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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!

It is one of the curses of dancing tango that you will find yourself misunderstood by all but a small collection of fellow tango fanatics. It is something that we tango dancers learn live with. Family members, colleagues, even very close friends, will ask well-meaning but totally misconceived questions.

And we canʼt blame them. We know that not everyone in the world will fall head over the heels with tango (although secretly we wonder why). And we know that tango - contrary to popular belief - is not a mainstream dance. Sure, youʼll find it in Hollywood and on Strictly but thatʼs not the real tango. Thatʼs a pantomime, a caricature of the real dance.

Then there is that rather unfortunate coincidence that it shares a name with ballroom tango, leading people to believe that the two dances must in some way resemble each other. Most tango dancers I know internally cringe to think that anyone they know think that this is what they dance every weekend!

Most people have no idea of what tango is really about. And although a lot of us want to shout out to the world how amazing tango is, in some ways we like it that way. We like tango - real tango that is - to be a little underground, like being part of a secret club.

So what is the truth about tango?

EXTERNAL APPEARANCES

Tango is utterly beautiful to watch. You knew that. But did you also know that it is how tango feels (for you and your partner) that is just as - if not more - important?

Tango is not just about external appearances, but about an amazing connection between two people. A connection that simmers beneath the surface so that it is barely visible to anyone outside of the couple.

It is often said that tango has a lot in common with martial arts and tai chi in particular. There have been studies drawing parallels between tango and transcendental meditation.

MACHISMO

Tango has a reputation for being a macho dance. And surely it is so: the man leads, the woman follows. Thereʼs no way round it. But did you know the lead is more about guidance, listening and communication, than giving orders? “Push” and “pull” are words you will not often hear in a tango class. “Invite”, “breathe”, “lift” are more commonplace.

And did you know the lead is all about making the follower feel AMAZING. That is the leaderʼs prime objective. What could be better than that?

SERIOUS AND SAD

Tango is always so serious. But is it really? There is another side to tango that is playful, upbeat and flirtatious. It is multi-faceted. Like a person, it doesnʼt have just one mood.

And even when itʼs mood becomes more brooding, it doesnʼt necessarily make you feel sad. There may be times tango makes you feel nostalgic or melancholic, but I find that this is in a cathartic kind of way, like watching a sad film.Most of the time, however, it does nothing of the sort. In fact, tango can take you away to another place, giving you an unparalleled feeling of escape, bliss and even at times euphoria. It is not uncommon to see a couple on the dance floor, gripped a close embrace, cheek to cheek, and each with a dreamy smile on their face.

Tango is like an onion: the more layers you peel off, the more you discover to enjoy. And one thingʼs for sure, youʼre never going to discover the truth about tango by reading a blog. Youʼre going to have to find out for yourself!

As a a Beginner told me just the other day, after his third or fourth class:

“Tangoʼs nothing like what I expected it to be. But itʼs so much better.”

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