My fascination began in March 2020, one of those weeks when the pandemic started to get all too real. Quarantine had just begun.
One evening when I wasn’t freaking out reading an Atlantic article predicting how long this pandemic might last (three to four years, I distinctly remember reading), I watched Goop Lab on Netflix, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness show. Many people enjoy hating Gwyneth, but I like her program’s mission. I enjoy trying out wellness trends too. Heck, I would love to have my own show Sasha Lab. In the first season, Gwyneth and her staff tested out everything from using psychedelics for healing trauma to exploring female masturbation with the queen of self-pleasure Betty Dodson.
The episode featuring the Dutch extreme athlete and health expert Wim Hof (also known as the “IceMan”) sucked me right in. The bearded, ruddy-faced iconoclast talked about how going way outside of our comfort zones by immersing ourselves in cold water can make us stronger. Hof explained that he had worked with researchers at universities for years to demonstrate that cold-water therapy worked to boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, alleviate inflammation, cope with depression and anxiety, and control pain. His message, in essence: If you can stand the cold water, you can take control of your health.
Gwyneth’s staff jumped into an unimaginably freezing, snowy Lake Tahoe under his tutelage. I watched, riveted, on the couch, and thought, I could try a cold shower. That night I turned the dial in the shower to the right, but I couldn’t handle the blast. The cold felt water like bullets. I jumped backward and strained to turn the dial back. Wimp, I thought to myself, resigned.
The lure of the cold stayed with me though, even if I didn’t believe I would ever meet its challenge. When I first watched that show, I was sitting on the couch in Buenos Aires, where I had been living for five years. Weeks later I found myself back in Rhode Island, crashing at my mother’s house. It was the beginning of the pandemic when going to Walgreen’s was exciting. Nature was all we had.
I told Elizabeth, my only friend in Rhode Island, that I wanted to try cold plunges. Elizabeth knew a woman who ran a group. She sent me her contact. I got added to a list.
Soon I was getting emails with the subjects “Plunge tomorrow noon” and “4 pm swim—anyone interested?”
Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island, March 2021
One April 2020 day I took off on a forty-five-minute drive south to find the plungers. The calm beach at Mackerel Cove in Jamestown is a crescent-shaped cove with soft white sand and calm blue-green waters. The beach was starkly beautiful in early spring. I was glad for the beauty and to get out of the house. Six people emerged from their cars: one man, and five women, donning bathrobes and pink felt ponchos over their bathing suits, swim caps in hand.
I waved hello and introduced myself.
They yelled, “It’s tropical! It’s balmy! It’s so warm!” The temperature hovered around forty Fahrenheit. I didn’t agree, but I found the group charming. In their excitement, these forty-, fifty-, and sixty-somethings looked and sounded like boisterous schoolkids who got together to play. One of them did a jig on the way into the water. I dipped my feet in that day as they plunged but that was enough. I still didn’t see myself becoming one of those people. And that was that.
A year later the pandemic was still raging. The emails about cold plunges started to fill my inbox again.
In early February 2021, I answered one, “I’m coming!” By the next winter of isolation, I had grown desperate. I wanted to do something outside of my comfort zone again after so many evenings spent watching Netflix in isolation. I took up running in the morning, but I remembered seeing something else in those middle-aged eyes: true joy. True joy had been lacking in my life that pandemic winter. I didn’t know what, but I still suspected something was on the other side of the cold water. I wanted to experience it, whatever it was.
The wind whipped across the beach that gray day in late February. In New England, the winter sun descends before 5 pm. I came wearing a bikini, but I kept my pants on and rolled them up to my knees. I walked in up to about three inches, and then darted out of the icy water. In and out, in and out, six times. I didn’t get far. Submerging my ankles pushed me to my limit. Meanwhile, the group stayed in fortyish-degree water for fifteen minutes even when the air temperature dipped to the thirties. Some of them even swam. Their heads capped, they walked out radiant, glowing. Mostly women. I had never seen anything more badass.
One of them told me on the beach, “Just keep coming back and go in as much as you can.”
