a proper tangero, humiliated, would have to go out back and stab myself. So in the middle of the dance, in the centre of the dance-floor we are squared off, she waving her arms, shouting in Spanish, I desperately pleading as if for my life in English. Fortunately it was the last song of the tanda and she stuck the dance out and I lived to tell. 

It was not until several years later that I figured out what she was so upset about: I had been moving her with my arms, rather than leading with my chest. Bullying. Definitely something to protest vehemently about.

 

 

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Valentine’s Day

The Dance of the Heart

 

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. .. It presupposes faith and love.” Simone Weil

As it is Valentine’s day, I want to talk romance and relationships. I don’t mean to suggest that all dances need to feel like romantic encounters, but it is fun for some to warm us up once in awhile.

Think of tango as  a heartfelt encounter. What that would look like? What would it look like? How might that change the dance? 

The structure of the dance and the embrace reinforce the heart connection. The embrace pulls us together, heart to heart. (I prefer this wording to chest to chest because we are not merely talking about anatomy when we describe tango.) The body positioning and movement supports and expresses the heart presence and intent.

Tango is the movement of two souls revelling in the connection and shared creative exploration. Without the heart filling every gesture, every accommodation it is nothing more than an athletic performance.

Tango movements are intricate and complex because the practice of attunement and mutuality is profoundly intricate and complex; To learn how to invite response without coercion, to communicate intent without words, to move in harmony with your partner all the time in keeping with the music takes skill, patience, focused attention and an open heart.

It also helps to have as a backup a nice bottle of wine, some flowers and of course, chocolate. Happy Valentine’s day.

 

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The Primal Hug

el abrazo:  the heart and core of tango

In the dance world, this has a precise technical meaning which we honour in English by the more exclusive word, embrace, but el abrazo in colloquial usage would be best translated hug. Argentine tango teachers whom I have met are typically quite comfortable blending the two meanings when trying to convey the richness and range of this foundational element of the dance. 

Personally, I experience this melding of hug and embrace when I keep my focus on my energetic connection with my partner.

 

The hug is one of the foundational expressions of affection and connection.

It is as primal as suckling from a mother’s breast and actually precedes it in sequence and significance.  That primal experience of bonding is facilitated by the brain manufacturing and flooding the baby’s system with the chemical oxytocin, nicknamed the bonding drug.  This chemical heightens our experience of safety, trust and belonging and helps us internalize our mother’s emotions and feel connected to her.

The fascinating piece is that this process is replicated throughout our entire lives – every time we hug or maintain close physical contact with someone, the brain releases the same drug and we become emotionally connected, feel safe and comforted and internalize the other’s emotional state.

This bonding experience is as important to us at every stage of life as it is for infants. The only difference is that as we get older, the connection is interspersed throughout a larger social network. Consequently we don’t latch onto anyone who comes close as if our lives depended on them; when our mother dies, we don’t shrivel up in a ball and die as well. (We go out dancing instead!).

 

Have you ever wondered about the emotional charge or allure, even addictive quality, of tango?

This is it: the manufacture and release by the brain of a feelgood chemical cocktail which includes, in addition to oxytocin, several other happiness drugs: Dopamine,  Serotonin, and Endorphins. Add in a few other adrenaline-charged social stimulants, like attraction and excitement and you have an experience more addictive than nicotine.

 

The genius of tango:

It harnesses all the emotional charge of the common hug and fashions it into a danceable embrace. We adjust our frame a little, change our hand positioning, attend to balance and weight transfer and all the other intricacies that fit into a supportive and nurturing embrace and off we go.

 

A choice point.

What do we do with that feelgood chemical cocktail coursing through our veins? As North Americans, all that sensitivity can feel more than a little threatening. The default often becomes, for teachers and students alike to ignore it, repress it or deflect the energy into complicated steps and maneuvers.  

There is an alternative. We can dance in a manner that is both skilled, eloquent, and sophisticated and at the same time nurtures and strengthens the bond and emotional connection with our partner. This is dependent upon one integrating the technical disciplines of the dance in such a way as to return the focus and movement again and again to the hug/embrace, all the while, and most importantly, remaining respectful and courteous.

 

Some disqualifiers.

Not all hugs feel good, whether on or off the dance floor. Learn to avoid bad touch at all costs.

Secondly, the embrace needs to be negotiated and renegotiated. It is never to be presumed that you or your partner will be comfortable with being held in a particular way throughout the dance.

 

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Deepening Connection: a dozen hints.

 

A dozen tips for leads to deepen the connection in dancing.

 

  1. Check-in. Do a psychological and physiological check before your begin with the invitation and the embrace: your attitude, your posture, your breath. Bring your best, most focused and clearest self to this engagement.

