Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

Tango Lessons — The Benefits of Being Klutzy


It was 1999. I needed something new. A creative outlet. A way to meet new people and improve my social skills. I had always been attracted to dancing but had never taken classes, unless you include my brief stint with ballet at age 11 with the strict, intimidating Russian woman who terrified me. I decided to try ballroom dancing at our local community college.

It was a gentle beginning. A nonthreatening potpourri of dance genres and styles. Kinda fun. While in the class, I learned about other dance opportunities in town. There was west coast swing on Mondays, salsa on Tuesdays, contra dancing on Saturdays, ecstatic dance on Wednesdays, and Argentine tango on Sundays. And so, I ventured out into the eclectic dance world of Eugene, Oregon.

(Note: If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have come across the adventures of Andrei and my Tango Therapy. But this is not that story.)

I first tried West Coast Swing (where I met Andrei) but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. And the community of dancers was a bit too competitive and kind of clique-ish.

So, next, I experimented with salsa. I loved the beat of the music and had a certain knack for it. But the dance events didn’t even start until 10pm and everyone there looked to be about 14 years old. So I didn’t stick with it.

(Another note: I skipped over contra and ecstatic dancing. I admit to an unfair bias. My town is known for being what might affectionately be called hippie dippy. I appreciate the progressive leanings of that population for sure but not the garlic scent that can accompany some of the dancers. Apologies to my readers who are garlic lovers or who identify as hippies.)

Then, there was the Argentine tango.

I remember the first day. I slipped into the room, standing in the shadows, hiding, just to see what was up. It looked impossible. I watched the dancers moving gracefully around the floor. Striding. Legs flicking to the haunting music. Bodies glued together. How did they do that?

But something was telling me to give it a try. And yet. I do not like looking like a klutz. Or a beginner. Or stupid. Or uncool.

Not that I was ever cool.

So. I decided to risk klutziness and stupidity, in spite of myself. And it worked. In a short few months, I was obsessed. (It took much longer to get unklutzy and smart-ish.) I mean really. Here we are now in a pandemic where no one is likely dancing the Argentine tango and I am still writing about it. That obsessed. Over time, I even experienced moments of pure astonishing unity when I was so connected with my partner, we were one body, one heart, and 4 legs.

You may ask, then, what does this have to do with you. Right? Surely I am not asking you to wrap your arms around total strangers and breathe on them during a pandemic!

That is correct. Read on.

I want you to try something new. Something you have always wanted to do. I want you to risk looking like a klutz, a beginner, stupid, or uncool. I know it will be hard. You are used to learning quickly whatever you try. If you might fail or even make mistakes along the way, you avoid it. Am I right?

This is typical rainforest-minded behavior. If your identity is linked deeply to being smart and the best at whatever you try, because that is what got you attention, or why you thought you were loved, then having to struggle, to not know something, even to have to practice to build your skills, may feel intimidating, uncomfortable, and even terrifying.

But, I am here to tell you that the risks are worth it. They really are. If you have kids, you will be saving them from those same fears if you show them it is OK to make mistakes or even fail. If you care about the future of the planet, and I know you do, breaking through your limits can expand your reach and your impact. It can build your confidence and open new doors to unknown possibilities.

It might even bring you pure astonishing unklutzified unity.


To my bloggEEs: Tell us about any fears you might have of trying something new. Are you used to being the best or of knowing it before you learn it? Do you have anxiety around mistakes or failure? What might you be willing to try to expand your horizons?

Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

45 thoughts on “Tango Lessons — The Benefits of Being Klutzy

  1. I have a one-hit-wonder problem. I’ll be all motivated to create an ____ (fill in the blank with some awesome craft). I’ll buy a bunch of supplies. I’ll struggle with it, study the heck out of it, and then eventually succeed or be okay with the result, but then ditch it, never create another ___(fill in the blank) because it wasn’t as good as (a) what was in my head, (b) what I saw on Pinterest, and (c) what my late and great creative wizard mother could produce in 5 minutes. Six months to a year or so later I’ll get rid of it too because I don’t like to be reminded of my “failure.” Weird.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Not so weird, Elle. This can happen when you have a rainforest mind. It is complicated but can be partly perfectionism, expectations, comparisons, multiple interests, and an inaccurate understanding of what “failure” is.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Not weird at all. I do that all the time. For me, it’s the novelty that draws me in. “Oooooo… something new to learn”. Then once I amass all the knowledge about it, the supplies, etc, and it comes down to just executing what is now not so novel.. meh? I quickly lose interest and move on to the next novel thing. I wish I could get sustained enjoyment out of anything, ANYTHING!

