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With Me But On Your Own

One of the challenges of close embrace is maintaining both the connection and the space within the embrace. Theoretically they help each other, so the better one is, the better the other is. And, close or open, you've got to maintain your axis at all times. That's the only way you can connect and dance with someone else. The minute you lean on them, you're not dancing any more.

Someone I know once summed up everything humanity has learned since the dawn of time in six words. “With me. But on your own.” The pull between the two is what makes life and dance what it is. If you're really dancing with someone, you're letting them into your scary place. On the other hand, if you're really dancing with someone, you're the eye of your own storm. It's your experience. Technique opens us up to being ourselves, instead of letting ignorant mechanics write a false script for us.

I recently had almost exactly the same conversation from opposing poles with two people I know. I will paraphrase. One person understood and lived with the “with me” concept but was troubled to find a lowering storm of unattended “on your own” demanding attention within them. The imbalance was getting to them. And they, like I, didn't have a definitive answer about how best to harmonize the two in daily life.

Then a month later another person I know understood and lived with the “on your own” concept but had come to realize, much to their surprise, that “with me” had been lurking there the whole time. They had tried to send it away but it was always right there in them, defining their life.  —Maybe we don't have to decide how to balance these things at all. Maybe thinking and forcing the technique is not the best way to go with the flow. Maybe letting the dance happen step by unanticipated step is how we slowly learn how to fit the whole spectrum of those polarities into our lives.

Tango, like other delightful Eastern religions, teaches us the glory of the middle path. What it does better than, say, the Tao, is it shows us that the middle path can be the most ultimately dynamic, concentrated energy nexus imaginable. Tango's middle path is what happens when you pour all the black in the world and all the white in the world into the tiny space taken up by just two bodies, and then fuse them together. What you get is that energy ball, that connection.

Flowing along that “connection,” that “middle path,” isn't trying, or forcing. “Go with the flow” can just as easily be, “vaya con el improvisando.” When we're flowing life happens on its own and we go along with it because that's what's right for us. All the doors that need to open for us lie already open, welcoming us, no need to knock.

When we put too much forced effort into “with me” or “on your own” we create imbalance. Belonging can feel like a suffocating, crushing, deadening cage. Everything we do “with me” has to come from “on your own,” otherwise, “with me” collapses. Freedom can feel equally suffocating and crushing, an infinite wasteland. Which is why it helps to motive “on your own” actions from “with me” roots—although, I'm biased, I feel that in life this is somewhat less essential than the other way around. But that's personal opinion. In dance, however, there's no question: “with me” all the way, period.

Neither motivating force comes with any guarantees. If we truly listen to “on your own,” we may end up having to do something totally different than what we had planned, hoped, even longed to do. But at least it will be the right thing. And the nicest thing we can possibly do for people we care about, for the people we dance with, is what's right for us.

Both concepts are very scary and demand leaps of faith from us. Why risk the warm fuzzies of “with me” in order to strike out boldly on your own into the cold unknown? Because you have to in order to maintain the warm fuzzies. Why risk the safety of “on your own” in order to open our heart to someone else and belong to each other? Because that's what being alive means.

“With me” is a world that contains grief, tragedy, and sadness that cuts like a knife. “On your own,” on the other hand, is a world that contains searing, blinding numbness. I know which one I'd prefer to have the upper hand.

When we dance, we must feel both grounded and light. Someone described it as, “body energy down into the earth, breath energy up into the air.” But you can also see it as, belonging to others makes us grounded, and belonging to ourselves makes us light. Both states must coexist.

I had actually felt a change in the second-conversational-partner's dancing over time. They used to dance as lightly as a butterfly. But a groundedness had been growing in their dance. So when they started talking about how “with me” was turning out to be a lot more pivotal of a concept to their "on your own 'er bust" life than they had originally imagined, I wasn't all that surprised. It was a poignant moment.