A Place to Play

Tango is a very structured dance.
There are distinct rules: one leads and one follows.
The music is very traditional. It is from Argentina and isn’t tango if the music is from somewhere else.
The dance is from Argentina and must reflect that culture.

Tango is a very free dance.
It is improvised.
It evolves.
It fits with lots of music.
It gives you a place to explore…even as a follow.

Why do I start these two paragraphs with such contradictory statements? I was thinking about play. What exactly is play? I found this definition useful, as well as beautiful.

*Improvisation, composition, writing, painting, theater, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible. Play is the taproot from which original art springs; it is the raw stuff that the artist channels and organizes with all his learning and technique. (Free Play, p. 42)

Isn’t that beautiful? Play is the taproot from which original art springs! Why is that so very interesting to me? When I was a little girl, I would stand on my parents fireplace mantle and dance to soul music (Stevie Wonder being one of my favorites). My mother had placed a mirror across from the mantle, so I could see myself dance. It was a blissful act. One of pure freedom and pleasure. As a woman, I still love those moments in the kitchen, or the living room, or the club, or… the milonga where I have the opportunity to let go of expectations and truly explore. I feel my body from the floor to the ceiling. I feel bones and muscles and pressure points and stretching. It’s electrifying to be able to feel my body express the music exactly as it enters my ear. Not my leaders ear…mine. Does this always work? I would argue…100% of the time. Now, to be more specific, it doesn’t always work the way people want it to. If you are dancing with another person, and they feel the music differently, yet you take the risk to explore anyway… well, it can be a sloppy experience. But, guess what?? There is NOTHING wrong with that. You might get your toes stepped on. You might pause when they go. It might not be pretty. You might even fall down. But you are participating in life’s great primal function, without which learning is impossible. Imagine that! It’s impossible! When we play, we learn our limits, and that is a useful thing. But more importantly we learn how not to limit ourselves. We learn that our limits are far more flexible than we thought.

I’ll give you another example. I’m a singer. I come from a very long line of singers and musicians. My grandmother sang like an angel. My mother sings with power…sometimes you feel like it’s almost masculine…like that of a man. I have aunts and uncles that sing. They sing together. They sing alone. They sing with the instruments that they play, or they sing a cappella. All of this can be very intimidating as a shy little girl. My grandmother taught me to sing. Really, she taught us all, and then she proceeded to make us stand up and share our talents. I would get so frightened that I would literally give myself laryngitis. It was truly a physical manifestation of fear. I wasn’t pretending. I was scared shitless and my voice would stop working. I thought….Im not a singer, not like my family anyway. But, as time went on, I realized it was a part of my bones. I found my voice with my first-born. She was a colicky little animal. She cried constantly…for months. And with that, I cried. But,  I found my singing voice with her. I would walk up and down the sidewalks, with her in my arms and sing. I would sing any song I could think of. I would sing nursery rhymes. I would sing the Beatles. I would sing along with songs I heard coming out of the apartment windows around me. What I realized is this, I’m not a singer like my grandmother. I’m not a singer like my mother. I sing like me, and that is its own thing. I love it. I couldn’t live without it. I love the way it feels. I love the way I breath when I sing. I love the way it resonates in my chest and my vocal chords. I love that I carry my musical instrument everywhere I go. Does my voice crack sometimes? Absolutely! Sometimes I don’t get the sound I want. But my limits are far more flexible than I realized as a child, and most of the time, it’s a blissful experience. It’s fun. And it is most definitely playful.

As a grown up, I give this advice. Don’t be afraid to explore your dance. Don’t be afraid to fail. DON’T be afraid to experiment. You will learn far more than if you stick to the rule book that someone else wrote for themselves. That was their exploration. Find your own. You might just find something wonderful!

One thought on “A Place to Play

  1. Another excellent piece Emily. People find this same sense of discovery and connectedness in so many divergent ways. You could have been expressing the feelings one has when ascending a rock climbing route, reaching the top of a mountain or traversing a challenging desert environment. The sense of expression and connection must be a similar feeling to that of singing or dance although channeled in a different form. Explore and experiment and definitely don’t stick to someone else’s rule book. I certainly do relate.

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