Double the Coaches, Double the “Fun”

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Originally, they had just scheduled in one coach but all the prime slots filled up very quickly and there is one couple that wanted coaching so they also ended up inviting the coaches current dance partner to come down to fill some of the overflow.  They didn’t advertise this widely but my instructor reserved a slot for me right after my lesson with the first coach.  There are advantages to taking a lot of lessons but also being one of the few semi-competitive type dancers they have since they will often give me right of first refusal on things like this.  I did jump at the chance even though it meant staying out later than I normally do.  Before either lesson, the coach taught a group class on two-step which I could spend a lot more time on but that’s really not my main topic so I’ll just leave it there.

Started working on my swing open routine because there is a part where I need to do a spin and I wasn’t able to keep it on time (no big shock there) so she was looking to see if he could fix that.  I was also concerned about these stupid swivels I’m supposed to do because they never feel right and I hate them.  Anyway, we started with the dreaded “show me what you’ve got” part of the lesson where I’m supposed to just dance the routine and pretend like he’s not there watching every move.  The strange thing for me is I always do better with coaches who’ve seen me at a showcase because they get the full view of what I’m capable of.  Being asked to perform on the spot sometimes makes me freeze up a bit and I see that in the coaches that they really don’t know where to start.  But I did manage to get through the routine.

And then the “fun” started.  He honed in on those swivels as I fully expected.  I know that technically, I can do all the swing steps and so people can see that I’m technically proficient but it isn’t very swing like because you are supposed to be engaging all the body with knees bending and shoulders moving in certain directions to give it the bounce and look of a swing.  Mine has been called “flat” which I take to mean boring and non interesting but it is what it is.  I’m sure a large part of this comes back to my fear of looking stupid when I’m trying to do something I’m serious about which likely puts some mental barriers around how free I can be.  Or it could also be that I just don’t “feel” the music as deeply as others who make those moves look so effortless.

So he started in on trying to make me lead the swivels and it started badly as he’s asking me “If I want to lead her to do this, then I do ….”   Well I froze and couldn’t fill in the blank which just meant I felt stupid because I’m supposed to know everything.  (I know I don’t but it doesn’t help the way I feel).  So I’m just staring blankly at him like I didn’t comprehend his question and hoping he’ll just move on but then he says “lead me”.  Well, that was a disaster.  Then, he tried to break it down to talk about bending one leg and straightening the other and I just couldn’t seem to make my body cooperate. I could bend and straighten in place or move my legs but not both at the same time.  Huge mental block.  And the more I tried, the more I was thinking about it and the more forced it became and the more I continued to fail as my body fought me with all it has.  Soon, my mind was overwhelmed and I just was ready to run screaming from the studio saying “I CAN”T DO THIS”.  Give the coach and my instructor some credit that they kept working with me although I know my instructor absolutely hates me when I’m in that state and I could read that on her face.  Yes, I wish I could just tell myself I could do this and keep going but then I look at how simple he’s making it look and I’m thinking that I’m such an idiot because I can’t do something that looks so simple.  Maybe can’t isn’t the right word.  It is just that I don’t know how to make my body move in the way he is asking me to.  And, yes, I also know it is very bad to ever compare yourself to an accomplished instructor because that is a comparison you will never win but I go there all the time.

He even made me practice in the mirror several times (the horror!)  At one point, they were both screaming at me “Yes, that’s it, you’ve got it”  But my problem is that it really didn’t feel any different.  And, if I can’t feel the difference between “right” and “wrong”, then how can I continue to do something “right” without lapsing back into something that is “wrong”.  And, in that state, I naturally go to my cynical place where I know as a dance studio, they want their students to feel successful and they certainly want the coaching lesson to appear to be successful so I wonder if they just sometimes jump in and tell you that you’ve got it just to put you in a happier place.  (Yes, I can take a compliment and turn it into a negative review on my dancing – I’m just that talented).  At one point, he even took my aside and started telling my that I handled the two step pattern just fine and that I danced it better than any other guy in the class so he knew I could handle this.  And, all I can think is that well that should be the case because I’ve done more two step than anyone else and I sort of knew the pattern so really what’s that big deal (there’s my special talent to deflect any and all positive feedback to remain in my negative state).  He even told me that I have to give myself credit for the things that I do well which would be good if I could name one or two.  On the plus side, he did give me something concrete I can work on to make the spin better and I’m supposed to be doing these bending exercises before each lesson.

