Everything I wrote about “tango burn out” turned out to be true. But, as it happens, knowing the problem intellectually did not allow me to “fix” it. An outside force, so to say, was necessary to release me from the stronghold of this vicious cycle.
I had correctly analyzed that part of the vicious circle was my inability to help the followers to relax. I had previously written, in this blog, that what separates “advanced” from “intermediate” leaders is exactly this ability. While this is technically true, the idea there existing such an “ability” that could and should be attained, proved out to be quite unhelpful. Belief in such an idea can prevent one from experiencing it, as happened to me.
In my mind, after making it an ability to be attained, the immediate thought that arises is that I lack this ability. This thought is of course “proven” by experience. This directly caused me to self-identify as “intermediate” instead of “advanced” dancer. This is then related to self-worth (“with this much practice, I should already be an advanced dancer”) and so on. Not surprisingly, this causes me to feel dissatisfied by my own dancing.
And it was actually this dissatisfaction, rather than objective lack of ability, that actually made the followers tense up. They could feel this dissatisfaction in me. And they attributed it, mostly unconsciously it seems, either to themselves (“I am a bad dancer because this leader is dissatisfied with me”) or to me (“this leader is a bad dancer, because he is dissatisfied with himself”). Both of these attributions made them tense up.
The deeper I got in my research on this vicious cycle, the closer I got to the physical root causes. I was not able to sense the tensions in myself — otherwise I would have been able to relax them. But I could sense the tensions in the follower. The tensions seemed to begin from the right hip, from there on radiated to the left hip, and then to legs. With some followers, the tension even slowly traversed up the back, first to the closed-side and then open-side arms.
Tense hips made it difficult for the followers to feel the direction of the movement, which in turn made them guess the direction, which then made them make more mistakes. And these mistakes then made both them more tense and me more unhappy. Hence the vicious cycle.
But I also knew that the source for these tensions was in me, as almost all followers were tensing up in the same way. Eventually, I was able to see that the tension started from my own left hip. So for both me and the followers, the tension started from the open side hip, and then progressed from there.
Even feeling the tension did not help in how to relax it. It actually got even worse.
On the other hand, I had experiences when this vicious cycle was broken up. I participated in many festivals and marathons during this time, and towards the end of each, the vicious cycle stopped appearing. And once, when I danced after drinking a shot of vodka, my dancing was reported to be much more relaxed.
I was also practicing following in milongas, and a friend told me that she had never seen me as happy. To that I replied, that when you remove all the duties of the leader, what is left is pure bliss.
In the hindsight, these all directly pointed to the emotional cause of the problem. I felt responsible for making the follower relax. The problem with this idea is not easy to express. Certainly, we leaders must do everything we can so that the follower can relax.
But it is really impossible for anybody to make somebody else relax. And because it is impossible for me to make it happen, I am literally not response-able i.e. responsible for the tension in follower. You could even say that if you see yourself responsible for things that only somebody else can be responsible for, you are stripping agency away from them in your mind.
As Natucci explains in the video above, one can say that the follower actually should do more to maintain the connection with the leader. And the connection is closely related to the relaxation.
I want to emphasize here that I am not saying that the connection-oriented dancing is the only way to dance tango. Tango can be danced in many ways. I personally dance and also practice several of them, including nuevo. They are all “right”.
However, if you wish to dance in one certain way, which some call milonguero, the emphasis is in the connection within the couple. This connection is different from connection in nuevo, which I feel is more of kinetic kind. The connection I am talking about has an emotional component. Such a connection cannot happen unless both dancers are open to it, and are actively searching for it. And even then, there are no guarantees. Emotional connection is not an automaton.
In milonguero style, leader and follower have different … responsibilities is not the right word, perhaps one could say opportunities … on how they can search for the connection. Natucci says that the follower should search for the physical connection, to keep her solar plexus as close to the solar plexus of the leader, as possible. I agree.
The vicious cycle started to unravel during two private classes with an Alexander technique teacher, who also dances tango. I found out that I had wrong mental image about the point where the hip flexion happens. My mental image of the point of flexion was somewhere on the side of my hip, when it is actually really in the inside, above the groin. Later I realized that I need to be gentle towards relaxing my hip. I cannot make myself to relax by force. Relaxation is more about letting go.
Natucci does not explain how the leader can search for the connection. The opportunities are not symmetrical, and I will get into the details in another post. In any case, what the leader can try to aim for, is an environment where the follower feels safe. Concentrating on that, instead of my hip, seemed to help both me and the followers stay more relaxed.
I am still working to incorporate these things into my body, so it is able to do them without conscious effort. But at least I now have a solution that seems to work in practice, most of the time.