Embracing your inner peacock.
“Well, isn’t he a peacock?”
How often have I heard that comment, or thought it?
Just again this past weekend.
The visiting dance instructor was a bit of a show-off, in someone’s opinion. This was an invitation to pull up all the judgements and prejudices that that remark brings to mind: flamboyant, attention-seeking, flashy dressed, prancing about, chest out. Dare I say “effeminate?”
So what is it about peacocks that serve as a deplorable model for men?Preening, prancing, strutting one’s stuff is what we might expect - even welcome - from a woman.
Women are encouraged to give special attention to how they walk; dress exotically or erotically; chest out, stomach in. If you got it, flaunt it.
But with men it is the opposite. Walking like a dancer, back straight, chest out, is considered putting on airs and setting oneself up for getting taken down a peg or two.
Remember those terrifying bubble-gum wrappers?
The scrawny little guy is presumptuous enough to take his babe to the beach. Then the big bulky guy walks by, kicks sand in his face and takes his girl.
Moral of the story: Only the buff can strut their stuff. Don’t get caught drawing attention to yourself unless you exude machismo.
Peacocks are of course the exact opposite.
As are dancers. All showboating aside, a dancer has to pay attention to how he walks, maintaining perfect posture. This is especially true of tango where the chest is the power centre and drives and directs the dance. Add just a little extra colour, flash, flare and you have a full-blown peacock effect.
My wife and I just finished watching the Japanese movie, “Shall We Dance.” Clever, funny with a lot of stereotypical spoofs about dancing and dancers. One of the more amusing characters is especially flamboyant, wears a toupee and lots of bling with open shirt, pivots around every corner. When his peers notice he gets called out for being faggy and a creep.
Strutting like a peacock is risky business.
I am the smallest of four brothers - the runt of the litter. I learned very young, as a survival strategy, to defer to the alpha male; keep a low profile - head down and chest in - and attract as little attention as possible. After all, there is only room for one peacock in the barnyard.
Is there a way to draw attention to oneself without inciting comparison and competition; without getting sand kicked in your face? Can one share the spotlight without monopolizing it? Can we not all celebrate each other's magnificence without someone resenting it or feeling threatened?
Tango offers an out.
For all its showiness, the tango offers a bit of an alternative: the lead is often directed to deflect attention to the follower, creating a space for the woman to look beautiful, be the peacock. This allows the lead to sink into the background and attract less attention.
This has served as a default dance style for myself, taking off any "performance pressure." Nonetheless, I can’t shake the feeling that simply being a foil for someone else’s proficiency and beauty is a bit of a cop-out.
Do I dare strut my stuff?
I remember the pronounced physique of my first tango teacher. He paraded into the room, inviting everyone to take notice, but with a certain indifference. I admired his look, that self-confidence, that suave assurance, the pronounced presence. Definitely a peacock - in a good sense.
But the fear and resistance to presenting one's stuff on centre stage goes much deeper than jostling with other egos. Marion Williamson touches on this very succinctly:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
This is a model for all of life, not just dancing.
It is an invitation to carry myself with dignity and presence, not to show off (OK, maybe a little) but rather as an expression of internal strength.
The unique role of dance is that it focuses with acuity on these tensions between humility and courage, pride and ego. As I allow for a little more expression and flare, I sense an inclination to pull back. Have I overstepped my bounds? Is this where I get sand kicked in my face?
Presenting the presenting.
I remember a bizarre play in which the solo actor throughout his garbled monologue, would sporadically announce: “Presenting the presenting!” That line has never left me. It evokes something ridiculous but inspirational and archetypal at the same time.
This is life: presenting the presenting, getting ready for the great performance, daring to strut one's stuff:
Here I am. Take a good look. Soak it up. Allow me to fan my feathers, share the spotlight with my partner. Risk being a peacock.