Learning to Walk
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
BUENOS AIRES–October 28
On this trip’s first day of Tango lessons I am surprised to find that despite the six-month gap I remember a bit of Tango: the basic step, the ocho cortado, the close embrace, the walk (more or less), the posture (more or less). The old flaws are still there as well. I still have trouble keeping in line–stepping too much on the diagonal when I step backwards– still have trouble keeping the beat of the music, and I still have trouble walking. That sounds ludicrous to those who don’t dance Tango, but that is one of the hardest things about the dance. To lead properly, you must walk in a straight line, you must close your feet to transfer your weight, you must step backwards in a straight line, you must keep good time with the music and you must hear and feel the changes in the music.
I got in a bit of trouble last April when I put up a video of my instructor Guadalupe and I dancing. I received both a private scolding and a public rant from another blogger because Guada and I danced a number of fancier steps, some including ganchos or kicking embellishments. I was not trying to pass for an expert and Guada was not cheating me (as the blogger claimed) but for the U. S. readers who expect DANCING WITH THE STARS tricks, a walking video wouldn’t have seemed like much at all.
So to the person who expressed such surprising vitriol, let me say that today I am in the third lesson of the week and in all three we have concentrated on breathing, walking, posture, timing and hearing the beats and phrasing of the music.
For a novice like me, I have to develop a tricky mix of bravado and humility. For a man to dance Tango, he needs to lead clearly and with confidence, yet it is also vital that as a novice I return to the beginning and to the basics.
Guada snaps her fingers to the music and we verbally accentuate the music with BUHs and BOMs on the beats. I step forward and backwards, practice changing weight from foot to foot in time with the music. My hips are sore, my quadraceps are burning because I am walking more correctly, rather than the duck waddle of my normal gait.
BUH…. Step forward.
BAH… Step forward
BUH BUH … Change weight from foot to foot
BOM… Step forward
BAH BAH BUH BUH BOM… Step forward in time and continue the walk.
Every day I get up and I realize that as the day begins anew, so must I. Thinking that I have expertise doesn’t help, not in my dancing, not in my Spanish, not in my photography and not in writing. I am learning to accept the necessity of being a beginner, not through false modesty or self-loathing or self-deprecation. Not arrogant “expertise,” but the mistakes of experience guide me and improve my skills. When I forget this or become smug, the universe reminds me to pay attention. I trip down stairs, I lose things, I dent a fender, I unconsciously hurt a friend.
Being human requires me to get the start right. I succeed when I keep my attention on the most basic details. I fail when I look past them. Not only am I beginning to learn, I am learning to begin.