Walk To Health (Argentine Tango - a Journey to Well-being) - Cathy Towers
(This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in SouthWest Connections magazine Spring 2013)
Research has shown that Argentine Tango - the dance which is, at it's simplest walking well in tandem with another, significantly relieves depression through the mindful attention required (and maybe the closeness with others). Research has also discovered that dancing generally outstrips other exercise forms, reading and crosswords in preventing dementia. It's to do with making many split-second decisions which creates new neural pathways. And I thought I was just having fun...
But I think Argentine Tango is much more than just a dance; it is also a roller coaster journey in self-exploration! The emotions around being invited or rejected, realising a common pecking order of the young and beautiful learners over better, but older, dancers, then the evening out as skills grow further, the struggle of whether one is liked, accepted, good enough, all slap you right in the face. Real ego stuff. We talk about it, try to work out our own insecurity and hurts. In some ways it is akin to group therapy as there is tacit permission to explore these fears and doubts alongside knowledge that the others have been through this too. We share, support and learn. When one cries in a corner from some humiliation or feelings of rejection, or simply the intensity of feelings evoked, others will intervene and talk it through, draw them back into the group and a sense of belonging. At the same time, a sense of personal individuality begins to evolve beyond the ego feelings.
With such intimacy being an innate part of Argentine Tango, boundaries can blur, people fall in love - or hate – with the feeling brought up by close contact, and can project it onto another dancer. Acting out of a projected love – or hate – can, with experience, become understood and held as an ego response, not Self.
The Changing Self
The physical self also evolves - postural changes impact on confidence and esteem. Aches and pains come but can go as we extend into a fuller use of our body and muscles. The desire to wear some of the gorgeous dance shoes available requires the building of strength in ankles and core stability muscles to prevent damage. The range of visible emotions seems to increase as individuals become more comfortable with the extremes of feelings triggered.
I feel young in my tango development (four years), yet the journey has been an unexpected horror and delight. I never expected to so expose myself to others, nor reveal so much to myself. Not long ago, a fellow dancer said “how come so many therapists tango?” and I wonder if maybe therapists are particularly prepared for the intensity of relating, even drawn to it as their own form of therapy.
This dance is quite different to other partner lead dances – a quality of connection, of tuning into self and the other, is absolutely paramount because of the intimacy of contact involved (mostly chest to chest in a close embrace). This connection, or tuning in, is essential because there are no 'steps' to learn, simply directions to go in – it is all improvisation. The lead invites a move in a direction, the follower chooses how (and if) the invitation is taken – pace and intensity. The other night at a party I was dancing modern jive with a friend and doing things even he didn't know he could lead, he said “How do you know what I am doing – I don't even know where my feet are going myself?” How could I explain that level of attention to someone who has not experienced it? Like trying to explain snow to someone who has never left the tropics.
In Argentine tango, it is essential to balance individually, not depend on each other for support. This is more than dancing, this is about life. As my partner and I improve in our ability to hold our own centre, amazing things begin to happen. We are no longer going through the motions of a dance or leaning on each other. Moments of transcendence, of 'losing yourself' in the dance and in the connection with partner begin to happen – that very moment becomes the most meaningful expression of self, and communication with another, possible. Words just do not achieve this. Each time I start trying to do what I think they want, or think about how I look, or what watchers are seeing, I fall back to earth, into ego. The journey to transcend requires the leaving behind of ego judgements.
In my work as a therapist, I run workshops and training, and bit by bit I have been integrating my experience of Argentine Tango to demonstrate a point when talking - whatever the topic – as the visual impact is greater than my inadequate words. When I have been doing demonstration Zero Balancing sessions to groups, I often get the feedback of my movements around the client on the table seem like a dance, with subtle interactions and the necessary intensity of attention.
My latest work-related use of Argentine tango came quite out of the blue. Noticing women teetering on heels as they came to a business network meeting, I casually said I should gear my forthcoming talk to the title “Walking in High Heels Gorgeously” and my colleagues leapt on the idea. It went down a storm.
Although the idea started out as a bit of fun, I was clear I did not want to be flippant about this. I have done back pain care workshops regularly over the past few years with an angle on personal awareness and posture included. I know that how we are in our spirits affects how we hold ourselves physically, and vice versa. People are constantly surprised at how I demonstrate this through guided imagery and physical movement. I decided that to address the topic of walking in high heels gorgeously, I wanted to give these business women a sample of how good inner balance, as well as external, impacts our well-being.
What really felt good for me was that many of this group of women I was working with very quickly felt how thoughts and posture affect confidence and well-being through the movement exercises and stories I shared. I was thrilled to hear “You should take this into schools as I can really get how it would make a huge difference to self-esteem for young women”. Yes! From what might have been a rather superficial topic, the participants suddenly got it: they could understand on a deeper level how important our bodies are and that how we move them has such a major impact on mind, feelings and spirit. What a gift that in such a short time I was able to give an experience which embraced my psychotherapeutic, bodywork and dance learnings.
I recently adapted the content to do a posture and pain workshop called "Walking Gorgeously!" at Quest Festival (the biggest mind, body, spirit, dance festival in the southwest). I called on the support of (Alexander Technique Teacher) Gunda Fieldsen, as the group was quite large. Gunda added a new dimension by moving around the group helping with more precise adjustments to individual posture as we worked. This style workshop feels like a really good way to take the therapeutic aspect forward creatively and I/we will be offering it in Exeter, and also elsewhere by invitation. One wonderful idea came up from a Tai Chi teacher who felt it would really benefit students of Tai Chi and we hope to follow that up. If you are interested in this, please do contact me through the information below or via the email contact on the website.
Thank you for reading.
Cathy Towers is a BACP Senior Accredited Practitioner (Psychotherapy) and a fully certificated Zero Balancer. 07989 564660