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From the outset, I knew this was going to be a wedding dance like none other I had choreographed before.

Philippa and Daniel. Neither of them had danced tango before. Philippa had taken some salsa lessons, but Daniel had barely danced a step in his life. Philippa was incredibly excited about the dance classes …. Daniel, well let’s just say he had his reservations!

So nothing new there. And I would even go as far as saying that it was a pretty typical scenario. But there was something different this time.

Philippa and I had been close friends since we were 11 years old.

I still remember Philippa when we met on our first day at secondary school: thick rimmed glasses, knee high white socks and a navy blue skirt way below the regulation length. Unrecognisable from the beautiful woman with the hour-glass figure who walked down the aisle at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge, in November 2014.

Choreographing her wedding dance was going to be an exciting and emotional experience for me. Not only because of what it meant to me to see one of my oldest friends find her soulmate but because also for the first time I would actually watch one of my first dances LIVE!

Gulp! Would they forget what I had taught them? Would she get tangled up in her dress (she had warned me that her dress was VERY voluminous)? Would they be all the more nervous knowing their teacher was watching?

We had agreed that I would choreograph their wedding dance months beforehand but as so often happens when a wedding is being planned, things got left a little to the last minute. With four weeks to go to the wedding, Philippa and Daniel realised the only day they could both do was a Sunday. Four classes? I reassured them they would be fine!

I always love to be involved in someone’s wedding dance. Maybe it’s because I remember how important it was to me on my wedding day. But I also see it as a privilege to be able to contribute to something that I know the couple will cherish forever. I get excited about the prospect of them amazing their friends and family and always feel slightly disappointed that I won’t actually be there to watch the dance!

My challenge is to find movements that will make my couple - who usually have no dance experience - look wonderful, but without overwhelming them. Most couples already have enough on their plate in the run-up to a wedding without losing sleep over a complicated choreography! The trick is to choose movements that have the wow factor but which are actually deceptively easy. And to adapt and listen to the individual couple: what kind of dance do they want? Are they going for tender romance? Or do they want something dramatic and sexy? No one couple is the same and that is both the challenge and fascination of the job!

This time, I wouldn’t have to get to know my bride-to-be. I knew Philippa well and knew that she would want something with timeless elegance. But I didn’t know Daniel so well and I certainly didn’t know how he would respond to the classes.

I started off cautiously. It was the first class and Daniel, it seemed, had the jitters. A few times, he stopped and said he wasn’t sure he wanted to go ahead. He wasn’t sure he would remember the steps in such a short time. Crisis! I knew how important this was to Philippa!

So I gave him the simplest of steps: side step to the left, side step to the right. Philippa, I reassured him, will be doing the fancy steps. Philippa will be wearing the beautiful white dress! Don’t worry, all eyes will be on her!

And then something happened that surprised all of us (including Daniel). Daniel was actually GREAT at remembering steps! Before too long he was even reminding Philippa what she had to do! And he wanted a little bit more than a side-step to the left and a few steps forward. So we tweaked the choreography to give Daniel a few of his own moments to shine.

We had four amazing Sundays together that I’m sure we’ll all remember for many years to come. Lots of laughs, some nerves and most of all so much anticipation for the big day.

So when the day finally came, how did it go? Well, let’s say I had a few butterflies when the band struck the first few notes. I grabbed onto David’s hand and squeezed it. Philippa looked in my direction and smiled nervously.

Did it all go according to plan? Almost! They did forget a few of the details we had worked on. Did it matter? Not at all! Afterwards Philippa and Daniel told me that it had been like they were alone on the dance floor and that the moment had surpassed all their expectations. In their words, it was magical.

And really, there is not much more you can ask for than that!

Congratulations Philippa and Daniel. You were brilliant!

I've been a perfectionist all my life. And its probably fair to say that it has been both a blessing and a curse.

As a child, I would drive myself (and my mother) crazy trying to get my school book drawings just right. I would rub out my sketches again and again, until the page would rip, making me cry in distress.

Perfectionism has given me an eye for detail, driven me to work hard, demand high standards of myself and probably achieve more than I would have done otherwise.

With tango, I am no different. I feel the need to know exactly how to do something down to the smallest detail and I get frustrated if I don't have complete dominion over it. And I sense that among my fellow tango dancers and students, I'm in good company. Although tango attracts all different types of people, I believe that it's subtleties and complexities often attract people who like to delve into the detail and get things just right.

And surely this is a good thing? The detail makes up the whole after all. And it has certainly helped me to understand tango on a deeper level and, as a teacher, helped me convey messages to my students.

However, perfectionism can be an affliction for a dancer and needs to be kept in check. Here's why.

