The following is taken from a chapter written by Inessa Zaleski, buried in a compilation of advice from Argentine Tango teachers titled Tango Tips. It is such good advice that I wanted to share it here for everyone to experience.
Do you experience sadness, anxiety, or maybe a touch of emptiness from time to time?
Do you find yourself focusing on shortcomings rather than simply enjoying living?!
Are you struggling with occasional low self-esteem, or perhaps, you think you can’t do better?
Then, congratulations! You are a human after all.
It is human to experience all of these things, and it’s even more human to crave some human pleasures: harmony, connection, balance, and joy. These feelings make life worth living.
Dance is an art that can be nothing short of magical for those who genuinely give themselves to it. Many people find that they are hesitant about several aspects of the dance, as if something is interfering with their ability to free themselves and get lost in the joy of dancing. The funny thing about this is that when you allow yourself to let go and connect with your body, dance itself can be healing - but you have to find a way to get there first.
Believe it or not, professional dancers experience the same feelings of inadequacy known to plague those who are new to the medium. Since dance is performative and highly competitive, many dancers struggle with low self-esteem and a fear of rejection. At the end of the day, new dancers and seasoned dancers are wondering the same thing: is this all in my head?
The answer is yes, it most likely is!
We all have deeply-embedded emotions and associations in our subconscious that are driving our decisions from behind the scenes. There are many reasons why they are there.
Their origins might be in our childhood, an influence from our environment, or even a loose connection with our past experiences.
So are you ready to stop holding yourself back?
According to an article by the National Science Foundation published in 2005, the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day – 80% of which are negative, and 95% are exactly the same thoughts as the day before. I’m sure you must have noticed how many negative and self-limiting thoughts you have every day. Perhaps you even tried dancing them away.
They might be moments when you’re stressed, upset, angry, or even distracted by the thought of an argument you had with your partner. Maybe your cabeceo was unanswered.
Often we keep returning to these kinds of thoughts again and again. It is difficult to stop the flow of mental chatter.
I have experienced my fair share of negative thoughts telling me that I can’t do it, or that I don’t measure up, or I am not good enough to dance with that great dancer, so there is no point in even trying… And when a step is not correctly communicated, that’s when the self-bashing starts.
Have you been there too? The truth is, all of these thoughts have a direct influence on our dance.
You may find yourself distracted, unfocused, out of balance, and basically out of sync. How, then, can you release what’s holding you back?
If you want to improve your tango dancing, the first thing that you need to do is look inside yourself.
Overcoming any kind of challenge involves looking within to find a point of calm that you can lean on when you need to.
Think of your calmness as your centre. This is a point within your mind that will allow you to find peace and operate more effectively. Any person in a high-pressure career will tell you that finding your centre is the only way to nail that big performance or hit that legendary home run.
You can see that many a great mind has spoken about the importance of a calm mind:
The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. James Allen - British philosopher
Calmness is the cradle of power. J. G. Holland - American author
Power is so characteristically calm, that calmness in itself has the aspect of strength. Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton - English novelist
To get into this zone requires complete commitment and focus.
When it comes to dancing, many performers have mental barriers that limit their ability to enter the zone. These barriers might be doubts, a fear of failure, lack of trust, and the infamous problem of overthinking.
Mindfulness is an experience that every person can benefit from, and dancers can benefit from it more than others.
The art of mindfulness involves being centred and present in the moment.
Rather than dwelling on the past or panicking about the future, your only job becomes focusing on where you are and living in that moment to get the most out of it.
Do not dwell on whether or not you have trained hard enough. Do not focus on whether or not you will dance well. Simply exist in that one beautiful moment where you have given your heart, mind, and body over to dance.
Based on more than 30 years of research, I’ve designed mindset training for tango dancers to keep on improving their dance. Now, these workshops are taught at tango weekends around the world. In 2016, I had the opportunity to teach a Tango ConfiDance mindset workshop in conjunction with Julio Balmaceda’s dance class, and I’ve heard some of the following from my students:
“Although my chair was very uncomfortable, I managed to drift away!” “My shoulders are the most difficult place to relax, in tango especially…. They went down!” “Having this sense of mindfulness before the dance class helped me to unlock my body…”
So, what is it all about?
How is it that all of these people felt a direct physical benefit from a mindset training? And, more importantly, how can you leverage it?
The Webster Dictionary describes mindset as “a mental attitude or inclination.”
While the definition is easy enough, mindset training is something that you have to experience in order to understand truly. I have been researching our mind’s potential for many years, and am continuously amazed at the profound effect that our thoughts have on us.
Time and time again, I find more evidence that our minds are the true key to our success. That is why I have spent so much time trying to determine how best to leverage it for our benefit.
Right now, look around the room that you are in. Everything in the room was once nothing more than a thought in somebody else’s mind.
