"Don't ever be sorry in tango."

I thought I was done saying "I'm sorry" when I wrote this post. I thought I was too exhausted to keep dancing in a state of apology. It's hard though, to not get frustrated. To not feel bad when something goes wrong. To think I should be better at this by now.

This came up again in the comments on Facebook over my post Leader Diagnostics, discussing the attitude we bring and the things we look for when we dance with our partner. That feeling - that state of apology from leaders who think they should have led something better, for followers who think they ought to have followed it better. I've been completely immersed in that feeling and it can be overwhelming.

I had a tanda and a conversation with a visiting tanguero a few months ago that has slowly been dissolving that need to apologize every time I think I've made a mistake in tango. I was hesitant to publish it because it's so hard to convey the feeling and the context of it all. I've done my best to recreate the feeling and events that led to the conversation, but it still might not convey what it conveyed to me at the time - or what it still means to me now. Every once in awhile he reads a post of mine and sends me a reminder - 'there should be no room for 'sorry' in tango'.

Anyway, for better or worse, this is the conversation.

At the milonga . . .

A visiting dancer, here for the festival.
The ladies said, "You'll love dancing with him, he's such a sweet leader - he dances beautifully."
Great, no pressure then.

He asks.
I accept.
Warm embrace, spirited walk - but I feel anxious.
I manage to follow a leg wrap and I can hardly believe it.
He leads a gancho.
I miss the lead, because I'm trying to step ahead, and then step back.
"I'm sorry. I'm not good at those yet."
He smiles, turns me around in a quick ocho cortado, and then embraces me again.

I'm trying not to think about the whirling dervish of a the pair approaching us from behind.
I'm trying not to think about what he might lead next.
I'm trying not to think about falling out of the music.

He leads another leg wrap, I miss it completely and step out of it.
I'm so embarrassed - I just did it not 30 seconds ago!
"I'm sorry. Those really aren't my strength."
He just smiles patiently and pats my back.
"Your smile is slipping away, I can feel it!
Bring it back or I'll be too sad to go on!"
I giggled.

Later, at practica he asks if he can speak to me.
Uh oh, I thought. He's going to complain about my dancing.
He didn't.

He smiled warmly and said, 'when you say 'I 'm sorry' to me when we dance, I am afraid I have made you feel that you *should* be sorry for something. Then I feel terrible because I think I am hurting your love of the dance. You don't want me to feel terrible do you?'

I laughed at his exagerated tone.
"Of course not," I answered.

He continued, "Don't ever be sorry in tango.
Tango does not know right steps, wrong steps.
I lead you, I think, to one way,
You go another,
That's not wrong,
That's life.
That's a man and a woman, he chuckles.
Don't be sorry.
Unless I am bleeding from a kick.
then you can be sorry.
These pants are not cheap you know." (grin)


tangocherie said...

Sometimes a "mistake" can lead to a whole new step. There's nothing you can't ocho your way out of.

It took me a long time to conquer the automatic "oops" that would slip out when I erred.

A good rule of thumb is no talking of any kind during the dance. No "oops" or even "wow"s because verbal expressions can take you out of the zone.

This leader was so right--that's life! Good for him, and good for you.

Kara said...

Great post! I hope you don't mind, I've linked to it on my blog:

Bob said...

I recall someone saying once that there are no 'mistakes' in tango, but rather yet more opportunities to improvise. There's no reason to apologise for throwing up challenges and allowing creativity to flourish.

Richard said...

Tried to post this before but it hasn't seemed to work, so I'll try once more.
I used to say sorry far too much until about a year and a half ago when one of the more forthcoming tangueras told me firmly, but with a smile to stop it. She is one of my favorites and I can only thank her for it. Now when something goes 'not to plan' it's a chance to make up something new. Sometimes we (whoever I'm dancing with and me) don't even notice, sometimes we just give each other a squeeze of appreciation. Without the sorry, there is less stress in the dance and more chance to concentrate on the other person rather than something that has passed. I could even say that some of my best dances have come from times when something has not gone to plan.
Perhaps it's a British thing to say sorry so much, but I know that without the sorry, it makes the dance a much more satisfying experience.

msHedgehog said...

My attitude is, if he asked me to dance then I'm good enough for him, and we'll take our chances. Any speech is out of place (plus it's very difficult to talk, or listen, and dance at the same time). And think how annoying it is when people constantly apologise in any context. It's much more discreet and polite, and much kinder, to just keep it zipped and assume that whatever it was, was on purpose.

Golondrina said...

What a wonderful leader!

I met one similar once, who when I apologised for missing a step, told me not to worry and he enjoyed seeing how followers responded differently. He said it was like a conversation - you'd not expect to have the same one with 2 different people. Each person brings their own character/responses and that's how it is in tango as well.

Anonymous said...

Ms H is right. If he asked you, you are good enough for him. From that moment, you are equal in the dance.

As a follower I must say I try to think as little as possible about my 'mistakes'. I want to concentrate on relaxing. A leader however should question things more. For example in this situation he might ask himself why he led a leg wrap soon after a 'mistake' left you tense instead of waiting for you to settle back into his embrace before leading a move that requires the follower to be very relaxed.

Anonymous said...

What a glorious conversation. We should all have the fortune to have leads like that in our lives.

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

I try not to apologize too, figuring that even if the mistake is well and truly my fault, the only thing to do now is to move on and try to get back to dancing our best. Apologizing will only mire us in the past. (Ah, the Zen of tango...)

But it's not always easy. Not long ago, when I slipped up and apologized for my mistakes in a dance with one of my favorite leaders in the whole world (so far!)--and this is part of why I love him so--he just smiled and congratulated me on a nice improvisation. :)

What a wonderful response from your leader!

Kirra said...

Fantastic post, Mari!

"A good tango dancer is someone who has rhythm and who has a good musical ear. He also has respect for the woman; to know what to do at the right time with the right partner. He adapts himself to the woman. He makes her feel that she is the best dancer. He dances for her."
~ Pablo Veron

tangocherie said...

A great and well-said sentiment! I believe it completely.

But I don't believe that Pablo believes it, do you?

Kirra said...

@Cherie: You would know better than I! I like that quote but it does seem as though it should be said by...(fill in the blanks) Gavito? Miguel Zotto?

"However an excellent dancer you are as a man, even if you are able to dance with every woman, when you dance with a woman who can’t follow (what you are leading), you have more responsibility. You must dance perfectly, which means you can’t relax, you can’t think about your posture, and you can’t rattle off a fine step: what is the use of being able to do everything if the woman can’t follow you?"
~ Miguel Zotto