      Liked by 2 people

      • But maybe you do get sustained enjoyment, lackosleep, while you are learning. A RFM often loves to learn so many things but once you’ve learned it pretty well, you are ready to learn the next thing. It’s not necessarily a sign of a problem. What you’re describing might be a little different from what Elle is saying. I should probably write a post about this!

        Liked by 2 people

        • True. I love the novelty of the knowledge gain… it’s like a puzzle solve. But only ’till its pattern is revealed and thus its mystery solved. Beyond that, it has no residual or replay value to me. It becomes a problem when the endeavor requires a long sustained repetitive effort AFTER that knowledge gain to achieve a level of competency (like learning to play a musical instrument). And it can be an issue of diminishing opportunities, too, as I’m constantly chasing the new problem to solve — well before exhausting the full, and typically expected “play value” designed into the current puzzle. For example: I build a play list of movies to watch on Netflix because I LOVE movies. I search and sort, looking through all the teasers and trailers to find the movies that seem most exciting and desirable to watch. And while I curate, I am having the anticipatory excitement of watching them in the future, recalling them from my well crafted list. And now I’ve got all of the186 movies I would thoroughly enjoy in my playlist. There are no more interesting movies that I am unaware of… I’ve got them all! So… problem solved!!! Then, of course, I don’t actually watch any of them. Because it’s not interesting anymore! There is nothing novel or unexpected in my list. D’oh!

          Liked by 2 people

          • Hm. That is interesting. I haven’t heard it described quite like that, lackosleep. Your Netflix list. I wonder if there is research about the love of novelty and if that is the same as love of learning or if there are any subtle differences. I’d be curious if anyone would explain more about love of learning something new and how that relates to having to work hard at something to acquire mastery. When do you stop investigating? When you’ve learned as much as possible or when it gets difficult or ??? I am starting a new post on this topic and will be quoting many of you!!

            Liked by 1 person

            • For me, it’s really the moment when I get bored. It getting difficult is not a reason for me, personally. I recognize the Netflix list, and I use it heavily, for instance with books or scientific papers. I used to compile to-read lists. I hardly ever read papers in full. Once I have read the abstract, they will be in the pile for years. Abstracts are great spoilers. With books I usually buy any book I’m interested in, so the bookshelves are richly filled. Eventually I’ll read all of them, bit there’s usually about 25 or more unread titles. Buying a new one is almost more exciting than starting one. It’s the construct of having the knowledge at hand that appeals to me, too. I know this to be true for many RFM friends (mostly, but not all, scientists).

              Liked by 4 people

              • It could be you get all you need on the subject from the abstract. Right? I have heard many RFMs who have piles of unread books or partially read books.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Another way I describe it is that once I am able to discern the pattern, the rest is just more detail about that pattern, and somewhat superfluous to the understanding… the pattern itself. Hence I get the many unfinished books. In fact, sometimes I feel like getting too much detail prevents me from seeing the pattern clearly — getting lost in the weeds as they say. I often feel that greater understanding lies in being able to have the broadest POV. I find people sometimes defend particular anecdotal evidence because they can no longer see above the weed line – they are trapped in the detail.

                  Liked by 1 person

              • Similarly, I have over 300 apps on my phone. 90+ % will never be used more than once… it even that at all. But it is satisfying to have access to them at the ready, should I ever have need. So I totally get that!

                Liked by 1 person

              • Oooh, I know about abstracts, Robin! I do the same as you – abstracts are great, and if something draws my attention, I find the right paragraph in the article and read only that (hahaha).

