Back where it started . . .

Last night I went back to the beginning. I decided to go back to the beginner class and practica held at the university where I work. Climbing the steps to the building, I felt that same nervous anxiety. It was like starting all over. I can't believe I even thought about it - but I did, I considered turning around and going home.

Wow, you've come a long way, baby. Or, not.

I didn't turn around. I made myself go in.

The class was wonderful - fairly evenly matched, so I didn't have to lead. While I was practicing with people newer to tango than I was (which I almost never get to do), I realized that it was so important to be here. I don't mean just for getting over my phobic nature - but also to be working with newer leaders who might want the help. I wanted to stay, to encourage them - to help them practice. So many more advanced leaders worked with me - and still work with me (several worked with me at practica that same night!). I'm so grateful for them.

So there I was, dancing with these new leaders. The instructor comes up to offer some assistance to my partner and me, since I'm having a terrible time trying to answer the leader's questions on basically leader technique. As he explains the technique to my leader, he glances at me, and then adds, "less is more here. No need to push her or pull her. She's an experienced dancer - so a little goes a long way."

I wanted to look behind me. Surely he was talking about someone else. I can't think of myself in those terms yet - "experienced dancer." My partner's eyes widened. I stammered, "no, not really - just a few months -that's all." I blushed.

It's especially hard to think that way when nine months ago, I was here: (what follows is my journal entry about my first tango class in the same dining hall, with the same instructor.)


“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” --Nietzsche

Yo cuz, What's she doing here?
Billy: She's with me. She came with me.
Baby Houseman: I carried a watermelon.
Baby to herself: I carried a watermelon?!?
--Dirty Dancing, 1987

Dear Diary,

I've been abandoned! My friends have abandoned me for the dark side... Salsa classes... Now I'm on my own for Tango classes. So how brave am I?

The First Class - "I carried a watermelon"

I took a table in the dining hall and waited. I looked for other people, among the students and staff eating and socializing, for someone who might be a dancer. No one stood out. Will I be the only one here? A gentleman enters that I recognize from the website. He's the teacher. Okay, at least I'm in the right place. Now I can really start panicking.

Stop it.

You're scared, I told myself, and that's okay. Dive in deeper. I got up and walked over to the teacher. Introduced myself. Told him how happy I am he's volunteering to teach free classes - I'd been wanting to start for so long. And the he drops the bomb. I'd already missed 2 classes - not just the one class I thought I'd missed. Two classes behind? Maybe I should just wait until next term. He reassures me that I'll be fine. There are new people in every class. He'll help me catch up.

Fine. It's okay. I'll stay. I'll be fine. I'm shaking. My shoes, plain black, high-heeled pumps, suddenly seem too wobbly for this.

More people arrive and I pray I'm not the oldest one in the class. After a few more minutes I realize I really am the oldest one. Well, what did I expect, really? It's a free class on a college campus. I took a couple of deep breaths. Still shaking. Damn.

Our instructor called everyone who was here for tango to come up and form a circle. I got up, joined the circle and tried not to fidget. I was still wearing my work clothes while everyone else was in jeans. I felt positively matronly next to these kids. Nevermind, tomorrow I will get to tell me coworkers that I've started learning tango. That will make all of this worth it.

I hope.

We started with walking to the music. Any direction, anything we wanted to do. Just try to do it to the music. I suddenly couldn't find the beat. I danced for years - how could I suddenly have no sense of rhythm? The instructor's going to think I'm completely un-musical. The shaking got worse. No chance to cut and run now.

We stopped walking thankfully, and moved on to more coordinated sequences of walking, as a group. Not too bad - I managed that without tripping over myself. Especially as we were doing it in lines as a group, there wasn't much pressure. Everyone seemed to perform it very smoothly - of course they'd learned it in last week's class. Despite what our instructor said, I was the only first-timer in the class.

He stopped our line dance and told us it was time to practice with a partner. I scanned the room for a quick head count. Six women, five men. A woman would be left out. Crap.

Our instructor clapped his hands and called everyone closer. "Okay, all of the women, stand in a circle here in the middle. Now face outward. Close your eyes. Guys, walk around the circle and choose a follower."

Okay, this was just humiliating. I took my place in the circle, and closed my eyes. I tried to think of ways to not look like someone's mother.

"Okay, open your eyes."

