Return to site


Do you want to follow, or do you want to dance?”

What if instead of focussing on the thousand and one Don'ts drilled into us as dancers, we allowed ourselves to dance? What if it didn't “take two to tango,” it only took one free dancer experiencing the world in their own way?

Turning 40 was the greatest birthday gift I ever got. From that day on, I was officially allowed to enjoy myself and not listen to anyone else telling me how to live, what to do, or how to feel, for the entire rest of my life. I had paid my dues. I had followed enough. I never had to follow, ever again. I was finally free. Now I could dance for real.

Life isn't tidy: I felt this feeling first and then figured out the imagery and words to reproduce the feeling. For the sake of a good story you can pretend it happened the other way around.

Tangueras are taught to share, to connect, to stay with their partner...blah, blah, blah. Forget all that crap. The minute you focus the dance into your partner, it's over. It dies. I felt that in María's body. As soon as she shifted her attention away from her own dance and into me, I felt her body's glorious free danciness sink down into a joyless going-nowhere grim shackled experience. Since our partners feel in their bodies what we feel in our bodies, what kind of experience do you want everyone to have?

In order to dance together, we have to experience the dance alone. I knew it before but now I knew it even more. The second our attention strays from our own dance and into our partner is the second the journey stops feeling like dancing, for everyone.

Reality is not romantic. But it's better than that: it's real. It opens the door for us to feel beautiful truth, which trumps pretty dreams every time. Maybe the secret to loving is to leave romance behind.

“That's your leader,” he said, pointing to the music. “Not me. Forget about me. I'm just here to propose movement. Keep dancing.”

Heady. Exultant. Free. This was dancing.

I knew this was a dance I wanted to dance forever, because this was how I danced on the lawn in the summertime when I was a tiny girl. This was how I danced before I knew anything. This was what had always been there, therefore this was what was not going away.

But it was wistful too, in a Judy Garland, A Star Is Born kind of way. This dance's joy and beauty lay in its freedom, and in a way that also felt like saying, “I love you but I have to leave you behind because I'm on my own journey.” In the middle of all this light and joy, there was the sweet poignance of the power of goodbye.

Why had I clung to Hard Work as the approach of choice for so long, when just luminescing was so much easier and created the beautiful dance that no amount of Hard Work ever would? Why had I clung so hard to paying attention to technique, when the real technique is No Technique?

And now that the genie was out of the bottle, what could love ever look like again?

A day or so later I saw an urban mermaid painted on the sidewalk. “Be the mermaid, swimming in her favourite water,” I told myself. The street turned into my ocean and I swam through it with a shiny pink heart. I felt like I was about five years old. Without telling my body to do so, everything softened and organized itself in the direction of my focus. But I didn't care, because I was too busy being interested in the world and the tender edges of the experience of moving through it.

And then when I danced with that....

A whole new world.

I was a siren. The music was my favourite water.  The siren liked this water a lot better than the street. This was her native environment. I swam in the music and it was full of starfish, bubbles, currents, schools of fish, twinkling lights. Partner? Huh? Who's that? My partner was so much kelp that I swam through from time to time, an amusing sensory game like you might play with a baby, but to me it felt like he wasn't even there.

Perhaps better to say, I didn't take his presence personally. For I could feel him feeling the siren and I could feel that he, like all sailors, wanted to hear the siren's song. But that was his journey, not mine.

Who wouldn't want to hear the siren's song? It comes straight from her heart, and it is the song of everything that's beautiful in life. And now that she and I became one thing and I sang that song, I remembered that singing it was the easiest thing in the world, as simple as honey. It's the minute we sirens make ourselves stifle our song that things become hard.

An amused thought flashed through my human mind. Once again, whatever's going on in your life is what's going on in your dance. Once again, I laughed at how “wrong” I had been at some prior point of understanding—which is to say, not wrong, just looking at things from a different point of perspective. There had been a time when I thought tango was about community. Then I realized it wasn't. Then I thought it was about the individual. Then I realized it wasn't.  Then I thought it was about speaking. Then I realized it wasn't. Then I thought it was about listening. Then I realized it wasn't. Then I thought it was about sex. Then I realized it wasn't. Then I thought it was about love. Then I realized it wasn't. Now I'm thinking it's about freedom.

Every time, I am sure that this time I am right forever. Perhaps it would be better to say, each time I come to a new understanding, that understanding is true for what it's time to learn about in my own life.

He retold me the story of Odysseus and the sirens. Everyone, from Homer to TS Eliot to Disney (hmm, all men), yearns to hear the siren's song. And yet there's this accompanying fear that if we hear it, we will drown, dragged under by evil seductresses who kill men. This hunger for the magical beings whose song reconnects us with beauty, paired with fear of what it could mean to hear that song...did we have to accept this internal conflict as “the human condition?”

And what if “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (thanks, FDR)? I thought of Eliot writing, “'til human voices wake us, and we drown.” I thought of how free I felt swimming in the music, and how the feeling of María's beautiful dance dying in me did feel like she was drowning. What if the fear of the siren's song was the drowning? Why does this fear have such a grip on us? Why do we clutch so hard to conditions that, while familiar, may not be how we can most fully enjoy the gift of life?

I was born to play in the ocean. I was born to swim through the water and sing my song. I was born, as we all were, to be free.

But now that I was free, what would love mean?

Mermaid Song, from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love.