Embracing the crowd

"Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos. Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish in the crowd." -- I Ching

I have been told now six times, by six different tangueros, that I seem to follow better on a crowded floor. The observation doesn't surprise me since I certainly feel more cozy, connected, immersed, in a crowded milonga - getting to this point, however, surprises me a lot.

The reason for improvement in my following may be as simple as less room to dance means a smaller, more limited vocabulary of steps. I can relax a little more because the chances of someone leading high boleos and such decreases dramatically. I can settle in. Tight spaces mean more walking, more turning, a closer embrace - all the things I love most in tango.

Seems straightforward enough, doesn't it?

Except this is totally new territory for me. Eight months ago I jumped at my own shadow. People approaching me from the side made me flinch. Some of that was due to very poor depth perception and an inability to judge a person's distance from me - particularly from my peripheral vision. And some of it, maybe a lot of it, came from a difficult personal history.

Crowds were the opposite of safe.

Being approached (especially abruptly) by men I didn't know, was the opposite of safe.

When I entered a room, I would skirt the edges (usually to the right side because my vision is better on the left) and take a seat as close as I could to a wall. A ritual of safety.

In the beginning, tango classes were a tremendous challenge to my comfort zone. I couldn't go to the edges of the room when the class was taking place in the middle. Nowhere to go. Surrounded by people I didn't know, I had to battle freezing up constantly. In the middle, people all around me, learning to embrace total strangers. Making mistakes. Feeling embarrassed. Exposed. Crowded. My muscles would ache from being held rigid the duration of the class.

Yet here I am. Eight months later.

I hadn't even noticed arriving at this place.

When did "the opposite of safe" become the safest feeling in the world? When did I start to prefer feeling people on all sides of me? When did I start looking for a close embrace dance as a way to remedy feeling unsafe in the world?

I know that the ability to close my eyes, itself a huge challenge, was a big step in toward my feeling safe. Seems counter intuitive doesn't it? The truth is, in tango, your eyes can give you all the wrong information. Especially with my unreliable vision telling me that I was constantly in danger of being run in to. Closing my eyes was the turning point. To close my eyes, I had to trust. I had to trust my safety, to a far larger degree than I ever had, to a stranger. And far more often than not, I was safe. For every rough incident - there were a dozen wonderful, warm, safe experiences.

So now I nestle into the crowd. Wrapped up in my partner - warm, safe.

The desert has its holiness of silence, the crowd its holiness of conversation. -- Walter Elliot


Tango Beat said...

Maybe the tangueros are better leaders on a tight floor!

Mari said...

You might be right - but the tangueros never seem to think so. :)

Tangocommuter said...

I can relate to that. I've always been claustrophobic, and a crowd or crowded place is something I'll hurry to escape from, particularly if it's people I don't know. But when I started tango, social dancing was a priority: I didn't even think about it. Then, after three or four months, nerving myself to go to milongas where I hardly knew anyone, struggling to lead what little I knew in the midst of a determined crowd, I suddenly had a pause moment: how did I get here? What am I doing here? But I knew it was something I simply didn't want to walk/run away from. So I learned how to survive milongas, even those where I don't know many people, because of the deep pleasure of dancing to that music, even in a crowd, perhaps especially in a crowd.

At least I've got good peripheral vision, which helps if you're leading!

Anonymous said...

Firstly, bad dancers dance in the middle so they can show off their large moves, so staying in the outside lane is ideal.
I once danced with a well known singer from BA who told me that even though the dance floor was not so busy, he still danced small steps. That sentence made my evening. As one gets older and more experienced in the dance, you will find that less is more. It's what can't be seen that matters! ;)

Sophie Tango said...

I had one of my best tango nights one time when the milonga was soooo crowded there was less than 1ft (30cm) to move in any direction. My leaders sweated buckets but I was in heaven - the safety? the movement of the crowd?

Mari said...

Tangocommuter - thank you so much for your comment. I'm glad to know I'm not the only who struggled a bit with being comfortable at milongas. I can't imagine trying to lead with my vision - I'd be a menace on the dance floor lol!

Londontango - If a leader told me that he prefered to dance small as a general rule, I think I'd develop an instant tango crush. It *is* all about what you can't see!

Sophie - now that's my kind of milonga lol! I over heard one leader tell another, 'if you aren't sweating - you're not dancing tango!' :D

happyseaurchin said...

lovely post

and glad to hear it

i like large and expansive spaces to dance in
i get to close my eyes
and let music move us

i do like small movements
and i wish to cultivate that sense of tango too
the subtle
the unseen

my question:
why is so many of the teachers are of the first type?
all the demos are large and expansive
and then we are meant to take the floor and do small...