21 AugMessages From The Universe: Tango (possibly a part 1)

I’ve wanted to try tango for quite a long time, and this only intensified when one of my closest friends started taking tango… and then quitting her job and ended up teaching tango.  Several years later, she’s performing in addition to teaching. At the beginning of the month, she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  And so, I am now taking tango lessons. And as of my second lesson, the studio has a guest teacher teaching the lead part who is an international tango star.

I don’t particularly believe things happen for a reason, but I do like to acknowledge and respect serendipitous messages and lessons from The Universe as they present themselves.  Tango seems to be presenting me with a number of relevant and timely considerations, and I thought it would be good for me to capture them for myself, and in the event that anyone else may benefit, do it here.  With those thoughts as an introduction, let us proceed.

* * *

The first lesson was mostly me saying ‘hello, I’m very new!’  Beginner’s mind.  Finding, again, that sense of being a stranger in a new community and being accepted and encouraged with, literally, open arms.  In time, I think I might have more to say about this – there are a lot of things codified in tango culture, especially in the invitation and acceptance of a dance that I have yet to learn.  But for now, it was a good reminder that there will always be people willing to not only allow me to be part of a community, but will help me find my way.  Mr. Rogers always said, “look for the helpers” – they are there.

Sure, there are a few leads that I give me the sense that they might rather dance with someone else, but they were new once too. So, eh. We are all terrible in the beginning when we’re learning (and we’re always learning), and I learn fast.  I have both the benefit and disadvantage of coming in with significant movement experience.  I learn fast, but I have some things to unlearn that others don’t (thank you, ballet, for the duck feet, and precisely intentional mechanical steps rather than allowing the movement to flow… but I am a fast learner, so we’re getting there!).

* * *

In no particular order except that I must take another step, another  lesson is about connection.  For those of you who don’t know, connection, integrity, and order are my top three personal values.  Me writing about this is me making sense of, and establishing order to, my experience, to be meta-analytical for a moment…  Tango is about connecting.

Connection to the floor through the feet – a grounding, if you will – is at the priority level of being a safety issue, it helps you keep a sense of what’s around you, if you extend your leg to step, and bump into another foot or a wall or etc, you replace your feet to avoid collision.  In this way, connection is an antenna of what’s around you and grounds you.  It is the first connection we must make to stand on our own two feet – find the floor, the ground beneath you.

There is connection through your core, and tied to your intuition.  As a follow for an improvised dance, the cues from the lead can be as subtle as a slight weight change. You can learn the choreography, but to recognize it in the moment of improvisation requires an almost intuitive recognition of the cues. This I recognize as connection to self.  I may have more to say about connection to self when I start figuring out the lead pieces as well – much like you learn a whole new level of information when you teach something, as a dancer, you learn a whole new level when you move between following and leading.  People who can do both are stronger in each role than those who can only perform one role.

There is connection to your partner.  I am finding it very interesting to see how different my movement is from lead to lead.  There are leads for whom I must be exactly right for them to feel like they can move without needing to “correct” me, and then only somewhat tentatively. They can be hard to read, but are often also kind, and I think they offer their corrections in the spirit of trying to help me figure this dance out.  There are leads who are so focused on doing the movement that I’m not sure *we* are connecting at all, but the movement flows out in such a way that it shows that even if we barely speak, the required connection is made through the intent of specific movement.  I am torn between the two – there is kind human connection, but the movement doesn’t flow as easily from one, and there is the almost mechanical execution of the second that lacks in human warmth what it makes up for in technical accuracy.  But it also feels less safe to err because error is poorly tolerated in machinery.  AND but because the intent is clear, it is easier not to err.  I may actually prefer the technical and mechanical latter as I get the macro details down, to the leads who are trying to micromanage the tension in my shoulders in practice arms.  But regardless – I learn things from each despite my preference for one or the other.

There is also connection to the spirit of tango, and the heart of the dance itself. I have been told tango is a dance of the present, and the present is connected to the past.  The lead, in particular is moving into the present from their past.  The follower must lean into and know the past that the lead is moving from in order to intuitively experience the present.  That said, the dance is not about the past.  It is about being fully present in the NOW.  To fully experience the now, you must know the past, no one comes to the present as a tabula rasa, and it doesn’t need to be an acceptance or rejection or understanding of the past, just the knowledge of the past.  Whether that past is having known your partner for years, or whether that past is the split second of past that informs you of the intention of movement in any direction – it is past and eventually will inform the pattern of movement that leads us into the future, but the Now is the moment in which you exist.