Nobody's Perfect

We've heard it many times and we all know it is true: there is no such thing as perfect. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to us that the pursuit for perfection is likely to end in disappointment.

And this is so much more the case in dance (or indeed in any other performance art).

Let's say you're writing a novel. You know there is no such thing as perfect - there are many, many ways you could approach each paragraph - but at least you can go back and modify, tweak, even delete large swathes of your work. In dance, every moment counts and once that moment passes, there is no way to go back and recuperate it.

In tango, perfection is even more elusive. Tango is an improvised dance and as such is destined to be full of many little imperfections. The follower has no idea what the the leader will lead from one moment to the next. The leader himself usually does not know what he will lead until just the moment before.

As beginners, we can get quite anxious about making mistakes. However the more experienced we become, the more at ease we begin to feel with them. It is not uncommon - and it is actually quite charming - to see a couple make a mistake on the dance floor and giggle about it. And it is certainly better than seeing them look distraught!

I always remember Osvaldo Zotto - my partner's maestro and mentor and with whom I also took classes - once told us: the most important thing in tango is not to avoid mistakes but to resolve them.

And as Al Pacino famously said in that classic scene from Scent of A Woman:

"No mistakes in tango, not like life ... It's simple. That's what makes the tango so great ... if you make a mistake, get all tangled up, just tango on"

Perfectly Imperfect

Rather than get frustrated with our imperfections, we need to embrace them. Tango can in fact be more beautiful because of them. In nature, there is no such thing as perfect. A perfectly straight tree for example would lose its beauty.

And I’ve fallen in love with many tango performances that I’ve watched despite the fact that I notice their technical imperfections. This is because they convey an emotion, express musical nuances or have a beauty or uniqueness of their own which transcends the need for absolute perfection.

Although interestingly, I’ve never been quite so forgiving of my own imperfections!

Creative Flow

Another problem with the desire for perfection in tango is that it can block our creative flow. If you are practicing a movement on your own, you can work on it to the minutest detail until you feel that you have completely mastered it. But when you are dancing, you need to balance the desire for perfection with the importance of feeling and expression. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that the more I allow things to flow and let go of control, the more I allow moments of inspiration to arise.

Self-Belief

Perfectionism can also make you feel negative about yourself and self-belief is a vital element of dance. It’s not about arrogance or vanity, but simply enjoying the movement that you are creating.

You only need to look at the world of sport, to see the importance of self-belief to performance. Sports commentators are always talking of the impact of psychology on the outcome of a match: the battle of wills between tennis players, the blow to a team’s morale if a goal is scored just before half-time. A negative thought can make a footballer miss a penalty kick; positive thoughts can help a runner win a marathon.

If you have a constant negative narrative in your mind - continuously correcting your technique, telling yourself that it wasn’t good enough - this will have a negative impact on your dance. And it will certainly have a negative impact on your enjoyment of tango.

Perfection Is Subjective

Something I’ve learnt over the years is that your perception of how you dance is entirely subjective. There have been times when David & I have given a performance that on a personal level we were not happy with, but then have been surprised by the positive response we’ve received.

The converse has also proved to be true: we have done performances where we have felt things flow, the connection, the magic happen. And yet, we didn’t feel afterwards (either from the applause or the comments we received) that anyone had noticed anything different.

One dance which is commonly thought to achieve perfection is classical ballet. After a lifetime of gruelling dedication to your art, and being at the top of your game, surely perfection is possible?

I’m lucky to have as a friend a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. World famous, she is considered to be one of the best dancers of her time. Off-stage she is a lovely, modest person who speaks openly about her professional experiences. A few days ago, I watched a televised performance of her pas de deux. And I felt the sudden need to delete this entire blog post!

Perfection Exists! There it is! In front of my eyes!

And then I remembered something. We had been to see her perform that very evening. The video cameras had been there. And afterwards, over dinner, she had told us that she had felt a little “shaky”, that she wasn’t used to cameras filming her for such a serious ballet and it had disorientated them all a little.

No evidence of this can be seen in the breathtaking footage, but it seems that to her at least her performance felt very different.

So when you inner voice starts to judge how you are dancing, try to remember that your perception will most probably be very different to the perception of others.

Finding A Balance

I can usually identify fellow perfectionists in my classes. They often are pretty down on themselves as dancers (despite the fact everyone loves to dance with them!). They usually make exceptional progress, but don’t recognise it because of their perfectionistic nature. They easily get dispirited.

