Going to a tango festival or workshop? How to prepare yourself for the challenge of humility and vulnerability.

Going to a tango festival or workshop? How to prepare yourself for the challenge of humility and vulnerability - by Patrick Marsolek

A week ago I went to the Valentango festival in Portland. I must say I had a very full, rich weekend of dancing and community. A week later, I think I’m finally caught up on my sleep! I’m also glad to say, I did better with my own demons of judgment and entitlement.

I’ve noticed that I often go through difficult cycles when I go to a weekend workshop or tango festival. At some point during the weekend, I lose connection with myself and start to experience doubt, uncertainty, frustration and even anger. These uncomfortable feelings are often triggered when someone will not make eye contact with me, when I would like to dance with them. It may also occur when I have a dance with some awkward moments. When I was first learning tango and this happened, I would just leave the dance, feeling frustrated and wondering why I even did tango. I’m grateful I had enough satisfaction that I didn’t leave it for long, though I wonder how many people have left after having similar experiences.

With practice, I’ve become more conscious of what’s happening inside myself when these moods hit. I have started to see how there are old tapes that start running in my mind that contribute to the frustration and challenge that I experience. One of those tapes has to do with a sense of entitlement. The thought goes, “I’m a good dancer. This person should want to dance with me.” I might also find that I am evaluating the people that I see that are available to dance and thinking thoughts like, “That one seems more experienced. That one is dancing with all the good dancers. That one is just a beginner.” My thoughts might also be more self-judgmental and critical like, “I’m not good enough to dance with that person”, “I really messed up that dance” or “I have to do better next time.”

When I am thinking a little more clearly, I can see that these kinds of judgments, evaluations and expectations do not contribute to my experience of happiness at the dance. These thoughts tend to isolate me from my own feelings and from other dancers. In my experience with NonViolent Communication (NVC), I have learned to notice that when I am in judgment of myself or another person I have needs that are not being met. So, when I recognize I am judging or feeling entitled, I ask myself, “What am I needing right now?” This thought is especially helpful if I’m blaming someone else for my discomfort. Asking that question often helps to shift me out of my funk and start me back into more self-connective thinking.

When this happens during a festival, I might recognize that what I’m needing is rest. I tend to try to soak up as much at these events as I can. This inevitably leads to fatigue. Inside this desire for more and more may be coming from a sense of scarcity. I might have this unconscious hungry attitude of needing to get more to fill something inside me.  This is a dangerous place to be since it takes me out of the moment. I end up focusing too much on what else I can do and the next dance. Judgment and comparison are right around the corner when I’m in that state. When I recognize that I’m tired, and maybe not as present as I like to be, I can slow down, breathe, drink some water, and give myself a break for a tanda or two. As soon as I do this, I start enjoying where I am and I can watch the dancers on the floor and myself without judgment.

In the “what am I needing?” moment, I also might identify that there are more psychological needs being stimulated in that moment, like a need for connection, satisfaction, respect, consideration, trust, ease, peace, to be seen, and perhaps even honesty. In the NVC consciousness, these are all basic human needs that everyone has. I believe we do meet these needs for each other when we are dancing tango. In the fluid moment of dancing with a partner, when it’s working well, we are present with each other with playfulness, trust, ease, honesty, vulnerability and acceptance. This exchange goes both ways without judgment or evaluation. When it’s not working well, it’s easy to start judging ourselves or others.

Asking myself the question, “What am I needing?” starts to clear the fog. Then I might identify that I’m really wanting to be accepted, to feel comfortable, or to feel a sense of satisfaction. I know these are values that are important to me. When we share a connective dance with a partner, we do help to meet each other’s needs naturally. But when we demand another to meet our needs it doesn’t feel good. When I’m feeling a sense of self-entitlement and thinking, “This person should be dancing with me,” I am essentially demanding that they meet my needs. When I’m in that mind set, even someone who would like to dance with me might say “No” and avert their eyes at the cabeceo. Even if I’m not thinking I’m entitled, I may come across as “too needy”. In NVC language, it’s really not possibly for someone to be too needy. We all have needs and they are all a beautiful part of who we are. In my personal shorthand, “too needy” refers to being unconscious of how I get my needs met and I’m demanding others fill them for me.

So, when I self-identify my needy moment at the milonga, I first recognize that having those needs is part of being human. I am OK. Then, I can take care of myself. Often just identifying what’s going on helps me shift where I am inside. I might take a break, get a drink of water and reach out to talk to someone. I can also do my own self-soothing, reminding myself that I’m not entitled to anything, that everyone here is at choice. When someone chooses to dance with me, it is a gift that I am grateful for. I also remember that I am OK being at whatever “level” dancer I am. Even if I only can do the simplest steps, I can have a lovely connective dance with someone when I am present with them and with the music.
So, during this recent trip to Valentango, I was thinking about these mental traps in advance. I was excited to be going and wanted to be able to flow through these pitfalls with tenderness and acceptance. I made a point of talking with my fiancé and my friends in advance. We took time during the festival to check in with each other to see how we were doing. In addition to this, I took extra steps to take care of my physical needs. I snacked more in between meals. I took naps,. I sat and rested before I got grumpy. I also took time to connect with people in other ways besides dancing. We shared meals, and I took more time to find out more about my friends.

I did still find myself in a funk which lasted for about three tandas during the late, late milonga my last night of the festival. I was easier on myself though and caught it quickly. A moment of self-acceptance and understanding shifted it. I let it go and enjoyed the rest of the early morning dancing. I’m pleased to say that the whole weekend went better for me and for some of the friends who attended the festival with me. I believe these kinds of inner traps are more pervasive than we might admit to each other. It helps when we talk about them with each other. We are all in the same boat. In tango, we step into a vulnerable moment each time we turn our awareness outwards to cabaceo our next dance partner. Inevitably, we are stirred, triggered, challenged and rewarded in this process, and I believe it makes us more able to step fully into the vulnerabilities of the rest of our lives.

- Patrick Marsolek