Tango Therapy

(To my bloggEEs: This is my second personal musing. It is a piece I wrote a while ago about how my tango adventure began. Let me know what you think in the comments. It is longer than my usual blog entry and it also includes a video of an actual tango lesson I had some years ago. Enjoy! The video is not with Andrei, the man I write about here. Oh, and the music we used is not traditional tango, in case you were wondering.)

(Andrei and me practicing)

“Would you like to go salsa dancing with me on Friday?”

“Excuse me”? I said.

“Would you like to go salsa dancing?”

“Are you talking to me?” 

He was gorgeous. He had that JFK Jr. handsomeness. And he was young. I thought this was a joke. We were in a swing dance class. I did not know him. I was 47. He was, um, young.

Then we switched partners and I was dancing with Farmer John, who smelled a little like the farm. The handsome young guy had moved to the next girl. Maybe he was asking her to go salsa dancing with him, too.

But he came back around to me, with that make-you-wanna-melt smile. 

“Salsa? Friday?”

How did he even know I had been taking salsa lessons? 

When the class ended, we talked. He was 29 and a graduate student at the University of Oregon, having emigrated from Russia with his engineer parents when he was 10. He was getting business and psychology degrees. The mythologist Joseph Campbell was one of his heroes. I learned a lot about him quickly. I am a psychotherapist. I ask questions. 

“Shall I pick you up on Friday or do you want to pick me up?” he asked.

When I determined he was serious, I suggested we meet at the dance venue. I was not quite ready to get into a car with this man, with Andrei, the young charming drop-dead-gorgeous Russian-American. 

Just so you know, I am a feminist. I do not put much emphasis on looks. I do not care about such things. I am evolved, after all. Middle-aged for heaven’s sake. But, his young tall-dark-handsomeness was impossible to ignore. Maybe because I was never the popular girl, not the one that people noticed. I was the one with an ethnic look, curly haired, introverted, the anti-cheerleader. The beautiful boys never sought me out for salsa dancing.

He told me he had seen me dancing salsa a month ago. He had wanted to ask me to dance then but I was talking with another young man, his roommate it turns out, so he did not want to intrude. Maybe I wanted to date his roommate, he thought. 

Was I dreaming him up? Maybe I was living in an alternate universe. Where had this guy come from? 

I had been divorced for about ten years and looking for a new hobby that would get me out into the world, meeting people. So I tried ballroom dance classes: Swing, salsa, Argentine tango. I loved dancing and was pretty good at it. I was particularly fond of salsa and tango. The tango was not easy to learn but there were a couple of excellent teachers in my town and the tango seemed to attract fascinating people: Smart, sensitive, creative folks who were also looking for a way to express themselves artistically while connecting with others in a safe, yet intimate, way. 

I danced with Andrei that Friday night at the restaurant/bar. It was thrilling. My heart was pounding. I left early because I did not want to faint from the excitement of it all. That would have been embarrassing.

Turns out, Andrei was also taking tango lessons. Sunday afternoons, tango classes were held downtown in a large, mirrored space with a shiny wood floor. We would have a lesson for an hour and then practice for the next hour. To dance well, I had to become more tuned in to my own body. I had to feel my feet caressing the floor and move my energy down my legs versus up in my head, where it usually lived. It was challenging. But the community was welcoming and the dance was so satisfying. I ended up dancing about 3-4 times a week. It was intoxicating. And the Argentine tango became my therapy. 

Andrei and I built a friendship. We had a regular breakfast meeting Saturday mornings. He would come to my home at 9am sharp for coffee and eggs. Then he would stretch out on my too-small sofa to talk about Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and the roots of happiness. We would practice tango outside on my deck. He had been dancing longer than I had so he would make suggestions on how I might improve. He was an impatient teacher but I didn’t care. 

As my dancing progressed, I noticed that men would be watching me; like the 30-something blonde Marine. He wasn’t a dancer but he would occasionally be at the café where we danced on Tuesday nights. It seemed I had discovered an answer to aging well—feeling attractive as you head into your later-middle-ages. No matter if you are the ethnic, curly-haired, anti-cheerleader. Dance well and you will be popular. 

I remember dancing with a man closer to my age. He was a talented leader, playful, creative, and sensitive. The faster tangos were particularly fun. Being in sync with his musicality and his grounded body was exhilarating. And then one day, he stopped asking me to dance.

