Holding Space


What does it mean to “hold space” for someone else?


Sink into the warmth of the following quote (from a health-care e-mag) and dream of what it would feel like to have the author as your dance partner/ mentor:

Holding space means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

(Heather Plett, www.Upliftconnect.com, Sunday May 8th, 2016.)  


Could holding space apply to tango?


For most of us, most of the time, this warm, comforting feeling of unconditional acceptance described above is not our experience of dancing the tango, (especially when we are in the learning phase - and frankly, who isn’t?).

Dancing the tango is certainly not an environment where we would just cut loose and let it all hang out. Due to tango’s technical demands, we are continually confronted by our limitations and mistakes. Or if on the odd chance we are not conscious of them, there is usually someone else close by to point them out for us.


Nonetheless ...

there have also been times, however fleeting or infrequent, when we have felt this closeness, connection, support and personal affirmation referenced above.


If sometimes, why not all the time?


Let me say first off that the pursuit or cultivation of such a feeling of closeness and connection is why I dance the tango. But no, it does not happen all the time, perhaps not even frequently.

Nor should it. At the end of the night we can count ourselves blessed if we are left with a few close encounters or magic moments when we have felt truly supported and nurtured.

There are a long list of variables related to the frequency and depth of our experience of tango bliss: the music selection and general ambience of the evening, the skill level of the dance couple, an attitude of non-judgement and openness by the dance partners, the agreement of one the dancers to hold and the other to be held.

Just as there are the divergent roles of lead and follow, there are also the complementary roles of holding and being held.

In holding space, we allow our partner to experiment and take risks without judgement or censorship, while at the same time providing enough containment and structure so that their energy is channelled safely and creatively.

 Being held in space requires attitudes of receptivity, trust, humility, vulnerability, gratitude and openness to being cradled, nurtured and directed.

Typically the lead holds space as and the lead has more responsibility in determining the tempo and style of dance. Also, the tango embrace is physically structured so that the primarily responsibility for holding or containing the space between* the dancers is delegated to the lead. (This space between is not a vacuum but rather a container filled with co-creative energy that drives the dance.)


Magic Moments


Some of my most rewarding dance experiences on both a stylistic and relational level have been with a completely novice partner. When I abdicate my role as teacher along with any interest in correcting and instructing my partner, and instead focus on affirming my partner’s innate and intuitive ability to dance, my partner is freed to relax and trust my lead without concern to making mistakes or looking foolish. The result is typically a beautiful, co-creative experience with my partner never missing a lead and exhibiting the technical proficiency of an experienced dancer!


Life learnings


Concepts/ practices like holding space underscore the reciprocal relationships between relational dynamics and dancing the tango. This is important to me for a couple of reasons:

  1. Tango is an excellent medium to practice so many life-skills that apply equally to the broad canvas of life. What I learn on the dance floor not only makes me a better dancer but also a better person.

  2. I do not spend nearly enough time in the dance to be a proficient dancer. However, the very activities and responsibilities that keep me off the dance floor (age, life commitments, relationships, etc.)  give me ample opportunity to practice relational dynamics which can in turn, enrich my dancing.

So it works both ways. Join me for the next blog as I include some of the latest brain research that shows why holding space is a critical third element in the learning/ teaching dynamic.