A few more thoughts from "The Art of Learning"

I found a few more tidbits of information in The Art of Learning that are very useful for tango dancers, even though Josh Waitzkin is discussing chess and tai chi.


Subtle is good!

...players tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognize that subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned. (The Art of Learning, 123)

If I could be paid for each time someone complains to me, "But this is subtle," I would be rich! Tango IS subtle, with a deep body awareness needed to achieve mastery. Dancing on Monday night, I found a zone where I was aware of how all of my muscles and my frame fit together, and I could feel the interplay of muscles, of my balance, of my partner's musicality, on a deeper level than usual. I have come to enjoy little, tiny elements of the dance; the subtlety of tango.


Waiting: finding the white space in the poetry that is tango

Not only do we have to be good at waiting, we have to love it. Because waiting is not waiting, it is life. (The Art of Learning, 186-7)

This is what tango is about: finding the pauses, enjoying the waiting, being in the zone in quiet moments. If you try to live for the exciting moments only, for the big, flashy moves, you have missed the heart of tango. In the waiting, you find yourself and your partner.


Create a routine to make dancing less stressful

To have success in crunch time, you need to integrate certain healthy patterns into your day-to-day life so that they are completely natural to you when the pressure is on. (The Art of Learning, 187)

Although there is no one quote about this that works for tango, I really like Waitzkin's creation of a routine that helps focus, calm and prepare a person for something stressful. A LOT of people tell me that they find going out dancing so stressful and anxiety-provoking that they prefer to just come to lessons and dance with me! Now, while that is flattering on one hand, it means that they are working really hard and not getting to play with tango.

If going dancing brings out all of your negative self-talk ("I can't dance; maybe I should just quit!") or your fear of not having a good time ("No good dancers are going to notice me, and I will probably just have a bad evening!") or trigger pet peeves ("I hate it when people keep dancing with bad floorcraft! Why are they getting in my way and ruining my evening?"), then you are setting yourself up to have a negative experience. Dancing should be fun! Socializing should be fun! Dancing should feed your life, not suck it dry.

What calms you down? Build a routine of a few short activities that you enjoy, and help set yourself up to succeed and enjoy the evening. Here's what I like to do:

  1. Shower.
  2. Pick out a nice outfit.
  3. Do 15 minutes of stretching.
  4. Spin or knit for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Go dancing.

Make a routine out of things you already like to do, and the positive feelings you have about those activities, will transfer to the dancing.

Build a short-cut relaxation routine

After you have developed a good routine that helps you prepare for dancing, you can make a shorter version to work for times when you don't have an hour or more to prepare to dance. What if a friend calls and says, "Hey! I'm going to the milonga in twenty minutes! Let's go!" Do you want to refuse because you need an hour to kick into gear?

Think about gradually shortening your routine so that is still relaxes and prepares you, but only takes a few minutes. This is also helpful for those nights when you start to lose your cool part of the way through the milonga: a difficult partner, a bad collision, or just seeing someone you don't want to see across the floor. Maybe going out of the room, doing a stretch, rinsing your face, and getting a drink of water will clear your mind; but only if you have developed a short-hand version that you know works. Part of the reason it is effective, is that you have practiced it, and wired your body to relax when you go through your ritual.

Once a simple inhalation can trigger a state of tremendous alertness, our moment-to-moment awareness becomes blissful, like that of someone half-blind who puts on glasses for the first time. We see more as we walk down the street. The everyday becomes exquisitely beautiful. The motion of boredom becomes alien and absurd as we naturally soak in the lovely subtleties of the 'banal'. (The Art of Learning, 197)


An aside from me

This is not from the book, but from a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety. If you are stressed out about dancing tango, go dancing. If you are nervous or anxious, avoiding going will simply cause more anxiety. Just go. If you show up, sit down, change your shoes and chat with people at your table, you have succeeded in getting to the milonga! Dance one or two tandas before fleeing. Next week, stay one more tanda. Add a tanda a week. As you meet more people, you will have more folks to dance with you, and you will feel more at home. Pick a table and sit at the same place each week. Become part of the community, and feel how that helps you feel less nervous about the dancing! And listen to the tiny moments that create joy.