by Sharna Fabiano
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” -Albert Einstein
As students of tango, it’s common to feel confused and even frustrated by contradictory information. Toe ﬁrst or heel ﬁrst? Independent axis or shared axis? We are accustomed to things making rational sense, to there being one correct answer. Against the truth of empirical data, the truth of mystery may seem rather suspicious.
The rational does not compute such things as polka-dot socks, unicorns, and contradictions. The poetic, however, knows such things to be essential, and it engages your imagination and your senses. For centuries humans used not one but TWO systems of knowing: logos, the world of objective, scientiﬁc truth, and mythos, the world of subjective, poetic truth. When we live most of our days in logos-land, we need encouragement to activate our mythos mind. And we need both to dance tango well.
Below are a few questions and answers to reassure your rational mind and coax your imaginative, polka-dot sock-loving mind out of hiding:
Q. Why do I receive contradictory instructions?
A. Your body is constantly changing. Your emotions, tension, strength, and ﬂexibility shift based on your thoughts and on your interactions with the world around you, and all of these things become part of your dance. So, some days you may be tense, and receive instruction on softening your arms, and other days you may be loose, and receive instruction on toning your arms. Over time, this process teaches you about yourself and about the recurring patterns in your own body, so that you can make more conscious choices about how you WANT to be at any given moment.
Q. Why do teachers contradict each other?
A. Each instructor bases feedback on his or her own preferences and training. Relative to instructor X, you may be too tense, but relative to instructor Y, you may be too loose. Rather than frustrating, these contradictions can be useful information for the student who understands that there is no one correct way to dance. Luckily, the goal of social tango is not to get it right, but to synchronize with each partner. The more ways of dancing that you learn, the more versatile a partner you become. That’s why it’s important to collect the perspectives of many teachers and yes, to allow contradictory instruction.
Q. Is contradiction really a good thing?
A. Yes! By accepting contradictions as you learn to dance tango, your powers of awareness will increase, awareness of both your own body and your partner’s body. Because you've tried stepping both heel ﬁrst and toe ﬁrst, or pivoting both before and during the boleo, you are increasingly aware of the dance as it is unfolding, able to intuitively select or perform the movement that ﬁts in each present moment of your dance. Awareness of the moment is one of the most valuable tango skills you can cultivate. Studying contradictory techniques actually makes you a more sophisticated improviser by cultivating this skill.
Approaching tango as both a scientiﬁc task AND a poetic endeavor helps to integrate your left and right brains, your head and your heart, your thoughts and your feelings. In the end, it is another practice of connecting two things to make a whole, just like the metaphors of leader and follower. So, welcome those feelings of disorientation! And know that by stepping out of the paradigm of correct and incorrect, your dancing will become a richer, deeper, and more creative adventure.