Saturday, 4 February 2012

Walking Tip no 6. Enjoy

Here's the final tip in the series '6 Walking Tips for Argentine Tango':

Sounds obvious, tango is a dance, of course you would enjoy it, but in the midsts of striving to develop good technique and finding other dancers who have good technique, the fun can be forgotten. Actually, keeping a light-hearted and playful frame of mind through that process is a skill in itself. Sometimes it's very helpful to simply remind yourself: have fun, relax, smile and breath easily.

As this is a series on walking in tango, let's start this last tip by drawing attention to the enjoyment that can be had from doing just that, walking. Hopefully it's clear from the previous tips how much subtlety, richness and musicality can be experienced from just taking forward, back and side steps together in an embrace. There's a lot to relished there, that can be missed if this area of your tango understanding and practice is rushed through. However, as finding ways to enjoy tango - and letting go of some of that stress, tension and judgement that can get in the way - is so important, I wanted to broaden out the scope of the following points so they apply not only to walking but also more generally to the dance.

  • Technique depends on enjoyment. The irony is that forgetting to have fun, relax, smile occasionally and breath easily can be one of the biggest obstacles to developing good technique in tango. If you're not doing those things, you're likely to be holding unneeded tension in your body, which will obstruct connection, make you less agile and also lead to fatigue in yourself and your partner. The focus of your mind is also less likely to be in the present or with your partner.
  • Enjoy to be present, be present to tango. When you are enjoying dancing you are focused on the present, you are engaged in a state of flow. The present moment is also where you need to be focused in order to be most sensitive to the music and your partner. Thus enjoying yourself helps you to be a more musical and attentive dancer, because it helps you to be in the present and reach a state of flow.
  • Give your dances freely, without obligation. This comes down to owning your decision to dance with someone. There could be various reasons for wanting to, and sometimes your ideals are not met and pragmatism is called for. But try to make sure that you've come to terms with your reasons for accepting a dance and that all things considered you really are happy to dance with a person if you accept or make an invitation. A clue that you're not really owning your decision to dance is if you're feeling a nagging sense of obligation, or regret before you even begin the first step. It's not always easy to keep this sense of personal freedom and peace with your choices, but pursuing it will ultimately lead to more enjoyment in tango (and elsewhere of course).
  • Do not dwell on 'mistakes'. Of course, you want to dance with good technique, because it feels and looks better and opens up more creative potential. So then it's natural to want to address those times where connection or technique falter. However, as is hopefully clear by now, there's a high price to pay if you let that problem solving tendency get in the way of enjoying your dances.

    Here are some alternative approaches to dealing with 'mistakes' in a milonga, whoever seems to have made them: See them as opportunities for a different movement and a chance to practice your adaptability. Laugh or smile if it's obvious, in a way that indicates to your partner that you don't mind that something didn't work as planned and you're still having fun. (Obviously, if something you've done has caused them pain or injury, then it's time to show some regret and see if they're happy to carry on or would prefer to stop.)

    Yes, a big part of tango is listening to your partner, and generally trying to show understanding is fundamental to creating harmony in the dance. But there will always be some misunderstandings, or differences of interpretation. Dealing with that is also part of the dance. If as a leader your partner moves differently than you expected, consider the possibility that your follower had a different creative vision than you in that moment, even if your indicated movement was clear. In all cases, don't let it derail your presence or calm in the dance, or that of your partner. Take some perspective; how important is it really that that double time step (or whatever) didn't quite go as hoped? Is it worth affecting the rapport with your partner and the flow of the dance over? Probably not.
  • Finding enjoyment even while making adjustments. What about those cases where how your partner is moving is actually causing you, or them, physical discomfort? There are several options, including: Slowing down and making the dance much more simple, e.g. simply walking around in the line of dance. Adjusting your embrace, making it softer and allowing more independence of movement, or moving arm position. Moving your centre closer to the floor by bending your knees a little more, to increase your own groundedness. Being extra strict with the straightness of your back and the alignment of your hips and legs before stepping. These steps can help you regain enjoyment in the dance, even if you're not quite on the same page as your partner. If it's still causing a problem, then mention it in a kind way and do not compromise with the safety and comfort of your own body.

    If you're in a practica all of the above approaches can still apply, but in this case stopping and trying to figure out what happened might also be useful. When doing this avoid any kind of blame, remain calm, and if your partner is blaming themselves encourage them (or you, if you're blaming yourself) to see what you're doing together as a joint and fun experiment where you're both learning together. E.g. "Instead of blaming yourself, please look at what we're doing as a shared experiment. If things don't work out as planned, that's part of the fun since we can explore why that is, and maybe discover something new." I know it can be frustrating sometimes, but often the key to changing a behavior or response is finding a way of relaxing and not worrying about it. (By the way, if you'd like to read more about my thoughts on non-judgmental communication and conflict resolution, you may find my book on healthy loving relationships interesting.)
  • Enjoyment begets enjoyment. It's much easier for your partner to enjoy dancing with you, if you are enjoying dancing with them. Sometimes you get a snowball effect where one person's enthusiasm, confidence and playfulness increases that of the other partner, and then vice versa. So if that's the sort of result you want, consider how you can enjoy yourself more while dancing.

Well, that's it folks. I hope you enjoyed these ideas on how to get deeper into and more from your walking in Argentine tango. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them!

If you've enjoyed what you've read in this series and are keen to learn tango, you might like to consider doing one of my beginner courses, or core skill courses. I'm also available for 1-to-1 tango tuition.

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