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Finding Individuality in Your Practice and Dance

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

If there is one thing that I have learned to appreciate more from teaching yoga it is just how unique each of our bodies is. No pose will ever look or be felt the same way by different people because our bodies are all so different. We may have similar features or even be twins, but essentially, no two bodies are the same! It is these differences that dictate what will work for our body and what won’t.

In Bernie Clark’s book, Your Body, Your Yoga (a highly recommended read) he states that there are some poses you cannot do now, some you will be able to do in time, and some you will never be able to do,” and it is part of our journey to recognize the difference and learn to embrace it. That is to say that with dedicated practice you will be able to achieve some poses that seem out of reach now, while others will never be accessible to you simply because of something you have absolutely no control over such as the angle or position of your bones.

In addition to the skeletal or other physical differences in our bodies, we also have different emotional histories that shape the way we approach our practice and how, if, and when we meet ourselves at our edge. For some, a seemingly simple forward fold can invoke fear and discomfort, and for others, that fear is triggered when they approach something typically considered more advanced such as an inversion. We can never assume that what is easy for someone, is easy for everyone else. This is one of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make, and a yoga practitioner to beat themselves up about. For a vast array of reasons, we all have a different edge, and that edge can also be different every day!

In tango, we have just as much variation in dancers as there are bodies. Although many people learn by “copying” their teacher and their teacher’s style may even be felt or observed in the way that student dances, nobody will ever dance exactly the same as someone else. What feels right and natural to one person’s body could feel completely wrong and uncomfortable in another’s. This could be one of the reasons why you might hear different advice from different teachers. It is also why ultimately you should take what techniques work for you and your body and throw out what doesn’t serve you. Isn’t that liberating to hear? I really mean it. If anyone tells you “this is the only way”... by all means, try that person’s way (it may be the only way for them), but do not make the mistake of believing it is really the only way.

Photo by Rilind Modigliani (Vktango Buenos Aires Tango Tour 2019)

So, how do you discern what works and doesn’t work either in your tango or your yoga practice?

It is way too easy to see your teacher do some crazy figure in tango or your yoga teacher stretch their body into a pretzel and say “I’ll never be able to do that.” How can you really know that until you’ve tried? Yes, you will never do it like they do, but you might be able to do it in your way, or trying it may lead you down another path to find something else that is valuable to you. It takes consistent practice and time and a whole lot of patience and persistence for that matter, to even begin to discern what works for you and what doesn’t. But this is one of the most beautiful aspects of diving into this journey. There is so much waiting to be revealed to you, about you, on this road.

Let’s go back to the concept of “copying” our teacher for a moment. This makes a lot of sense and is a very natural way to learn anything. When we were babies and young children we learned by watching and trying out what our parents did. Animals learn to hunt, feed, and protect themselves by watching and doing as their parents do.

In yoga, we see a shape and try to copy it to the best of our abilities and what is dictated by our current strength and flexibility. In tango, we might even take this concept to the extreme by trying to be the most “authentic” representation of a particular style, where perfect execution or embodiment of this style is prized over individuality. To really see the differences from one couple to the next, we need to sharpen our eyes. There is nothing wrong with this, and I have a lot of respect for those who’s discipline and work ethic drives them to train this way. However, at some point we need to accept that we will never be an exact replica of our teacher or mentor, and that is a good thing!

We need to learn that our body is trying to speak its truth and trust this voice as much as we trust our teacher to guide us in the right direction. This is not just the case for tango but also true for a yoga student. No teacher will ever be able to feel what it is like to be in your body or in your mind. Our bodies are designed to alert us when we are approaching something that won’t work for us, but if we do not pay attention to these sensations and let an outside voice have authority over our actions, this can lead to injury.

In my tango experience, it was a long road to arrive at trusting my body to speak it’s truth. I must have been a pain in the ass student in the beginning when I expected every teacher to tell me EXACTLY which part of my body to move and when and how... and just give me all the details already! I wanted to do it all exactly the “right” way. Nothing drove me crazier than vague “fill-in-the-gap” explanations!

Now, however, I see that there is something to be said for receiving “vague” instructions and then letting your body light the way. Perhaps not in all situations, but in many cases there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way. Trying a variety of ways, including what you think might be “wrong,” will lead you to find what is “right” for YOU. This is one of the many reasons I encourage my students to study with different teachers and to not just take what I say as the ultimate truth. Learn to discern what each teacher has to offer that speaks to you.

In the yoga world, I’d say there is a lot more emphasis on allowing your body to be your ultimate guide, and thanks to this practice I eventually found my way to trusting my body more in the dance. However, I do still see many people struggling with this very concept in yoga, afraid to move into any posture until their teacher explains each step along the way. As I mentioned before though, who am I to judge this student’s experience and say this fear is baseless. I have absolutely no idea if this particular student had an experience where they injured themselves by doing a posture without a teacher’s guidance or anything else that could be inducing this fear.

However, let’s think about the learning process of that child who began by copying her parents. At some point she begins to think for herself, develop her own personality, have her own opinions and desires, and as we all know, very often, try to be the opposite of her parents! Somewhere in our nature there is a strong desire to be an individual. Depending on our upbringing and many other factors we may have more or less barriers to break through in order to express or even accept our individuality.

My question to you is what are your barriers? If you are waiting for someone to give you permission, consider this your invitation to begin your search for the real you, in your dance, your yoga, your life. What does that inner voice feel would be right to do here in this yoga posture? In this figure in the dance? In this part of the music? You don’t have to go all out and do everything in opposition to whatever you have been taught, but where might you allow your curiosity to take you just a bit further away from your comfort zone and explore the limit of your edge today? Where have you been holding yourself back and getting in your own way?

Perhaps all these years of stretching in your yoga class have finally made it possible to reach your toes. Maybe you allow yourself to go just that tiny bit further, checking out what this new space feels like, what sensations come up, and notice if you need to back off or if you have further to go. Perhaps in your dance it would feel good to add in a little adorno to that piano frill or linger in that parada, drawing slow smooth circles with your free leg as the violin inspires your movement.

Be unapologetic in your search. You have every right to be YOU! (as long as you are not hurting yourself or others). Just think of how boring the world would be and how unexciting dancing would be if everyone was an exact clone of each other.

I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of trusting our teachers and mentors to guide us and I am thankful for all that I have learned from the many people I am lucky to call my teachers. However, I also believe that we need to recognize the teacher within ourselves and celebrate that person too, just as much as we need to learn to celebrate our uniqueness rather than agonize over it. In a world of 7.8 billion people, there is no one like you and that is amazing! Your body is amazing! Get curious about your body and allow yourself to explore what makes you the unique individual that you are!

Do you want to practice yoga together? Check out the yoga for tango dancers category inside my on-demand library of over 200+ Yin and Vinyasa yoga classes and meditation.

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