* * *

There is a lesson about improvisation, intuition, and the Now.  I’ve spoken a bit about these three already, but there is a specific lesson around planning, prioritizing, and practicing.  I am a person who likes to be prepared. I like to have a sense of what needs to happen as well as what is going to happen.  I have observed the things we do to practice without partners in class and brought them home and done them in my living room.  We practice particular forms in class.  And then when they say, ok, now practice what you learned today, I have a new small vocabulary of movement to work from.  Tango is entirely improvised in the milonga, and in many performances as well.  While I’m building a vocabulary now, and I suspect my partners are thinking it might just be best to walk me backwards in circles until I can ‘walk’ (which is a Thing in and of itself in tango), when it comes to Now and ‘dancing from/into the past’, all of the planning, preparation, anticipation, and practice must integrate seamlessly into what happens in *this* moment.   Whether it is all jettisoned as you launch into the improvisation, whether it all builds upon itself in order to release you to the liberation and total freedom of intuition, the Now consists of taking the step that is asked of you by the tango.

Likewise, in daily life, you can plan, prepare, anticipate, and practice right up to the meeting, the event, the encounter, and then, in the Now, you must take the step that is asked of you by the Now.  Not to say that you can’t make missteps in the Now, because you certainly can, and not to say that all that planning, preparing, anticipation, and practice won’t help you to be able to better shift in the moment to where Now takes you because it certainly may.  But there will also be times when Now will tell you that the only correct step is one that you could not have planned, prepared, anticipated, or practiced for.

* * *

The final lesson that has struck me to date is “attitude”.  “There is a saying!  Dance me! I learned to dance with old women at the milonga [“and old men!” chimes in the woman teaching the follow parts].  I would ask them to dance and they would say dance me, or I will leave you in the middle of the dance floor.  [Leads], when you ask a [follow] to dance, ask because you want to dance with them.  [Follows], when you accept, you must be 100% in.  You commit to the dance.  And you accept with attitude and ownership.”  There was more to that particular instruction, but the gist was – there is no giggling coyness on the part of either party. It is direct.

In tango, the follow has the option to say no, with no repercussion including getting questioned or insulted on the decision. Lead, no means no, and that’s that – move on, find a different partner, do not ask why, do not plead, do not insult, just move on. You will never know why the follow said no and it’s not necessary for you to know either.  And follow, if you say yes, you commit.  Your actions must also be direct, take the lead’s hand and find your dance position with confidence.  Dance me.  You want to dance?  Bring it. Prove it. Show me.  Dance me.

There are studies that show people do not respond to competence, they respond to confidence.  If you seem tentative, exploratory, or anything less than committed, they read that as a lack of confidence and make assumptions about competence tied to that.  The origins of the verb “to con” was originally confidence.  A con man was a ‘confidence man’ – someone who, through being able to gain people’s confidence, would then swindle them.  I think this ties back to what I said above too, about how a physical connection can be established through the mechanistic confidence of intent and how in order to navigate the “macro” skills of knowing where and when to step it becomes more clear when the lead moves with confidence even if they have not established all levels of “perfect” connection.  And issuing an invite, responding to the invite, then leading, and following, all require confidence, attitude, for the full expression of the dance.

Dance me.

* * *

So, those are some initial thoughts, three classes in. It is hard to believe that Tuesday will mark four classes.  Someone my first class suggested that I mark the date of my first class in my calendar, or in my diary (for the record, it was 8/2/16), or somewhere because then I could look back and say, “that is the very day it all started.”  Perhaps I will say that.  Perhaps I will recognize the past that led me to that particular expression of Now as I dance from the past in the present.  I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility that this is a momentary flash in the pan, the Universe offering me lessons that once learned, I’ll move on from.  But for now, I recognize and acknowledge these serendipitous opportunities to learn, and thank the Universe and the Eternal Now for presenting them in such a lovely format.

14 JunLiminality, Schrodinger’s Cat, and Dis/Integration

There is a lot I don’t write online anymore, for a lot of reasons.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with is that I’m very good at compartmentalizing. Who needs to see which Venn diagram of the pieces that comprise me. Who is allowed into one safe space, but not another. Having a rubric of ‘what do I gain from sharing this with this part of the diagram, where and who is likely to find a way to use this against me? And what is my plan of defense if I need one?’ And there is virtually no public safe space. What happens when it becomes too much to manage all those pieces of the Venn diagram. What if the pieces that used to provide structure are merging and blending? What if, as those compartment walls become exhausted, I/we were allowed to integrate them into our being instead of watching everything fall to pieces in disintegration?