“Robert, I’ve noticed that you don’t ask me to dance anymore and you avoid my gaze when I try to ask you. Have I offended you?” I asked.

“Um, uh, well, um, uh, no. I, well, um, I might have mentioned to my girlfriend that I thought you were a passionate dancer,” he replied.

“Oh. Oh. OK. Good to know. Thanks for telling me.”

Turns out his girlfriend thought I was just a little too passionate. I missed Robert but I was relieved I had not offended him and I was grateful for the odd compliment. 

Robert was a better tango dancer than Andrei. But, with Andrei there was a special electricity. We talked about it; the sexual attraction. But neither of us wanted to ruin what we had. Andrei was dating women closer to his age, which made sense to me. I was wondering, though, if he stayed more superficial with the women he dated.  Perhaps, he and I were closer because we were not dating. 

He would say: “Let’s put that sexual energy into the dance.”

And we did. Tango, it turns out, was better than sex.

There were times when Andrei would disappear and not respond to calls. It was becoming clear that he struggled with depression. He could be temperamental and distant. His father had died when he was 16, which the therapist in me suspected was a loss he had not processed. And there was so much I did not know about his past. He started to miss some Saturday morning breakfasts. But later he would show back up at a dance class or a milonga with his mesmerizing smile. And when we danced, it was still magic, except for the times he felt like I was pulling on his neck or not following him perfectly, which happened when he was in a mood or when I was wanting more. 

I will admit it. I was not totally content with the arrangement. I was getting attached. I started writing bad poetry about our unusual pairing. Journaling about my ambivalence and my desire. And then he moved to Portland. He had graduated and felt too stifled in our town. Portland, two hours north, would provide more opportunities for work contacts and dancing. We stayed in touch and I went to Portland to dance a few times. He would drive back to Eugene on occasion. But it wasn’t the same. With the distance, though, it was easier for me to be rational about the knowledge that he was not really boyfriend material. 

And then he moved again. To Paris. Andrei needed the stimulation of a big city, a new language and culture, and French women. I realized he had always been restless in Oregon. He sent me postcards from France. He seemed happier there. Periodically, he would ask me to visit him in Paris. I was considering it. Then he invited me to his wedding.

Camille was French, beautiful, and smart. She was his age. Her hair was not curly. If they had cheerleaders in France, she probably was one in high school. Of course, he was marrying her. 

I didn’t go to the wedding. If I was going to take my introverted travel-phobic self to Paris, it wasn’t going to be when Andrei would be ignoring me because he had better things to do, like get married. So, I waited until his son Gabriel was born and he asked me again. 

“Come to Paris, Paulina.” 

“I don’t know, Andrei. Travel makes me nervous. If I go, can I count on you to pay attention and not leave me stranded somewhere?” 

“I will not leave you stranded. We can dance tango along the Seine in the evening. It will be fun.” 

Tango? With Andrei? In Paris? Along the Seine? 

I went to Paris. 

The 11 hours in the plane I ruminated. I only spoke high school French. What if he wasn’t at the airport when I arrived? He was not the most reliable guy, I mean, I really hardly knew him. What if Camille didn’t like me? What if he was depressed the whole week? What if I forgot how to dance? What if I twisted my ankle, had an allergic reaction to escargots, did something culturally insensitive, and lost my hair gel? 

And then. My fears were unfounded. He was at the airport when I arrived. Camille was sweet and welcoming. They were kind hosts and I managed to communicate while seeing the sites by smiling and saying merci a lot. I had never seen anything like Paris. 

And we went tango dancing along the Seine at night. I was intimidated and incredulous. I tried to keep my ethnic, curly-haired, introverted self calm but it was difficult when the French men spoke to me, holding me close. It took my breath away. They didn’t seem to care I wasn’t popular or that I had no idea what they were saying.

Surely, this was an alternate universe. 

It seemed I had discovered an answer to aging well—feeling attractive as I headed into my later-middle-ages. No matter if you are the ethnic curly-haired anti-cheerleader. Dance well and you will be popular. 

You may even get to dance the tango in Paris.


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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

43 responses to “Tango Therapy”

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  1. Tango Lessons — The Benefits of Being Klutzy | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have come across the adventures of Andrei and my Tango Therapy. But this is not that […]


  2. Kitty Avatar
    Kitty

    What is it about big curly hair on top of a head holding a rainforest mind that makes us so self-conscious?! The thing I related to, over and over, was the part about the curly hair and anti-cheerleader. And all the anxieties you described on the airplane. But also – I feel the sexiest when dancing. Not improvising or dancing alone, but following in a ballroom dance. It’s kind of like a form of Dom/sub play and I can relate to it feeling more erotic than what we traditionally consider as sex.


