Friday, April 30, 2010

Saying yes to myself

This post, over at the ever thought-provoking Shapely Prose, has pretty much made my month. It gets me all choked up, with every new comment that I read (and there are 400+ of them, so I haven't read all of them yet!), just to hear about how amazing people are, and to see women unabashedly celebrating themselves and their accomplishments! Even complete strangers--but also myself and my friends; we've had our own little parties going on for our fantastic selves, ever since we first read this. I love it! Any time I need a pick-me-up, I'm going to think about this!

But, surprise, surprise, I've taken a look at it from the perspective of my tango life. It's sparked some interesting new insights there as well...

First, it points out to me how competitive I am with tango. I'm pretty competitive generally; I always want to be really good at anything I do. The best, if possible. And in tango not least--and the environment of the milonga can play right into some of my deepest insecurities.

I think that as a society, we're very strongly conditioned to see achievement as a zero-sum game: There can only be one winner; another person's accomplishment detracts from my own. So in tango, I often find myself comparing myself bitterly with other women who dance well--being nasty, in my mind, to either them or myself--or hoping, when I see some cute little thing toward whom I automatically feel defensive personally, that she doesn't dance as well as me. Because at least I have that advantage over her!

These are really ugly thoughts! I am ashamed of thinking like this. And it detracts immensely from my enjoyment of a milonga.

Besides, it's a hopeless ambition, anyway: If being "the best" at tango can even be measured, really, I will probably never be it. I've only been dancing five years; what is that to a real milonguera, who's been dancing for fifty or sixty years? Get a little perspective, girl! (But that doesn't mean I can't be good for where I am.)

One of the things that I love about the comments over in Shapely Prose is that they don't play into that zero-sum thinking. Hundreds of women have refused, in that thread, to buy into that kind of jealousy and insecurity. Everyone has taken the attitude that we are all fantastic--and no one's accomplishment detracts from anyone else's. Everyone who's posted there seems genuinely proud of and happy for everyone else, as well as for themselves. Maybe being healthily proud of yourself is the only way to ever be wholeheartedly proud of others' accomplishments; I think that's what they tried to teach me in grade school...

What a radical shift in thinking! And it's one that, for me, at least, requires considerable conscious effort to maintain. But I'm going to try bringing it to the milongas this weekend, and see what happens.

Second, I've realized I let tango be my excuse, and even hold me back.

"What, Accidental Tangoiste?" you may well ask. "You've just said you're so driven to excel in tango--and your hard work at it bears this out, and has proven you very successful! You've gone places, thanks to tango, that you'd never imagined, at one time! It's helped you grow a lot! What on earth can you mean by this?"

The thing is, I've always wanted to learn to dance--lots of different styles. Swing, salsa (okay, a friend recently showed me how to fake the look of salsa--falsa, I dubbed it--and I kind of love it), two-step, even just a nice little waltz.

When I stumbled into tango, I got good at it quickly--though not without a lot of patient help from better leaders and from some excellent teachers. It came easily to me, as no other dance has ever done. (I have a few ideas as to why, but that's another topic for another time.) And when people find out I tango, they tend to be pretty impressed: "Wow, so you're a really good dancer then, huh?" And I always feel like I have to clarify, "No, I'm not; I'm only good at tango."

I've even described myself as a kind of idiot-savant of dance: Good only at this one, reputedly pretty difficult, thing, but hopeless at everything else. Unable to waltz my way out of a paper bag. (I find it really embarrassing! I cannot even waltz!) My hips too inhibited to shake. In the past, I've claimed to have been born without a groove thing, a congenital defect.

So I've contented myself, for the past few years, with just doing tango and doing it well. I sit out the salsa tandas that get played at our local milongas sometimes, even though everyone looks like they're having a fabulous time. My foot might be tapping to a zydeco band, but I will steadfastly refuse to dance, even though I'm itching to join in--or maybe I'll apologize my way through a waltz or a little two-step. Because I'm Only Good at Tango--and I don't like to let myself feel foolish in public by trying something that I'm not very good at yet.

But why have I been looking at it this way--that I can Only Do Tango? How and why have I let my ability here somehow turn into a put-down to myself in other ways? What on earth is that all about?! Why hasn't my skill at tango instead proven to me that maybe I could do other dances and get at least competent at them for social dancing? It doesn't have to be competition-level, for Pete's sake; I've learned that from tango too. How is it that I've been using tango, which I know I'm good at, to convince myself that there are so many things I'm not good at--especially when it actually provides lots of direct evidence to the contrary?

Why don't I look at it instead as, hey, I do have rhythm, I can learn patterns,* my body is not totally uncoordinated, I can follow a decent lead, I can even pick up on where to sneak in a little something fancy, and you know what? My hips do have a little attitude!

So maybe it's time to change that too.

And maybe it all has to start with this: Admitting to myself that in addition to some natural talents, I've worked hard at tango, and at other things, and, yes, I am good at them--and it is okay to take credit for my skill. Start with that. These, then, are the next steps.

*For the purposes of getting the hang of a step only, not for actual dancing, no memorized squences here, etc., etc.


  1. Woohoo! Go dance, whatever style you can. That's all I can say. :) I would heartily support you learning other styles of dance that you can find. Cheer you on, even.

    Did the Kate Harding post spark some of these musings? :)

  2. Thank you, my dear! I'm thinking about what I can do in the way of other dance opportunities this summer. :)

    Re. Kate Harding, that would be the post at Shapely Prose that I mentioned and linked to at the beginning. ;) It is wonderful that you know Kate Harding! I need to read more of her stuff. And when I get my shiny new computer, oh, the blogs I will catch up on! The Internet video I will watch! It will be amazing!

  3. I figured that the Shapely Prose was a big inspiration, but some of what you said (especially at the end) was reminiscent of a Kate Harding post that Allison had shared. :)

    She did email it to both of us, right? Or did she just IM it to me? I can't remember. Stinkin' short term memory, all glitchy 'n' stuff.

  4. No, Allison told me about the Kate Harding post separately from anything she may have sent to you in any electronic medium, since she told me about it face to face. Look, I'm confused: Are we talking about two different posts by Kate Harding?