By Alana Kirk.
As part of my research for a book I’m writing on redefining middle age, I went to Buenos Aires to learn to tango. I know. Research can be a bitch.
Actually, apparently I went to learn about my sensuality, and the best way to do that is to learn the most sensual dance of all. Now, my sense of sensuality went AWOL about the same time I learned to pump one plump boob for emergency freezer stocks while feeding my baby on the other, while singing wheels on the bus to the toddler who was hanging off an outstretched leg, whilst stirring the broccoli mash with the non-baby holding arm (the pump being attached via a strap.) I just about held onto my sexuality, although that was hit and miss through the years of three children taking it in turns, in apparent non-collusion, to wake me through the night for eight or so years.
But sensuality? That went out with the nappy bins.
So there I was, in the cusp of middle age, divorce-ravaged, single parenting, career-plate spinning, house-and-garden failing, on my way to the Paris of South America to learn a dance I’ve never danced, to find a bit of me I never knew was missing.
Well, my mantra for middle age is ‘why not?” so…. why not?
Sensuality is a lost art. It has become the shadow, the long lost cousin to sexuality. While sexuality is how you feel attracted to another person, sensuality is how you are attracted to yourself and your surroundings. It is an intimate feeling of awareness; an orgasm for our soul, if you like. Sexuality, to a degree is about how you interact with another. Sensuality is how you relate to yourself.
I think many of us – especially when we get to the age when we are faced with the double edged sword of ageism and sexism – hitting middle age with all the self-doubt and confusion that can bring, forget to relate to ourselves. We have become so used to responding to, reacting to, and worrying about the needs of others, the sensual part of ourselves has taken a sabbatical. But this is the very age that we must bring it back to the fore.
We must find our inner Goddesses and learn to strut our stuff. Use it or loose it, a sexologist told me recently (more research). She was talking about sexuality, but I’m including sensuality in that advice too. Find it and use it or loose it and become the middle stereotype of frumpy slipper wearers we are all fighting against.
Since my girls were away for a week with their Dad, I decided to see if I could find my inner goddess, and dance her free. So off to Buenos Aires I went to take part in a week long course on Tango and Sensuality.
Tango is a very special dance – and get rid of those over-stylised images you have of an angry woman, with a rose clenched between her teeth dancing with a man looking like he has one clenched between his buttocks. That is not the traditional tango of the milongas (dance halls). The tango I saw is based on a beautiful embrace, where connection and trust are the key.
I thought I would find this intimacy difficult. Being clutched closely by a strange sweaty man, and having to blindly follow his lead were pretty much my red flags in terms of intimacy. But it was strangely…. beautiful, even when it wasn’t with my rather gorgeous instructor.
It is often said that tango is a metaphor for life; that the lessons you learn in the dance help you learn how to live better. In fact, there is even a branch of psychology called Tango Therapy (Psychotango in Spanish) that uses the dance to help with healing.
So embarking on this trip, albeit for research but open to learning how to feel sensual (and sexual) again after a disastrous marriage, I was actually scared of the intimacy of the embrace. That required vulnerability and confidence, which unlike low blood sugar levels, can’t be raised with a quick family size bar of chocolate. Vulnerability and confidence can only be rediscovered with commitment and connection – both of which frightened the Bejaysus out of me.
In tango there is no escaping. You hug this stranger for dear life and lean into him and he leans into to you, so that together you form a balance so that you can dance. Plenty of metaphors there for life, love and sharing. But you each have to balance alone too – if one of you disappeared the other should be able to remain standing. More metaphors there too.
But the weird thing was, that committing to, and experiencing that embrace was the bit of the dance I loved the most. I loved it. When I spoke to other Tango-istas they said the same thing. It is liberating and consuming. To be confident, and vulnerable, but also strong, and sensual is uplifting. Tango is about sensuality not sex, and it allows the dancers the freedom to express their sexuality within a safe context in a way that is non-threatening and enjoyable.
Part of my week’s exploration was a workshop on finding my inner goddess (she is Sophia Loren in case anyone is wondering) and I learned to bring her with me. To sit strong and sexy, to stand tall and confident, to walk charged and focused, to dance sensually and beautifully. Learning to listen to your sensual self is the same as being truly connected to your life.
But my biggest lesson the dance taught me was this gorgeous moment at the start, and then dappled throughout the dance; the pause. At the beginning you embrace, and then you sway, so gently that it is barely perceptible to an observer. You are finding your balance. Once the weight on your left foot matches the weight on his right, you move, in total synch even though you have no idea where or how he is going to move.
You feel his body and let yours follow, your mind shut down so you can listen to your senses. Throughout the dance you might intermittently pause again, sway, reconnect, find your balance, before setting off again. I now use that it my daily life, taking a moment every so often to pause, reconnect, find my balance, before setting off again.
Mid-age is a time of huge change and disruption to our sense of selves, so taking the time to reconnect with ourselves is really important. Not just daily but in all areas of our new life. For middle age is a new beginning. We are not the same person who made career choices in our 20’s and relationship goals in our 30’s. Our bodies are changing, and we need to take time out to assess where we are at, and importantly, where we want to go in this mid-life adventure.
Someone gave me some advice when I was standing in the rubble of my marriage, looking at my 45 year old face in the mirror, wondering how to proceed. “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s learning to dance in the rain.” That mantra has carried me through my own personal storms, and also helps me adjust to my new life as a mid-ager.
A week learning tango was one small step on that reflection for me, but it is part of me learning all the steps to the dance I want to shimmy to in the years ahead.
This was the course I did but there are plenty of ways to learn a new dance into middle age.
You may also like Life Lessons From 98-Year-Old Yogi Tao Porchon-Lynch, Make 2017 The Year Of Saying Yes!, and A Year Of Adventure! How To Reclaim Your Own Life.
Alana Kirk is a writer and journalist. She has traveled the world, working for charities and writing their stories. Her first non-fiction book, the bestselling Daughter, Mother, Me: a memoir of love, loss and dirty dishes was released in paperback in January as The Sandwich Years. She still works for the non-profit sector as well as being a writer and raising her three girls. She is working on her second book. Her latest blog Grin&Tonic explores how this generation of women are redefining middle age. Check out Trumping Frumping and how Alana is saying Yes in 2017.