Many Rivers to Cross
Often the most important things we need to share are so obvious we aren’t even aware of them. We take the foundations we stand on so profoundly for granted, we don’t even know they’re there.
Until we bump up against the truth that someone else is standing on a different foundation, and that until they acquire a few of your “obvious” foundational truths, you two will not get anywhere!
There’s nothing like finding out that someone else does not know what you know to make you realize what you know.
Some interesting things students have told me recently, that have given me that, “oh, so we’re there” aha moment. All of these human beings are innocent and sincere and truly want to learn, and I want to take a moment to celebrate their willingness to open up to new ideas. Way to go, guys!
And…eye openers. Every time. I live in my own bubble and forget that outside of the bubble life is different.
One student was being asked, by my coteacher, to rush through a bunch of new cerebral ideas, too many for him to process at once, and if he did them at normal speed, there’s no way his body would hear what it was doing. I asked him to pick one of these ideas and to move at half speed. He calmed down, got comfortable, and the idea opened up and came to him (which is what happens when we Slow the Heck Down and give ourselves a chance!). Here was something he could work with! By gum, he was starting to feel, and once he felt, he could understand! And once he could understand, he could do! He was happy, and I was tickled pink. But after a few songs of this kind of work, he nervously asked me a timid and innocent question. I could tell this was Mad Talk for him, like countenancing the idea of little green men on Mars. He said, “but…can women enjoy moving slowly?”
Yes, gentlemen. Women can enjoy moving slowly.
I inwardly thanked him for giving me a handy clue. I had always assumed that men who shove women around like foozball rods did it because this was how they, the men, felt most comfortable, and they were just being inconsiderate callous selfish jerks. But what if they are actually kind-hearted but misguided simpletons who want to please and who want women to be happy, and are labouring under the misapprehension that this is what makes women happy? What if the issue is not character but misinformation?
And if it were an issue of misinformation, how’s that misinformation getting disseminated? I personally feel like I am surrounded by a cloud of fabulous Amazons whose life work involves waking up, spending all day long telling men how to make women happy, and then going to bed to sleep for a few hours to get the strength to do it all over again the next day. Is the information not getting out there? Am I exposing myself to a rarified population?
Or perhaps we can tell and tell and tell until we’re blue in the face, but unless someone is ready to hear, the information will fall on deaf ears. And how to unstopper the ears and create the readiness to listen…I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can do it for anyone else. It has to be personal work.
Another time, I was working with a fellow, and there was a handful of noticeables that would help him enjoy dancing more and share a dance that would be more enjoyable. I tried to work with him. However, my coteacher had also presented (one time) a long, complicated, and overly difficult sequence of Moves that nobody in that room was ready to deal with. Even one of those Moves could have been the subject of a whole week of classes. And the fellow I was working with got impatient and said, “thanks but I just want to learn the sequence.”
He genuinely was not interested in becoming a better dancer, nor was he remotely interested in bringing pleasure to a woman. The only thing he wanted to do was master this video game level and then level up.
I feel I have said this before, many times. But I will keep saying it.
Ladies, every time you accept a dance with a guy whose primary focus in life is not mutual pleasure and enjoyment, you reinforce the misunderstanding in them that this is ok, this is good, this is how they should treat women. Like joysticks. And if they twiddle the joystick fast enough, hard enough, and in a complicated enough pattern, they will win a prize.
But you feel bad for the nice human beings in your community and you want them to feel accepted and loved? That’s great! Talk with them! Spend time with them! Enjoy their company! But help them understand that if they want to dance with you, they have to give you a dance worth wanting. By teaching men that they can ignore you and masturbate in public with you as a cute piece of arm candy, they will assume that this is what they are supposed to do, and you will be stuck in a horrible pattern of enjoying their embrace less and less, feeling more and more resentful and angry, and they will get more and more sure that this is right and this is what they are supposed to do. And the community will suffer.
So schmooze, chit-chat, flirt, and turn down those cabeceos.
A couple days ago I taught on my own, and I rejoiced in the freedom to share what I believed was important, in my own way, on my own time. I had a student who was respectful and wanted to be willing to learn, but I could tell I was pushing him way outside his comfort zone. He was clearly used to being spoon-fed thirty-part sequences that he could reproduce by rote memorization, with no understanding of what the hell was going on or how the hell it was happening.
We worked on some simple-basic-foundation stuff, borrowing from Gyrotonics, Feldenkrais, and Mind-Body Centering, but mostly, working on the Alphabet Building Blocks of Tango. We worked on stuff like, “this is a point on your foot! Let’s touch it so we understand where it is!” [He wouldn’t.] Now let’s stand with our weight on that point and notice what happens in our body when we do so. Here’s another point. Let’s stand with our weight on that point. Now let’s feel what happens when we move from one point to another. Etc.
