I grew up as a ballerina. For 12 years, one of my biggest dreams was to dance ballet professionally. I finally gave it up when I hit college — I knew I just wasn’t quite right for it. (Ballet is so much less forgiving than tango.) The dance world opened up to me at that point. Suddenly, it was more than ballet/tap/jazz. I discovered modern dance, post-modern dance, salsa, and eventually tango. But I have always been a ballerina.
With so many former ballerinas performing tango these days, it’s easy to see the benefits of ballet — the balance, poise, flexibility, and partnering skills it imparts. But ballet has a different soul than tango. The great ballerinas have always had depth to their dancing, but it isn’t the same as the depth found in tango. They are inspired by different things and manifest in different ways. Ballerinas always have an audience; in tango, I dance with the room but have an audience of one: my leader.
Last year, I had a private lesson with a well-respected visiting teacher who encouraged me to shed some of that ballet influence. In my notes, I wrote, “Dance more like a tanguera, not a ballerina dancing tango.” I had an example of what he meant (his partner, a classically trained dancer and gorgeous tanguera) but not a good sense of how to make the change in myself. Ballet was part of who I was a dancer; I didn’t know how to extricate myself from its influence.
Slowly, I found ways to make changes. One visiting teacher spent the entire weekend telling me nothing other than to put my heels down as I danced. Finally, I did. Another teacher told me to let my upper back relax. (Still working on that one.) Leaders mentioned how responsive I was in my torso, so I started focusing on the embrace and connection, looking for ways to be expressive without worrying about how it looked. I tried to relax my joints more.
I still dance like a ballerina, but I think I have shed some of the ballet style from my dancing. I still have great posture and poise. My balance is better than ever. I’m sure I still feel like a classically-trained dancer, but hopefully with a little more tango soul. I get compliments on my embrace and my immersion in the music, which mean more to me than anything else. Ballet is still part of who I am, but hopefully soon (now?) I can call myself a tanguera with just a splash of ballet.