    1. renovatio06 Avatar
      renovatio06

      In revisiting this beautiful personal posting of yours, Paula, and brought back by way of Kitty’s reply, I’m in goose bumps all over again from re-reading the relevant parts of your account here. Wow! What a wonderfully embodied way of multi–potentiality this Tango (or Salsa) dancing is! (Tango even more, I presume, as a total ignorant in that regard, but from having carefully observed dancing couples a few times and I think I see the discipline and masterful succession of movements paired with not–so–minor control of one’s physique to even get to where you were with Andrej or Robert. It’s a pretty major, uplifting, inspiring experience, I can imagine, on which I applaud you and on the courage to share this with us. Thanks quite some!)


      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Ah, yes, renovatio06. Tango memories. Not much dancing these days with the pandemic, though. Hoping to get back to it someday.


    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, another curly girl! Thanks Kitty! 🙂


  3. Karli Avatar
    Karli

    Paula, a wonderful glimpse here of your past (a little late in replying but been going over previous posts I missed). You have a knack for writing! I think this is such a heartfelt and poignant vignette and Andrei sounds like a sweet person. I think we all had an Andrei in our life. You seem to have a lot of courage and strength — especially flying to a new country. I am a huge fan of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, not sure if you have seen their films, but they’re quite fun.

    Have you explored other dancing styles since then, or is the tango/salsa still something you practice to this day?


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I have tried other dance styles but tango and salsa are my favorites. Of course, the pandemic has ended all social dancing and I had actually been dancing less before that. My town used to have a vibrant dance community but many of our best dancers had moved on so it wasn’t as much fun. I may start tango again, though, once it’s safe to be so close! Thanks for your kind words!


      1. Karli Avatar
        Karli

        Nice! And yeah, social distancing definitely has put a damper on these things. And darn, hopefully, there will be more people eager to dance post-pandemic! Yes, can always start once things are a bit safer. Portland seems like an artsy place as well, maybe there are dancing classes there too (seems like an exciting city). Thanks for sharing – you have a gift with words!


  4. Pecheoiseau Avatar
    Pecheoiseau

    That was hot! <3


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Indeed.


  5. renovatio06 Avatar
    renovatio06

    *hug emoji* (if not too bold 😊)


  6. renovatio06 Avatar
    renovatio06

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful, yet most likely tinged with a side of bittersweet…, personal experience of yours with us, Paula! It had me… “well up” [understatement-alert…] front to back! You’ve done a wonderful job of letting us “sample” that episode in your personal life and the experiences you and Andrej shared while they lasted. I’ve been deliberating taking dance classes or going to milongas myself for some time, but sadly don’t have the resources nor opportunity at this time in my life. I think dancing can be an almost miraculous way of being close, maybe even ‘intimate’ with someone else in a safe and respectful, mutually honoring way. In other words and IMHO: The near perfect way for HSPs/rainforesty types of all kinds when it comes to ‘dating’ or simply getting to know another human being, whatever the ‘objective’ or associated intentions, hopes, aspirations pertaining to that human may be like or become. (as you so elegantly depicted; I think I can relate quite some to the “not satisfied with the arrangement” part of it all some ways into this … shall we say “significant encounter”?)

    From a being-male perspective, I’m personally very happy and relieved that the Andrejs do exist in this world! (and show up and even are daring enough to ignore the mouths of the proverbial, prototypical ‘Macho–saurs’ that still roam our societies… repeated *eyeroll*…, whose comments Andrej most likely had quite his share of coming at him… *another eyeroll*)

    I then treated myself to the video and was happy to see playing out what I had envisioned on my inner screen as I followed your account. Oh and that song! (Alegria, from the eponymous show of the oh-so-wonderful-almost-otherworldly ‘Cirque Du Soleil’, a Canadian show troupe whose performances trump everything in terms of stage performance that I’ve ever seen in my life! I was fortunate to see their show at the time in my vicinity, together with my then wife and a good mutual friend of ours – and like you say in your narration above, I found myself transported to a parallel universe throughout! I most likely don’t speak English well enough to be able of coming up with the plethora of praising adjectives and expressions I’d have to release into the keyboard from the impact this show had on me. And so … it is an almost eerie coincidence to see you share your dancing with us with that particular song playing on the music system/PA).

