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A Note to the Gentlemen

Please stop correcting me on the dance floor.

There are many reasons for this but I'll start with the most obvious one: I am sick and tired of it. I know I'm just a toddler tanguerita and make all kinds of mistakes. No one is more painfully aware of this than I. So what, as long as my heart's in the right place. If I were barely literate and wrote you a love poem that contained a hundred grammatical and spelling errors, would you bark at me, “don't end your sentences with prepositions” in the way you feel no qualms about barking at me to turn my head somewhere else, ground my feet, step lightly, or whatever else I'm doing wrong at the moment?

I already have a teacher. I adore him. He is the one in charge of feeding me suggestions along the path of my process. Don't confuse and frustrate me by throwing more onto my full plate. You'll just make everything take twice as long. I am at any given moment spending large quantities of energy working on something. Maybe it's not the thing that's bugging you. Live with it. I will eventually get there and take care of the problem. There is only so much of me to go around and I can only improve so fast. Bodies are slow learners. Sometimes I even feel like I'm going backwards. But tango has a slow social time frame and you guys already understand how to wait around.

When you correct me on the dance floor, you remind me of the gap in our social status; that in this world where your place in the hierarchy is somewhat based on the technical proficiency of your dance, I am still way down there playing in the toddler sand-box and you are way up high. But, do you know what I've found? Big-boy tangueros correct, but grown-man milongueros do not. Which would you rather be?

Part of the growing-up process that separates the men from the boys is learning that although beautiful form is desirable, beautiful content is what language is really about. I have a label on my bedroom light switch that my son typed on a label maker, just for me. It says “emo.” Hebrew for “mommy” is usually transliterated “ima.” His phonetic spelling charms me. Close enough, and never give me any other label!

Let's take another bedroom analogy, as those seem to stick. If you were to spend your time with me curtly saying things like, more saliva, move your foot, over to the left, no, the other left, harder, not so hard, get your hair out of the you think this would make me Die In Your Arms In Ecstasy? I should think not, and if I don't, what sort of time do you think you will have? I'm only thinking of you and what would make you happy. And as I overheard in a class, “you want the woman to dance like there's no one watching.” Presumably this is the kind of dance you want for yourself.

If you're correcting, you're not dancing from your Beginner Mind standpoint. Beginner Mind is about feeling and reacting and sensing. It's a raw-foods kind of mind that barely processes its vegetables. Beginner Mind is like a cat that sees a flight of pigeons erupt from a rooftop. Instead of thinking, “my, that looks like a flight of pigeons there, look at it go,” it feels, “whoa!” And that's as far as it gets. If you have the spare mental energy to correct me, you're not fully in your body or in the moment. And if you're not giving yourself to those things, how can you give yourself to me? And if you don't want to give yourself to me, why are we standing up here in the first place?

We are all in this together. We come to milongas to socialize and to leave the wolves outside the door. And...this may be the most compelling reason of you remember that tanda you saw me dancing that made you decide, “well, heavens to Betsy, I sure would like a piece of that for myself”? That kind of dance only happened because I knew I could dance freely and without censure.

Back in grad school one of my teachers explained musical theatre like this: “we speak. Then when our emotions are too great for speech, we sing. Then when our emotions are too great for song, we dance.” I've always wanted to live in a musical, wear great costumes, and periodically burst into song and dance, and, finally, I'm doing it. And so are you. We have to remember why we're doing that. When in doubt, reconsult the progression from thinking to feeling in the preceding flow chart. Mostly thinking and not feeling much? Talk. Feeling a lot but still able to think? Music. Feeling so much your heart is about to burst? Ah. That's dancing.

The Heather on the Hill, Brigadoon, Gene Kelly & Cyd Charisse