Oh, the Places Where Dance Can Take You

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Watching Ed Sheeran struggle in the making of his Thinking Out Loud” music video, I get where he’s coming from. That look on his face — yeah, I’ve been there!

Photo: UNORTHODOXGAL via giphy

We tend to only see the success and think “oh, he’s so talented.. he’s got great choreographers.. and crew that make him look good..”

What we don’t see is the hours of practice and more importantly the inner struggle that Ed had to overcome. It’s his hero’s journey.

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I know this struggle. Years ago I found out the hard way that Argentine tango was not as easy as the good dancers make it look.

Finishing up my last tour in the Navy, I remember stumbling on a couple dancing one night under a gazebo at the end of a pier in Old Town Alexandria. Their moonlit silhouette mesmerized me — their bodies moving so in-sync and effortlessly.

What were they doing? It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized that it was tango — Argentine tango, not ballroom. The simplest way I can think of describing this difference is by relating how some martial arts use strict choreographed forms call katas, while others like aikido or MMA use improvised techniques around basic movements.

Photo Credit: hoangp via Foter

At the time I was practicing aikido in most of my spare daylight hours and swing dancing on Saturday nights. The sense of flow in these sucked me in further down the rabbit hole. Yet I felt like something was missing.

Leaving my military career behind and seeking my fortune in the Dot Com heyday, I stumbled around the Bay Area before getting picked up as an IT project manager — familiar territory since this was basically what I did towards the end of my military career.

While there was a bit of a learning curve in my first steps out in the big wide civilian world, I was still drawn to challenge myself creatively — although I didn’t realize what this urge was about. Eventually, I found myself walking through the doors of a dance studio in Berkeley, and it finally felt like I was home.

Because I had faked my way in swing dancing — taking only the beginner lessons before the dance itself, some part of me got the idea that I could do the same in Argentine tango. I couldn’t be more wrong.

Things got really ugly when a Chinese dancer pulled me aside during a workshop and asked if I spoke Mandarin. She then proceeded to berate me in our native tongue with the equivalent of “what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

My tendency is to wing it, when I get into unfamiliar waters. While this works with, say, driving by yourself in an unfamiliar neighborhood, this can get annoying if your passenger expected to arrive at a friend’s birthday hours ago.

That saying “it takes two to tango”? Yeah, it’s more than just about the movements. In fact, what I like to say is “tango is what happens between the steps.”

-Photo: Jane Claire-Quigley of animalnewyork

Slowly, I realized that it wasn’t just about my enjoyment — doing movements that express my creativity and getting off on trying different sequences. There’s a partnership — you’re inviting someone along for a story you’re telling.

Without feeling a connection between leader and follower, there is no tango. Sure, you may have a series of pretty cool movements that may even “ooh and ahh” your audience. But when you see two dancers lost in a moment -

Their bodies blurring in a conversation.. where it’s hard to tell who’s leading and who’s following.. It becomes like how I paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter when asked for his definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

I had a lot to learn and no idea where tango was taking me. It was just the beginning of this curiosity side trip that became my hero’s journey.

This is Day 13 of #My500Words challenge.

For more on where tango took me in indie creativity and entrepreneurship visit Butterfly Formula. To connect with other Indie Creatives join us on Facebook, or to follow my food travel adventures or digital nomad journey visit Tango Vagabond.