Why the most important thing in tango is not a tango thing
What is the most important thing in tango? Different people might say it’s music, or connection, embrace, joy, social interaction, developing your skill and so on. Fortunately, we all have different priorities and preferences. However, the most important thing in tango is none of these. Nevertheless it is so important and so all-incompassing that we tend to overlook it altogether. That most important thing in tango has nothing to do with tango, yet it determines your tango experience in every possible sense.
I have now got your full attention, haven’t I.
Here it comes: the most important thing in tango is your point of awareness.
I first thought of calling it the level of awareness, but level is too hierarchical, and awareness is not really bottom-up. It is more about expanding in several directions at once. What happens when you shift your point of awareness is extremely difficult to describe (I actually doubt we know what happens, it is a mystery of consiousness), but I can illustrate it with examples.
Think of yourself as the very fresh beginner you were when you just started learning tango. Remember how you felt, what you knew and thought about tango. Pugliese at its most dramatic probably stirred your soul. Being able to do a high voleo (or lead one) seemed like the ultimate tango bliss you will ever have. Dancing with that guy or that girl seemed as unattainable as becoming a movie star. Now think about where you are RIGHT NOW. You might have gone from grooving to Gotan Project to enjoying a quiet walk to Firpo, and yet are still considered a sane person. You might have learned to do a voleo but discovered that you still don’t know how to pivot after all these years. Shifting your point of awareness is exactly this: becoming a different person, yet remaining yourself.
When you come to a tango teacher, you probably say: “I have this problem. I keep loosing balance and I also feel very uncomfortable when I do this and that.” The teacher will dance with you, look at you, make you do some exercises, explain you some theory and then things will start to change. You will first, with teacher’s help, become accutely aware of when something is not working. Next, you will understand why. You will be given tools and images to CORRECT what you are doing to get a different result. You will now also become aware of when something IS working. At the end of the class you will find your point of awareness shifted. You now know much more about your “problem” and the ways of solving it. But you do not only know it in your mind. You actualy PERCEIVE and FEEL much more of what is going on. You have a new, all-inclusive, bodily understanding of that subject.
Quite magical, if you think about it.
Learning tango does not happen in a class, learning happens INSIDE YOUR BEING. It happens by continuously shifting your point of awareness (POA, in short). Your teacher can help you shift it, but cannot do it for you. You will have to allow the shift to happen. You teacher can teach you things because s/he has a different POA in that subject. S/he sees and feels things in your dance that you are only vaguely aware of. S/he also sees connections between various problems, and sees that the solution might not be where you were looking for it. S/he also understands your psychological profile and chooses a personal approach: what you are ready to hear and what you are not ready to hear. Your teacher will not try to bring you AT ONCE to her/his own POA if the gap between you two is significant. A good teacher will help you nudge your POA just a little bit further from where it is right now, every time.
Why is your point of awareness so important? Simply because it defines every experience you have, your every behavior, perception, goal and judgement. The paradox of awareness is that you often feel as if your current POA is final. Until something you read, something you hear or feel or think gives you a nudge. For most people this point is constantly shifting, for we are always expanding, learning something new, reflecting on things, trying things in a different way. Great and sudden shifts are called epiphany or revelation. It is what Buddha felt sitting under the tree, or something you might feel watching a great dancer perform. A sudden shift of POA feels as if you just gained a huge new body of knowledge, as if suddenly you understand and feel things in a fresh, enhanced, more complete way. We are always aware when our POA shifts. It can be an “aha” moment or it can be just a “yes, right, I see” moment. Apart from learning that Santa Claus does not exist, it is usually quite a pleasant experience.
Now, how will this help your tango?
The work of a teacher is to understand where his/her students stand in their awareness and how to bring them one step further. The work of a student is to understand that his/her point of awareness needs to shift all the time if learning is to be successful. You can block your POA or let it flow smoothly.
Each excessively rigid opinion of yourself or the world will block your POA from shifting. If you think “I will never learn how to do this, my mother always told me I had no sense of rhythm”, you are blocking your POA. If you think “true tango is only so-and-so, forever and ever, amen”, you are blocking your evolution. If you think “good dancers are snobs, they only want to dance with good dancers” you are blocking yourself from becoming a good dancer. You cannot despise someone and aspire to become like that person at the same time, that’s just absurd. If you think “tango is only for young women who have long legs that kick very high”, you are blocking yourself from finding out that it is not true. If you are thinking “I don’t know how to do this now, but I will know soon”, then you are allowing you POA to flow.
What is the most optimal condition for learning? It is to become a clean slate. Become like a child who is learning how to walk. The child never curses himself for falling, he just gets up and tries again. Learn in a curious and a totally neutral state, free of all judgement andl previous ideas about yourself. Shed your problems, your values, and just see where your POA will want to flow next.
Tango, as a phenomenon, also has its collective point of awareness which is ever-shifting. Just look at what we thought beautiful ten years ago and what we enjoy now. Tango flows, and so should you. If after reading this you feel that you gained some new understanding, then congratulations: your point of awareness just shifted.
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