Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Sometimes when you fall, you fly.

I just told one of my clients that I was leaving and why, and she was so genuinely thrilled for me that it left me all newly happy and optimistic again. A few years ago she left her high-flying city job to start a new career as a holistic therapist, so she's done her own 'jumping off a cliff' thing and knows the feeling very well! Seeing it through her eyes reminds me that if you take the Fear out of the equation then this really is a marvellous thing.

Man: It's all getting to be too much for me. I feel I'm out of my depth. I'm scared. I'm scared I'm going to do something stupid.

Dream: And if you do something stupid, what then?

Man: Aren't you scared of falling?

Dream: It is sometimes a mistake to climb; it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt.

Man: What are you saying? That I should ought to go back to the show? Not walk out? You're just a dream. Listen, I've made up my mind.

Dream: If you do not climb you will not fall. This is true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall? Sometimes you wake, and sometimes, yes, you die. But sometimes when you fall, you fly.

Fables and Reflections

Brain fodder

I danced last night with one of the current touring teachers, whose dancing I've been particularly admiring. And it didn't quite work. I mean, it wasn't a disaster, but every so often I couldn't figure out where he wanted me to go, his chest was doing something too small to be a step but too big for me to stay comfortably on my axis. And he kept to fairly straightforward stuff, which suggests to me that he wasn't sure I could handle more (it's not a taste thing, not that he prefers simplicity, because I've seen him dancing with other people).

So why? Why didn't it work? I mean, obviously it's me, but in what way? In my beginner days, I had many, many dances that for some reason just didn't work, but over time those have become fewer and fewer, and now, fortunately, it hardly ever happens. So why should it happen now? Most really good dancers are easier to connect with, not harder. Is it a style thing? Is he more old-style than I'm used to? I do sometimes find some traditional style dancers quite hard to get on with, I sometimes can't find a way to be comfortable in their embrace, but so far that's never been the really good ones. The last very traditional teacher I danced with was an absolute dream (for me - I'm sure I wasn't very exciting to him!).

See, this now has me worrying that actually I don't know how to follow at all, or that I only know how to follow nuevo, and that I'll get out to Bs As and find that I simply don't know how to dance with 90% of the people there.

Is he used to more pressure? Is that it? I don't often give much resistance, having always been taught to always put myself where I'm being led, to never force the leader to push or pull me there. When I dance with a guy who has a lot of forward momentum, that great drive from the chest that some guys have, then yes, I'll match it. But I didn't feel that from this guy, not to any great extent.

Ach. Tango. Does there ever come a point when you stop worrying about this stuff? I guess I know the answer to this - 'if you choose to'.

Halloween means scary things

Have now booked in for my jabs. Oh, the joys of travelling.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Fear

With time racing past, the reality of this whole Bs As plan is starting to hit, and I'm starting to feel genuinely terrified. Not all the time, of course, but periodically. The Brain likes to run through the worst case scenarios - what if I find I can't dance with anyone there - perhaps they lead differently - what if I can't understand a word anyone says to me - what if I never make any friends - what if I can't find any food and get totally hypoglycemic all the time? Fortunately the Brain is not in charge, and reason so far prevails, albeit with occasional bouts of tears to let out the nerves.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Grounded, centered, balanced

This home thing, this grounding thing, is starting to mean things to me in new ways. Previously, the idea of grounding meant little more to me than the idea of earthing excess energy. Then I started to try to think in terms of roots, of being rooted and therefore stable. That led onto the lower chakras and the home thing, and that to Hestia, first and last, and now I'm really starting to see how and why Hestia is first and last. You can't do anything properly if your home ground is messed up. Home in the sense of a physical home, and how much difference it makes when you create a nice home for yourself. Home in the sense of everything beginning at home, of people in glass houses, of the apprentice year, of sorting yourself out before you try to go out into the world, of putting your thoughts in order before you go to bed.

