My tango lesson yesterday did not go too well. Ariel was tired. I was tired. It was like we were two slugs dancing. The difference between us is that even when he is exhausted he dances great, me on the other hand: my legs were wobbly, I couldn’t stay on my axis and even the simplest things felt like I was wading through treacle. Every new tango I thought, ‘Sal, focus. You’re gonna dance like you know you can this time.’ But no. It just was not to be.
In the beginning if a class went along these lines I got very despondent. When I arrived in Buenos Aires I was still in the phase of wanting to be perfect. I wanted Ariel to see me dance and tell me that I would be a great dancer. I wanted to stun him with my brilliance. I knew that no way was I brilliant. But I desperately wanted to be. For weeks he used to ask me to walk alone, and then walk alone with decorations and then walk alone with full turns in every step. I used to cringe with embarrassment as I wobbled and tipped in front of him. Sometimes I felt like crying. Sometimes I felt like screaming. But I didn’t. I just kept trying. He used to say to me ‘Don’t worry. Even if you don’t do it great, it will help you dance better. And one day you will do it great when you are not even trying. And even if one day you do it great, then another day you won’t. And it’s ok.’
Over time I noticed that my body was remembering, learning, becoming steadier and more able to do what had once had seemed impossible. I realised that every single thing we did was going in to my head, into my body and into my soul even when I thought it wasn’t. I learned that the combination of my subconscious mind and my body is actually unstoppable. If I allow myself to relax and simply try things out in the classes rather than worry, then some day later (maybe the next day, maybe the next week, maybe the next month) I will find myself doing them quite naturally. This leads to some very happy moments of surprise and delight. Gradually I have stopped worrying about being perfect.
I am not saying that I don’t still have bad days. Now that I know Ariel far better, I am not one to hold back my feelings. I swear a lot, have been known to refuse to carry on doing something, have stamped my foot with frustration. I give him the evil eye (see the picture above!) when he is telling me to correct one of my bad habits yet again. But always we laugh within seconds and he gives me the ‘don’t worry speech’ and we live to fight another day!
And I am not alone in my ups and downs. Over my months in Buenos Aires I have met up with many tango dancers who are here to learn, just like I am. Most of them have shared at least one of their bad moments with me. And I have shared mine with them. It goes something like this…
We arrive. We want to learn fast. We want to dance great. We take too many classes. We dance every night. We get tired. We get confused. We get frustrated. We convince ourselves we can’t dance. We ask ourselves why we ever came here in the first place. Maybe we are exhausted. Maybe we had a bad night at the milonga. Maybe we had a tough class. Maybe we are just human. Maybe we have a cry. Maybe we laugh with a friend and share our gruesome experiences. We pick ourselves up. We carry on. Then, one night or one class or one tanda later it all comes together again and we are flying once more. It’s all part of the process.
I am learning that a tango journey cannot be rushed. The body will take just as long as it needs to walk along its tango path. The more I think, the more I worry, the more I care… well it’s just better if I don’t. I know I will have low energy days and I know I will have days when my body just isn’t working well, but now when I walk out of my class, whether it has felt great, or whether it has felt less than great, I KNOW that my body has learned something, all by itself. And I know that one day soon or far it will reveal what it has learned to me, and I will smile again.
And there is something else too. Now when I think of what I seek in my tango it is not perfection. Instead I want that my body understands enough to allow my soul to dance. The truth is that in my most recent dreams I see Carlos and me dancing close in the Buenos Aires milongas when we are in our eighties, him singing his favourite tangos in my ear, my heart beating next to his, our two bodies melded into one. In the end, those are the tangos I long to dance. By then, the perfectly executed back sacada will be a dim and distant memory, but my soul will be singing with joy to simply be walking backwards in his arms.