The Dance Partner



Backstory

Two years ago I had a disagreement with a valued tanguera friend about dance partners. A teacher in my city was encouraging promising dancers to form partnerships to practice more and really work on their dancing. I was opposed to the idea because I felt that limiting my dance, even a little, to one partner would hurt my dancing. I was afraid it would make me able to only follow one person well.

My fellow tanguera told me that would be true if I only danced with that one person. However, to practice a great deal, take workshops/privates/lessons etc, with a consistent partner, or even a couple of consistent partners (as long as you continue to dance socially with others) can be hugely helpful. It's useful if for no other reason than that you're more willing to make the time to practice.

I told her I just didn't see it happening for me. I couldn't imagine wanting to work that much with one person. I'm not easy to get along with - I get frustrated, tired. Bitchy. I obsess over my technique. Who would put up with that? She answered simply, that's the point.  When you find someone you actually can work with that much, it will make perfect sense to do it. Until the partner comes along - it probably won't seem natural. You can't force the partnership or it will just be painful for both people.

When I started having more pain, and more limitations on my dancing, the likelihood of wanting/finding a practice partner seemed even more remote. Not only would my partner have to deal with my personality - but with my unpredictable physical limitations. I was having a hard time making it through a single class with someone, even someone I loved dancing with, let alone practicing for an a hour or so non-stop. And I was limiting my dancing with leaders I knew would take great care of me on the floor - who were gentle, and such great pleasure to dance with. My body just wouldn't play along.

I kept needing to adjust and readjust my posture to get comfortable with almost everyone I danced with. I had to keep stopping, resting, stretching muscles threatening to cramp up. Yet I was still frustrated that I couldn't practice enough.  I practice by myself almost every day, but it's not the same.  It does help a lot and I encourage all dancers to practice on their own. It's just not enough.


The Dance Partner

Then last August I danced with a gentleman that seemed to conform completely to my body when we danced. It was like being cocooned - with no points of pressure, no hard points of contact.  He danced small, soft, quiet - like me.  We fit.

We danced at more milongas and soon my conversation with my friend came back to me  . . . .   What if I could practice with him? He had mentioned setting up practice sessions with other people where he lived before so I thought it couldn't hurt to ask.  He agreed, saying he was happy to work with anyone who wanted to practice and he was always looking for more opportunities. Soon after that discussion, we practiced in a rented space at a local studio. For over two hours straight, we worked and worked and worked. When we were done, my hair was damp and matted to my face, I was flushed, hot and tired. But, I was startled to notice, I was not in pain. Actually, the pain I'd had going into the practice session, was gone.

It doesn't seem like a long time - 2 hours. For my body, 2 hours of anything is a very long time. I constantly have to get up and move around for fear of muscles cramping and aching. Conforming my body to the same person for two hours seemed inconceivable. And yet there we were. We agreed to set up another time. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe I'd feel the effects of it tomorrow. Maybe it wouldn't work again.

But it did work. We danced together more, renting spaces around town, working on more and more challenging aspects of the dance.  Tiny, intricate moves, more steps on the closed side of the embrace, fast changes of direction. Learning to dance small, compact and yet musically, sometimes feels like building a ship in a bottle - so much exquisite detail in such a small space.

Two things happened after that, one that I didn't expect, and one that I should have.

The first, I started getting compliments on my dancing. Leaders told me I was more relaxed, more responsive, more connected, more musical. Rather than just taking the compliments and saying thank you like a normal person, I pressed for details. What had changed?  What felt different? I wanted, and still want, to get a clear picture of how my dance was changing. Everyone uses the same terms, but I still keep looking at my body trying to figure out what I'm  doing that's different. Whatever it is, it's working and I should just be happy. But I can't help wondering . . .  Especially when I was so sure that dancing with one person more than others would ruin my dance.

The second thing I should have seen coming. The not-so-nice comments  had nothing to do with my dancing, and everything to do with my 'reputation'.

A conversation.

One exchange came at the end of a milonga from a tanguero I dance with fairly often (though both of us have been dancing less lately.)  He was pleasant, but "concerned". Despite his even, more-or-less non-judging tone, I had already had similar, though far more accusatory, conversations with a few people. I was getting annoyed with repeating myself and with having to justify my dancing.

"I've noticed you've been dancing a lot with him (motioning to my partner).  More than a couple of tandas a night," he said.

"Yes, but not consecutive tandas*," I answered cheerfully, as if that would make the slightest difference in this conversation.

"People might think things about that," he warned in a low, almost paternal, voice.

I sat back and sighed. My friend was trying to be helpful, and I understood good intentions, but at the same time I was feeling a little bit pissy about the whole thing.

"Here's the deal. When I dance with him every few tandas, I can dance almost all night long. I don't know why or how - and, I'd really, really love to work that out because believe  me, I'd ask for it if I could. I'd put it on my blog, on t-shirts, and bumper stickers. 'Please do this!'"

"The truth is," I continued, "I have no idea why it works that way. When he's not here, I get maybe 4 tandas before I'm in too much pain, or too tired, to dance. It's that simple. He's my dance partner because I can dance with him more than anyone and I'm in less pain. For me, he's a walking pain-killer."

After my friend stopped gaping at me, he just smiled.

"So are we clear?" I asked.

"Yes," he smiled, "we're clear. Want to dance?"

"Yep, I really do."



Epilogue

My doctor sat across from me, making that face he makes when he thinks I'm not really taking what he's saying seriously.

"When you're in pain, you need to be selfish to survive. If something works, use it. You can question it if you want to, especially if the cost is high, but in the end, if it works - you use it. If something hurts, ditch it. The past and the future don't really matter in that respect. If it was great yesterday, but today it puts you in pain, then stop doing it. What matters is the here and now. Do what you have to do to keep moving, and keep dancing. So far that seems to be the only thing that's slowing down the muscle loss. Whatever you have to do to keep at it - do it and don't apologize. Do it until you can't anymore."

