Competence – A Journey of Acceptance

In my tango journey, I find myself currently struggling with my own competence, the culmination of skill through time and patience. As I continue to learn this beautiful dance, I feel that I gradually lose the autonomy of my own excellence—my own conception of proficiency at dancing seems to become more contingent upon the experiences of other, more knowledgeable dancers.

When I invest a lot of time into something, I expect to see myself being proficient at it. Lately, though, despite practicing at least 2-3 days a week, and thinking about dancing ALL the time, I have not been feeling like a competent tango dancer.

I enjoy spending my free time practicing new skills, studying topics of interest, learning/composing music, or engaging in some other creative endeavor. For most of my young life, I have been very good at making myself proficient at things that interest me. However, when other people are involved, it is a whole different ballgame.

Determination, I have; time, availability, and the guaranteed patience of others, I do not have.

Unfortunately for me and my dilemma, it would seem that the following saying holds true:
It truly does ‘take two to tango.’

Learning a dance involving another partner is not something that can simply be learned from watching videos or reading books. This kind of dance requires sensitivity to the posture of oneself and others, of the emotional disposition your partner carries, and a feel for the level of experience or exposure your partner has to the skill; all of these things combine to create a dance experience conducive to connecting to that other person—a connection vital to tango excellence.

When dancing, the practice of the skill becomes more than just the rote, mechanical manipulation of joints; others’ emotions are involved—emotions that may or may not have anything to do with your own experience, but become your experience. Similar to the obligatory acquisition of ability needed to traverse a crowded dance floor, one must also learn how to navigate the cultures and temperaments of each new, unfamiliar face that desires to join the dance.
Though I really do try my darndest to be a patient, open-minded individual, I discover ignorance and prejudice unearthed through interacting with others.

I would like to think that, though we all come from different walks of life, movement can be our universal language. If I were just an excellent dancer, I could help bridge this exchange; I’d have the confidence to dance with anyone, allowing them the pleasure of feeling competent and autonomous, if only for our brief exchange.

I may seem greedy or impatient, but I want to be excellent at dancing, and I want to be excellent now.

I’m so jealous. So, so jealous. People who have had the luxury of time, but a fraction of the passion, excel at things I crave.
I’m jealous of men who lead because that’s just what men do, not because the role strongly pulled them towards that decision.
I’m jealous of those of long-time experience who only choose to dance with familiar faces, perpetuating a gap of unavailability and inexperience.
Most of all, I’m jealous of those who can easily satisfy their social obligations by conforming to the heteronormatively gender-assigned lead/follow culture of dancer role assignment.

Following, alone, does not satisfy me; independent of leading, it makes me feel limited and manipulated.
At our Tango studio, we strongly believe that following makes you a great leader, and vice versa. Well, I’ve been following, and I enjoy it, but I really want to lead. Oftentimes, when given the opportunity to lead, I am not given the opportunity to lead.
I sense that there’s an assumption that, because I am a woman, I don’t really need to lead. But leading is what I want out of tango. I feel, at times, that gentlemen who I dance with allow me to lead to indulge me, in that moment (Women tend to be more open-minded about having women leaders, but I do not always sense this freedom of bias.) It is frustrating when men—men who see me lead—offer to follow for me; however, due to their inexperience and typical unwillingness to follow, do not allow me the pleasure of leading. They ‘allow’ me the ‘role’ of leading, but I don’t get to lead.

I can’t be angry at this system, though, and cannot fault people for thinking the way that they do.
We did not create the system of bias that determines this ‘correct’ social framework through which we behave—we simply inherited it, and are taught to maintain it.

As a woman aspiring to be an excellent leader, I walk a delicate balance of conforming to the binary set of gender roles or allowing myself to appear deviant (Living solely in either extreme compromises my comfort and the comfort of others.) Being a woman allowed the opportunity to learn leading means so much to me and my experience, and it can be crushing when the degree of excellence that I am allowed to experience regarding this ‘luxury’ can be so easily jeopardized by the biases of others.

I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn tango at a studio in which roles are exchanged between men and women (and anything in-between) and whose values are more progressive. Though I daily encounter systemic, hegemonic enforcement of gender identity, its existence becomes overwhelmingly present in the dancing world. Tango is teaching me patience—patience for my own limitations, and patience towards the ideologies of others. Tango has taught me the value of connecting to others, and continues to show me a greater acceptance towards all people. I hope that the social education I receive through tango may release me from my prejudice, as I gain a greater empathy towards others’ experiences.


  • Pamela

    • Jul 18, 2014

    Wow again. Such important words to share with this community. Thank you for being willing to say them. I also feel extremely grateful that the place whee I dance exchanges roles.

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