My Tango Experience: Its Impact on Me
This is a continuation of my first blog about Tango where I explain how I got into it and a bit about the dance itself. Feel free to check it out if that interests you.
I struggle with performance anxiety. Dancing with another person where you are supposed to take the role of leader, a position of responsibility, still terrifies me. When I first started I almost didn’t want to go back because of this. As with many tango classes, you change partner a lot: generally the classes are done in a large circle around the room with the teachers in the middle. Every few minutes or so, after an explanation or a few words from the teachers, the leaders profusely thank the followers for the dance and move anti-clockwise to the next follower. Let me tell you now, the first few times you do this it is inevitably awkward. Eventually, however, you remember their names and how they like to dance, the embrace they prefer, and how much you can joke around. After this point it becomes a truly enjoyable experience just to practice and fail.
The “end goal” of tango, unlike many other dances, is not competition, but social interaction. Every few weeks there are social dances that take place called “milongas” where people go to dance with whoever ends up being there. Each dance like a conversation without words. You can find out a lot about someone from how they dance tango. How heavy handed they are, how much space they give you to express yourself, how rigid or smooth they dance, or even how they react to mistakes (especially important for me).
I can genuinely say that tango was a learning experience for me, character building as much as the dance itself. The first milonga that I attended outside of the university I danced with only 1 person that I didn’t know. I would completely freeze up when we had to find a new partner, and by the time I had summed up the courage to do so the next ronda had begun. Disappointed by my lack of ambition, I challenged myself that each time I go to a milonga I would dance with more and more strangers; next 3, then 5, then 7, and so on. Getting over anxiety is never easy, but when there is something higher than you telling you to do so, and your friends to report back to, it makes it less of a decision to make and more an occasion to rise to.
While tango society attracts all sorts, it would not be slander, nor inaccurate, to say that the majority of people who become regular members are outsiders in their own respect. The 2019/2020 exec is made up of 5 international students and 1 English student, and as a community we attract a largely international audience. Our demography certainly both overrepresents internationals and postgrads, but this only leads to a more accepting atmosphere. There is no extra effort to be made to become a part of the community, everyone generally joins knowing no one, or is recommended to join by a single friend. Some stay; some don’t, but those who do often find a little family that would happily accept them, flaws and all.
With all this talk of friendship and family you may be fooled into believing that tango is a stress free environment. Let me firmly reject that hypothesis. A few months after joining tango, I heard about Pizazz, an annual showcase event in which the numerous dance societies perform. To this day I feel slightly iffy about tango as a group performance, but, having been convinced by a friend to give it a go, I signed up for the performance. Starting in term 2 the fire was lit. Every lesson was followed by a rehearsal, and every rehearsal was followed by a long night’s sleep. The choreography by Dawid and Gosia was, over the course of probably 20 rehearsals, firmly lodged into our brains, and I foolishly even signed up to learn the solo with my partner. Well, many weeks later we arrived triumphant at our goal, and performed for the adoring masses. In fact, it went so well that the next year we’ve been offered two slots. My heart goes out to anyone learning Clariece’s “intermediate” choreography, especially those practising it under her watchful eye.
Before I try to get grandiose in a sec, yeah, tango is just a dance between two people, and tango society is just a society like any other. To me, however, tango will always be so much more. It’s how I overcame my anxiety, it’s how I met my friends, it’s how I found out that I actually like to dance. It taught me about commitment, accepting mistakes, and facilitating others. Pretty good for something that’s “just a dance”.