When I was younger, I had what some people might have described as a ‘favourite’ response to most questions. It was, “I don’t know.”
Whether the question was “Where do you want to go?” or “What do you want to do?” or What do you want to eat?”, I’d give the same answer, “I don’t know.” On occasion, if I were asked what I wanted to wear, I might have been a little pickier . But even then, it didn’t seem to take much to dissuade me from my initial choice.
There was this air of unsureness that oozed from me. I just really thought I ‘didn’t know’, especially compared to the more confident, opinionated, loud, outspoken personalities that were often around me. Or maybe my timid nature made them appear that way. Regardless, everyone seemed so sure about what they wanted except for me, so I left it up to them to make the decisions.
The thing I couldn’t see is that the more I practised this “I don’t know-ing”, the more I made it part of my identity. I just started thinking that’s who I was. And other people got used to choosing for me. Eventually, I subconsciously started believing my opinion didn’t really matter, that I didn’t have something important to say. And if a little hint of a possible preference would rise up in me, I would wonder what difference it would make anyway, so kept it in. I became accustomed to living life according to everyone else’s preferences. I didn’t think it bothered me because I thought, hey, at least it was one less opinion they had to consider. I thought I was making things easier for everyone else.
But, there were a LOT of opinions going around- family members’, friends’, that of the culture around me which included Indian, African, older generations, and the younger generation of the Canadian culture I also grew up in. Opinions of peers, classmates, teachers, religion, and those I just absorbed from what I read or saw on TV, not to mention those of society as a whole.
My keeping up with all of them just felt exhausting. But I wasn’t aware of how much it was exhausting not just my mind, but also my body. I kept looking outwardly for answers, depleting myself of energy and literally causing an energy blockage in a very important center in my body.
I didn’t realize the answers were inside me. That no one could know better than me what I needed and wanted. That there is an actual ‘part’ in our bodies that governs our ability to decide– the Solar Plexus Chakra.
This energy center, referred to as the Manipura in Sanskrit, gives us drive, direction, purpose, will and passion. It moves us forward towards our desires, and helps us to know what our desires are. But when out of balance, or misdirected by others’ opinions, it can cause us to feel lost, unsure, and hesitant. Perfect words to describe how I was showing up in my life for years.
I thought tango was just my escape from the drama I experienced in the salsa scene (a story for a whole other blog entry). I was looking for a new dance, a place to start over. And so I thought I just fell into tango. But what I would eventually learn is that tango actually showed up for me, it CHOSE me, to teach me some important lessons. One of which was how to get in touch with my solar plexus chakra so that I could make my own choices. That I had a right to make choices.
You might argue that this center, located just above the navel, needs to be engaged in all dances. And you’d be right. But for me personally, it was tango that really awakened me to this center because of the specific ways in which I learnt it. And THAT helped me use it more proficiently in other dances as well.
Firstly, tango classes involved hours of practising walking. It was not just a regular walk, but walking from our center. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the chakras, but we were constantly being reminded to activate our center before anything else. And not just our core, but our sense of intention coming from deep within our center, which years later I realized was the solar plexus chakra.
I was learning that walking was not just about the feet, or the legs, but about initiating from that solar plexus energy before we even took a step. Sometimes, we would practise just standing ‘still’ with a partner, but connecting in a way that we could sense the subtle nuances from our partner. This could be a very slight change of weight, or even an energetic shift of direction, or even just a preparatory breath. And this was all happening with hardly any, or often no, movement on the outside. Nothing that could be seen at least, but had to be felt or sensed.
Initially, I couldn’t feel anything. I was confused at how to know which direction a lead wanted me to go if I couldn’t see any movement in him. It felt like I was just guessing.
But the more I practised this sensing into my center, the more I was surprised at how I could pick up so many more subtleties from my lead. It was like I could listen and feel on a whole different level. And suddenly, I was able to follow the lightest of leads. It wasn’t that they were expecting their follows to mind read, as I first imagined. They just were so tapped into their centers that they didn’t need to be forceful or pushy. Just connected. But it only worked if their follow was as connected as well.
Over time, I came to realize that my senses were heightened and able to pick up the smallest of signals from the leads because I was also practising getting better connected to my own body first, particularly the solar plexus.
Secondly, we would practise walking across the floor with different types of intentions in our stride. I remember beginning some classes switching between seductively gliding towards the mirror, or being a sneaky, prowling cat- slow, but deliberate, and toes softly grazing the floor. Or turning into a predatory tiger attacking the floor with my heel first as I lurched towards my prey.
It felt really awkward and so unlike me when I was doing these exercises. They were initially the parts of tango class that I dreaded. I sheepishly tried to be a sexy cat, was clumsy as a seductress, and the idea of attacking anything just made me cringe.
But they were also the qualities I envied in other dancers, and even people, around me. That drive, and passion, confidence, sexiness- they were probably what attracted me to tango in the first place. I wanted to tap into it but I was so scared of it at the same time.
I didn’t know back then that I had voices in my head that said that seduction and passion were dirty. I also had a misconception of power and aggression as controlling, void of compassion and unsafe because I had seen people around me abuse power. So of course, my body was fighting against expressing any of this.
But there was a healthy and vibrant side to power and passion and going after what you want. And tango could tell my body was yearning to learn this. It was something that is in all of us, not to be feared, but embraced because it helps us set boundaries, ask for what we need, and stand up for our truth. This was the Fire Element of Chinese Medicine. When in balance, it enlivens us, inspires us to live more fully and authentically. It’s the center for our life force energy. It ignites us into action.
