I used to think my dance lessons were all about timing, steps, musicality, and technique. Lately I have come to realize that that there’s more too it than that. The more I dance, the more I learn about life. According to my teachers – dance is life.
And nowhere was this more apparent than on my recent trip to New Orleans where I managed to squeeze in a two-hour tango lesson with the very elegant, “man in black” – Alberto Paz. He was gracious and patient, and I immediately felt at ease with him despite the usual stage fright I feel whenever I dance with someone for the fist time.
“There is no test,” he said. “You’re here to learn.”
Lesson #1: “Dance is like life. You have to understand that it’s not about pass/fail; it’s about getting the most out of it.”
Alberto was surprisingly complimentary at what little technique I had managed to pick up in Buenos Aires. (Ah, me of little faith.) He liked working with beginners, he explained, because there were few bad habits to correct.
Doubting myself – as usual – I told him that it was his excellent lead and clear direction that enabled me to dance well
“Catherine,” he said. “It’s a compliment so take it and just say thank you,” he said.
Lesson #2: Dance is like life. You have to give yourself a little credit.”
I decided that the next time someone paid me a compliment, I would own it.
I would say: “It’s mine. I worked for it. I deserve it.”
As the lesson progressed, the steps started to feel different – they started to feel “right.” Alberto’s small tweaks were making a big difference to my comfort level. But just to be certain, I asked, after a particular sequence of moves, “Is this right?”
He tossed the question back at me, “Does it feel right to you?”
“Yes,” I said. “I can definitely feel a difference.”
“Then, it’s right,” he said, then added: “Never ask a man his opinion. He’ll never tell you the truth. If you ask him if something looks good, he will always say yes.”
As naive as it sounds, it came as such a revelation that I actually asked Alberto if I could write that piece of wisdom down before I forgot it.
He laughed, put his arm around my shoulders, and gave them an affectionate squeeze . “But you already knew that!” he said.
Lesson #3: “Dance is like life, It’s about how you feel and not how someone else makes you feel.
Probably the hardest lesson of all was just learning to slow down. Tango, more so than any other dance, requires the dancer to be in the moment, wait, and savor each step. However, I sometimes I approach tango as something “to do” rather than something “to dance.” I want to make sure I do all of the steps whether I enjoy them or not.
As Alberto so eloquently put it as I rushed through my steps of our last tango together, “Slow down, you always have time to make a step, but once it is made you can never take it back.”
Lesson #4: “Dance is like life. Make every step count!