"What do I do when I can't anymore?"

 "Then," he shrugged, "we'll have to think of something else."


*In more conservative, traditional milongas, dancing consecutive tandas with the same partner implies a romantic relationship.

7 comments:

Ghost said...

Yay!

There's a dance called Ceroc which has taxi dancers; the idea is slowly appearing in tango. The deal is that in exchange for free entry, once every couple of weeks they spend the first few hours of the evening only dancing with beginners. Indeed they wear t-shirts to identify them and beginners are told to ask them to dance and everyone else is told they're off-limits during this time.

It _seems_ like a good idea. Unless you're a woman. Then it usually means you get to spend several hours beginning pulled and yanked around. At the end of their shift when I'd dance with them, they were tense and stiff from protecting themselves.

So we came up with a solution. Every few dances they'd have one dance with me. It reset them, helped them be better with the beginners and meant they were ok when their shift ended.

---

There's a subtlty in dance that I suspect is applying to you. To really relax needs someone who moves in sync with you. The further out of sync they are, the more you have to compensate and that normally means tension. When you dance with good dancer that tension can be quite subtle, but it's amazing what can still be there.

My guess from what you're saying is that you've found such a person. I used to say about one lady that I could dance with her through an earthquake. I once went to a venue where the floor was so ridiculously slick I could barely walk on it, let alone dance. I had one dance, with her.

---

What you're saying makes perfect sense to me.

---

As far as romance is concerned, quite frankly unless the people asking want to go out with either you or him, it's none of their business. End Of.

Personally I'd file it under "Things you have to experience to understand". They haven't and they don't. That's not your problem.

One other thing. Enjoy this! The lady I mentioned moved away and I don't dance Ceroc anymore. I miss dancing with her.

(One day I will actuallly post a short answer on a blog, one day...)

Mari Johnson said...

ghost,

Thank you so much for your comments - I always look forward to hearing from you. (btw, I have a question about taxi-dancing for you that might take a bit too much space for this blog, would you mind emailing me at infinitetango(at)gmail(dot)com?)

You're right as far as the "in synch" thing goes. I didn't realize how much energy I use when I can't get in synch - until I suddenly didn't need to expend any. It was just there. I try never to take it for granted. We all have off nights so I try to come to every dance ready to do whatever it takes to make the connection work. And I also don't want it to sound like my partner is the only leader I love dancing with - because that's absolutely not true. What has happened however, through practicing with him, is that I'm finding it easier and easier to relax and connect with other leaders. I'm not needing the "reset" as desperately as before. Again, I don't really understand the mechanism - it just works. At this point I'm afraid that (over)analyzing it will ruin it. So I'm just grateful - for him, and for all the leaders that are so patient and careful with me.

As to the romance issue, the main point I get reminded of, like I would somehow forget, is that I am married (and he is not). Most of the time, I blow it off because people are going to think what they want and there's damned little I can do about it anyway.

I'm sorry to hear you don't get to dance with your former partner anymore. I try to take everyone moment as it comes and not think about the fiuture, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that sometimes I wonder what I'll do if or when my situation changes.

un grande abrazo, ghost - and many happy tandas.

Ghost said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Libreria said...

Hello, Mari. In the Philippines, we start out with a dance instructor or DI who is usually our constant partner for ballroom dancing, even tango.
It makes for faster learning of all the dances, as well as enjoyment.
There is no misconception of romance or anything else fishy going on. Just a normal procedure among the ballroom community in this part of the world.
I too have progressed from dancing only with my tango teacher and one or two regular DIs who know my moves.
After a short respite from dancing, I jumped into the ballroom ready to tango and voila! It seemed I had retained all the good lessons and gotten rid of some major hang-ups about my tango.
I could follow the leader, whether beginner or expert, and I was actually light on my feet, despite gaining some [actually a LOT] pounds. Most importantly, I was having so much fun dancing the tango.
One month after going back to the dance floor, I seem to have found a partner who is expert enough to keep leading me through the dance, and yet open enough to learn with me.
Having a dance partner is a given for serious dance enthusiasts here. If it works for you there, I believe the expression is CARPE DIEM --- Seize the day!!!
Have fun and tango to your heart's delight!
Triccie
P.S. My own tango experiences start here
http://tinyurl.com/7a6dblu
P.P.S. Thank you for inspiring me to start writing about my tango again.

Cinderella said...

What you write makes perfect sense to me - like at other times before, Mari. Even though I have not been as lucky as you in finding a "walking pain killer" - not yet. That sounds almost too good to be true. :)
I have practiced regularly with the same partner for many years - and it improved my dancing with other men, too, mainly because the regular practice improved my self-conficence as a dancer. In fact, it was much more helpful than taking classes with teachers.
It is such a pleasure to read your blog. Thank you!

Wallflower said...

I also have a 'walking pain killer' partner, who also happens to be my partner in life too. I realise I'm lucky beyond all reasonable expectations. On the occasions when our dance together has come unstuck, it's like being stabbed through the heart with a stiletto.

I'm sure we're both better dancers with other people because we have this rock to depend on in each other.

Mark said...

Hi Mari,

I too think a regular dance partner is hugely helpful in tango. Having one doesn't mean you can't/don't dance with anyone else. Unfortunately I've not had one for almost two years and my tango has suffered as a result.

I'm glad you're finding an unexpected health benefit to having a regular dance partner. Long may it continue.

As for the mean/suspicious minded individuals - screw 'em!

Oh, and the dance Ghost called Ceroc is not actually called Ceroc; it is Modern Jive. Ceroc is a franchise which teaches modern jive.