The Way Back, and ramblings . . .

A month ago I could do 10 push-ups. After a fall a couple of weeks ago, I could not do a single one. Yesterday, I did 2. I fell again today - but I still got to 3 push-ups.

I get up. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

Or I keep thinking about dancing.

I've been watching dance movies that have moved me, some that inspired me as a kid, others as an adult. And I've been listening to music that first inspired me to dance. Trying to get myself to want to dance again. After this last movie, I realized I haven't lost the desire to dance at all. I still want to dance. Desperately, I think.

Aside: That last one was Dirty Dancing if you're interested.  I was about the same age as Baby when I saw it. I can tell you about 80% of my experiences of social dance can be summed up by her line, "I carried a watermelon." As in, I don't think I should really be here. But the other 20% of fabulous-amazing-beautiful dance experiences more than made up for that. Crazy, isn't it? What one beautiful tanda can undo . . .

A couple of years ago I started getting sick, getting injured, falling. When MS started to affect me in ways that I couldn't hide, I started spending my time and energy trying to avoid feeling weaker. Denial? Maybe. . .  Probably. . .  When feeling vulnerable becomes the default setting of one's life, it's easy to get in the habit of avoiding risk. Closing everything off. MS made, and still makes, me want to distance myself from my own body's experience. As if I can limit the damage using cold objectivity, neutral observation of my physical world. I stopped letting myself feel sad, angry, anxious about the symptoms -- all to avoid the emotion I still can't escape: fear.

Partner dances, social and competitive, require vulnerability for the partnership to work - or at least to work well. Closed off and separate, we're just decorating one another's arms in time with the music. When the dance partnership works best, it feels like coming home. Like belonging. I miss that so much. Familiar and safe, even with a stranger.

We can tell whole life stories to one another, and never exchange names. I can feel old injuries, new hurts, lost loves, aches for certain refrains in the music, and so much more in a partner - when the connection is open and strong. When we're both listening. It takes both partners being willing to risk. Maybe that's why I'm weirdly comfortable sharing so much in the dance in out-of-town festivals, or even when I went to Buenos Aires. I could dance my secrets without an accountable identity. Maybe I can't tell you my name, or where I'm from - but I'll tell you all the more important things . . .

"When a body moves, it's the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I'll tell you who you are." Mikhail Baryshnikov
So who am I now? What is the story of this body now, in its new state? When I hide the pain, don't favor the hip that hurts, try to look smooth and balanced - is my body lying? Am I? Is my pain, even transient pain, who I am now? Some days. I prefer the pain (as if I had the choice) to the more mercurial weakness that turns up. Pain is nothing if not reliable. The weakness? It likes surprises - especially in the heat. There's the anxiety. The fear of falling. The fear of taking a partner down with me.

If I fall, let go of me okay? I'm getting used to picking myself up. It's really ok. Pulling someone else down too? I'm too afraid of that. Just let me fall.

That's the fear talking.

Dance has always been able to pick up where words leave me. Sometimes there's just too much to tell, but in a 12 minute tanda I can share everything. And it's usually such a relief. Like letting go of a secret that's been weighing me down. Am I the only one? Do you feel lighter, less troubled, after dancing that kind of tanda? Maybe its just me.

Can't you just dance? Does it have to be such a drama? Can't it just be fun? I've been asked these questions since I started this blog. Like there's a choice. Like I could switch it off. 
I'm a Leo, sweetie. I don't have a "just" anything. 
Why would you want my "just dance"?

Doesn't matter. I can't give that anyway. I always talk too much.
In dance, as in life, as they say . . .

I'm a writer. I have the compulsion to share stories. But there are some stories only my bones, my skin, my muscles can tell. And I've been shutting all of that off. Keeping quiet. My body has become an unreliable narrator. I don't know what stories it tells anymore. What secrets it might accidentally reveal. Some days I hardly know it at all. Am I most afraid of that? That it will reveal too much? I don't know what it says. Listening to it gets overwhelming.
Maybe that's the biggest problem.

I have to find the way back to my body's experience. Listen. Dance for myself first. Then maybe I can find my way back.

Tango for a Lifetime

Backstory

I first heard tango music, and saw tango as a social dance (and performance) when I was 25 - 1997 - the same year as a lot of people. The year that Sally Potter's "The Tango Lesson" came out in theaters. I was enthralled by the music and by the dancing. But I didn't feel compelled to dance myself. Not yet. I came to tango, the dance, much later, in a time of pain and transition, like so many other dancers I know.

