By Bethany Mary
Tango has given me the ability to embrace my emotional, romantic side.
Raised under the roof of a dominant engineer, I was brought up to make decisions on logic rather than emotions. Logic ruled the household and my father was known to say “Spock is my inspiration, we should strive to be more like him; no emotions yield the best decisions.” Although that was often said as a joke, it still had its weight in truth. I went to school for accounting, a numbers girl, where logic is at the core. I’ve been in several relationships where a running joke was always that I was the man in the relationship referring to my emotions being on lock down. Of course, it was more than my father that shaped this, life experiences reinforced the idea of depending on logic over emotions.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think I’m some cold, calculating person. This novel might come as a surprise to some of you that know me. Those of you who see me as a very empathetic, generous, caring, and a friendly person, but I have let logic rule me. With a logical mentality, I’ve always kept my hopeless romantic at bay. Because romanticism is a fantasy, and fictitious perspective. Movies and stories that create unfair, unrealistic expectations of what love should be like instead of how we truly experience it. Again, it’s not a bad habit to be grounded by logic, but I often have gone too extreme. To ensure I didn’t have unfair, unrealistic expectation in love and romance, I always expected the minimum. This leaves you pleasantly surprised when you receive those flowers, chocolates, or jewelry, instead of disappointed for not getting them, but also this harvests a cynical perspective and expectation.
Further, logic has protected me by preventing me from being vulnerable. Yes, of course I’ve still been vulnerable and hurt, but there were always calculations involved to minimize the possibility of being hurt. There is always a piece of me very guarded and locked up. Although my logic has been my shield against heartache, it has also been my chains and cage against the joys that come as a reward to being vulnerable, such as connection. Boy, did I not know what I’ve been missing.
I didn’t realize that tango was changing me until having a conversation with one of my favorite leaders. We were discussing embrace and how important it is in this dance. And he said the following about my embrace:
“Your personality is reflected in your embrace... I feel you are a generous person, generous in the sense that you will share your love and enthusiasm freely. You are also curious and once you establish trust, you let go of all restraints.”
So different from the person I described above. I have several extremely close friends that I love with all my heart, and I trust them entirely. I am grateful to have them in my life, can’t imagine them not being in my life, and can’t ever get enough time with them. However, I can’t say that they’ve experienced me “letting go of all restraints” emotionally with them. When I’ve been most hurt or sad, I’ve always withdrawn from people, even those I love most, to hide my vulnerability.
Now this leader did reinforce the thought that this is what he felt through my embrace, and may not be true to my personality, but I never dreamed of being described as “letting go of all restraints” in any sense. This comment was my epiphanic moment. I instantly realized how vulnerable I haven’t allowed myself to be, yet after 3 months of dancing only a handful of times with someone they described me as essentially 100% vulnerable.
If there is one thing tango has given me, it is the gift of my freedom to be emotional and vulnerable. And it has been wonderful. The freedom to be 100% vulnerable, with a complete stranger. I read an article written by Karen Kaye titled “Tango isn’t for everyone” and she captured something I felt and knew as absolute truth for me:
“And it’s intimate. A good dance for me goes like this. “Hi, I’m Karen”. Seconds later, I have melted into his body and my lips are barely inches from his. It’s four legs and one heart – and we are slowly stripped into total vulnerability as we unveil ourselves through a 9-minute exploration of one another’s skills, potential and expression.”
Wow, I just can’t say it better than that! I get 9-12 minutes of complete intimacy, romance, love, protection, and so many more words that just aren’t enough to describe the sensation. If you are a tango dancer, you know what I’m talking about (if you are not, you think I’m crazy). The best part, is that it’s safe and innocent. The music stops, I’m walked back to my seat, and we part ways as “strangers” still.
Now, I’m still young and naive in tango and I’m sure there is a lot I don’t know. I’m sure you have the bad apples that maybe aren’t as respectful as expected or instances where one tanda does develop into something much more; however, I find safety that after a tanda, it isn’t supposed to progress. It’s a shared dance and intimacy that mostly stays on the dance floor, a type of professionalism. This “safe zone” on the dance floor is what has allowed me to have this freedom to be emotional and a hopeless romantic.
This experience has allowed me to view my emotions outside of tango. I’ve realized how much I’ve held back and reserved. I’m grateful for a lot of it; it did protect me. But I’m ready to be more open, connect deeper, and experience the benefits of allowing myself to be vulnerable. Yes, I know there will be moments of devastation that come with this vulnerability, but I believe I will be surrounded by a great tango family to encourage and support me through the down times.
I’m so grateful for the welcoming communities that have allowed me to experience this beautiful dance with them. I’m grateful to all the amazing leaders who have given me their embrace and helped me to grow and encourage me on the dance floor. I’m grateful for all the wonderful women who have taken me under their wing and given me tips and protection. And I am most grateful for finding this gift of tango and so much more at the exact time I needed it in my life.