  2. The invitation. Give time and attention to all the little courtship rituals leading up to the dance. Make eye contact. Smile. Extend your hand with intention. Indicate delight that this charming partner has agreed to share these precious moments on the dance floor with you. Glow. Dedicate the next dozen minutes to making your partner the only person in your world. (It this doesn’t strike you as a magical and mystical experience, you don’t deserve her.) 
  3. Embrace. This is the core of the tango genius. It is often taught first as a hug with all the with minor structural variations to allow for dancing added on after. This is good to remember. An embrace on the dance floor carries all the good feelings that a hug off the dance floor does, and more. Physical touch stimulates the manufacturing and release of feel good chemicals – serotonin, dopamine, endorphins. Hugs add to this with the release of oxytocin, the cuddle or bonding drug. When was the last time you had a 3 minute hug other than dancing? Soak it up. 
  4. Pay attention. Be aware of subtle responses from your partner. Presumably as your partner learns to trust and enjoy you as a dance partner, this will be expressed throughout the dance with little indications: a tightening of embrace, a brush of cheek against cheek, a lingering forward ocho, a smile, eye contact. All indicate positive endorsement of your lead. 
  5. Safety first. Nothing kills the mood of a dance quicker than an injured foot or knee. The lead provides not only a stable, secure frame, but also has to stay alert to what is happening on the dance floor around. (Oh, I am in the mood for beating myself up about this one.) 
  6. Mix it up. Variety is the spice of life. Vary the embrace between open and close (salon style). Vary the speed. Vary the technical difficulty. Renegotiate the embrace throughout the dance. Our physiological attention span is very short and mind and body respond more intensely to the novel and immediate. 
  7. Slow down. Mix in some pauses and slow, simple steps in with the challenging ones. Nothing mutes connection quicker than a continuous flurry of pivots and kicks; the fast and flashy just doesn’t mesh with cozy and close. Make listening and attending to your partner your priority. 
  8. Connect, disconnect and reconnect. A dozen change-ups with the embrace throughout the dance is far more exciting than one long, uninterrupted, 3 minute embrace. That is just how the body and mind work.  If you are dancing with someone who is a cling-on, do both of you a favour and throw in a step sequence that creates space. This gives you both some breathing room and also affords the singular pleasure of reconnecting. 
  9. Negotiate. Ultimately it is the follow who dictates the closeness of the embrace. If you get a straight arm throughout the dance, accept it and enjoy it for what it is. Be gentle, accepting and respectful. Everyone has their own level of comfort with or interest in close body contact. Invite more connection throughout the dance but accept the response. 
  10. Share leadership. Create empty spaces and allow adequate time for your partner to fill them in. (Forward ochos follow-led sweeps are great opportunities for this.) Surrender control. Very scary but it empowers your partner. Note to follows. Take all the time you want with these maneuvers. Steal the show. This is your call.

  11. Play to your partner. Adapt your dance style and steps to your partner’s ability. Make pleasing your partner the primary focus of your dance. This is not the time to earn ego points by trying to impress either your partner or those watching from the sidelines with your technical skill. Be accommodating and never criticize or critique!  This is not all about you. 
  12. Breathe. Any body-work practitioner will tell you (and we fortunately have several in our dance community), that working with the breath is the foundation for internalizing all physical and emotional processing, and that constricting the breath is the most effective way of numbing both. (Amazingly, it actually seems possible to navigate through an entire dance without being aware of breathing! I have done it for years.) Attend to your breathing as well as your partner’s. Create pauses or spaces in the dance where you can both focus on the breath, e.g., the salida or cross. It may even be possible or appropriate to synchronize your breathing. This is a lot of fun and takes connection to another level.

 

Comments?

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Woo-woo tango

Woo-woo tango

Not to be confused with wow-wow tango.

I am a huge fan of both.

One to watch and one to dance.

Wow-wow tango is what first got my wife, Patricia and I initially interested in dancing tango.

Woo-woo tango is what kept us in the game.

Wow-wow tango is what you see. Performance style. The fancy pivots and spins and everything else that requires talent and skill and advanced coordination. Beautiful. Difficult. Lots of lessons.

Woo-woo tango is not seen. It is felt. It is internal, not external. It is what goes on inside: one’s feelings, one’s openness, one’s heart strength, what one is attending to a deep level, and also what goes on between the dance partners: connection, attunement, shared energy. Rather than the classic qualities like pivoting and posture and sequences, woo-woo tango focuses on emotional orientation, sensuality, sensitivity, listening and responding.

Very little attention is given to woo-woo tango, (dancing with presence is the more sophisticated title I give it), maybe for good reason. As my favourite dancer Carlos Gavito (1942-2005), stated, (on a youtube video), “you can teach steps. You can’t teach feeling.”

