Tango as a Metaphor for Life

Photo Credit: Michael Lux

Sometimes we have patterns that are so ingrained we accept them as “our way” or, even if we are not totally in agreement with the model we continue using it without question because we have beliefs that support this pattern.

At the recent Felt Sense Conference in New York City, sponsored by The International Focusing Institute, I had an opportunity to be with an amazing “coach” who helped me experience an old pattern differently and try something new over and over again in a very safe way.  This later translated into making a shift when faced with the original pattern.

The Dance of Physical Heartfelt Connection

On Friday, I attended Samarra Burnett’s class called Tango, The Dance of Interaction. She suggested that it be “done in socks, no shoes” and about 16 people showed up to the class. We were to learn to connect physically with each other using focusing and Argentine Social Tango Dancing as the vehicle.

Samarra explained that the main focus was to learn to connect to the movements of your partner using some effortless Tango movements. We were not preparing to perform the type of Tango that most people think of when they hear the word Tango.

To start, we took off our shoes and stood in a circle. Samarra asked us to pick a partner. I immediately felt triggered. One reason I gave up social dancing was that pressure of facing the dilemma of wanting/being wanted by another. Most people picked the person next to them, so that made it more comfortable. From that point on, Samarra organized the class in such a way that our future partner was predetermined. No more anxiety about whether or not I was wanting/being wanted by another. My body relaxed.

Samarra explained that our main task was to use a traditional tango embrace to sense into the movement of our partner for the distinct purpose of supporting each other as a focuser and listener would do when they are in partnership. The moves she showed us were smooth and gentle. The interaction was loving with a sincere intention to support each other.

How Repetition Helped

We practiced each movement with one partner and then moved on to another partner and learned a minor variation of that same movement. After each new experience, we had time to process what came for us. We did this over and over again for about three hours until we had danced with almost everyone in the room. We gained confidence not only in our ability to move in a certain way but also that we could gently lead or follow anyone that we connected with in order to tango. The last exercise was to dance with our eyes closed, not checking on who our partner was. My last partner just wanted to hold the embrace without moving. It was so different from holding space for someone to support our mutual movement. Now I had experience with holding a silent, non-moving interaction for the benefit of both of us.

When I left the room, I was joyful. I had a chance to dance socially without the burden that usually comes for me with partner dancing. I loved how each embrace with different people was unique but also provided this body sense of gentle support and a willingness to be open to each other. I credit this feeling to Samarra’s use of focusing principles and the group’s willingness to trust her leadership.

How an Old Pattern Opened to a New Experience

It wasn’t until Sunday, however, that I realized the value of the work we did. I attended the closing workshop at Lynn Preston’s loft. The main focus of this event was to be present to what had come and was still coming for us from our experience with the Felt Sense Conference.

I started the morning as I usually do, finding a seat and staying put—not wanting to interact with others at the gathering. I did this because it is what I often do when there is a possibility of interacting with a large group of people. We were asked to share briefly about what was present for us. I shared a bit about the Tango class. After I shared, a new understanding emerged.

I became aware of my need to sit still in this large group as a coping pattern. I became curious about this and just allowed my body to stay still as long as it wanted. At some point, there was an invitation to stand. I did stand, and then there was a moment when people were connecting to each other. I found myself standing alone, on the edge of these interactions.

A thought came to me. I could enter the fray rather than standing on the edge—something I usually do not do. I thought of how wonderful the physical connections that were made in the Tango class were and decided to walk up to someone I knew would welcome me. She did, and that opened up my ability to be among the group and interact with the people I had connected to during the conference and even some new people. We exchanged emails, took pictures, and, made plans to stay connected.

I credit the Tango class with helping that happen. Rather than sticking to my typical pattern, Samarra had offered lots of safe, gentle coaching to help us find a new way to be with people we were somewhat acquainted with and some who we didn’t already know. Three hours of practicing how to connect to another person opened me up to find other ways to communicate that felt natural and free of anxiety. Doing this first on a physical level without words or narrative gave me the courage to do this on a personal level without my usual social anxiety.

How Non-Verbal Heartfelt Conversation with Movement Can Translate into New Teaching Opportunities

This experience helped me understand that being part of a non-verbal heartfelt conversation based on mutual body movements allowed me to be able to be curious about other interactions in spite of my long-standing pattern of shying away from social interaction.  I needed new experiences to replace the dominance of what was there before.  These new experiences, rooted in my body, allowed me to successfully experiment with new social interactions.  How can we use repetitive movement that encourages focusers to connect to others support our trauma and create space to move forward?

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