And so it went. I came through February and March and didn’t make it any deeper than my knees. I developed a reputation as a shrieker. I would yell and throw my arms in the air, the 45-degree water an assault on my toes, ankles. and calves, and throw my arms around like a windmill to release the pain. The women taught me how to warm up my feet after plunging (bring bottles of hot water and a basin for a spa bath post-plunge).
My envy grew every trip. This was a higher level of joy these people got out of cold-water plunging than anything I have ever seen from my fellow Americans. The group called themselves “What’s Wrong with These People People?” One day someone shouted to them from a car, “What’s wrong with you people?” The name was born. These were definitely among the more interesting characters I’d met since returning to Rhode Island.
Plungers are not your average people.
One day walking on the beach toward me, the tall, bald Michael the leader of the pack, 68, a retired scientist and high school swim coach, shouted into the air with his arms raised to the sky, “What’s wrong with us? We feel like this! I turn into a love machine. I love everything, the sand, the sky, people! It’s like that! Something about what the cold does to your body unleashes that.”
I made about fifteen attempts between February and April.
One afternoon I drove to the 4 pm meeting spot with the conviction, today will be my breakthrough. I don’t know if I am going to turn into a love machine but I am going to get into the water.
That weekend I happened to read an essay in TheNew York Times about a woman who turned to cold-water therapy after an unimaginable tragedy. Her husband killed their two children and then himself. She had come to stay with her aunt on Long Island and found her way to a small group of her own. I understood the attraction. There had been one day after a writing class when I felt a heavy load of shame in my body after presenting work; intuitively I knew the thing to do to shake off those feelings in my body would be to join the group. Even when I only got into my knees or hips, the cold zapped me like a kind of shock therapy. The sensation was so strong that it wiped away negative emotions and took me right into the present moment.
The obliterating quality of the cold water renewed me, even when I didn’t get all the way in.
Inside that gorgeous essay about grief, I found a simple tip.
The writer said, get into shoulder level and breathe thirty seconds to get to the other side. OK, I thought, I will try.
That April afternoon in Jamestown seven of us met. It was a windy, sunny day, on the brink of spring. The water registered at forty-five degrees, bath-like compared to the thirty-nine when I started coming in February.
I walked in with the group further than ever before past my knees, past my hips, and let the water shock my belly. My hands presented the biggest challenge. They hurt the most. I didn’t want to put them in. But I did. I submerged my hands and then my shoulders, breathing to a count of thirty. Around twenty-nine, the pain gave way to vibrating numbness on my skin. A minute or two after counting, the strangest thing happened. My inner fire lit. Somewhere deep inside of my guts a heat built, a contrast to the cold water surrounding me, and the dark water turning into a strangely silky viscous thing. I started to float with happiness, this bizarre combination of cold water surrounding me, a furnace within.
One of the other plungers wore a waterproof watch. “How long has it been? How long has it been?” I asked obsessively. I wanted to quantify my breakthrough.
I stayed in for fourteen minutes that first time, so insanely gleeful.
You never forget the first time.
My breakthrough day in Jamestown, April 2021.
The air felt surprisingly warm that day when we got out. It was 50 or so on the beach. My legs and arms and chest blotted red, dotted with blood vessels. We looked like lobsters coming out of the water. My hands hurt. My hands felt stiff.
“Don’t worry about that,” Mike said, as he saw me regarding my hands. “Cold-water swimmers call it claw-hand. It’s the first sign of hypothermia but it’s not serious, it’s just the beginning.”
The dull ache in my hands faded enough for me to use my hands, pouring my bottles of steaming hot water into my foot basin. I stepped in. My blocky feet thawed as I stood there on the sandy beach in Jamestown by a bridge and behind a hotel, sailboats moored, dormant until warmer days. The high came on gradually. I started to finally feel it, the thing I had been after all along, the bodily joy I had lusted after for months started to take root.
