Tuesday, September 4, 2018
A Tango with Time
In my younger years, I would often hear my mother or some other adult over fifty years of age remarking how strange it is to grow old—when the mind still feels so youthful but the body begins to change…or when the songs, films, artists, and styles of your era become “vintage.” I tried to imagine what it must have felt like for her, but because that time of life was so far off for me it wasn’t easy. I don’t think anyone can truly understand nostalgia until they are old enough to live it.
Now I am suddenly there. The music and styles of my teen years and even my twenties are now considered classic. It’s as far back in the past for kids as forties and swing was for me when I was the kid. I am one of the “old aunts” that sits with the other aunts and uncles at family reunions while the kids run and play. I look in the mirror and see both a face and a body that is vastly different from what it was even seven years ago due to time and gravity having its way with me.
When one of my sisters was scanning a bunch of photos from our family albums for me a couple of years ago, she wrote in an email that it was such a surreal feeling looking back at all the pictures from all the decades and realizing just how much time had passed. “So much life lived,” were her exact words.
A common human tendency is to react to this passing of time with a certain wistfulness and longing to have some of it back—especially one’s younger and more able body. There is a sense that time is accelerating and running out. That there won’t be many more opportunities to do certain things. Bucket lists are reviewed. Long lost friends are sought out to connect with. There is still so much uncertainty about the future. What will the state of the world be as I grow old? Have I planned well enough to have financial security? Who will I survive in my family and social circles? How much longer will certain family and friends be around? Will I get to grow old with my partner?
I’ve contemplated this a lot lately—sometimes during seated meditation (yes, meditation is supposed to be an emptying of the mind, however, certain awarenesses come up as well)—and I have thought of a wonderful analogy. It involves some backstory about Tango.
I am midway through my second year of learning Argentine Tango, and it’s the year in which my teacher is showing us the nuances, refinements, and embellishments of this exquisite and graceful dance. One of the refinements is taking one’s time. Even if the tempo of a song is fast, a leader and partner can always negotiate doing it in half time, or pausing for an embellishment that isn’t necessarily on the beat…before moving on in the line of dance. If a leader is going a little too fast, the follower can always subtly apply a little more resistance in her posture to slow him down. A leader may have big plans for steps he (or she) would like to lead, but spacing on the dance floor suddenly changes and so he has to adjust those plans for the space he has to work with. Instead, a leader may offer his partner a chance to do something inventive and lovely, or lead a turn—beautifully biding the time until he can move his follower forward again.
This is how time is, now. It may seemingly be going by so quickly, but I can always lean in to slow it down, pause to add embellishment, adjust my steps to meet the unexpected with grace, and continue on in the line of dance until the music stops. In Tango, you are committed to your partner for four short songs, and these are called a tanda. If all is going well, you really savor that last song before the tanda is over. You let yourself become the music and move with a timelessness in which there is only the connection between you and your partner in the moment.
In the last decade, I have moved from being constantly driven to meet goals and timelines and making lots of plans to slowing the pace, seeing what wonderful thing might be “led” to me, offering me a chance to create and shine, and staying connected with the present. "Above all else," my Tango teacher always reminds us, “maintain a good connection.”
So instead of feeling uneasy about time and its changes, I have decided to dance with it. I cabeceo, let it lead me onto the dance floor, wrap myself in its close embrace, try to move with as much grace as possible, flow with the line of dance, and maintain connection until the tanda is over.