This Fire, this Agni, as it is referred to in Sanskrit, comes from our solar plexus chakra, explains Masami Covey, intuitive healer.
Looking back, I now see how the Fire in me was coming more alive each time I took another tango class or workshop, specifically because of the emphasis on this center.
One workshop that stood out to me was run by a famous tanguera in Buenos Aires. This class was for women only because one of the main practises in it involved us leading each other with one hand on the front center of our partner’s bra strap, and the other on our partner’s belt buckle area (which would have been kind of suspect in a mixed sex class).
We would guide our partners around the room like this, keeping both hands firmly to this hold. And then we would switch roles until the feeling was ingrained in our bodies. It was to emphasize where the power and energy of the movements in tango should come from. There was no question after experiencing that exercise that it was the the space between the two hands that was the driving force- the solar plexus. Though it wasn’t named as such in the workshop, I will never forget the feeling of it on and in my body. And I was able to make the connection years later when I was learning about the chakras.
And this instructor oozed Fire, which made me appreciate even more being able to glean inspiration from her energy.
Another class I will never forget was a private lesson I had with an out of town instructor. After dancing a practise dance with me, he stopped and looked at me in silence for a moment. He then put each of his hands on either of my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “When you step, I want to feel you taking me with you.”
I was confused. Aren’t you the lead? I wanted to ask. Aren’t YOU supposed to take me with YOU? How can I take you with me if I don’t even know yet where you’re planning to go? Before I could say anything (and thank goodness I didn’t), he led me in a backward step, while he came forward. But this time, he drove his own body towards me in a more intense manner.
It was unexpected and I felt myself almost lose balance by its intensity. But he explained that he wouldn’t do that to me on the dance floor. It’s not the way he would want us to dance. But any lead dancing with me might be inclined to have to use that force because I was not directing my energy with enough intention.
He wanted to feel that drive he ‘pushed’ on me coming from me instead, not from his lead. He wanted to feel me both responding to his lead but also for me to take the momentum of it and go with it, from my center. And to take him with that energy. To keep it going.
I copied the feeling he had imparted on me, in my body. And I could feel the difference right away. It felt unlike me, but it was clearer and better. We tried it again, with him stepping back this time, so he would be leading me to take a forward step. I hesitated more here. Because his body was right in front of me, my movement became less direct again. I didn’t trust that a space would be made available for me to push through the way he wanted.
What I didn’t realize was that it was me that I didn’t trust. I didn’t trust myself to be able to make the space. I didn’t even know I could. That it was up to me to create available space. It felt bold. And I wasn’t used to be bold.
“Take me with you,” he encouraged again. I stepped, with more confidence. And this time, I drove the momentum for us. He smiled as he could now use that energy to take us into our next move more fluidly.
No longer was my partner having to drag me around, because I was no longer deadening the motion he started, Instead, there was more power in my movement, in my intention, because I was moving from my center. And this made the dance come alive for both of us. I got a taste of what it felt like to be more empowered, decisive and push through with that decision. I got a taste of how it would feel to connect to my Fire Element.
Tango showed me that power could be expansive, rather than domineering, That directness and even anger could be liberating and protective, rather than frightening. And not just for me, but also for my partner. In dance, but also in life. That we have a right to all of our emotions. And when we share them honestly with the people around us, it helps them support us more fully.
Do not suppress your anger,” I heard an impassioned dating and relationship coach, Emilia Nagy, say in an interview a couple of years ago. She was talking about how she had used Flamenco lessons to get in touch with her rage, her fire element because she was so out of touch with it. “If you suppress your rage, you suppress your passion,” she added.
And that hit me so hard. Right in the solar plexus, I’m sure. Because I realized tango had shown me the truth of her statement. I had shoved down my anger so deep, that I had no relationship to it. I was fearful of my own ‘darker’ emotions. So I would ignore them. The thing is that if we don’t find healthy outlets to express all our emotions, they don’t just disappear. If they don’t come out, they go in- inside our bodies. blocking the flow of energy not just in that center, but putting the other energy centers out of balance as well. Because they all feed into each other.
And we can’t be selective about which emotions we allow to be expressed and which we don’t. If we shut down some emotions like anger and frustration and fear and sadness, then we also shut out our ability to feel joy and laughter, and passion and awe fully.
No wonder I was envying the passionate, sexy, confident dancers around me. They were allowing all of their emotions to come through, rather than blocking them or being fearful of them. It wasn’t that they had something I could never have. I had just shut down my Fire element because there were aspects of it I wasn’t sure how to handle.
Tango knew it could help me rekindle that energy. That I needed it in order to live with more vibrancy. Surrounding me with some of the most fiery instructors I could have asked for- Cesar Coelho, Laila and Leandro, Nina, Sandro- to name a few, Tango and these inspiring teachers came to remind me of my own Fire inside me. That I need not shy away from it, but embrace it, and own it. Because it was always in me to claim.
Through exercises and classes that focused on the Solar Plexus Chakra, tango helped me connect with this chakra and free up the energy that was wanting to move.
The more I got to train myself to move with intention, with purpose, with drive and desire, not just understanding it with my mind, but embodying it, the more I was able to awaken those qualities in my center in other dances, and in other areas of my life. I started walking with more intention and confidence throughout my day, and showing up more assuredly in the way I spoke and how I responded to others. And I actually started listening to my body’s wisdom, its preferences. I started realizing I HAD opinions, and was excited to share them.