When I tell a community that I am an invisible part of that they matter to me, even though some of the people that I am directing that message at and meaning, truly, from the tenderest parts of my heart are not allowed to see that part of my Venn diagram, and even though I suspect that due to other parts of my Venn diagram, I don’t actually matter to them… It’s sometimes a heavy weight to carry. The price for ‘appropriate’ compartmentalization.

And when through experience I know that it’s dangerous and terrifying to stand up, stand out, and that even when I do, the validity of my voice, my opinion is questioned and judged or outright ignored or not heard. And when despite the danger and terror of standing up and trying to stand out, I do try to stand up and stand out, I am still invisible until I am heard and shouted down or ignored until I no longer have a voice, or the will to keep speaking.  Whether that’s on a timeline where the algorithms bury me, or a business room where I can never find the right way to ‘show value’ (or maybe it’s that I’m in my 40s and no longer a young, fresh, face — there’s a reason that age discrimination laws exist, or maybe I just suck at ‘showing value’), there is an echoing loneliness.  And as an introvert, sometimes I find more company with the wind, and the rain, in the dirt, the whirring of a spinning wheel, the pieces of me you’ve never seen (to steal a line from someone else).

Where is the possibility for wholeness? Where is integration? Some days even keeping Venn diagram pieces of me showing up is exhausting. Bringing the whole puzzle to the table seems… illusory and dangerous.  I am so proud of my people with the loud and strong voices, the right words that come at the right time, in the right order, in the right framing, in their wholeness.  And for the rest of us, in the in-between places, it has to be ok to be in liminal spaces.  My heart aches, I am tired.

Am I too much for ‘living out loud’?  I don’t perceive myself as whole, and picking my pieces apart threatens the integrity of my being.  And being told I am too much for sharing what I do share — even now that I don’t share at the levels I used to share — tells me, my whole self is “valued,” but please keep it contained and quiet and you don’t need to talk about that and what kind of ‘value’ is that?  But pieces keep escaping from their compartments awkwardly, demanding to be said when they shouldn’t be said because there is so much not to say that sometimes they break their constraints.  And then sometimes, they wilt in the deafening silence having been said.

Doris Lessing wrote a book called The Golden Notebook about the fragmentation of self & society, and one woman’s attempts to overcome it eventually by trying to combine four different journals into one ‘golden notebook.’ These days, it might be called the ‘bullet journal.’  I have this space, I have another blog (or two), I have a notebook with therapy notes, a bullet journal, a general reflection journal, five DayOne journals, calendars… and others. What does the ‘whole self’ even mean when even in the best of times, I can only expect even those close to me to see a facet of myself?

There is no graceful way for me to end this. I am experiencing the breakdown of my compartments as integration of my whole self, and the fear remains of others picking over the pieces of those evolving compartments and leaving me doubtful, silenced, hurt and all of me present, but still in pieces.

26 MayFlow

At some point I’ll update about the last five months here.  They have been momentous.  In the meantime, I offer this thought…

I have a friend who told me once when I was telling her about how hard it was to find life ‘balance’ that we shouldn’t be striving for balance anyway because it’s static and easily upset leading us to have to fight hard to retain/regain it. We should be like water and flow & sometimes it will be white water, sometimes it will be deep water, sometimes it will be crashing beach front water, but — go with the water, and rest when you come to a gentle wide river or a still day on the lake, or a happily bubbling stream or a quiet eddy off to the side of the white water. But go with the water.

This changed my perspective. There is no balance because you must put your priorities *somewhere*, but those priorities can shift and dance around each other like water moving around the rocks. The water doesn’t stop because a rock is in the way, it just moves around it and keeps going…

Today I am water reaching a barrier of some sort, I’m rising, and rising, and rising, and sooner or later either the barrier will remove and I’ll spill through, or I’ll rise enough that I go over the top and find my way on my own.

22 DecChristmas Break!

It’s official — I’m on break as of ~2:30pm this afternoon!

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful I have a job that isn’t retail this time of year.
    • I’m grateful I have enough vacation time to take the rest of the year off
    • I’m grateful that (I think) our Christmas shopping is done.
  • One positive experience:
    • Getting started on dinner at a reasonable time. :)
  • Exercise: 
    • Oof.  Going to try to so some yoga tonight… Definitely going to the Y tomorrow.
  • Meditation: 
    • 3×3 minute & two more coming up.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • Letting the girls sleep in until nearly noon.

