Ouch! My ego!

Since it has been a fair amount of time since I began, I can't remember all the nuances of my mindset as an absolute beginner, although I think it is a good thing to try to hold on to. I know I was terribly shy (as I still am to a degree which brings about admonishment from some) and felt very out of place as a stranger not only to tango but to the ballroom environment and social dance in general. And though of course there was a ton of uncertainty--I remember how magical and mysterious certain elements (ganchos, sacadas...) seemed--there was never for me a sense that I would never "get there." There was always a faith that someday I would understand and be able to do the things that eluded me.

While I think I have remained somewhat humble, I can't say that my ego has been unaffected in the course of my development as a dancer and aficionado of tango. I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing. Pride and ambition are great qualities to push one towards excellence. But I have always been wary of being one of the ones who jump too early, whose ambitions exceed their level of expertise, though in their minds they are likely unaware of the gap between reality and where they think they are.

That being said, it is extraordinarily difficult to reconcile reality with self-perception, and I think this is one of the most frustrating aspects as a serious student of the dance. Speaking for myself, there are times when I get comfortable with the thought that I am at a good place with my dance and that I seem to have a solid grasp on many of the details of things that I do regularly and also of things that I don't utilize but have studied. Then there are times when I seem to discover that all which I thought I had known and/or could do was wrong. In these moments there is obviously a tendency to feel exasperation at the awareness of time wasted practicing misconceptions and the foreknowledge of the difficulty of correction. But I think the real discouragement comes from the realization that I wasn't as good or as knowledgeable as I thought I was. Despite my somewhat meek bearing, in truth there is a raging egomaniac beneath the surface, and when it gets called on its weaknesses I definitely feel a sense of despair.

Perhaps it's fitting that a culture so intimately linked with heartbreak would extend that feeling to the technical aspects of its expression.

But maybe that's where the balance lies. If there was no humility then would there be the ability to admit I was wrong? Certainly there are dancers who seem to stagnate for as long as I can remember, stifled by the unwillingness to change an approach which is limited. Or worse, whose dancing seems to degenerate more and more as they extend branches of poorly executed elements to the rickety base of an unquestioned faulty foundation. I interpret that as ego unchecked, the inability or unwillingness to admit one is wrong or could do better.

On the other hand, without ego would we even try? I don't know that I would continue to practice as hard as I do if I didn't think I could get better. Not just better, but attain a real measure of excellence. That given time and hard work and good direction, I can perhaps stand among the Chichos, Javiers, Pepitos of the world. Why not? Though when my ego takes a blow, that distance between me and them sure seems long.


Alex said...

Hola Malevito!

On a lighter note, video is a wonderful technological tool that solves the "reality versus self-perception" conundrum. It was video that slapped me in the face about my fucked up walk at year one, mas o menos.

Nice post, as always. You make me think. And I like to think. I'm off to my blog to continue this comment as a post.


Malevito said...

Hi Alex, how are you?

I definitely agree that video is pretty essential for the serious student of the dance, although for me it has always been really hard to watch myself--that damn ego again.

What I've heard from other people and have experienced myself is that even with video it is difficult to make a fair self-assessment, especially upon an initial viewing. The immediate reaction always seems to clash with one, say, a week or a month afterward.

I'd like to add, while the utility of video can't be overstated I think it may possibly have some potential issues as a development tool, depending on how it is used. I'm not sure if I can explain this properly, but my concern is that in watching myself dance I sometimes may be dismissing something that is perfectly fine just because it doesn't *look* just like (Javier, Pepito, etc.) And so I may be discouraging the development of a valid and unique self-expression in order to try to appear more like something already established. But this is definitely a small issue that is far outweighed by the benefits.

Anyway, thanks for the comment!

Simba said...

Hola Malevito, interesting post!

They say the Argentines have enormous egos, so maybe it is intrinsic in the dance or culture itself. With no ego you get nowhere, with no humbleness, also not...

On a related note, many (including me) have their egos bruised when going to Bs As for the first time, after growing to be among the best in the local community, meeting the real "competition" can be a tough reality check.

Malevito said...

Hi Simba, how are you?

You touch on a worthy subject, that of being a big fish in a small pond. I've definitely been there, and I see it all the time. In a community as spread out and varied as the one here in the San Francisco Bay Area, you don't have to go all the way to BsAs to feel put in your place. Then the question becomes, do I want to stay in my little corner of the world where I am king, or do I want to venture out to where I'm nothing special but can be pushed farther?

As far as ego and the Argentines, I think that reputation is mostly focused on porteños, yes? Outside of the big city Argentine people are thought to be much more down to earth. I've never had any problems even with the porteños, though. They all seem like a cool bunch to me. But I agree, ego is very much a part of tango culture and I sometimes have to work against my natural instinct to express it in the dance, as sometimes the music calls for (part of my ongoing struggle with Pugliese, for example).

Thanks for the comment!