I actually started tango in my mid 30's (I'm now in my 40's), attending informal tango club classes at the university where I worked. Tango was difficult for me - I was definitely not a 'natural follower'. I was also self-conscious about my age in a dance class with mostly people a decade my junior. Even the instructor was younger than I was. Milongas were so intimidating because I just couldn't see how anyone would want to dance with me. All I could think was, I wasn't one of the pretty, young, fit dancers who might get opportunities at least based on attractiveness. I wasn't experienced enough to get dances because I was actually any good at dancing. So where did that leave me? Ironing my dress with my butt all night, I thought. And yet . . .

I got danced. A lot.

Tango came at a time when I very much needed to belong somewhere. Miraculously, tango became where I belonged.

When I didn't dance, I made amazing friends. Friends who told me the most beautiful things about tango. That it's not about how you look. It's not about your age. It's not about how much money you make, or your professional status. It's not even about being an expert dancer (whatever that might mean). It's about what you bring of yourself to the dance, and to your partner. It's about doing your best, wherever you are right now. Tango, at it's best, can be the great equalizer. The stresses, obligations, and expectations of the outside world can just wait outside, while we dance and remember the joy of just being human.

So, when we started, we may have been going for Sally Potter:

Oh yes, in just a few more lessons, I'm sure I'll be amazing!!

 But looked a bit more like Harry Potter:
No really, this is just how it's supposed to look.

It was still ok though, because mostly people seemed happy that we showed up and were trying hard.

Yay - maybe I don't suck at this!! #Baconmakeseverythingbetter

In the beginning when I went to milongas with other dancers from my class (first from the university, and then from a local tango school), often the conversation from seasoned dancers started with how great it was to see so many new faces. That always made us feel welcome, even relieved, when we didn't feel like we had much to offer as dancers yet. As I said, we were awkward. It took ages for us to work out the etiquette and the subtleties of social interaction at the milonga. But we still felt welcome despite our fumbling, our mistakes, (and accidentally walking out on the pista with my skirt tucked into my pantyhose.) Other dancers seemed genuinely happy that we came and tried our best.

Then, after a few years, it was our turn to comment about seeing all the new faces, and try to reach out to as many as we could to make them feel welcome. It was our turn to pay it forward as often as each of us could.

New Priorities?

Recently though, the conversation seems to have changed. When new faces appear in the milongas, I hear some partners say, "look, isn't it great to see so many young dancers!" Absolutely! I am excited to see new faces, whatever their age. I helped teach tango at my old high school (there's some therapy fodder for you) and when my grandmother said they might get a tango class going at their retirement community, I wanted to help make that happen. Tango speaks to us at different points in our lives so we need to cast a very wide net. But then when my partner follows up with, "we really need to get more young dancers interested in tango" while we're dancing, how exactly am I to take that?
yeah . . . sure, okay....

One comment like that, from one partner, I could brush off. Two comments, and it caught my attention. The 3rd time from a still different partner, I was annoyed. There's that feeling in the back of my mind, do I seem like I'm too old for this now? If anything tango had kept me feeling young, healthy and enthusiastic for life and dance. Now, comment after comment, post after post of Facebook, I just feel tired.
What's happening here?

It reminds me a little too much of media's infatuation with tiny, young models as the one and only definition of female beauty - tied with the backlash, "Real women have curves."  Newsflash - we're all real women regardless of our body type. And we all have something to contribute.




We all bring something good to tango - our selves. Our experiences. Our souls. Our stories. Our love for the music and the dance. That's what builds a community - love and respect for the music, the dance, and crucially - respect for all the dancers.


When I started tango, I was encouraged, and helped, and danced, by dancers of all ages. When my fellow newbie dancers (ranging in age from just-turned-20 to over 60) would talk about our milonga experiences, the age of available partners just didn't come up. The fact that we got to dance was the topic of conversation.

So did I miss a memo? When did the conversation become so much about age? I had hoped that what I had been told about ageism not being so much an issue in tango, at least in my community, would never change.


Seeing so many people older than me dancing tango didn't make me feel apart, or different, or out of place - it made me feel like I could make a home here. I could dance for a lifetime - not just until my knees gave out. When I danced with a man in Buenos Aires over 50 years my senior, I thought, tango will always be here for me. 

I can't help thinking of tango lyrics themselves. Nostalgia, loss, regret, missed opportunities, lost love, lost homes -- it's no surprise that those kinds of songs speak to people with some miles on them. Tango music appeals to lots of people of all ages - but you can't ignore that it speaks to a certain life experience and it's going to draw people who can relate to it. Isn't that true of all music? So with that in mind, how can anyone be surprised to see an older demographic showing interest in this music? 

I'm told younger dancers want to dance with people their own age. Does that mean that one of my favorite twenty-something leaders is only dancing with me out charity? If tango is a dance for a lifetime, where does that leave them in 10 years?  Twenty years? To me, the argument doesn't make much sense. Tango is a incredibly beautiful diverse group - why on earth would you want to limit yourself to one group? To any group?