Tonight, I concentrated on the tango equivalent of home - axis, centre, posture. Just that. And it made a huge difference. I think that I've been paying insufficient attention to myself when I dance - I think I tend to focus too much on what my partner's leading, and not enough on where I am. I look outside myself, assuming that my body can look after itself. But bringing some of my awareness back into my own centre hugely improved my ability to follow what's being led, both in terms of my physical ability to do so (thanks to being more on my own axis, more grounded, more balanced, more relaxed, and therefore better able to respond), and in terms of my ability to read what's being led (because somehow it makes my mind more centered and responsive too, and enables that state of mind in which I'm accepting and open, enjoying and not judging.) I really felt transformed. I felt perfectly balanced and perfectly able to respond. I knew I had plenty of time to do whatever was asked of me. Even in quick, long turns, I pivoted, with all the time in the world, and then stepped, with all the time in the world. It was amazing.

No absolutes

I've come to a conclusion: there are no absolutes in tango. And I think if more teachers recognised this, then the world would be a happier place.

When I first ventured beyond my first teacher, it drove me absolutely crazy that different teachers seemed to tell you completely contradictory thing. How were you supposed to get things right when they wanted different things?

After a while, I started to feel that although they seemed contradictory, actually they were just different ways of looking at the same thing, like the blind men and the elephant. If one teacher told you to have strength in your right arm and another to be completely soft and exert no pressure, then there must be a happy medium between the two - what they wanted was for you to be present but relaxed.

I now realise it's not that simple. (Or, perhaps, it's more simple that that.) Those teachers really are telling you different things, because there are as many different ways of dancing as there are dancers. I know excellent dancers who want a soft arm, and others who want a firm one. I know excellent dancers who never, ever put their heels down, and others who put them down whenever they can. These things are red herrings. What really matters is that you are stable but mobile, relaxed but present. How you achieve those things doesn't matter. You just have to find your way. Listen to everyone, try their ideas out, then choose what works for you.

So, I long for the day when teachers stop dictating. "Step on the inside of your foot, step on the flat, press his arm, don't press his arm, stretch your legs, bend your knees..." Arse. If teachers present their style as the One True Way, then they're misleading us. What I would like is more of this:

"We consider that each tango teacher has its own truth about how to dance tango, and all those truths are the truth, tango is like this; we propose you to try ours."

Brilliant. Damian and Nancy, if I ever have the chance to take one of your classes, I'm so there.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Signs of progress

Some real signs of progress with this whole home/grounding/state of mind thing tonight.

For example, there's a dancer, a highly-reputed dancer, that I've danced with a few times before but for some reason just found impossible to follow. Tonight I danced with him and it worked fine! Is this due to my new chilled state of mind? Or just general tango improvement? Either is great news.

Then I danced with one of my favourite leaders, and he seemed to be having an off night. But I was able to recognise that, instead of just assuming it was my fault. Hurrah!

Then I danced with another of my favourite partners. For some reason I often get nervous dancing with this guy, because I feel I make a lot of mistakes with him. But tonight, even though it was the end of the evening and I was knackered, we seemed to dance really well together, and I think it was because I felt much more relaxed than usual. Hurrah!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Living abroad

I'm not there yet, but the Brain is already pointing out possible difficulties of living abroad. For example - rubbish. How am I going to figure out what to do with the rubbish? I don't even know the word for rubbish. (That's what dictionaries are for, Brain. We'll manage.)

First, start with Hestia

So, that home thing.

Thinking about home, the first thing I thought of was the goddess Hestia, so I did a bit of research. (The Brain isn't all bad. It's good at research.)

Apparently Hestia's name means 'the essence'. This home thing really is important, isn't it?

"These virtues define the goddess Hestia: mild, gentle, forgiving, peaceful, serene, dignified, calm, secure, stable, welcoming, and, above all else, well-centered." Stable, serene, centered - yep, sounds like exactly what I need.