It’s hard to describe the feeling but when the physical reaction came on it was like a flood of warm lights turning on inside, lit up from within. Since then it’s become clear to me that the colder the water is, the more endorphins are produced in the reaction. In this way, swimming in the winter can become even more pleasurable than in the summer. The French call orgasm petit mort, or little death. You die from the intensity of the sensation, then you are reborn. The cold water is a petit mort.
When I was leaving on that breakthrough day, one of the women in the group came over to her car next to mine.
“So you have been coming all this time and this was the first time you felt it?”
“You must really like to torture yourself!”
“Maybe. I guess I had faith that I would eventually get there.”
Of course, she was raising that age-old question: do we dive in quickly into the waves or cautiously enter inch by inch? Everyone finds their own way, if we are persistent enough. Maybe what I loved most of all in that moment was my persistence. When it comes to accomplishing big things, there is nothing more important than persistence.
Have I kept up cold-water therapy? Am I still plunging? Yes. A year later, I am still at it, feeling more like an official group member. I got all the way into the water up to my shoulders on January 1, something I am proud of, but I’ve taken a break recently as the air temperatures dip to the teens. I have my limits. But you know what? I also take cold showers now. Transformation is indeed possible.
I sometimes ask myself, Why? Why do you drive forty-five minutes each way to do something that most people regard as insane? Isn’t there an easier way to feel good? Why not play a joyful playlist and throw your own private dance party at home?
We need many strategies to feel good in our bodies, at least I do. Cold-water plunging is a special pleasure. Sometimes I think it’s the people—the opportunity to share this incredible, outside-the-comfort zone enthusiasm with the other plungers gives me energy for life. The group plunge is a communal kind of orgasm. Sometimes I think it’s the intensity—the pleasure matches the pain. That intensity feels like a confirmation of what it feels like to be a human being, a sensitive one anyway. And of course, there is the possibility of a lovely after-effect. The coldwatergasm can last for hours.
As it turns out, doing this one hard thing has helped me to do other hard things. I often think, if I can do the cold water, I can do this too. Get through this break-up. Publish that book.
I recently re-watched the Goop Lab episode that originally inspired me. I was struck by how much didn’t even register the first time. The idea of getting into the cold water so bowled me over. In the episode, Hof talks about how he turned to cold water immersion to get over the suicide of his wife, the mother of his four children. I didn’t remember that. One doesn’t have to be recovering from tragedy to turn to cold-water therapy—people plunge for many reasons—but that deeply therapeutic, wiped-clean effect does seem to be part of the draw for many. Wim said his children helped him survive, but the cold water healed him.
“You can go into the cold water and adapt, and with that, you become the alchemist of life itself,” he said. I smiled at this thought as I watched on the couch the second time, two years later. I knew exactly what he meant this time. Amen.
Michael, the swim coach, and I celebrate my breakthrough plunge a week later 🙂
New Year’s Plunge, 2022
Rhode Island PBS recently came to film a segment with a few different groups of Rhode Islanders who dare to swim in frigid waters during the winter, and my group is the first to be profiled. You can meet Mike the swim coach here for yourself. Look for my butt around 4:48 as we enter Third Beach in Middletown, Rhode Island. 😉
When I talk to my women coaching clients who are 50+, I hear a lot of frustrations about dating. What’s the best dating site to use? Are all the good ones taken? And what about internalized ageism? Is it really too late to find love or is that a story you have been telling yourself based on negative experiences? Does anyone really want to get involved with someone who doesn’t want to shack up together? SPOILER ALERT: Yes! There are plenty of quirkytogethers (or aspiring living-alone-togethers) out there, people who want a committed relationship but not to cohabitate.
This topic of finding love at every life stage (and keeping your sexual spark alive too) is near and dear to my heart because I know it’s not easy but it is possible to find a new mate and feel sexy at every age–I see those stories play out around me in my personal life and with my clients. I also have noticed many women who came to Buenos Aires to study tango with me convinced that no one would find them attractive. I’ve seen those same women get checked out by the men in the milongas with my own two eyes.
The story we tell ourselves about what is possible makes all the difference.
All of this is why I am really excited to invite you to this free online event.