I get it - we want to dance with our friends, and we want our friends and peers to share in our enthusiasm for tango. Who doesn't?


So it would seem pretty straightforward, no?


If you want to dance tango with your friends, bring your friends to tango.
If your friends don't want to dance tango, make new friends to dance with.
Cue "Safety Dance" . .



Enthusiasm, passion, fresh ideas, vitality, are not the purview of the young, but the young at heart - which can be anyone, at any age. We all benefit by socializing with people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.  Social media makes it so easy to filter out all but the voices that are most like our own. But is that a good thing? Do we want that out in our real-live-right-here-right-now social experiences?

It's very important to encourage all the voices wanting to be heard in a community - but in raising one group's voice, we should be careful that we're not, in turn, silencing another.


Sometimes, I want the music



Sometimes, I want the music
that lies against my skin like silk.
Cool, soft, there but not there.
I can keep moving, in fact
I have to move.
Or I want the music
that snaps sharp like canvas.
Arcs, kicks, flashes.
It moves me
like a shock.

Sometimes I want the music
that covers me like lambswool,
warm, soft and calm.
Its substance lies in the pauses.
the silence between notes,
the air between threads.
I move, but slowly.
And sometimes . . .

Sometimes I want the music
I feel in my chest,
like a clenched fist.
and like a fist,
It demands.

Back to the Shallow End

The beautiful stage and dance floor of Austin's historic Scottish Rite Temple, with chairs for the Prom King and Queen per the Prom Night Theme.


I used to love tango festivals. At some point, I hope to love them again, but I think it may be a little while.

Maybe in small, local milongas it's just that I have a little more time to (try to) remember the people I should remember. To say the things I wanted to remember to tell them, and concentrate on what they say to me. Now, I feel so much more awkward in my interactions with people - and the more people around, the worse it is.

At Austin's Yolatango milonga Saturday night, I forgot people, faces, names, and even the context of where I should have recognized them from. Did I meet them in Dallas? Albuquerque? Denver? Here? Have we ever danced? Were they a client? Was I at Albuquerque's tango festival last year, or the year before?

The venue, Austin's Scottish Rite Temple, was gorgeous, The music was fantastic. I had friends to sit and chat with.  It should have been an easy night, and it seemed to be at first. I was happy to be there, excited to see friends visiting from out of town, and at first I was really enjoying the night. But less than an hour into the night, I noticed I was forgetting things. I was losing trains of thought mid-sentence. I couldn't remember who I had just been talking to. Everything I said seemed to be the wrong thing, out of order, confused and worse, nervous-sounding.
It was nervous-sounding because I was nervous-being. The "High School / Prom Night" theme of the milonga was painfully appropriate. I felt anxious, awkward, and quickly exhausted. I couldn't keep track of where we were in the playlist - did we just have a vals tanda? Milonga? Did I remember to ask so-and-so about such-and-such. Did I remember to tell Person A "hello" from Person B, and apologies that they couldn't be there? Where was I sitting? My brain was a chaos of second-guesses.

Except when I was dancing . . .

Everything fell into place when I danced - every single time I danced. I don't mean that I danced all that well. I had my usual annoying struggles. But I felt like myself. I felt natural, calm and happy - as long as I was dancing. The fog lifted. The chaos quieted.

As soon as I stopped dancing and had to interact with people outside of an embrace, I felt like I lost my mind. Thoughts of, "why did I just say that?"  "What did he say his name was?" Then realizing I had been staring and saying absolutely nothing for several minutes while people wondered if I was annoyed at something. (The perils of Resting Bitch Face.)

Is this what large milongas are going to be like for me now? Not a happy thought. Even before I danced tango, I was used to dancing packed clubs, completely surrounded by people. I had no anxiety then - or if I did, I just danced through it and didn't notice.

What are the new rules for my MS brain? Ask me to dance, but don't ask me to talk?

For now, I am back at the shallow end of the pool. I'll go back to my smaller, calmer milongas and figure out what is going so right there -- and going so wrong elsewhere.

A New Blog - Tales of a Synesthete Dancer

I've just started a new blog (this one will continue however), called "Contact High" - my life as a synesthete dancer.


This is very different My Tango Diaries, and quite a lot more personal. I am hoping to reach out to other synesthetes and dancers who experience sensory mixing, or anyone else simply interested in the topic. As MS continues to change my senses in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it's become more important to me to document how my senses work in dance.


It's a little bit of an experiment and I'm not entirely sure where it will go. Like everything else in dance, I'll have to see where the music takes me.


http://synesthetedancer.blogspot.com/2015/07/dancing-in-sensory-mix.html