I opened my eyes. I looked around. There was no one in front of me. I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks. Blushing and shaking, now I really wanted to leave. I felt like the last kid picked for the softball team. Can't run away now with everyone looking. The instructor looked around at the couples situation, realized he had one left over and reached out his hand. Oh crap. Crapcrapcrap. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Dancing with the instructor?

"Can't I just sit out or something? Really, it's totally fine - I'll just take a seat over here," (on the opposite end of the room, please.) No such luck. He nodded, hand held out, inviting me like I was a fightened child. At least that's how I felt.

As we connected into the loose practice embrace, I instantly forgot what few steps we'd learned. He told everyone (by everyone I mean the leaders who he primarily addressed in the class) to work on walking all the steps, in any order. Don't just work on the box, but improvise a little bit. Mix it up. Make your follower really follow instead of following a pattern.

'Try to trick your follower."

Fabulous. Because I'm not nervous enough, obviously. I felt like I was getting a pop quiz I hadn't studied for.

We changed weight back and forth a couple of times. And then he stepped back. Back? That meant I needed to take a step forward. I don't go forward!

"I've only had a couple of classes in ballroom tango - I only know backwards!" I stammered.

"The leader can start with any step - even a back step. My choice. It's sexist. It's tango" he shrugged, with no small amount of humor. He may have been lighthearted, but I was starting to panic. I was still shaking and was having such a hard time following. Having my muscles so tense was starting to hurt. I looked around quickly to see how other couples were doing.

"Close your eyes."

"Excuse me?"

"Close your eyes. It'll be easier for you to focus. Just follow - don't try to guess what's next." He sounded sure. Confident.

I closed my eyes.

I listened. I felt his intention to move - but I didn't feel his leg move. Just the intention of movement. He was waiting. I let his intention roll through my leg - I stepped back. Only then did he step. And then another intention, another step. Ooh. That's what it feels like. The experience lasted less than a minute - the sensation of being led. Of following. Of "getting it". It was enough. I could do this.

Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order. ~Samuel Beckett


The unknown theologian from Salado said...

Paraphrasing a prophet from Nazareth: "You must become as a novice tanguera if you would inherit the kingdom of heaven." Don't ever lose the beginner in you, it is one of the reasons I love dancing with you -- the little girl in you dances with such joy. I liked reading both accounts. I sometimes feel like I shouldn't be reading your diary. :-)

Mari said...

I'm Buddhist so of course it's my duty to maintain my novice mind. "All the great Zen Masters always carry the novice mind, being nobody, the pure mind." -- The Gethsemani Encounter on the Spiritual Life. That said, I'm not a very disciplined Buddhist.

Maybe one day I will regret posting so much of this online for everyone to see. It does remind of the saying, "Be careful because the toes you step on today, may be attached the bottom you'll have to kiss tomorrow." I've already had some in-person feedback from some of my posts - so I try to be more mindful now.

Golondrina said...

I loved your First timer account. Brings it all back to me!

PWS said...

Had I not experienced something uncannily simliar myself (university setting, adult self-consciousness, the largesse of a milonguero giving away his thoughts for free) 5 years ago, I would be sitting there at the start of the week looking at those couples on the little screen in my living room and saying 'damn, I bet learning a more social version of that would be like a gift to my body and mind.'
That's so true, I imagine, about what a follow feels like the first time a lead asks her to walk forward. I know that beginners never want to come with me no matter how good my posture or contra.

Here's what I wrote back then (real tango puppy doggerel):

Beginner's steps can and do conspire
Like sheets twisted in the laundry room dryer.
Lucky for me there are tango practica floor attendants
Who make me feel less the ill-footed defendant.
(Correcting my missteps, soon as I make'em-pull them out, unwind them, shake them.
Balance, restart, give them time and some air.
Go on to the next malfunctioning pair.)
{end of doggerel}
Area Tango floor attendants and teachers--you know who you are!
You are our other willing partners,
on weekends, evenings, and sometimes even in steamy rooms just like laundromats.
This novice wishes to thank you for everything you do.

Mari said...

Golondrina - thank you for reading, I so appreciate your comments!

PWS - I love your "real tango puppy doggerel" !! I should write a post thanking all of the wonderful practica floor attendants - if it weren't for them, I would have given up. They still help me so much - and now I try to pay it forward to the incoming tango dancers. Thank you so much for your comments.

happyseaurchin said...

lovely post

i don't what it is
but sometimes you strike a deep cord in me