    Wow. Really… thanks for allowing us to share in to an extent. And I’m glad you had this experience, even if it didn’t fully blossom into what you may have secretely hoped it might (I’d get like this, too, understably 😉 ).

    Thanks a bunch and then some.
    w.

    P.S. Whenever they’ll resume touring or simply advertising live shows again, whomever you might be engaged with in a similar way as you were with Andrej, treat yourselves to a night out at one of their shows. I promise, you’ll be rewarded with an experience that’ll create these “lifetime memories”.

    P.P.S. I love ‘curly‘ 😉


    1. renovatio06 Avatar
      renovatio06

      One last thing: In case you were still communicating with Andrej, feel free to forward to him what I said about “coming from being-male perspective” – and thank him for me! I feel like thanking him for having been this mindful with you – to the best of what he seemed capable of when all this played out. (You ARE a writer, b.t.w. – but you already knew that, right? 😉 )


      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        What can I say, renovatio06? Thank you for all of this. Big smiles! 🙂


  7. Amy Yuki Vickers Avatar
    Amy Yuki Vickers

    You’re a beautiful dancer. I love dancing, too, and the Tango is my favorite of the Latin dances. This is such an inspirational story for me. I’m entering middle-age, and while I’m still married, I struggle with the feeling like I’m getting old. I’m not as energetic, vibrant, or attractive as I used to be. I’m not looking to date, but I feel like those things are social currency regardless of how you use them. I’ve been trying to figure out what it looks like to be interesting without trying to be young. This post helps a lot.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Glad to help, Amy! Both dancing and blogging have been excellent ways to “be interesting without trying to be young.”


  8. Someti Avatar
    Someti

    Wow! I absolutely love this post! What a magnificent (kind of bittersweet too, but still magic and touching) story!!! It is a novel-worth one 😉

    This reminds me that one day, after discussing with a friend whether or not I should take some decission, he said: “Do it. You will remember that day even if you ‘fail’. Conversely, you will not remember that day if you just stay at home.” So glad that you went to Paris, and that you met Andrei again, and you danced along the Seine… You did it! Wonderful memories now!

    Anyway, I hope you’ll find the one soon. I am sure you will too 🙂

    PS: Sorry for any typos, I am writing with my phone and it keeps correcting me the words following Spanish rules (I guess I am driving the algorithm nuts)


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Someti. Yes, it makes for great memories and a cool blog story! 🙂


  9. dirtbagdad Avatar
    dirtbagdad

    Beautiful in your vulnerability and in articulating the complexities of being human. Thank you for a more in-depth slice of life!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      One of the joys of writing this blog is the depth of you all as readers/bloggEEs. The way you receive it. And of course, you do this. You all have rainforest minds after all! Thank you dirtbagdad and all of you so much! <3


  10. Delia Avatar
    Delia

    Dear Paula,

    Never in my entire life (I am 61) have I received such profoundly wise, loving and witty newsletters as from you! No other newsletter makes my heart so warm, gives so much love and humor to its recipients, no other newsletter makes one feel seen, recognized and confirmed in one’s rainforest mind – as your newsletters and blog entries do! No other blog creates so much joy and happiness when reading it!

    I also love your new personal blog entries! I am very touched by your openness, honesty and vulnerability that comes with such a personal opening to so many readers in the world! And I absolutely agree with you: Argentine tango is better than sex! I used to dance it a lot (when I didn’t live so lonely and isolated in the countryside), it was one of the most beautiful and important discoveries of my life. I drove 560 km every week then to be able to dance Argentine tango 4 times a week. If I were (am?) born again, I would start dancing Argentine tango as a child.

    Dear Paula, thank you for being in the world! You give so much hope, strength and love through what you do and write! No other blog makes my heart so warm and happy! ALL you do is love! THANK YOU!

    Delia


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, Delia. I so appreciate this. <3


  11. homeeducation713 Avatar
    homeeducation713

    Wow Paula, you have really inspired me to take up dancing! I love music, dancing and Latin American rhythms. Not a great dancer, but I got rhythm and passion.
    When I was young I travelled quite a bit and I loved Paris, I can just imagine the scene you described.
    I was married 25yrs to a man who was living a double life. I have been divorced going on two years with two grown up children and a gifted 15yr old who I home educate.
    I’m 59 yrs old, completely isolated and the only place I go to is church. It has helped me so much and I do voluntary work there which I really enjoy.
    While I am definitely not looking for a relationship, (my past is such a mess to try to explain to anyone), I would like to have fun dancing. So you got me thinking about looking for a class when lock-down allows.
    Maybe there is some life out there for me!
    Thanks Paula, a great post xx


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      There is life out there for you, indeed! 🙂 Thank you for sharing.


