10: The Tango of Life

10: The Tango of Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

The Tango of Life

Life is a dance. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. Don’t worry about what we don’t know, what’s important is we learn new steps as we go.

~Author Unknown

“Step… pivot, step… pivot,” the handsome dark-haired instructor repeated the sequence as he moved succinctly to the staccato beat of the music. My gallant partner leaned closer and counted aloud as we practiced. “There is no need to talk,” the instructor reminded us. “The dance is the conversation.” So began my entry into the fascinating world of Argentine tango.

How did I end up learning to swivel and kick in a class full of strangers?

I’d always been drawn to the beauty and drama of tango. For years, I attended outdoor concerts and watched in awe as couples spontaneously expressed the alluring South American music with mesmerizing rhythmic movements. “Someday,” I told myself, “I’ll do that, too.”

As I approached the mid-century mark and experienced the requisite soul-searching, my dream to learn to tango resurfaced. Eventually, I tracked down a local workshop. Finally, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and onto the dance floor.

“There are very few hard-and-fast rules in tango,” the instructor said, smiling. “For that reason, ‘sorry’ is not part of the vocabulary.” He went on to explain further. “The idea is to dance fully in the moment; to simply surrender to and embrace whatever happens.”

I had the feeling I was going to learn more than essential dance technique in this class. Perhaps an intriguing philosophy for life, too?

“Tango is defined by the leader-follower dynamics combined with the mood of the music at a given moment,” he continued. “Every experience is special and unique.”

I was both surprised and pleased to see the other tangueras and tangueros were close to my age and welcoming to newcomers. We agreed that this style of dance is a study in contrasts — while it appears easy, it’s actually very difficult since it’s based on subtle leads and weight changes. It’s quiet yet dramatic. Most moves are small but precise. And it’s one of the few dances that is done best by dancing more to the melancholic mood of the music than to every beat.

Before we knew it, we were rotating partners and dancing around the room. We applied important lessons on connection, trust and patience, which seemed relevant to everyday life as well as social dancing.

We quickly discovered that dancers need to stay connected, steady and balanced at all times. Through mutual upper body contact, my partner guided my movements and I practiced going with the flow. The key was to be solid in the basics, trying not to lose sight of the fundamentals while focusing on remaining consistently grounded.

My partner initiated the steps and I trusted him to safely propel me around the crowded dance floor. If we both vied for control, the essence of the dance was lost.

I patiently awaited his gentle lead before taking the next step, despite the temptation to anticipate his next move. If I made assumptions without waiting for him to guide me, I might actually interrupt his intention. It took time and effort to master moving together and gracefully expressing the passionate music. But the result was freeing.

As the weeks passed, I began to feel more comfortable in my tango shoes. I learned to lean in and embrace the beauty and mystery of the dance. I soon realized that tango dancing is a lifelong pursuit, not something that can be fully grasped in a six-week series. While I couldn’t expect to truly perfect it, I would be able to enjoy it one song at a time.

Even when I wasn’t on the dance floor, my mind would replay the helpful advice of my instructor, reminding me of his wise words to dance and to live by:

Don’t react if there is no action causing it.

Don’t provide unnecessary resistance.

Develop tools, but don’t expect to use them all of the time. Be mindful of the context without generalizing. What works in one instance may not work in another.

Don’t try to oversimplify; welcome the complexity.

Take small steps. You don’t need to take as big of a step as you think. It’s an illusion. Practice, practice, practice — learn to enjoy the process.

Slow is the word. Be careful not to rush, thereby missing the subtle nuances. Take your time to savor each moment.

Be humble, accepting and gracious.

It takes two; stay in tune with each other and help each other.

Who would have thought that turning my someday dream into my now-is-the-time reality would dramatically change my life? Taking that one tiny step of faith not only introduced me to new friends, but also enriched my life with a challenging and fun-filled hobby that keeps me in shape and provides pearls of wisdom along the way.

The small door I entered when I nervously attended that first class opened into a big room filled with a world of opportunity. Offering more than just music and dance, it also provided a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie.

Did I mention that my instructor is planning an upcoming class trip to Buenos Aires? Now when I look at my well-worn tango shoes, I can’t help but smile and be grateful that I took that first dance step.

~Kay L. Campbell

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