Apparently, the Greeks had a saying: "First, start with Hestia." I suppose that's the Greek equivalent of setting your own house in order before meddling elsewhere. Or being the change you want to see in the world. Or putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. Or, for tango, sorting out your axis, your balance, your stability, and your following mind. Hestia's work is never glamorous, but it is essential.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


I've bought a ticket. In the new year I will be in Bs As. Eep.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Grounding = home?

I seem to be getting little nudges to look at the idea of grounding in terms of the idea of home. I'm missing a sense of home at the moment - had to sell my house recently, really didn't want to, and haven't really settled into the new place. And now suddenly there are giant Ikea posters everywhere saying things like 'Home is the most important place in the world' and 'Do you live in a house or a home?' My friends keep talking about the lower chakras and their connection with earth and home (they've always said my root chakra is MIA).

So, if you'll excuse my getting a bit hippified for a minute, it seems my inner home needs a little looking after, the place where I assimilate and rest and recover. If you go along with the whole chakra paradigm, then that area is the same place as the place that tango teachers (and tai chi practitioner) sometimes talk about as the centre - a place inside your pelvis - and I already think of that when I think of grounding in tango. Will ponder.

Tangocoaster* coping strategies

The tangocoaster is a cruel master. We must store up all the tools we have for handling its unpredictable swings. Here's one of mine:

Tangocoaster coping strategy no. 1 - develop your inner Peyton

Yep, you read right. I was inspired by this Mastercard ad, and have now got myself an inner Peyton. He sits on my inner tango bench and leaps up at those danger moments to remind me that I'm still fabulous, even when I miss the lead / lose my balance / stab myself in the foot with my CIFs ('Rub some dirt on it'. Heh.).

* I believe the genius that is la Planchadora coined the term tangocoaster. The term says it all, so I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing it.

Friday, 12 October 2007

A breakthrough

When I was a beginner, I had this idea that if I could get to a certain level, then I would be able to relax and enjoy myself (it was one of the things that drove me so hard to improve). I now know this is arse. Although it's true that I am more chilled than I used to be, I'm still nausea-inducingly nervous before every milonga.

I can see now, it's not about your level, and it's not about the number of mistakes you made tonight. It's about your attitude. With the right state of mind, you will enjoy your evening and the many little gifts it brings. With the wrong one, you will doubt, fret, self-judge, and worry that your partner is secretly wishing he were dancing with someone else.

I'm sick of making myself miserable. It's time to find the right state of mind. I know it's possible, because two nights ago I stumbled on a state of mind that made my lesson an absolute pleasure instead of a (wholy self-induced) threat to my sense of self-worth. It wasn't that anything had changed outside myself. It wasn't that especially good things happened to me, or that I felt less tired, or was dancing better. It was just that somehow my state of mind was such that all these things were ok - it was ok for me to make mistakes, it was ok that I was tired, it was ok that things happen as they do. And I had an absolutely wonderful evening, dancing and learning and experimenting, and not worrying at all. The Brain was almost completely silent - occasionally it peeked around the corner and made a tentative suggestion that all might not be well, but I was able to just reassure it that everything was fine and go back to dancing.

So what did I do differently? Well, it seemed to be partly to do with positivity, partly to do with grounding, and a lot to do with acceptance. I'm going to try and pin this down better as time goes by in the interests of reproducing it, but here's what I remember so far. I think the grounding started it, because I was at that holistic therapy place again the other day, and picked up a card while asking how I could find a better state of mind for tango, and got this:

Ground yourself

When you detach from awareness of your body and the physical world, you become ungrounded. Although it's pleasant to float heavenward, your attention and work are needed upon the earth. We're helping you balance the spiritual and material so that you can enjoy a fulfilling earthly life.

So I decided to give it a go. Certainly I do tend to live in my head, and being present is something I work on. But this time being present seemed to lead me to a more accepting state of mind, and that, I think, was the key thing.

