Making the Tango Honeymoon Last, Pt.2

Part 2: Making the Honeymoon Last
Get Busy

Note: This is about the Austin tango community and I'm told again and again, that Austin is the exception and not the rule. Your community might not be like this. But what if it could be?

After I had been in tango for a short while, maybe 9-12 months of going to milongas/classes/workshops dancing 10-15 hours a week, I noticed a fairly sharp decline in invitations to dance. Some gentlemen who had been inviting me pretty regularly seemed to be moving on to the next round of new tangueras and it stung a little bit. I thought it meant that I wasn't new enough (or young enough) to be novel anymore, and not experienced or skilled enough to attract invitations based on my ability. The newer ladies coming in from the University's tango class were about half my age, and looked far better in their stilettos than I looked in my conservative 2.5 " tango t-straps.

In short, I was bummed.

It took awhile for me to more accurately gauge what was happening, find a new way to approach it, and stop taking it quite so personally. Almost 2 years in, I have a ~slightly~ better understanding of what was happening, then and now.

One of the followers who was in my class and finding herself sitting a lot more right along with me commented, "well, looks like the honeymoon is over." At first I agreed. It felt a bit like that, honestly. I felt like I was at loose ends - not knowing what I needed to do to dance more. And it's hard to keep positive attitude when you're sitting a lot more than you want to.

So, I did what I always do. I asked the more experienced dancers who were dancing a lot what they thought the key was. I watched them, saw how they behaved - and how the gentlemen who asked them to dance behaved.

What follows, I think, is the key to why the Austin tango community is as strong as it is . . .

Several of our most experienced dancers (by most experienced I mean dancing the better part of a decade or more), both leaders and followers, invest a great deal of time, effort and energy welcoming, encouraging and helping newer dancers. I'm not referring to the teachers in town, though they make their own contributions. These non-teaching advanced dancers consistently go to practicas and work with other dancers. They chat with and introduce new people around. They network - and encourage other dancers to do the same. They offer encouraging words, and if asked, some advice on navigating the tango world. Occasionally, they talk up some of the newer dancers and spread the word about good dance experiences with them. Once a dancer's 'training wheels" are off, usually anywhere from a few months to a year or so later, that support can drop a bit as they have to spend time on the newer dancers coming in.

Their advice to me, without exception: "Get busy." Now that I had a little more experience (just enough to be more experienced than the absolutely newest people), it was time to start paying it forward. Of course I wasn't in a position to help leaders with the technical aspects of their dance, since I was still pretty new myself. But I could do a lot of other very important things to help ensure their success (and my own).

The first thing I did, since I had time on my hands during the milongas, and because I couldn't sit still for very long anyway, was to start socializing more with other dancers who were also sitting for one reason or another. Learned names. (OK, I friended them on Facebook, because without Facebook, I can't seem to remember anyone's name. Sad, I know.) Got to know people - and let them get to know me.

I kept going to the beginner classes (along with the intermediate classes) until I couldn't afford to take classes anymore. This was not only good practice, but I got to work with more and more people, make more friends, and learn more about the tango community I was becoming a part of. That's when I noticed that many other dancers continued to take the beginner and intermediate classes far longer than their skill lever required them to. They did it for the practice, but mostly to help the next group of dancers coming in.

This experience crossed over into the milongas. I noticed the more I danced with less experienced leaders, the more I got asked to dance generally, by all levels of dancers. I got to know more and more people, and got to involved in more events. That's when my learning process really shifted.

I still go to classes and workshops when I can afford to, but it's not very often. I learn the most from social dancing (in practicas and milongas) - from dancing as much as I can, with everyone that I can. I don't go to everyone milonga and practica, because DH would prefer that I have at least some nights at home, but I still dance about 10 hours a week. Sometimes I can't dance with everyone I would like to either because I run out of time, or because I'm in pain - but I try.

If I have enough time at the milongas to feel bad that I'm not dancing enough (and it does happen), I have enough time to get busy helping someone else.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I may ? You don't go to beginner classes way after your skill level requires it, truth be told, it *IS* the beginner classes that you should be attending on a regular basis because they are the foundation or bedrock of the dance! One ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS needs to work on their foundation....even the most advanced dancers MUST work on their foundation.

Anonymous said...

There is another reason, actually 2 possible reasons leaders stopped asking you to dance. 1.) You had progressed to a point where you were no longer easy for them to manipulate. And I mean that in the worst possible way. Some leaders, not the kind and gentle ones, pray on beginners because they know no follower worth her salt will dance with them, because they dont want to be pushed and pulled anymore. 2.) you had improved/degraded. Both of these states are true. It happens to the best of us and the worst of us (thankfully).

My solution set ? Get Busy LEARNING TO LEAD!

Mari Johnson said...

Anonymous #1: Absolutely - I definitely believe in focusing on the foundational concepts (and exercises) pretty much forever. The question comes for some dancers whether that's best done in the classes they have available to them.

And differentiating "beginner" classes as a different level than that dancer is currently dancing was to make the point clear that I didn't mean staying only in intermediate or advanced classes. I know people who are always in classes, but never in beginner classes. It can really be a matter of having a limited amount of time and funds and choosing how best to spend those resources.

Anon #2: 1.) Very true and I've experienced it. Thankfully not very often and it's one good reason I recommend getting to know all the new people coming in and giving them a support system that will really help them avoid more predatory elements that might be in the community. 2.) also very true.

Regarding learning to lead. I will wait until I have a real feeling of calling to learn to lead and right now I don't. There is so much more to explore in following that it's hard to imagine finding the time or energy to devote to learning to lead. I also don't want to learn to lead simply because I'm not getting danced enough. For me that's not a good enough reason.