20 DecAnd Again

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful for my kids, even/because they are persistent and clear about what they want even/especially when I say no.
    • I’m grateful for P who made chili for dinner tonight.
    • I’m grateful that Xmas break is coming up in two days.
  • One positive experience:
    • Nice walk during swim team with P & M1.
  • Exercise: 
    • Walking, a little PT in the ayem.  Need to get back on that.
  • Meditation: 
    • 3×3 minute.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • Not so random but I’m (trying to) helping M1 clean her room.

15 DecSlipped Away!

Time is sneaky like that sometimes.

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful for my coven sisters.
    • I’m grateful for P who made turkey lasagna for dinner tonight.
    • I’m grateful that Xmas break is coming up soon.
  • One positive experience:
    • Nice walk & lunch with B today. (And yesterday I had a nice mtg with a different B!)
  • Exercise: 
    • TWO walks!
  • Meditation: 
    • 5 minute, 2×3 minute.  Need to get back on this.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • Made a point of giving our local Thai place some business today.  They’re family run & such sweet people. <3

12 DecFriday/Saturday Grats

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful that it was a good meet today, even if M2 didn’t qualify for regionals yet.
    • I’m grateful this is a self imposed exercise and that if I miss a day it’s no big deal!
    • I’m grateful there are people like Amanda Palmer in the world.
  • One positive experience:
    • Getting stuff sorted out with the other CAYA folk for tomorrow — we work well as a team.  It’s nice.
  • Exercise: 
    • Ugh. NO.  For REASONS.  AGAIN.
  • Meditation: 
    • 2×3 minute.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • I timed at the meet and let P keep his freshly finished tattoo away from the chlorine splashes.   :)

11 DecThursday Darkmoon Grats

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful that my kids are hilarious and awesome.
    • I’m grateful for Phix’s Curiosity Camp, it’s been really entertaining and sanity saving.
    • I’m grateful to be having lunch today and tomorrow with friends.
  • One positive experience:
    • Really nice catching up with a friend for lunch today.  <3 <3 <3
  • Exercise: 
    • Ugh. NO.  For REASONS.  AGAIN. I will do my PT like the nice man suggested…
  • Meditation: 
    • 2×3 minute.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • I totally had one and it’s slipped my mind entirely.  Huh.

09 DecWednesday-Schmendsday

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful for big band music — it’s hard to be dour when you’re listening to big band
    • I’m grateful for my husband whose birthday it was today.
    • I’m grateful that I like dark rainy days, because hooboy has it been that in spades lately!
  • One positive experience:
    • The look on P’s face realizing his birthday gift was a Han Solo in Carbonite fridge.  :D
  • Exercise: 
    • Got a nice walk in between raindrops!
  • Meditation: 
    • 5 minute, 2×3 minute.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • I let someone who was parked into a long line of traffic even though while they were getting themselves set up, I could have filled in the space and they’d have still (maybe) had some room behind me to squeeze in.

08 DecTuesday Blues & Gratitudes

Ugh. I ate too much almond today. I don’t usually eat many of them, incidental slivers are no big deal, but I had a protein bar that was chock full of them first thing in the morning and it was bad like whoa.  Such nausea, so misery, all the sad.  I was at work about 45 minutes before I bailed and came home.  It’s true I don’t always enjoy the company party scene for a long period of time, but I do like going for a little bit, until I can’t deal with the bar noise and difficulty hearing people anymore and this meant I didn’t get to go.  I was dressed up nice and everything! BOO!

HOWEVER: I am still grateful for things.

Small changes ripple out:

  • 3 Gratitudes :
    • I’m grateful that I have a comfy bed to lie down in when I feel like crap.
    • I’m grateful that I have a workplace where I don’t get ridiculous resistance to self care (and besides, who wants someone lying on the floor of their office feeling like they’re going to puke? Ugh!).
    • I’m grateful for my husband making me toast when I started getting hungry finally as the almond was wearing off.
  • One positive experience:
    • Any day I don’t actually puke is a great day.  I was close but I didn’t. Given how raw my throat feels anyway, I think I’m super glad of that.
  • Exercise: 
    • Ugh. NO.  For REASONS.  I guess I should go put M1 to bed and come out and do my PT like the nice man suggested…
  • Meditation: 
    • 5 minute, 1×3 minute.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: 
    • I let a lady cross the road (though I had right of way) because there was a bunch of traffic behind me and she was out in the crazy rain.  Get on your way home, lady!  We’re warm and dry in our cars — we can wait for you to cross the road!
    • I also made sure P got to the mechanic to pick up his car before they closed, even though my Dad volunteered to take him on his way home after math with the girls.