Carolyn, an inveterate social scientist, and definitely a quirky, independent woman, devised an unusual, and highly structured, dating plan to go on 50 first dates to find the right partner for her in her late fifties. Not everyone would want to go on 50 dates–personally that marathon of first dates sounds hellish to ambiverted me!
But I admire Carolyn’s pluck–and the example of resilience she is providing by sharing her story. I’ll be asking her about how she stitched her heart back together after disappointments and rejections.
This event will be a chance to hear about Carolyn’s book, get inspired, and learn about how other women 50+ are faring in the dating scene.
If you have been considering working with me as your life coach this free event is a nice low-pressure chance to get to know me a little better and see me in action interviewing Carolyn.
If you are over 40, 50, 60, or 70 and battle voices in your head that tell you it’s too late, you should definitely come. Yes, it’s great to come to peace with being single, we all need to walk that path to find contentment and joy exactly where we are right now in life. But if love is something you really want, then why give up and deny that? You can register here.
P.S. In reality, everything we are going to talk about will be relevant to people of all ages – so if you are any age and dating or contemplating dating again, you should join us.
I am a highly sensitive person, and I tend to attract highly sensitive people as my readers and clients. I’ve been shamed for being “too sensitive” many times and I have gotten to a place in life where I don’t allow anyone to tell me that I am too sensitive anymore. Telling someone they are “too sensitive” is a way of invalidating that’s person’s emotions. Sensitivity can be a challenge but it’s also a strength.
Being a sensitive person, unabashedly so (!), I have found that in order to live well and move forward in my life, and not get too stuck, I need to consistently practice “emotional hygiene.”
You might have heard about “sleep hygiene” but maybe not “emotional hygiene.” We need to take care of our emotions and release them. Otherwise our anger, fear, and sadness can get lodged in our bodies and even cause us pain, anxiety, insomnia, and the fun list goes on. Or the sadness after a breakup stick with us forever, and we don’t move on. Hello RO – romantic obsession!
The key is to find practices that work for you and repeat them. It’s not a matter of trying something new every week but instead finding what’s new inside of doing a practice.
One of my favorites is called the Milagrows practice. If you have been part of my online classes or a coaching client I might have shared it with you. The Milagrows practice is about practicing gratitude for all the s#$ in your life – naming what you don’t like, and then welcoming it with gratitude. It’s a practice of self-acceptance and acknowledgment.
If you are riding the waves of life and want a simple journalling practice to help you welcome it all, check it out here.
And if you are a sensitive soul, don’t let anyone tell you you are too sensitive!
To write authentically as a life coach feels like a strange balance–because I never know quite how far to go in writing the messy, ugly, juicy details of my own life.
When I became a life coach in 2013, I noticed that some of my creative energy to write real, tell-all, blog posts dried up.
I had always written truthfully about my life through my books, personal essays, and blog posts. Writing truthfully about my life was my thing! Writing is more alive when it’s more real.
But when I took on this new professional direction, I felt afraid to go all the way there in my blog writing. Some revealing pieces languished.
I guess I thought I was “supposed to have it all together” and that it wouldn’t be good for potential clients or the clients I already had to know that much about me. Like, that time I got obsessed with the Tinder Guy in Atlanta and stayed up all night on the phone talking with him. As in, wasn’t that unhinged? Or the ways that dishes used to pile up in my sink. I suppose I judged myself, expecting others would judge me too. The desire to look perfect. Oh!
Being reluctant to disclose personal information is common for people in these helping professions. Therapists and counselors are generally sparing with self-disclosure.
When I’m coaching, I generally veer toward a limited approach to self-disclosure–that is to say, I don’t talk much about myself. I may share something personal if I believe that may help the client. If I share a tidbit, I try to share the reason I am sharing it first. In the end, life coaching is about you and your life, not me.
So then, how does this level of disclosure translate to my blog and writing? I’ve been pondering this question over the last few months because I want to take risks in my blogging again.
