27 dic 2007 - Tango Dysmorphic Disorder and other delusions.

A common thing I encounter with people in the tango community is a kind of perpetual self criticism that oftentimes doesn't reflect the reality of the situation—people who find themselves dismayed at their perceived inability to dance well, or to dance the way they would like to dance, even though their dancing is perfectly fine. While this is a kind of neurosis I find among many tango dancers, it especially seems to trouble those who have been dancing only a short time. Additionally, there seems to be a contradictory correspondence in that the ones who suffer most from this neurosis are often the ones who are progressing most quickly and who have greater potential than many. It strikes me as the same mental process as the most beautiful girl in the room who can't stop fretting about her appearance. Perhaps it is partly this insecurity that drives them to work harder, thus accelerating their progress. Or it is the heightened self awareness that comes from self criticism that makes them more aware of the intricacies of their body movements. Regrettably, because so much energy is devoted to self-analysis any joy they manage to find in the dance is hard won and fleeting, and only grudgingly accepted as something that will suffice "for now."

Then there is the opposite, where people who are particularly poor dancers apparently feel as though they rule the floor. They are the ones who never go to classes or take lessons because "they already know it." Or else they attend classes and workshops far beyond their abilities because they consider themselves "advanced." They are the ones who wrench every volcada, lift, boleo, and everything else they have ever seen out of their (and their partners') bodies and fit it in to their interpretation of every single song, imagining themselves to be dynamic and expressive but in actuality appearing more like wrestlers than dancers. Sometimes these people even go so far as to promote themselves as instructors, or at least will not hesitate to point out to others (unasked) how they should be dancing. One incident in particular stands out in my mind, when I was at a milonga in BsAs and one member of my tour group, who was a truly limited dancer, stopped in the middle of a song and explained to a porteña (with whom he somehow lucked upon a dance) what she was supposed to do when he did a particular lead. The look of sheer incredulity on her face apparently escaped his notice. Could it be that the confidence these people have in turn impedes their progress due to the lack of introspection and lucid self analysis? And yet, oftentimes these are people who seemingly enjoy the dance most consistently.

This is a question I asked myself some time ago: which would you rather be, a dancer who dances badly but enjoys himself or a dancer who dances well but feels dissatisfied? Almost invariably, I lean towards the latter, but I think it's not a question that's as black and white as it seems. I really think it depends on what it is you enjoy about the dance, and for me that can change at anytime according to my mood. For example, last night I felt I wasn't dancing particularly well at all, but I didn't really care. In the moment it meant more to me just to be in the milonga environment with some good friends. Another time it might have weighed on me more heavily, leaving me frustrated and insecure. I think as you get more and more experienced in the dance you just fret a lot less at the times when you're game is off or when you feel burnt out because you've been through it all so many times before and so you know it'll pass, and you know that when it does there is often a renewed freshness of perspective. It's understandable that less experienced dancers would stress these situations more because they can take a toll on one's ego and confidence. But these blows to one's self esteem are healthy, otherwise there would be no progress at all. We only get better because we want to get better. And as we keep at it we do improve, in ways we can or even can't be conscious of, almost as if we have no choice about it. The one choice you have to make is to continue or not, and everything else falls into place after that one decision. As a very good dancer once said to me, when it comes to progress there is simply no substitute for time. You can only force progress so much with the work you do, but ultimately the mind and the body can assimilate only so much and will proceed at their own rate. You just have to be patient and rest assured that the dance is indeed honing itself within you, even when it feels like a plateau. (Of course, this isn't to say that dedicated practice has no part in it, but that is a subject for another post.)

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