Improv started as a hobby for me and I used to travel around Europe hooking up with local improvisers to chat, have a beer and play shows. When it became my business, wires got crossed in my brain and that same level of joy disappeared from my improv world. So I always look for new hobbies, new communities to enliven my life. While nothing has quite stuck like Improv, I do make a point of learning a new skill every summer through an intensive bootcamp. I’ve tried Krav Maga, MeditationDrumming and this year I chose Tango.
Tango appealed to me for many reasons:
-I want to learn how to dance
-Dance is a great spark for deep relationships
-This camp was so much more than Tango.
Billed as “Tango Woodstock” we also went hiking, rock climbing, archerying, yoga-ing, etc… Organized by the Belgrade Tango Natural, this turned into a two-week journey with some of the best instructors in Europe and full of sub-plots and twists.
I arrived in Kolasin around Noon and walked to the High School base of the camp. On the trip from the bus station I passed the town’s two restaurants and five cafes with a charming pedestrian square in the center. My accommodation was on an unnamed road and it took five friendly locals an hour to get me there, stopping for coffee and rakija along the way. The slower pace and the warmth of the community’s relationships touched something deep in me after years of living in the hustle and coldness of big cities.
The first few days were an intense slate of classes, practicas and making new friends. I quickly discovered just how much improv prepared me for the Tango.
First of all, I didn’t have the same tension that many people do while in an embrace. There’s a certain trust built from working in close physical contact with people that is difficult for many of us in the 21st century. Without that block it was easy for the teachers to demonstrate leading to me because my body was receptive to the lessons.
Secondly, tango is an improvisation. There aren’t so many moves as in Salsa and it’s less about the flash and more about the connection. This is the philosophy with which I teach improv and making simple steps back and forth to the music turned out to be quite pleasant even from the beginning.
Thirdly, I embrace failure to learn quickly.
I call this the “I messed up, don’t look at me face” and training it out of my students is one of my favorite parts of the job. A “mistake” is only a failure if you treat it as such. Rather I see mistakes as a step on the way to mastery. The more mistakes I make, the more I allow myself to fall, the faster I learn and that’s my advantage in the world.
I learned a new perspective on this in the form of “fear of falling.” Darko – the organizer – is into bioenergetics as I am and uses a classic exercise to train us to trust ourselves. The idea is to shake the body and be completely loose. For many people this causes the legs to tense up in order to prevent falling. But you can’t dance with tight legs and even if you do it surely won’t be beautiful. The lesson is to keep the legs loose. Done correctly you will come close to falling many times and you might even go over! It’s ok!
This exercise and two straight weeks of stepping on feet and growing in my confidence taught me a valuable insight: The fastest way to learn is to keep the whole body and the whole mind lose and without self-judgment. This allows maximal experimentation and thus maximal learning. It also trains you to dance while loose, which is the goal in the first-place.
Tango Camp was an excellent vacation – I learned a new hobby, met great people and learned new techniques that apply across the board. In my next post I will discuss my “Taxonomy of Hobbies” a sort of evolutionary tree of hobbies and the skills each trains. We’ll see the connection between dance and martial arts and where improv falls in between and why improv is one of the greatest all-around hobbies to start your journey into the creative arts of self-expression.
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