I dreaded turning fifty. My father had died suddenly -- of a massive heart attack -- soon after his fiftieth birthday, on the day that I graduated medical school. He had his first ominous symptoms while dancing with my mother -- on the last New Year's Eve of his life.
For years, I had assumed that the same thing would happen to me. On what basis was I to believe that my fate would be any different than my father's had been? I told myself that for me, there would be no "life after fifty" to look forward to.
Instead, I've been pleasantly surprised: I passed the half-century mark that I had so morbidly feared nearly five years ago. Now, I look excitedly toward a future that holds amazing promise.
Since Turning Fifty...
The years since I turned fifty have been ripe with rich, unexpected developments and expansive opportunities. Beyond the age of fifty, I have done things that many would never have considered doing -- at any age!
First of all, I've fallen in love with in-line skating. Nearly every day I celebrate the invention of the wheel by appending eight hard translucent discoids to the bottoms of my feet -- as I lace up my boots and go sailing off through the park on my roller blades.
I've invented my own variation on the sport, which I call "rattle-blading". In each hand, I carry a multicolored "shaman's rattle", made of papier maché and other recycled materials. I use my rattles to warn joggers and strollers that I'm about to zoom by (I am still fine tuning my stopping skills!). Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I suddenly shift into an ecstatic frenzy, shaking my rattles in whatever rhythmic style I invent at the time.
Neighbors smile at me as I whiz by them in the early morning hours -- though one did ask me recently whether I wasn't "a bit old for that sort of thing", which he said he had mainly seen "youngsters" do.
And the Dance Goes On
By far the most significant development of all, though, has been my learning the Argentine Tango. With tango, I have found my passion. Passion turned up in a place where I would not have expected to find it -- on the dance floor. Tango has so swept me away that I have tango dreams at night.
I practice my dance steps, uninhibitedly, in public places -- in parking lots, shopping malls, standing in line at the bank or at the Motor Vehicles Department, waiting for my girlfriend to come out of the ladies room -- even while clowning around at the Washington Zoo with my favorite family of apes. What they think of me I can hardly imagine!
I'm convinced that each time I dance -- or even think about dancing -- my immune cells get up and dance, too. I imagine them twittering among themselves about my passionate behavior -- and reaching a quick consensus, that life is indeed worth living.
Even on my worst "bad hair" days (my hair is shorter now, in my new tanguero persona!), these clairvoyant cells see through the fog of my melancholy. They peer into the clearing of my deeper intention -- to live for the next dance!
The Tango: Best Health Assurance Policy
Though the AARP has begun to stuff my mailbox with suggestions about what I -- now a "senior" -- can do to safeguard my future, I know that Argentine Tango is my best "health assurance" policy. I renew it daily, with vigor and pure delight.
My energy's at an an all-time high. I can feel my Chi doing somersaults through the chambers of my heart, dancing loop-de-loops around the lobes of my lungs.
The Way of the Tanguero
In learning the Way of the Tanguero, I've tapped into a style of breathing that is unlike anything I've ever known. It's something like breathing fast, the way the heart beats fast whenever it recognizes that there's something worth getting excited about. Only, it's a very quiet breath, a kind of "inner breath-full-ness", a breath that instinctively knows how to be a well-mannered guest when visiting an exotic country.
This breath knows how to draw back into itself and disguise itself as a whisper. It's a breath that lives on an edge of dynamic tension -- almost exploding into an ecstatic moan -- while tastefully restraining itself from actually doing so. It is a breath that knows how to pause, in awe of the sacredness of the moment.
Even during my first several weeks of tango, after my first few tango lessons, I was breathing this "tango breath" so deliciously that I could hardly contain myself -- or manage the leaps of imagination that danced through my awareness. I had vivid dreams of dancing dolphins, of grand palaces with gleaming terrazos, of vast purple skies. I could hardly sleep at night.
Tango is exercise, therapy, meditation, assertiveness training, relationship training, and recreation, all in one. It can trigger long-forgotten memories, and fuel expansive dreams.
The Breath of Tango
Tango involves a very special kind of breathing practice, one in which subtlety and refinement are king. Quiet steady breathing is the domain from which I lead. If my mind -- or my breath -- flutters even for an instant, my tango partner becomes confused. She is suddenly adrift in a sea of possibilities that is too vast to navigate.
However, when I breathe in tandem with her, and focus on our next step, I give her a clear lead. Our bodies flow. Our energies pulsate together.
Being the leader both thrills and unnerves me. My partner and I come together in the dance as opposites, blending together in a dynamic embrace. We are log and flame, burning the boundaries between us -- as hot, expressive energy is released.
We're wed in this dynamic balance, as we journey together, partners for the moment in a land beyond words, beyond mind. As my partner blossoms in each moment, there are endless varieties of ways in which she may express herself. But it's up to me to draw for her the outlines of our dance.
One friend, who's been dancing tango for awhile, says that at times her experience is something like making love. After a particularly sensual encounter recently, after she and her dance partner had floated together fluidly for minutes that seemed like hours, she felt an urge to light up a cigarette.... though she isn't a smoker.
She resisted that impulse to light up, but she did pause in wonderment, to fully inhale the aroma of that experience, before she and her partner quit the dance floor.
Riding the Edge
I love to ride the fluid edge of innocence and intimacy that tango dancing requires. I enjoy it when my partner's movements echo precisely my own strong lead. Equally much, I love to dance with the spontaneous variations that she invents.
Through tango, I am becoming a different kind of man -- bolder, freer, willing to risk imperfection, sporting my true colors. My body feels supple and strong, my feet well-planted, my mood optimistic, upbeat. I'm learning to express myself as a strong, sensitive Samurai, cutting through old inhibitions -- listening to my partner, welcoming us to the dance.
Dancing the eight-count of tango rhythm has become my moving meditation practice. "Step, one, two, three, four..." is my mantra. As I clear my mind of anything that might impede the lyrical flow between me and my partner, we enter a garden of delights. We feast. We live!
Showing Up: The Dance of Life
Through the juicy experience of tango, I have learned this truth: All the "doing" of life, all its myriad activities, are merely embellishment. The real "dance of life" is about showing up...... in each present moment.
Though I doubt that it's ever been tested in any scientific study, I'm convinced that when you live your passion -- whatever the object of its focus may be -- you super-charge the cells of your immune system. These cells are always "listening in", poised to follow, taking their lead from your attitude-in-action.
Whatever you've concluded about your own "dance of life", whatever story you've told yourself about "how life is -- and how it can be!" -- that will be a potent cue for those parts of you whose job it is to maintain your health and safeguard your survival.
"I have a passion!" is a powerful daily sermon for your immune-cell "congregation". The heart-felt meaning of these words is your potent testimony, your "letter of intent", soul-delivered "to whom it may concern". This bold statement conveys a message to all of the assembled: "Preserve this precious life that I'm choosing to live to the fullest!" All of your cells -- every part of you -- will bear witness to this emphatic testimonial.
This article is an excerpt from a manuscript in preparation. A musical CD, Dances with Breath, is available with songs/poems/based on themes from the book. For further information, see www.humormatters.com/healingmatters.htm
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About The Author
Barry Sultanoff, M.D., is a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a charter member of the Feng Shui Guild. Dr. Sultanoff has been a columnist for Natural Health Magazine as well as several other periodicals. He is co-author of "Putting Out the Fire of Addiction". Dr. Sultanoff practices whole person medicine, emphasizing the integration of body, mind, and spirit, in Kensington, Maryland. Among his passions are Argentine tango dancing, in-line skating, photography, and hatha yoga.