The furniture in your room, the chair you are sitting on, and even the clothes that you are wearing were once living in someone’s brain. They first thought about it, visualised it, and then they took the next step and created it.
Every human-made item that you see around you is a result of thought taken further. This is the power of the mind. It allows us to imagine something and bring what was once nothing more than an idea into reality. The hard part is finding a way to allow ourselves to access this potential. Your mind is your greatest asset.
For the simplicity of this explanation, we are going to compare our mind to a computer. Our subconscious mind performs the instructions that are given to it. It follows the programming that exists in its files. It takes orders from you, and it executes them accordingly.
This can be problematic when you don’t realise that some orders were written in secret. A proper mindset practice helps you to rewrite those files so that the actions that you take are always the ones that you want. We can use this to change our old programming, release our perceived limitations, enhance our talents, and continue improving elements of our tango. If we are not optimising our minds, we will miss out on fantastic opportunities that can propel us towards our greatest potential in tango, as well as in other parts of our lives.
So are you ready to stop holding yourself back?
I invite you to do a little experiment:
Get up now from your comfortable chair, and walk up to a large mirror. Without moving or adjusting your posture or your facial expressions, observe how they are right now.
How is your posture? What about your face? What emotions can you detect? Just take a mental note of what you see. *[You may want to read through to the end of step twelve (12), and then go back and do it].
And now, take a few deep breaths.
I like the 4/4/4/4 cycle: inhale on a count of four, hold the breath on a count of four, exhale on a count of four, and hold the exhale on a count of four. When you exhale, release any negative feelings or emotions. And when you inhale, inhale love. If you find it challenging, then you may want to envision an adorable puppy or a kitten in your arms or think of the love you have for someone special in your life.
And now, connect with these feelings of unconditional love, and inhale them into your heart.
If you wish, you may try closing your eyes to see if you prefer to take a few breaths with your eyes closed as you continue lengthening your breaths and inhaling the feelings of love.
When you open your eyes, maintain a soft focus, look into the reflection of your eyes in the mirror, continue breathing deeply and completely, exhale and release what was holding you back, and (with deep sincerity) say to the reflection in the mirror: I love you! If you choose to close your eyes again, imagine that you are looking into your reflection in the mirror. Continue breathing and speaking this way for about ten breaths, noticing that you are releasing and relaxing with every breath even more.
Allow yourself to experience the feelings of love building up in your heart. Allow these feelings of love to increase as you breathe deeply, slowly, and completely. Allow these feelings to grow stronger… Keep on exhaling everything that is not love, and keep inhaling love, unconditional love. Keep on experiencing this for a few more minutes.
Please, do not read further until you have completed the exercise.
And now, as you are still in that special relaxed state, keep your body where it is, and look at the mirror.
Notice now how your posture is, how your face looks. You may notice that your posture is more erect; your face is brighter, happier. Maybe you’re even smiling. Notice how you’re feeling… Scan your body and notice how your body feels.
Do you feel more relaxed? More grounded, or maybe more in tune? More connected with your body? Now… Imagine the benefits if you do this short mindset practice before a milonga… Do you think it may affect how you will feel? Do you think it may affect how well you will dance? How much do you think your dance could improve, just from this two-minute meditation?
I know what you may be thinking, that this is not going to solve your problems, and you’re right! It’s not going to resolve what bothers you in your life, but it’s an excellent place to start, isn’t it?
As we begin taking an active role in conditioning our thoughts to reflect what we truly want, we open ourselves to start attracting to us these things.
I challenge you to open yourself to more moments that increase your joy.
Allow yourself to be more in the flow. Give yourself permission to love yourself more. Love yourself first, and everything falls into place.
Lucille Ball - American producer Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives. Louise L. Hay - American author We must fall in love with ourselves. I don’t like myself. I am crazy about myself. Mae West - American actress Give love… unconditionally… to yourself.
As you do, you will attract others into your life who will love you without conditions.
There is a direct correlation between our tango success and the practice of a proper mindset.
All the tango teachers and performers I spoke with practice some form of mindset training.
Mindset training can help us with focused attention, energy, control, strength, power, and calmness. These are some of the essential qualities of a great tango dancer.
Proper mindset training can also help deepen the connection with your dance partner, give it more substance and comfort, as well as contribute to raising your dance communication.
When we practice this regularly, we start noticing an increase in self-confidence that can support us on and off the dance floor. Better yet, a daily practice of a proper mindset can also help you easily remember and integrate that cool new move you studied. It’s even possible to eliminate your frustration from learning it and later having the details evaporate from your mind when you arrive at the milonga.
Now… wouldn’t that be nice? Let’s all work on increasing our feelings of love. Let’s spread it and allow it to reverberate and encompass all the people, all of our planet, and all life on it.