But he kept freaking out. He would stop an exercise mid-way, nervous, unable to continue in this strange world of finding out what bodies do. I kept checking in with him, how does this feel, what do you notice, etc. And he kept saying, “I don’t know.” — Of course he didn’t know. He had never been taught to feel for himself or notice for himself. He expected the answers to come from the outside, not the inside.
“This is all totally new for me,” he said. “I’ve never thought about any of this stuff before. No one has ever asked me to do any of this before. I don’t know how to think about it.”
I could tell that he really wanted to be a good obedient student, but he was also frustrated, scared, nervous, and adrift with no premade vocabulary to help him understand this brave new world. I did everything I could to break it down, slow it down, listen to him, and help him feel comfortable and safe, but I also felt that, ethically, my responsibility was to help him grow as a dancer and as a human being, and if the only thing that made him feel comfortable was memorizing meaningless sequences of Moves he wasn’t ready to do, then tough, he was just going to have to feel uncomfortable for a while.
We played with leading with intention, vision, and focus, all new concepts for him. He did notice that in order to actually lead, you have to be super clear and focused in your intention of where you want the dance to go, and this was scary new stuff. It was easier to slip back into his comfortable pattern of moving the woman with his shoulders and arms than it was to lead first with his mind (and also his whole being), and I mentally congratulated him on really trying. Good job, student!
But this was frustrating for him. Because I would not go unless he actually led me. I felt it would be unethical and counterproductive to do so. This way, he started to feel what he had to do to actually lead, and years of negative programming could start to break down.
He gave me an important clue. He said, “when I dance with really good dancers, like X and Y, they just go, automatically, independently. I don’t have to expend any effort, I don’t have to do anything. The dance just happens by itself.”
And I realized that what he was interpreting as “good dancing” was actually women misguidedly reinforcing misunderstandings and creating exactly the kind of monster that leaves women whining and sulking and pouting in dance communities all over the world. What these women were reinforcing was the idea that instead of the dance being a group effort, instead, the woman does all the “work” all by herself and the man just presses a button and she quickly produces a memorized physical action, as arbitrary and unrooted as saying, “ok, when I click on the green ostrich, you have to dance a hornpipe while singing La Marseillaise.”
These women were helping create the understanding in men that instead of having a real relationship with their partner, and life arising as a natural and felt response to mutual understanding and listening and communication, the men could just sit on their asses watching tv and the women, in the meantime, would do all the housework, make all the money, maintain all the social ties, and provide the men with one-sided orgasms every night for the rest of their lives, while looking hot every second and never speaking up for themselves, instead throwing away their lives entirely for the man’s pleasure and never getting back one second of that lost life.
Exaggerated? I doubt it. I’ve known way the heck too many women who have done exactly that.
Besides, I’ve seen X and Y dancing. I know what I’m talking about. They are dishelping the community by reinforcing in men the notion that they can not listen, not learn, not share, not lead, and not care, and that is good and right and the way things should be and what “dancing” means.
I was in another city, frustrated again because even though I had another coteacher and this one had sworn until he was blue in the face that it was my class and he would just assist and I could do whatever I wanted, what really happened was it was The Them Show from beginning to end and he never once let me get even one word in edgewise and he did that thing I loathe: he taught people a bunch of meaningless unrelated long sequences that had no point and didn’t bother to explain to them anything about what the hell their bodies were doing.
I dealt. Because that’s what you do.
And I asked every guy in the class, “what’s one thing you would like to feel more of in your dance?” One of them, with all the appreciative sincerity and earnest desire to learn in the world, said: he really wanted to learn this sequence. Another of them said, in similar tones, that he really wanted to learn how to do this move and then fit it into a sequence.
I am here. I am ready. I am willing. I am able. But if you do not meet me even one single step into part-way, I cannot help you.
When I was young I used to dream of, once in a while, someone else coming along and helping me slay one or two dragons, instead of having to do it all myself, all the time, every time. Being a dragonslayer is a great honor but it is extremely tiring.
I used to dream of a hero. And in my dream, that hero was a man, who would love me, and help me, and support me. And with him by my side, life would be easy and simple and I would be able to flourish freely. — Because, I had seen many movies, read many destructive counterproductive women’s magazines, and read many books.
But now I understand that what makes real heroes. Nobody helps slay the dragons, no matter how much one might yearn for help. Nobody can help. But we keep on showing up, no matter what. Because we are the only ones who can. We are our own heroes.
With great power comes great responsibility.