Life in a Dance. Dance in Life.

Portland TangoFest 2014, Grande Ball Guest Performance at Norse Hall.

Portland TangoFest 2014, Grande Ball Guest Performance at Norse Hall.

Today (roughly) marks the 15-month milestone of when I discovered (or was instantly hooked ever since by) Argentine Tango.

I wasn't really counting until writing down that first sentence, returning from my very first out-of-town tango fest trip to Portland. I'm physically exhausted, but meanwhile so mentally energized and spiritually uplifted. One of the usual after-milonga all-nighter symptom is, even if I'm so sleepy already, my favorite tango music still keeps playing repeatedly in my head, which is so happily annoying. Murmuring "what the heck", I decided to take a trip down to the memory lane - let's see what words I can find to describe how tango has affected me on and beyond the dance floor.

Comparing to those who have been doing tango for a decade or two, or even growing up with it, my journey with tango basically just got started and I'm like a toddler just learning how to walk.

Thanks to my life being in a tailspin for the past couple years, it demands me the petrified, stirring, topsy-turvy, yet assured growth that I never thought I could possibly put up with. Tango pulled me through all my storms, and profoundly crafted me into the person I am today.

Surely, a lot of other things have played a life-changing factor in my life. But tango deserves this much credit because of its mystical power.

The story how I met tango was kinda random - One Friday in last June, at the end of a private lesson with my first dance partner, who I just started trying couple dancing with in International Latin, my teacher told me she's been teaching an Argentine Tango group class, and asked me to check it out. "You might like it", she said.

Even though I had no clue what Argentine Tango looked like - I didn't even know there was such a thing called "Argentine Tango” - I didn't have anywhere to go or anybody I had to be with, so I said alright. 

That was the turning point. I didn't like it. I love it.

Why tango? Many people have been drawn to tango for a great variety of reasons: the music, the sensuality (most people mistake it with being strictly sexy), recovering from a breakup, mourning over a loss in life, needing comfort, finding love. To me, it started with a little bit of everything.

"If you're tangled up, just tango on." - Scent of A Woman

What Al Pacino did in the movie was not even closed to real tango (I confess I didn't know that when I first watched the movie back in 90s). But that line once hit me hard. It's the attitude that we all need, at one point or another, when facing any kind of obstacles in life.

When my teacher said to me in my first tango class, "If you're lost, just walk out of it." It reminded me of that movie quote inspiration, what I exactly needed back then - just put one foot in front of another (or mostly behind as in following), you can walk out of whatever hot mess you're in.

Let me digress a little bit here.

Some energy vampire (in the spirit of Halloween, the most polite term I can come up with to replace psychopath asshole) ever chopped me down calling me liar, phony, quitter and other vicious personal insult because of my so-called "life purpose crisis" - not following through certain hobby-pursuing activities. 

Yes, I did bartending training but didn't end up being certified. Yes I studied flying a plane but didn't end up becoming a pilot. Yes I learned a lot (like a lot, Salsa, Rumba, Cha Cha, Jive, Samba, Jazz, Burlesque, Hip Hop, you name it) of different dances and spent tons of money on costumes, private lessons, competitions and performances, but couldn't decide which one to pursue further.

So what? I was lost. I was on the hunt for what was that one thing that I'd enjoy doing for the rest of my life. We've all been there. Lots of us currently still are.

Some very fortunate fellows do what they love as a living. The majority might spend a lifetime on searching for it, yet still no luck till the day they wave goodbye to this world. Luckily, I fall right in between - have a job they like and are mostly good at, while keeping a hobby that they are passionate about, and make a good compliment/balance to what they do for a living.

Does extensively searching for a soul mate like Ted Mosby in real life, in this case a lifetime hobby, make me a phony? Does stopping pursuing something I already realized not worth the effort make me a quitter? Does changing my mind when I clearly knew things were heading towards a dead end make me a liar? No, No and No. It’s my turn to decide.

"It's not the cause of it, but the result of actually doing the activities.” - Mark Manson

I never doubted I'm multi-talented, but after all those detours, I learned you can't have it all. I learned to set my own life priorities. I learned it's best to do one thing really, really well. I learned how to pursuit that one thing my way - proactively, consistently, passionately, and fearlessly.

Thank goodness I found tango - or tango found me - I now can say, you can put a gun to my head, literally, for stopping me from dancing it, but that is not gonna change anything.

That’s life purpose.

Once you find that one thing, you are always so eagerly to learn something new every day, and you grow up so fast that you can even surprise yourself. It feels fabulous when you have a focus. Your passion and energy now have a go-to place.

At some point, I ever wished I could have found tango earlier so I saved time and trouble to get better sooner, to accomplish more, but soon I realized without those zigzag bumpy rides, I wouldn't be able to appreciate the beauty of tango the way I do. It wouldn't be this life it is today. I wouldn't be me as I understand myself to be.

I've learned it's not the fancy tricks and figures that matter. It's knowing how to walk decisively and gracefully, and understanding the fundamental and core values. Only on top of a rock-solid foundation, we will be able to improvise uniquely, choreograph our own dance.

I've learned we can't fake a connection, or being talked into it, or rush it. We shall take all the time we need to build a genuine and organic connection. Communicating in silent intimacy with each individual whose path crosses ours is very personal.

I've learned it's not how many people we've danced with that matters. It's the depth of story we wrote together with another person contained in the song that makes the impression and forge the memory.

I've learned to feel the connection with myself though my partner, and savor what truly moves me - the vibe, the music, the embrace, the harmony of footwork, the musicality, or simply the warmth of another human's touch.

I've learned understand the leaders' part so truly appreciate and acknowledge how hard it is for him to drive everything with a lady in his arms - I can easily do everything perfectly by myself, but together with a plus one, it does not come cheap.

I've learned to live by "be present" motto. What happened before have made who I am today. Whether there was a glitch or a fatal mistake, embrace it. We can only grasp what's happening right now.

I've learned how we would like to present our story is personal, as well as how it's viewed through the audience's eyes. People all have their own one-dimensional interpretation. That's out of our control.

I've learned and am still learning how to choose wisely. The decision we make in any moment, who to dance with to which song telling what kind of story, will set the course of all things to come.

I've also learned either competing or going to tango festivals, no matter how great you are (or you think you are) in local community, if you never get out of your comfort zone, get your name out there, and push past your limit, you'll never know your potential. Life is rough out there so live it.

So in short, what tango means to me as of today, you ask? Let me borrow something I saw on the Argentine Tango Survivor Kit booklet from Portland Tango Fest:

"Tango is life on the dance floor. Life is tango off the dance floor."

I used to travel frequently like everybody else as the identity of the spread of my experience. Now simply embracing tango as a lifestyle has become the most awesome ride ever in my life. Because it goes deep beyond the dance floor. It touches my heart and enriches my soul. It will surely continue inspiring me to grow.

Alrighty, enough life crap talk. Fellow tangueros, I'll see you at the next milonga? Cabeceo me ;)