In the summer of 2002, I called up a tango teacher in Cape Town, and asked tentatively if I may join his beginner tango classes?
Acutely attuned to his response, I thought I detected a pause … was it hesitation on his part? Anxiety rose up my throat as I rushed to explain that I had absolutely no “dance” experience, no house parties, no disco dancing, no boogying in the garage, zilch.
Dramatic and dry, he asked, ” Can you walk?”
“Ah yes,” I fumbled.
“Well then you can tango,” he said, and that was that.
I began classes without a partner. I, who had been walking for years on this earth, discovered that in tango class, walking completely derailed me. I wobbled, and stumbled, and felt awkward and looked ungainly and unbalanced. My traitorous body just didn’t behave the way I wanted it to. With no partner of my own to shield me, I had to make a fool of myself, to make it through that beginner’s phase, and then beyond over and over again.
In 2002, I had just turned 40, just left a job in publishing, was this a mid-life crisis? This venturing into a foreign, sultry tango world, with it’s own dynamics and codes, was it some folly?
No, it wasn’t. After years and years of living responsibly, “safely,” I was ready to reach for what beckoned. I’d watched Scent of a Woman you see, seen a blind Al Pacino whirling a young woman around a dance floor to the sounds of Por Una Cabeza and something had stirred in me. My whole self had swelled and lit up, and I knew that I wanted to feel this dance in my own body. So I had to venture into the unknown and stretch myself. Stretching is never easy, but ultimately exhilarating.
Adult French classes at the Alliance Française, where I, an articulate and wordy person had to fumble through constructing French sentences like a young child, and mind you whilst in the presence of other adults. Humbling to say the least!
To yoga classes, where even a pose like Side Plank, the most “un-convoluted” looking yoga pose, was impossible for many many weeks, until one day my instructor actually held, lifted my weight into the form, giving me an inner aha – this is where I was headed and I just needed to hang in until I got there. I did hang in, doggedly.
There were horse riding classes where to mount the horse and look down from high above the ground was scary scary at the beginning.
But I’m not just talking about pursuing interests and budding passions. My move to Johannesburg from Cape Town, for new work was a plunge. And once taken, required weeks of intense learning to find my feet. Moments of not knowing the answers to critical questions, and the day to day filling in of details, the on the ground acquisition of new knowledge and expertise. Covering precarious ground as I forged my space.
What I’m driving at, is that in all of these situations I felt my vulnerability keenly. I was discombobulated repeatedly. But I knew, I know that getting through the beginning phase of a new something is always like this. Scary, risky and exciting all at once. There’s no getting away from this, and why would you want to?
For you have to know that the real juice, the adventure and the triumph is right there in the beginner stages, when each progressive step brings enormous satisfaction.