Maybe you can’t. But speaking from my professional and personal experience,  all that is required is that you create a safe and nurturing place and feelings will naturally arise to fill the void.

Gavito in his teaching and dancing focuses on creating that magical space: “The secret of tango is in this impossible moment of improvisation that happens between step and step.  It is to make the impossible thing possible, to dance silence..”

 On the dance floor, it is this moment of improvisation between step and step, referenced above. Gavito and his oft dance partner Marcela Duran, were the quintessential ambassadors of dancing with feeling, touring the world headlining the famous Buenos Aires production, “Forever Tango”. Check out youtube links for Gavito/ Forever Tango/ a evaristo carriego.  Sure, this is showmanship, drama, way over the top but it showcases tango as a suitable medium for expressing emotion. 

Gavito continued to teach a minimalist style of dancing that creates space for and invokes feeling and attunement to the dance as well as one’s partner. With a refined emphasis on technique, he instructed beginner dancers how to develop the woo-woo elements at the same time and in harmony with the wow-wow elements. In one on-line lesson, he demonstrates how few steps one needs to take to create a dance. He asks his class to count the number of steps he takes in a 30 second song segment: Two! (I would have taken at least a dozen in that time frame and been disappointed I couldn’t squeeze in more.) And yet through all that stillness, he and his partner maintained emotional intensity and dynamic intrigue and tension.

Which brings me to the most fascinating element of tango.

For me tango introduces a non-verbal language, structure and medium for exploring and expressing emotionality and sensuality in a socially sensitive manner.

My wife Patricia and I were fortunate to get some early-on instruction from visiting teachers, Michael Young and Beatrix Saltzinger who taught very skillfully how to blend the wow-wow and the woo-woo. Dancing as a couple at the time, it was all fun and no threat to explore where this would take us. We found out that tango was a most excellent form of foreplay and we carried on unabashedly until someone would yell, “Get a room.” Then life circumstances prevented Patricia from dancing. The oft-quoted expression “Tango is the vertical expression of a horizontal experience,” now seemed silly if not offensive.  

This presented to me the opportunity and necessity of exploring feelings and sensitivity, connection and intimacy which did not default into sexual or romantic attraction. I set to work on developing a tool-kit of intra and inter-personal skills which would support and enhance my connection with my dance partner. It included fine-tuning attitudes and dynamics such as respect (even reverence), attunement, sensitivity, gentleness, support, attachment and detachment, call and response, sensuality (listening with one’s body), energetic connection (the dance in-between), creative collaboration, equality, intuition, body awareness, shared and solitary axis.

All of this is expressed and experienced non-verbally, even non-visually. One neither talks to one’s partner while dancing nor in truth, seldom looks at one’s partner, especially if dancing in close embrace. In any case, the reference point for woo-woo dancing  is always internal.

It has been revolutionary for me to explore tango from within this frame of reference, not just because it changed my dancing but because it introduces a model of hetero-sexual relating that stands over against the traditional patriarchal model that I grew up with, i.e., gender difference translates into inequality and power struggles typically resolved in the sex act and often including some element of abuse of power. ( If anyone needs any further exploration of this dynamic, simply reference the last United States election.)

I believe that tango is in every way as much a suitable medium for exploring and developing one’s inner emotional and psychic axis as it is one’s physical centre of balance. Check this out with Jacqueline Goudreau and myself for the next few weeks, 7:15 to 8:00 prior to the Monday Tango Cafe milonga (as announced).

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The Miracle of Birth – a Christmas reflection

 

“There are only two ways to live; as if nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.” A Einstein.

 

Patricia’s and my favourite TV show is Call the Midwife a BBC period drama series, about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s, (based on the book of the same title). The living conditions are often harsh and by our standards somewhat primitive and the medical services are basic but the quality of caring and the valuing of life in the midst of these hardships is inspiring and empowering. There is seldom an episode that we are not moved to tears by the indomitable human spirit and the miracle of birth.

The exception would be the Christmas episode where, instead of portraying life in its most real and earthy, there is a felt need, because it is Christmas, to layer everything with schmaltz and candy cane sweetness. At the one time of year when birthing and babies with all the blood and placenta and pain and near-deaths and deaths should hold centre stage, they default to a romanticized notion of how everything should be – just like in Bethlehem with all the straw neatly arranged in the manger and central air conditioning and stable housekeeping services and freshly laundered sheep and the cattle lowing and the poor babe awakes but no crying he makes. Not.

 

If only God were a hollywood producer…

We cling desperately to the conviction that life should be pain free and everything have a happy ending and all our misadventures end at a Howard Johnson’s. We have problems with real, especially when it comes to birth and death and all the messy points in between. Which is why we attempt to rescript everything Bethlehemish.

