No more Mastery

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Instead of going to a milonga as a dancer, for the first time I just went out as a writer. In a weird affirmation, someone came to sit and talk to me about writing. I also danced. He was a a visitor, attractive, in town for one of the marathonic events, and was recommended by a friend. I took it. He didn’t do anything wrong, except everything. He danced the dance everyone else was doing, adequately, correctly. In fact everyone seemed to be working very hard tonight. On what, I wondered? He danced the dance I watch, the one which numbs and depresses me. The one that makes me wonder if there really is Tango Fundamentalism or I’m just missing something. The one I get lectured about “it’s not about showing off, it’s about the feeling.” There was no feeling. It was a numb routine of mastery. He did it all correctly, but with no consciousness that this whole enterprise could be about something more or different than doing that in that way. He has learned, well, one very particular tango and that is all that exists for him. No consciousness that his creativity could be engaged, or my body.

•  •  •

The next day I went to do the writing from my scrawled notes and wondered if there really was a blogpost here. I’m always very careful about words, and I noticed the word ‘mastery’ in my notes. That’s the name of one of our programs in StudioBerlin and yet when I dance with Mastery I feel this person has gone down a very wrong path. I started to use the word a few years ago after realizing that a lot of the times in my life when I didn’t take enough action or was unproductive could be understood as situations in which I didn’t feel mastery, and that in retrospect it turned out that I did have all that was needed to excel in that situation. ‘Mastery’ became for me an empowering affirmation, a reality-check against the constant sense of inadequacy, an objective assessment of skill. It is this sound basis of confidence that I want to develop in students. I have created a pedagogy designed to help people master their bodies and the tango repertoire. But such empowering work, which builds skills, strength, and confidence is different than believing you have mastered the dance, or dancing, or your relationship with another human being. Mastery for me was a baseline so that I could have the confidence to go for it, to express myself, to improvise, to seek creativity, to trust myself and my partner. It was not a goal in itself, not an end. But I fear that this is what it has become. Not mastery in service of the mystery of tango, but tango in the service of mastery. I’m going to stop using this word.

Stop memorizing sequences*
and start improvising from the elements of Tango

*or being annoyed with yourself for not being able to remember them.

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