I really want to work on this. I have friends who don't dance as well as I do, but enjoy themselves far more. I see them laughing and joking (and then dancing) with all the best dancers, all the visiting teachers. Somehow their personalities are constructed in a way which means that they have confidence in themselves whoever they're with. Well, I may not be naturally built that way, but nonetheless I'm sure I can learn a thing or two about it. It's not that my friends don't make mistakes; it's just that they recognise them as fleeting hiccups which in no way detract from their ongoing fabulousness. They don't waste time worrying that they're dancing badly tonight / getting worse instead of better / making their partner regret dancing with them. They just go straight onto the next step. I somehow found this state of mind this week, and that means I can find it again, with a little practice.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Blind as a bat

I have to get contact lenses. Last night a guy came over while my friend and I were chatting and said hello. He then asked me to dance. I failed to say yes immediately because I couldn't tell which of us he was looking at.

This will not wash in Bs As. I'm plagued with fears of missing a cabeceo that was meant for me - or worse, responding to one that wasn't...

The little gems

I'm working hard on my attitude at the moment. I'm far too vulnerable to the tangocoaster*, because I'm naturally introspective, socially anxious, and self critical. That's a pretty deadly combination. Oh, and over-analytical. The thing that I struggle with most in tango is not my dancing at all, but my state of mind. So I'm currently exploring ways to create a better state of mind for the milonga, one in which I can enjoy myself more and worry less.

Inspired by Tangobaby's excellent advice to La Nuit Blanche, I'm therefore making a point of noting tonight's little (and not so little) gems.

1. The dj played my two favourite tangos (sadly I didn't get to dance either of them) and one of my favourite milongs (which I did get to dance, with a great partner).

2. I danced for... I don't know, perhaps an hour... with a guy that I just love dancing with. He's fabulously musical and creative. Dancing with him is always a challenge for me, because I miss quite a lot of what he leads, including things I feel I ought to be able to catch, but fortunately he's the kind of guy you can laugh about these things with. I tried hard not to stress about it, and didn't do too badly - even when I stabbed him with my stiletto during a nasty missed back sacada. Bless him, he was great about it.

3. During said hour-long set, we had a single absolutely perfect ending sequence, lasting about 10 seconds. It was really beautiful. We were both grinning.

4. There were several really good dancers on the floor to watch during the quiet moments.

5. My new shoes are lovely.

Well, I didn't do too badly there - I wasn't able to completely avoid mentioning any negatives, but for me that's still really good going. It's a real struggle not to write a blow-by-blow account of all the things that went 'wrong'!

Actually, I feel better already. Tangobaby is wise.

* I believe the genius that is la Planchadora coined the term tangocoaster. The term says it all, so I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing it.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Go for it

It's nearly a year since my teacher first started suggesting I go to Buenos Aires, and at the time it seemed completely impossible. A few months ago he started suggesting again, and in my head it became something I should do at some point, in theory.

Then on Sunday I woke up with an odd sense of clarity. I realised that now was the time to do it; that everything I needed was in place, everything which had previously stopped me was gone, and the whole last year of my life had been full of changes that had made it possible for me to do it. So I decided.

Tonight, I went to a holistic therapy place that I've just found for a treatment. My head was swimming with thoughts about Buenos Aires - has been since Sunday. In their waiting area they had a deck of daily guidance angel cards. So I picked one up. And this is what it said:

Go for it

Go for it!

Your prayers and positive expectations have been heard and answered. We've been working with you on this situation since its genesis, and we continue to watch over you and everyone involved. Stay on your present path, as it will take you very far indeed.

I currently feel so much like this is the right thing to do that I'm not even feeling the Fear. I know it'll turn up at some point, but I'll enjoy the sense of certainty while it lasts!

So, I'm going, and going indefinitely. I have no idea what it'll be like out there, or how long I want to stay, so I'm not going to try and decide now. I'm just going to go, in the new year, and see what happens.