Lastly, he talked about the swing being “heavy”.  I hate it when they introduce esoteric concepts like that.  Tell me what the means in terms I can understand and either tell me what I’m supposed to do different or how it is supposed to feel.  Otherwise, it is just words.  Ok, I think I’ve made this sound worse than it was.  I did learn some things and it will make the swing better.  The little negative voice is just telling me that swing may not be the dance for me.  As he said, I’m technically proficient (that’s what I do right) but it is going to be a challenge to make this look like a swing is supposed to look.

So then I got to work with his partner who I hadn’t met yet.  We talked about smooth dances and I focused on tango since it is the one that still feels the worst to me.  Had I known what I was getting into, I might have picked a different dance.  We again go through the “show me what you’ve got” demonstration and I did have to try and snap out of my swing induced funk to go through the tango closed routine.  At the end, she gives me a high five and says “I don’t know what you worried about”.  But then we jumped in to how to make it “better”.  I have to try and remember my house remodeling analogy but it is hard to do when someone is making major changes to how you do something.

Bottom line is she changed my entire position on how I dance Tango.  It is supposed to be with the knees bent a little more but with the head over the heels so you can use the head weight to counter balance the fact that you are walking with bent knees.  And, of course, she had us in closed Tango position which meant serious body contact so I’m having to deal with my aching knee, doing something uncomfortable and an invasion of my personal space.  Again, the good thing about her is that she didn’t give me a choice but just put herself right where she was supposed to be.  At moments like that, when I’m dancing with a young, nice looking and very thin female, I flash back to the blob I used to be (and still feel like from time to time) and it just makes me a little uncomfortable.  (I think I have issues)

Anyway, a lot of it was like the swing lesson where I was trying to get my body to do what she was telling me and it wasn’t cooperating because I didn’t know how.  The good thing is like the other coach, I could see the mental file cabinet going as she looked for different things to say to try and get me to understand.  She did finally hit on something which was for me to put my armpits forward (gross but a concept I could at least grasp)  Couple that with swing where I’m supposed to stick my butt out and I was left seriously wondering why anyone would willingly put themselves in these positions.  I did feel something slightly different and the tango actually was smoother and my instructor said the same thing so I think there was progress.  The only problem is after 45 minutes of bending during the swing and 45 minutes of dancing with bent knees, my knee was seriously sore and is still painful this morning.  Arthritis really sucks and I suspect this will be a physical limitation but I ought to be able to handle doing it for the minute plus in a given heat.

In the end, the positive was that I did learn a lot from both and I got seriously concrete things to work on in both dances which is why you do a coaching lesson.  The negative part is that it just makes me feel like I’m am seriously out of my depth and that the event that I refuse to name will again be a humbling experience.

Yes, it might be a little negative but right now, this clip summarizes how I feel.




  1. It’s funny, but I think I know what they were trying to get you to change for your swing, because I went through the same thing earlier this week with my instructor. He kept telling me to bend my knees and stick my butt out, and then to bend them and stick my butt out more because what I think is enough isn’t. All while keeping my back straight and bouncing and moving my hips from side to side. And then he demonstrates it and makes it look so effortless. You and I might be working on the some of the same techniques right now…

    1. That sounds exactly like what they want me to do. I hate it when they make it look so easy and I can’t even begin to figure out how to get my body to do something even remotely close to what they want.

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