It’s a delicate balance to tread. As perfectionists we are our own worst critics. We should aim to harness our perfectionism to help us fulfil our potential but also be aware of its pitfalls. We need to know when to draw the line and enjoy. Remember that to be imperfect is to be human and:

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

— Marilyn Monroe

Tango has had a tumultuous journey.

It was born in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century. It enjoyed a Golden Age in the 1930ʼs and 1940ʻs only to go into decline in the 1950s. It somehow survived a military dictatorship when it was outlawed and it may well have died completely if it had not been for a group of dedicated “milongueros” who kept the culture alive.

Towards the end of the 20th Century and now in the 21st Century it is enjoying something of a revival. Tango has once again become the worldʼs darling. Blinking it has stepped out of the darkness and into the light. And it has discovered that since its heyday, the world has changed.

The Age of Chivalry is seemingly over. Women have won the Battle of the Sexes. Can tango - a dance which is essentially all about a man being a man, a woman being a woman - survive in this new world?

Every Friday and Saturday, I welcome Beginners to tango for the first time. Most work in the West End and the City and are still wearing their suits from the office. Many are looking for something to distract themselves from their demanding professional lives.

I explain to my female students their role as a follower in tango: there can only be one leader and one follower! Try not to anticipate, try not to think! Focus only on the guyʼs chest and allow your movements to tune into his.

And every week, they respond with words to this effect:

“Iʼm not sure I can do this following thing!”

“Iʼm used to telling him what to do!” [smiling playfully at their partner]

“Itʼs not in my personality to follow. I keep leading.”

And I always think, thatʼs a relief! I would be pretty worried if they chirped: “EASY! Iʼm so used to being told what to do, this should come naturally to me!”

However, after a few weeks, these strong-minded professional women are all following. Why? Because tango is completely improvised and if you have no idea what your partner is going to do next, you quickly learn the futility of trying to lead.

Beaten into submission? Not at all! It is an amazingly beautiful and therapeutic experience to tap into your feelings, not your thoughts. To let yourself go and allow yourself to be carried through the music.To give up control. A tango lasts three minutes and when the music stops, the leader and follower stand apart as equals.

And it strikes me that perhaps tango has a very important role to play in modern life

A very dear student of mine is a consultant doctor in intensive care. Despite having enormous stresses in her every day life, she always makes time for her tango class. Her profession demands such an overwhelming degree of responsibility from her, that to her it is a blessing (indeed a need) to be able to give up responsibility for just a few minutes ... or a few hours if she dances all night!

Another (male) student of mine, said something very interesting the other day after class. He said how he felt that tango allowed him to be entirely masculine for a few moments and he was surprised how much he enjoyed this. And I know that there are many women who also enjoy that tango gives them an open invitation to be completely feminine.

And it occurs to be me that perhaps in this day and age of gender equality, we at times feel the need to explore our masculinity/femininity without fear of this being frowned on or impinging on the equal rights that we have fought so hard for.

I am aware that this blog could be misconstrued as anti-feminist. So I just want to make it clear: as a woman there is no other age that I would prefer to have been born in. In my motherʼs class at school, most of the girls were expected to become housewives, teachers, nurses or secretaries. Despite this my mother became one of five women to attend law school. However, after qualifying as a solicitor, she was unable to get a mortgage or buy even a radio on credit, because she didnʼt have a male guarantor. And this was as recent as the 1960s! I was brought up to be incredibly grateful that women - at least in the Western World - are treated as menʼs equals.

But I love the romance of tango and have found that I love being unashamedly feminine. And there is nothing that makes me feel more feminine than tango.

In any event, Tango in the 21st century is not as politically incorrect as it may at first seem.

Tango is much more about chivalry than machismo. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the leaderʼs objective in tango is to make the follower feel WONDERFUL. It is about guiding the follower, not demanding of her. A good leader doesnʼt just lead, he also listens. He is sensitive to what the follower needs and the more experienced you become in tango, the more dance begins to resemble a two-way conversation.

A leader who insists on leading movements that the follower is struggling to understand is frowned upon. So just as much as the follower tunes her movements into the leaderʼs, a leader must adjust his movements to the follower. And the result is a perfect harmony between two people.

And to really silence any critics, in recent years, it has become acceptable to explore the other role in tango. Are you a woman who would prefer to lead? No problem! Same sex tango or tango with inverted roles (the man following, the woman leading) can be found in most tango communities around the world. It is not uncommon to have ladies in our classes who, having learnt the followerʼs role, would now like to explore the leaderʼs role. Or a leader to try his hand at following, either as a means of improving his leading or simply because he enjoys it. In fact, in our classes we often replace the words “men” and “women, with “leaders” and “followers”.

Tango a dance for the 21st Century? Absolutely!

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