                Liked by 2 people

            • To me, it’s not always a question of getting bored, it’s also about people involved and (not) finding inspiration sources. Nine years ago, I started to take accordion classes (a dream of mine) and went on to play in an orchestra with other amateurs. It was fun at the beginning, a challenge to play right and listen to the others while playing myself. But I was disappointed with the people in the group: I was “the new one” and they never let me into their group (some had been participating for 20 or even 30 years and had their routine). New members were really only a threat to their routine. So that discouraged me and I quit after 5 years, which is still alot for me. Now I’m selling my accordion and hope to try to learn the hurdy-gurdy instead. So I don’t think working hard relates to my love of learning. Sometimes I don’t need to work hard to achieve something, it just happens because I’m good at it, and I still love to learn.
              In 2000, I learnt one technique of embroidery (Silk Shading), and then I just continued to learn other techniques (Stumpwork, Goldwork, Appliqué, Canvas embroidery, ribbon embroidery, bead embroidery, Bayeux embroidery, Or Nué and so on). I have learnt to use all kinds of threads (cotton, wool, linen, silk, synthetic, metal, gold-silver-copper, natural fibers) and I have learnt how to produce some of them (carding, spinning, plying). All this has required hard work, lots of time, energy, money and tremendous efforts. I first learnt the traditional techniques, then went on to contemporary use and now I use all that to make my own creations. Creativity with no limits. And I’ll never stop, because I keep learning all the time, I just love it, the hard work, the constant practice, the challenges, the samples made only to discover that “no, this won’t work – so what will work?”. I’ve mastered many techniques and was a professional embroiderer and tutor for many years. Sure, I’ve got at least five or six important unfinished projects in the cupboard, so what? They’ll stay there for some time and eventually I’ll throw them away. Why? There probably are many reasons, but one is that a first idea might not always be the right one, but it might lead to something more interesting, and that’s where I want to go. Creativity is the thing that spurs me on, because I keep learning all the time by being creative and curious. Constant learning is a necessity for me in life, it’s like breathing, eating and sleeping.

              Liked by 4 people

      • Sustained interest in anything is about 4 years. it gets lonely when no one around is particularly interested in short-form Japanese poetry, ya know? It’s a very small group. Haha, I get it now. Such a rainforesty (esoteric) preoccupation, but I had fun.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Not weird. Happens all the time. It’s why I work in academia. Projects or experiments are generally of temporary nature. By the time I get bored, the study will be close to published. New projects on the horizon all the time. I took up quite some of those useless crafts, but some might be good fun stories to tell to grandchildren (or whoever).

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve never known if it’s my inability to explain or others in ability to imagine that’s the cause for puzzled observations. Others suggest that I don’t stick with things. I can’t seem to find the right phrasing to help them understand how the thing I love most is learning and mastering new things. Once done I move on to a new thing to learn and master. The learning is the thing I stick with and they don’t seem to understand how that can be a thing.

    Liked by 7 people

    • This really resonates… I’m back in grad school right now, toward the end of my second year, and the “maybe I should move on to something new” chatter is LOUD. Luckily, the people who know me and love me are pretty used to it. I think I’ve decided to stay the course, as degrees open doors, as they say…

      Liked by 4 people

      • Learning is as necessary as eating and sleeping. I just wish eating and sleeping didn’t take so much time away from learning. Of course, the really big problem is linear time. Food and rest aren’t nearly as interruptive as wrangling the multiple things wanting to be learned in any given moment. Sigh…

        Liked by 3 people

    • Learning is definitely the “thing” when you have a rainforest mind, M.J.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My RFM adult son gently chides me for going from haiku to trying painting, to short story writing, to sewing, felting, …to… to all da things! He’s into animation, drawing and has always stuck with that. Meanwhile, Momma is a hummingbird flitting from one thing to another and then back again. Like you, I love to learn and master something until it gets old hat. I’ll start a hobby, get frustrated, put it aside, pick it up months or years later, improve, get bored, stop for a while and rinse/repeat. Took me 10 years to get really good at crochet and embroidery this way but it’s the journey, I think. The pleasure of learning.

      Liked by 3 people

      • A lovely slow simmer on a back burner is how I came to understand those pauses in learning things. I took a job which in turn took me away from my workshop in my 20s. A year later I was back and discovered a skill which had troubled me before, I could now do with great success and ease. Given that I’d not touched the tools or anything similar it seemed contrary to what I knew about practice and skill acquisition. I have since used it as a regular part of my process and have read how a strategic simmer (pause) can more quickly lead to untapped ability in a way constant practice cannot.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Awesome! And such a timely nudge for me! I very much suffer the gift of emotional intensity – waves of simultaneously wonderfully beautiful and painful anguish and sorrow. Although I am periodically able to quell with an assault of intellect, (asserting feigned dominance), long term, I do not win that battle cognitively. I also try mindful acceptance, self-compassion, CBT and other therapies, as well as Rx to manage. All help temporarily, but seem to leave me further and further distanced between the inner “real” me and my “Pink Floyd Wall” external presentation.