 

We don’t need a neat and tidy Nativity.

We need a true-to-life, feet-firmly-planted-in-cow-manure nativity that serves as the archetype and vision of hope for every refugee family, every politically oppressed minority, every unwed mother, every poor displaced homeless family outside in the cold.

Our reality-starved, hope-deprived post-truth world needs a Christmas narrative that  proclaims, not in neon lights or in stereophonic choruses in golden-gilded cathedrals, that all of life is sacred, that the ordinary is extraordinary, and that every new birth means that God has not yet given up hope for this world.

We need a Christmas pageant that shouts from the roof top of a back-alley stable, amidst the huddle of bleating sheep and defecating cattle, that the greatest gift that we can give anyone, at the beginning or end of life is to stand alongside in their struggle to thrive or even survive, to hold their hand and encourage them to breathe and to anchor deep in your heart the truth that this too is a miracle.

 

Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

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Three to Tango

It takes three to tango: You, me and the dance between.

I have no other explanation for the odd stuff that happens between my partner and I when we dance.

Case in point: the other day I got nervous while dancing. A performance, no biggie, but I thought I should apologize. Except that my partner apologized first – for her nervousness! 

This was not simply a Canadian tradition of trying to  out apologize the other person for everything and anything. The truth is that neither of us was aware that we were sharing in the emotional state of the other. We had presumed that the nervousness belonged to each alone.

I experience this type of consciousness exchange regularly while dancing tango.

When I am attuned to my dance partner, thoughts, feelings and movements congeal on an unconscious level. This in turn forms a distinctive dance energy that assumes a life of its own. This dance between becomes in a sense, command-central, a third mind that super-cedes our independent thoughts and feelings and effects both how we experience the dance and the quality and character of the dancing itself.

It is difficult to describe or validate this energetic interconnection for several reasons:

1) It is so pervasive that it is easily goes unacknowledged,
2) it sounds fairly woo-woo, and
3) the focus in tango is predominantly on steps which are in fact often a distraction from the energetic quality of the dance.

The presence and effect of this dance between can be seen most readily when the energetic connection breaks down. Consider some of the most common missteps on the dance floor:

One loses their balance or misrepresents or misses a lead. Then follows this circular disagreement with your partner:

Follow: “Sorry. I lost my balance.”
Lead: “No. It was me. I gave a poor lead.”
Follow: “No. It was my fault. I didn’t …”

Both partners remain stubbornly convinced that they were singularly responsible for the miscue.

So who is responsible? No one.

Rather, all three are responsible: You, me and the dance between.  When we are dancing with connection there is no singular responsibility anymore. We are fused in this third element of the dance.

To be clear, I am not speaking of those times when I do give a blatantly poor lead and my partner understandably stumbles in response. I am quite capable of screwing up royally on my own, as is my partner.

I am speaking of those synchronistic and synergistic misalignments that we co-create.

Here is a crazier version of the above “who’s responsible” debate:

I have a brain fart, (an infinitesimally brief lapse in concentration), which invariably results in or coincides with a misstep by my partner. Then again the inevitable  circuitous apologizing follows:

Follow: “Sorry. I wasn’t concentrating/ misread the lead/ lost my balance ….”
Lead: “No, it was my fault. I had a brain fart.” (conversation stopper).

The distinctive feature of this miscue is that my partner’s misstep is not in response to an actual lead – I haven’t yet given one. Often I recover from my brain lapse quickly enough to give a perfectly good lead (technically speaking) but my partner stumbles nonetheless – in response to my muddled thought process. Woo-woo, woo-woo. 

What is going on? Is she psychic? 

Let’s take it one step further: could it be that my brain fart is my experience of her loss of concentration? (I could say brain fart but ladies don’t fart.)

I attended a workshop in San Francisco a few years back lead by Lucinda Hayden, Tom Lewis and Guillermo García of Trio Garufa. One exercise involved focusing on an imaginary energy ball held between our diaphragms while we danced.

Inevitably one of us would get distracted or shift focus to default ego issues such as;

“Am I screwing up? Am I boring my partner? OMG! People are watching.”

As soon as either of us (impossible to know who) were distracted the ball dropped and the dance stalled. To re-energize our dance we had to pick up the ball again and re-position it securely while continuing to dance. The most interesting aspect of this experiment was that the instructors could tell/ see when the ball was dropped and re-positioned as it reflected in our dancing.

The learning to be gained from the above is that …

Caring for or cultivating the dance between is a shared responsibility. 

There is no fault or individual culpability. I must surrender ownership of the dance. It is not all about me. The dance is an expression of the energetic connection between my partner and I.

In the next blog I will reference what happens on an emotional level  when we don’t drop the ball. Even more fun. Stay tuned.