Part 2: Making the Honeymoon Last
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.