    So now I’m am trying an additional approach… much like your dancing quest — I signed up for in-person singing lessons! I have little-to-no natural talent, and am thusly mortified at the idea of sharing that intensity, and vulnerability thru song with anyone at this point, and risk another setback of being poorly judged for my misguided effort.

    So I hope to get just enough skill to mask the natural lack of talent, and provide me with enough confidence to share it and get it out finally!!! I believe this may allow me to release some of this emotional intensity inside, that thus far evades expression and makes me feel so overwhelmingly dis-congruent internally/externally. If not, maybe I’ll just get a fun night of Karaoke out of it!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. My son recently reminded me of the period of our lives when I was a single mom, and I too discovered the world of Argentine Tango and fell in love with it (this was before they tore down the tango center in downtown Eugene… not sure where the dancers went after that happened, but the tear-down coincided with the timing of big life changes for me, so my motivation to seek it out shifted…). I’d take him down to the tango center with me and set him up with his homework while I danced as much as possible. I’m far too bouncy for the sultriness of that dance, really, but I love the connection, concentration, joy, and fluidity of dancing tango. It’s truly an art-form, and as such, I often experienced getting in the flow while dancing it.

    In recent months, my “do something new” was to submit a small painting I did (for the “flow” of it) to our local gallery for an all-members show. I was nervous to submit something, (and it meant I had to become a member in order to submit!), but it was low-stakes enough that I didn’t let myself back out. As a result my piece sold and I was invited to submit a few more for the winter show! I’m so delighted!

    Now I’m having to be extra diligent in my studies, as I want to use painting as an excuse to not focus on my finals. The up-side to this is it means I’ve been pretty productive in terms of cranking out paintings! Lol!

    Your article reminded me that my sweetie and I used to take dance lessons together, back in the day. We can dance a pretty passable swing, and it’s always so much fun when we do! I’d love to do that again as the world opens back up.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh my goodness, Kate. You are in Eugene? The Tango Center was around at the height of my dancing adventure. It drew such excellent dancers and teachers. Congratulations on finding painting now. Thanks for sharing.


      • I am! I’ve lived here for almost 20 years. The Tango Center was awesome – yes, fantastic dancers and such a joy to be a part of it, while it lasted! I really miss how welcoming that space was, and the ability to drop into such beautiful emotional expression…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve always wanted to learn some type of martial arts but was afraid I’d be the oldest one in the room yet the most untrained. However, your journey has me super motivated and now I’m thinking about joining once restrictions ease down and enough people are vaccinated. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I’m so glad, Marregn! You’ve read that I didn’t start this blog until I was 62, right?? It’s never too late. Thanks for sharing.


    • I wanted to risk doing something I’m not sure I’ll be good at and found karate.
      It was really hard in the beginning as training is for beginners and pros together. I struggled with being the only untrained one. However, I loved the feeling of applying my body to the sport and the movements. It was really hard for me to start attacking training partners, to produce a loud, even angry “battle cry”, to do the movements in front of everybody else… However, it’s worth it to overcome my inhibitions and to train my brain to not think but just move my body. A great experience so I suggest you try it!
      (Even though Covid stopped my new training routine; as beginner you can’t really make progress without training partners).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have so many “do something new” activities and wish I had 48 hours every day to fit in more of the stuff that I want to do. Learning to figure skate as an adult has definitely been that one thing that I love, but it is a challenge for me! (Ballet is a close second, I think!)
    But one of the things is that if I’m learning anything new, there is never a kinda-sorta approach to things. If I want to do it, I’m going to get REALLY good at it. It’s definitely a combination of me being a perfectionist AND ultra competitive. I’ll find the person in the room just above my level and aspire to get to they are…and so on. And this happens with almost every activity I choose.
    For me, the difficulty often comes with which (“low-pressure” – wait, does that word even exist in my vocabulary? 😅) activity I should put my energy into. But there is definitely anxiety in being mediocre at something I know I could do much better at (with more practice/time/effort added)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting combination of perfectionism and competition, Amanda. It probably ends up with lots of high quality outcomes, yes? Anxiety about being mediocre is something I see a lot.