  12. ellabirt Avatar
    ellabirt

    I felt little thrills while reading this – remembering what these moments of possibility and feelings of romance are like. I can imagine it feeling this way every time you dance. Did you have black hair in the past? I would love to see that! I’ve always been fond of dark hair, so mysterious.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It was definitely thrilling when partnered with a skilled dancer, in particular. The photo in the post is of me about 20 years ago. I had brown hair that was auburn in the sun. Not black. 🙂


  13. litebeing Avatar
    litebeing

    Paula,
    Your story sparked a similar one in my life when I met a man in his 20s while I was in my 40s. There were several parallels between your tale and mine, but I am not a good dancer, lol! It reminds me that when we are at our best, doing and being love, people pick up on that energy.

    Thank you for putting yourself out there with this post.

    blessings, Linda


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for sharing, Linda!


  14. hksounds Avatar
    hksounds

    Such a lovely, exciting and inspiring story. This is the good life! Thanks for sharing this moment, this movement with us


  15. carolineb69 Avatar
    carolineb69

    Thanks you for this beautiful story !


  16. Faye Wilson Avatar
    Faye Wilson

    What a great post! You demonstrated how you are defined wonderfully by so many aspects of your life . I am not a dancer, but how I lived vicariously through your story.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That’s great, Faye! Thank you for being here.


  17. cmd1122 Avatar
    cmd1122

    Yes!!!! OUuuiiiiii.
    You are my hero for putting this out into the world. What a story of stories! I love the humour. My favourtie parts:
    -when you started ‘writing bad poetry’. A sure sign.
    -“Tango? With Andrei? In Paris? Along the Seine?”…so you went to Paris (mais, oui)! Also, “Paulina”, ooo, la, la.
    -“Surely this was an alternate universe”. Yup, it is. It is cultural. I lived in France for my 3rd year of uni and did some salsa and bachata dancing on a boat docked in one of the canals in Strasbourg, with international and French guys. It was exhilarating. I have never been very coordinated or overly connected to my feet movements (much better connected to my head), but dancing with a partner is out of this world when you have a good partner. Thanks for the inspiration to continue learning!
    -The breakfast and discussing philosophy and happiness, etc. also sounds out of this world, especially during this tragic pandemic where we can’t do such activities. I am really longing for those long, food-fueled, face-to-face discussions with friends, especially given how much has recently happened/continues to happen in the world and how we need to improve the systems that we are forced to live within.
    And yes, relationships like what you had with Andrei are often incredible before the complicated dating reality puts [often invisible] expectations and societal burdens on them. Maybe that is why you and Andrei were so close.
    Sending much love and good vibes and wishes for finding another Andrei who doesn’t move away, and who loves to dance and discuss our existence on this crazy, beautiful little planet. <3


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for sharing your favorite parts, cmd1122. The connection that is possible in the dance with a skillful partner is so powerful. That feeling of unity is quite something.


  18. River Aaland Avatar
    River Aaland

    I love love love this! What a wonderful story and an inspiration (as a 47 year-old myself!). Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with us Paula!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, yes, see? 47 is only the beginning!


      1. ellabirt Avatar
        ellabirt

        I feel exhausted and unsure at 42 – it’s definitely time for a reinvention!


  19. dmstauber Avatar
    dmstauber

    Love love love love this!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, dmstauber!


  20. marymarymar8 Avatar
    marymarymar8

    Paula! How beautiful! It´s inspiring. I´ll try tango too. I hope you have nowardays a mate such as Robert to dance with or as Andrei to take breakfast.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, marymarymar8, I recommend learning the Argentine tango to all rainforest minds! There are other posts on my blog about it. This is just the one that is deeply personal. No dance partners right now but I’m hopeful for the future. 🙂


  21. Jessie Avatar
    Jessie

    What a wonderful story, Paula. So much depth and complexity of emotion – a true glimpse of life as it really is. Thank you for sharing it.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, Jessie, thank you for seeing all of the complexities!

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