Emotional Intelligence for Better Tango Learning - Part 1 of 2

by Andrei Andreev 

Part 1 of 2: Taking a moment for yourself

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Sometimes, taking a moment to connect with yourself makes learning with a partner flow again.For many, Tango has a steep learning curve which requires one to pay attention to a multitude of things like movement, posture, the music, the embrace, step patterns, and that's before even mentioning the universe that is one's partner. This process of learning holds the invitation to expand our awareness and challenges us to stretch the limits of our comfort zones.

It is only normal that sometimes, amidst these changes and challenges, we get upset. After all, while watching our abilities grow, we also get to watch ourselves doing things not-yet-correctly, over and over again. Often we can't help but notice that our partners, too, are stumbling and "doing it wrong." For some, these seemingly innocent experiences may trigger old emotional patterns related to situations where we were pushed to learn beyond our natural interests or current capacity, often by the means of shaming, evaluation and even intimidation.

In an ideal world, we would be learning like champions, our minds focused, our bodies flowing, our senses fully alert. We would be able to enjoy each step, knowing that no matter how imperfect, it takes us a step closer to mastery. In reality, it is not uncommon to become impatient: "get it already!"; discouraged "I will never do this right!"; embarassed "I keep stepping on her toes!"; depressed "I am just not good enough;" angry "what an idiot! How can I be so stupid!" Or, we may become frustrated with our partner: "if only he could do it right... once!" Our minds get cloudier, our bodies stiffer, our senses duller. We become less than ideal students and our moments taste nothing like celebration.

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How can you find a way to take a moment for yourself, even as you work with a partner ?This is the aspect of learning Tango which I would like to discuss.

While science has already proven that stress and emotion have a great influence on learning, I am excited about having the most enjoyable and flow-like learning process possible, for myself and all my fellow Tango students.

Having studied Nonviolent Communication with a focus on emotional intelligence for the last five or so years, I believe that there are simple approaches we can use when facing our upsets in a constructive way, even in the middle of a busy class. Here’s the first step, deceivingly simple but powerful:

Notice your state of being, acknowledge what's present, feel what it is to be you. And, of course, breathe.

This may be done in a minute or 30 seconds or even 15 when you become more practiced. It is useful to make it a habit to scan yourself in order to notice if something's off. Emotions often manifest as tension, especially in the throat, eyes, solar plexus, belly. Point your attention to the emotion and name it in your mind. "I am annoyed." "I am impatient." "I am sad." "I am anxious." Notice any thoughts passing through your mind: "I'm so slow! Everyone else gets it!" Emotions are almost always related to a harsh thought about ourselves or another. Name the thought: "I am telling myself I am slow."

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Once we take a moment to connect with ourselves, the dance can flow easily once again.Then, take a breath and feel what it is to be you, annoyed or with whatever feeling is present. Take a breath and sigh. Observe your body soften and the emotion lose its grip.

In other words, give yourself a moment. A moment of understanding and compassion, a direct doorway to the eye of the storm. This deceivingly simple act brings quick relief to one's inner world especially when practiced without the intention for change. Yes, a contradiction.

Allowing yourself to acknowledge what you feel for a moment, to feel your predicament, is a simple and gentle gesture. A brief moment, a look inside and a sigh can bring peace, presence and awareness back into your learning experience. You may feel more embodied, more relaxed, more "you." Sometimes, even a little helps.

So, next time you start feeling tense or a bit off,

  1. Scan your body and mind. Look for tension in the eyes, throat, solar plexus, belly. Notice accompanying thoughts.
  2. Notice what's present - e.g., tightness in the throat, feeling of tiredness, maybe discouragement or sadness, a thought: "I'll never get it, I'm so stupid!"
  3. Acknowledge - e.g., "I am feeling a little sad. My throat is tight. I am telling myself I'm stupid."
  4. Feel what it is to be you, experiencing the emotion
  5. Breathe in and let your breath go

A small step for a Tango dancer, a giant leap towards self-mastery!

As you practice, as you become quicker and more precise, take a mental note of the patterns and thoughts you notice. In my next post, I will show you how to see these sometimes uncomfortable emotions as encoded messages from yourself. Messages which we often ignore in our daily lives may turn out to be quite useful once we learn to decode them.

Meanwhile, I invite you to play with the practice above. Give it ten or so tries and notice how it touches you. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

Andrei Andreev teaches connected communication to parents, couples and businesses. In his free time he carries a camera and takes photos of dance, such as those featured in this article. He may be reached at Andrei@empathyschool.com.

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Andrei Andreev

About 15 years ago, Andrei began to notice that interactions within some of his closest relationships would leave him feeling unheard and disconnected. These interactions sometimes resulted in outcomes that were quite the opposite what he had intended. It was around this time when Andrei first walked into a workshop on Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication (NVC). Experiencing the benefits of this new paradigm of interaction first-hand, Andrei went on to complete a 2-year certification program in 2009 on applying NVC to parent education and has been teaching parenting workshops ever since. Mitra and Stefan invited Andrei to introduce NVC to Oxygen students because the art of communication is so relevant in many aspects of this dance of connection. Andrei is eager to share these skills with anyone who wants to nurture the emotional quality of their relationships and explore how that facet of awareness can be a game-changer in daily interactions.