The Art of Listening. Epilogue

Spring, 2018: we held our first workshop of tango-therapy series. It is fascinating to start something new knowing that it will be an in-depth exploration of simple truths already known to many involved. Tango has a lot of sides and layers, from the technical and mechanical to the psychological and emotional. The goal of this first workshop was to turn the light one direction and dedicate some time to discover what is there for us in the corner of tango where all the social and communicative aspects are. For centuries and across all cultures, dance has been a way to express yourself and share your experience and emotions with others without words. It is its own sort of meditation, yet also a communication with others. Social dance is separate from other forms of dance expression, like competition, show/ performance, and sport; it emphasizes dance as non-verbal language that helps people with every day life and routine and brings joy.

“The Art of Listening” was a series of exercises presenting different aspects of a good quality conversation:

  • We started by relaxing through breathing on our own and opening rapport by breathing in embrace with another participant.
  • Next, we went on a journey of discovering comfortable and less comfortable positions, where our body is balanced, relaxed and ready to communicate (share/receive information).
  • Movement’s effect on our balance and finding it back as we receive weight. What does it take?
  • Observing what is suggested and take the offered space. Fill it in with your response to continue the dialogue.
  • Observing how your offer is received and interpreted as a source of information to build the rest of conversation to make it enjoyable for both.
  • Learning how lack of self-awareness might cause an uncomfortable experience for our partner. How many more possibilities open to us, once we respect each other’s comfort, axis, and space?
  • Do we really feel where our partner is, can we close our eyes?
  • If we really want to tell a story to someone, but they do not know some words we use- How to handle this situation? Will you drop it? Will you start “yelling” these words to them? Or will you rebuild your sentence to avoid these words? … and you know I’m still talking tango.
  • And to summarize, let’s see what we think of our partner comfort and where it actually is and does it always match?

The results and participants’ feedback were fascinating to us and very exciting, here are some of their comments:

Cynthia (tango dancer for about 2 years):

I really enjoyed the workshop’s focus on my own and my partner’s body awareness.  This is truly the foundation upon which the conversation of tango as well as all the steps are built.  Too many people glide right past that foundation prematurely.  The teachers made it fun as well as created a safe atmosphere for experimentation. Certainly, I’ll attend the next one.

Dipika (tango dancer for 1 month):

I loved this workshop! When is the next one?

I’ll share what tango means for me so far. Tango is like a lively conversation – where both people are engaged. One talks and other listens and then they swap roles – they both initiate and reciprocate because they both want to.

It is my weekly mindfulness practice and a time to deeply connect with another human being. It is about showing up and being myself at that moment and every moment. In that space, it can be difficult to communicate effectively, but it is co much fun to keep trying. I love all the subtleties. I’m always in for a surprise. Thank you for introducing me to this.

Lester (tango dancer for over 20 years):

It’s interesting to see instructors try to break out of the mold of steps, steps, steps.

Murali (tango dancer for about 9 months):

Think “Connection” is hard. Being mindful helps. As in real life, being mindful in tango is hard.

McKenzie (tango dancer for about 9 months):

Thank you so much for presenting and hosting this wonderful workshop.  I am so grateful and proud to be part of a tango school that prioritizes connection and communication. I appreciate being part of a tango community that is intentional about creating spaces for equity of contribution, combating stereotypical reduction that a certain role is necessarily relegated to a position of lesser worth or creativity.

I love it when we play with forms taken from contact improv.  I find those introduce a playful dynamic that helps break down stiffness and resistance.

I got one of my main ‘takeaways’ of the day from the exercise with non-role-specific completers and initiators, completers staying directly in front of initiators while initiators moved around: the idea that when the initiator is vague, the completer can respond with clarity. In thinking about platforms and the assumptions that each of us bring to the dance, I anticipate that I will often encounter initiators who have never been taught their responsibility to listen to their partner as much as I have been taught to listen to them.  Therefore, clarity is a means of declaring my own agency within the dance.

We do weight-shifting drills all the time to commence class, but something about the additional time we gave those at the workshop was particularly rewarding.  Spending so much time and focus on identifying where my weight is, particularly in the context of the embrace, felt like one of those tools that I’ll be able to return to for quite some time as I continue to deepen my own awareness of how I hold my weight in my body and how that impacts my balance and posture.

Of course, the remaining standout exercise was the one when completers were given secret ‘handicaps’ to incorporate while dancing with initiators. Dance-wise, it was horrifying to recognize, particularly with certain initiators, how much the automatic response to a completer’s perceived lack of compliance or skill is just to strong-arm her into ‘obedience’.  Yikes.

With a small group, intimate space, and repeated opportunities to interact with everyone present, I admire the delicacy and sincerity that the Be In Tango team brings to moments of instruction and reflection.  Like when it’s obvious that certain people are exhibiting unwanted behaviors, how do you address that firmly in a way that’s not publicly shaming or would spark defensiveness?  And how does everyone bring to the table a willingness to learn, including the exposure to one’s own blind spots?  I think you guys do a really good job of structuring spaces so they’re amenable to those kinds of realizations.

I really enjoyed the workshop.  It was a more internally-focused workshop – as Bob referenced (sort of) at the end, it wasn’t about the technical particulars of how to generate certain movements but was much about how to pay attention to our partner and be present to them.  Listening really isn’t so much about your interlocutor but about your own receptivity and openness, and I think those were messages that at least I gathered.

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