Appreciate and celebrate your strengths
not for the sake of vanity
but for the sake of deep gratitude.
I had been taking tango lessons for six months in preparation for this very night in Buenos Aires. It was 10:45pm on a weeknight and the milonga - a traditional Argentinian social dance - was just getting started.
I arrived with a mix of that good kind of fear and excitement exciting situations often bring. There were lots of empty tables in the large ballroom, as only a few dancers had arrived. I picked a table deep into the room, embracing my intention to stay well into the night. I sat down and immediately felt that uncomfortable feeling I had become so accustomed to during my year abroad: sitting alone at a table, feeling judgemental eyes wondering - Is she alone? Has she no friends? What a brave woman!
I had started to carry a tiny journal in my dance bag. I aptly titled it DANCE and assigned it two purposes: first, to keep me company in socially awkward solitary moments like this one, and second to track the tips and tricks I was learning about social dancing.
Sitting alone, I opened the journal and read through some of the entries, reviewing key points that would help me shine on the dance floor that night, which was to be my first night dancing tango in the motherland, Buenos Aires.
After closing my journal, I glanced over at the large dance floor, which was occupied with just a handful dancers that had arrived early. As I learned later that night, the “good” dancers always arrive late and certainly after midnight.
Scanning the dance floor I identified a good lead. When the song that was playing finished, I walked over to the man and with a smile disclosed that I was a beginner tango dancer (hoping to set low expectations) and asked him to dance. He gracefully accepted and we walked together to the dance floor.
We embraced and began to dance. My heart was racing, knowing that usually the first few songs with a brand new partner can be a bit awkward as the movement dialogue gets started.
We danced for what appeared to me as a total of 1 minute. Then he stopped, abruptly.
In that moment, I’m surprised. It is usually a part of the tango dance culture to dance at least a few songs with a partner, to allow time to settle into the mutual rhythm. But instead, he cut the dance short.
I wish I could he remember his exact words, but the essence was this: “Oh, we’re at a different level of skill. I think you’ll be better off dancing with my friend over there.” (as he pointed to another man dancing with someone else).
With our first song still playing, he gently guided me off the dance floor and parted ways.
I was in shock. I was relatively new to the tango scene, but throughout my years as a swing dancer, never had anyone stopped dancing mid-song. Everyone finishes the song! Unless of course there’s some weird groping or something.
No matter what level of skill, you help a beginner out. You finish the song and encourage them to keep dancing, so the dancing community keeps growing, which benefits everyone. It’s the kind thing to do.
I walked back to my table and my journal. I wish I would have written down what I was feeling / thinking, but the essence was this: “I just got escorted off of the dance floor. How rude! Am I that bad of a dancer that he couldn’t finish the song? No. No I’m not. Next partner please…”
I waited for the next song to start and I walked over to another dancer and asked for a dance. He was much kinder.
I kept dancing and it turned out to be a wonderful night. I went back to the same place two more nights that week, each night learning and collecting many more juicy stories.
I’ve got some great strengths - the curiosity that keeps me seeking out opportunities to learn and the zest to bounce back quickly from setbacks, just in time to go find another dancer and make it a great dance night.
I love this story so much because it is evidence that I can personally refer back to that clearly shows me that I’ll be okay. I’m good at figuring things out and bouncing back.
As most women, I tend to not appreciate my strengths as much. We’re often afraid of being perceived as “too vain” at the hint of any "bragging". Out of fear for what others might think, we develop a tendency to sell ourselves short and miss out on opportunities for self-appreciation.
Kristen Neff, self-compassion researcher, reminds us that praising ourselves is actually really important:
“Appreciation for our good qualities, then, is really an expression of gratitude for all who have shaped us as individuals”.
By acknowledging, appreciating and even celebrating out loud my strengths of curiosity and zest, I am expressing gratitude for all who have helped shaped those qualities in me. I am really expressing my deep gratitude for the people that shaped me:
Gratitude for my mother: She was there ready with a hug, a smile and just the right comforting words every time I fell, reassuring me that I could always get back up. Always.
Gratitude for my supportive dance friends: Stephen and Brien gifted me encouraging energy that kept me motivated to come back to dance practice that first year that I was learning swing dancing. It was their voices that gently whispered into my ears just what I needed to hear as I was being escorted off of the dance floor: “You’re a great dancer!”.
Gratitude for my seventh grade ESL teacher, Miss Flynn: She was so impressed at how fast I was learning English, oftentimes reminding me out loud: “You’re so smart”. Even though I was one of three kids in all of middle school who was sent off to a corner of the library every school day to practice the pronunciation of really challenging English words, like “earth” (gosh, that “th” sound was so hard to learn).
This is a powerful reframing of self-appreciation, asking us to remember the lineage of our strengths.
Go on, brag about your strengths, not for the sake of vanity but for the sake of deep gratitude.
Want to practice self-appreciation? Join us for the monthly Women’s Yoga Group this Sunday November 1st (1:30pm - 3:30pm at Raffa Yoga). We’ll be creating a safe space for lots and lots of self-appreciation. Sign up here.