Culture Magazine

Dancing with Your Whole Self

By Terpsichoral

Republished from Sugar Mountain Land.

Some people take a while to find their tango, to move with ease and confidence, to lose their awkwardness, their tension, to stop gingerly feeling their way feet first, craning the head forward, stiffly holding their partner a few frustrating centimetres away from satisfying torso contact. And, suddenly, something clicks, something changes, there is some deep somatic insight.

I saw that tonight, as my friend the bushy-haired young philosopher, the love child of Byron and Kierkegaard, stood beautifully upright, casually dapper in his half-buttoned jacket and as he bounded through the D’Arienzos with exuberant and puppyish enjoyment, big chocolately eyes glinting with pleasure, Tippex-white shoes flashing in the dim lighting of Baires’s grungiest, most divey, most hippie-ish venue with its pock marked floor and watery gin and tonics, the cold whiteness drawing attention to his much cleaner, more precise steps.

And felt it in the softness of his embrace as I sweated a little, face buried in the lush shrubbery of his hair. Felt it in his characteristic double time runs which extended playfully through phrases, enjambements of the dance, and in the defined, clear full stops when his little bursts of speed ended, perfectly in synch with the music. Suddenly, I felt, that, as the song says, tango suited him. And he suited it.

“Dance with your whole self,” you told me once [in a lesson], he reminded me. “But I only meant ‘change weight fully, don’t reach for steps from the hip’, as you were doing back then. I didn’t mean anything metaphysical,” I explained. “Well, but sometimes the metaphysical image is what helps,” he said. And perhaps he has a point. It’s hard to get past the many psychological obstacles to dancing well: the futile struggle to control another person, who can’t be controlled, that makes leaders grip or squeeze or manhandle; the anxiety that makes us look down, that makes us feel our way blindly with our toes, like a man testing thin ice; the inability to relax the body which makes us poke our heads forward, turtle style, or hold the other person at an awkward angle.

But if you can get past that, you’ll reach the moment at which the movement feels as joyful as breaking into a run through sheer exuberance. And your eyes will twinkle and your feet will beat out the syncopations as precisely as a flamenco dancer. And you will stand more upright, look more straight ahead, hug more warmly and sensually, in real life too. And then it will feel like the most natural thing in the world. And instead of being a source of nerves and worry and self-doubt, the confidence of your movements, the playfulness of your dance, will start to seem like the way you have always wanted to move. The place where you are strongest. Where you can most clearly and skilfully express yourself. Where your whole self comes alive.

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