    • Oh boy, I sure do relate to perfectionism, comparison, and ultra-competitiveness. That’s me. If I do a thing, it’ has to stand out and be extra awesome and win awards! Get straight As in college! No problem. Be asked to be valedictorian at college graduation and the pleasure of turning it down cuz I don’t like being visible, I don’t do spotlights but yet…I must win! How does this work? I don’t know. I either win or don’t do it at all. I am so annoyed with myself after writing all this down. LOL!

      Liked by 3 people

      • The pressure to win and be the best can be something that comes out of early responses to your giftedness, Elle. It can be hard to sort out what is worth doing extremely well and what you can ease up on.


  7. I have this memory of my daughter from when she was a young girl (maybe around 6th grade). She was this “golden girl”—someone who was so good at everything she did and beloved by everyone. Until she tried dance class. As I watched her class through the window I saw that she was consistently a few steps behind and fumbling and struggling through the entire process. I know she just hated it. It is so strange to say, but for all the times I’d watched her excel at soccer and everything else, I’d somehow never felt the same kind of pride I felt watching her stumble through dance class.

    I’m inspired to finally set out to learn to write and illustrate a children’s book😊

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for your post, Paula. It’s so important being passionate about something. To have certain things to go back to when you’re feeling down, something that you can enjoy wholeheartedly.
    But how can one avoid trying new things all the time? My whole life, I’ve tried new things and even developed some of them into professional skills: lace making (bobbin and needle lace), weaving, art embroidery (I was an RSN team member working on Miss Middleton’s wedding dress when she married Prince William in 2011), playing the accordion and joining an accordion society, learning how to code (HMTL, CSS, Javascript, Python), taking up Iyengar yoga, transcribing letters from the 18th century, learning how to meditate and develop mindfulness, defending women’s rights in an association, learning how to dance Swedish traditional country dances, and you name it. To me, learning is life. And I suppose I’ve been a klutz my whole life. Hard on my ego but a necessity for my curious mind. And I make mistakes all the time, which was really hard to accept as I’ve always wanted to be perfect right from the start (hm, you know what it’s like, hahaha!). Next steps: write my MA thesis on gendered discourse in late 18th and early 19th century English pauper letters (my second MA, I’m 58), learn how to play the hurdy-gurdy and learn sign-language for the deaf online. That might take me a few months, but I’m really enthusiastic about it, and it creates meaning for me. So yes, try something new!

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Pre-Pandemic, I decided to learn how to skateboard. I’m “old” but I always wanted to learn how. The local indoor skate park had both “ladies night” and “adult beginner night” and I figured I could pass as both, meaning there were two nights a month where 16-year-old boys weren’t trying to slaughter all comers. I had figure skated through college, to the point I was teaching beginner classes in exchange for more ice time. That skill translated well to roller skates; surely, the same would be true for skateboards. Nope! The upright, dancer’s posture was all wrong, and nothing worked until I purposefully thought “16-year-old boy.” There it was: my shoulders dropped, my spine curved, my hips tucked forward, my balance shifted. Ta Da. Skateboard stance.

    That’s not to say I wasn’t terrible, but at least with that epiphany, I had a shot of staying on the board. Adult beginners nights were physically rough. I’d work a full day, then take a bus out to the skate park and be awful for three solid hours before slumping home, done in. But it was fun. After a bit, I went down a very small ramp and lived. The whole time, my brain kept suggesting I switch to roller skates. I’m good at roller skates, I’m so bad at skateboarding. It was a constant mantra in the back of my brain. I had to actively fight that urge by reminding myself I wasn’t there to be “good” at anything, I was there to learn how to stay on the board, steer a little, and stop safely.

    At the same time, I realized something else. I was older than the other adult beginners by at least a decade. They were almost equally bad at skateboarding and very nice. But being “old” gave me a sort of permission to ignore the trash talk. A sort of “I have nothing to prove here, children. I showed up.” That was my first brush with that feeling and since I learned it, I’ve tried to cultivate it elsewhere. Being “old” can be freeing.

    In early 2020, I took a spill that somehow hit 90% on my head, doing-in my helmet and ringing my bell. I was fine and eager to replace my helmet and get back to it. But the Pandemic hit and I haven’t been back. (I also fear that after nearly 2 years of working from home, I’ve lost too much muscle and endurance to fling myself around a skate park for 3 hours.) I miss it. My cat nimbly hops onto my skateboard and I envy her grace. “Okay but can you go down the beginner ramp, kitty?”

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Pingback: choreophile  | rfljenksy – Practicing Simplicity

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