I’ve noticed that “vulnerable” blog posts from life coaches are popular but those kinds of posts often present some kind of formulaic tips or answers for life problems, as if we are only supposed to share when we have resolved the problem (or our foibles) to our own satisfaction and tell you the answers in the rear view mirror.
Sometimes I don’t have “answers”–and I don’t want to even pretend to have them.
I was talking about this dilemma with my friend Jenny Bitner, a hypnotherapist. We both have artistic and therapeutic sides of our work. Jenny said, “It feels hard in any field where you are offering help to admit your own problems.”
“People are very drawn to someone who appears together and confident…not that you can’t be both,” she also said. That’s the question. Can we appear together and confident, and admit that we are a work-in-progress with problems of our own? Do we want to read about Oprah’s meltdowns, or do we want her to only guide us with wisdom?
I’m after authenticity because that’s what feels most alive. By its nature, being authentic involves risk. I notice lots of young YouTube stars posting videos like “misconceptions about me” or “mental health chat” where they talk about their own problems. I get inspired by their courage and transparency. I mean, I know people think I am transparent too but only I know what I’m not sharing!
If I am honest I myself am drawn to people who are quite explicit in acknowledging they don’t have their perfect lives all worked out either.
Authenticity is a constant quest because what felt authentic a year ago may not feel authentic now.
These are questions I have been sitting with. I’m wanting to return to the more risky, personal online versions of my writing, and trust that works.
From here on out, I’m going to try to be even a wee bit more authentic and unafraid to be a human, writer and life coach and all. Let’s see how that adventure goes. Eeeek!
What about you? Do you have any places in your life where you would like to show up more authentically, but you are afraid to do so?
I so enjoyed talking with Dr. Peter McGraw, a behavioral economist at the University of Colorado who is investigating solitude and how to create a remarkable single life, now or forever.
It’s kinda crazy. I have done many fantastic podcasts about being quirkyalone with women, and this was the first time I talked with a man who is investigating these topics!
Peter and I chatted about:
the problem of “internalized inferiority,” of seeing our single periods as lesser than our coupled periods and the tragedy of waiting to be coupled up to do the things you most want to do in life (I share about how I’ve struggled with this too)
my personal story behind quirkyalone, and why I chose that combination over, say, “freakyalone”!
quirkyalones in pop culture in the 90s and oughts, from Love Jones to Ally McBeal
how single people have been ignored–at least in the US–in policy discussions during the pandemic
why quirkyalone, even though it seems to be a celebration of singlehood, is also, in its deepest core, an argument for depth in relationship
the many ways people meet needs for connection in 2021, with everything from Tinder to solo poly
why I prefer to talk about self-acceptance and wholeness rather than being a “happy single.” Being happy all the time is just way too much pressure! And going for what we want in life may involve some pain, discomfort and struggle.
Here’s a little teaser before you click to listen in…
“The choice of the word quirky, why? Can you tease us with some of the alternatives that you considered?
In the book Quirkyalone, I have a bunch of alternatives like eccentricalone, bizarrealone, or freakyalone.
Freakyalone is a whole different book and it’s in a different section of the library. It’s not in the library, first of all.
Why quirky? It’s because quirky is softer, for one. It’s eccentric but with a human touch that makes you feel you can get warm and cuddly with a quirky person in a way that maybe you don’t feel you can with freakyalone. It was that sense that I had as a young person and has remained the same as I get older. I only connect with a certain amount of people. I’m not a generic person and quirkyalones are not cookie-cutter type. It’s a practical recognition for a quirky person.
It may take a little longer to find someone who matches you, not that they have to have all the same quirks. Everybody is completely individual and all of my work has this honoring of our quirkiness. When I work with clients, for example, I’m interested in finding out who they are and how they tick because everybody’s different. That’s my orientation to the world. The quirky part is the way of honoring that. I love that about us as people.”
To make sense of my dizzying move back to Rhode Island from Argentina at the start of the pandemic I wrote this blog post.
Today at 5 pm ET I’ll read a portion of that piece about the split-second decision I had to make about leaving Argentina as the borders were closing in the countries all around me as part of a What Cheer Writers’ Club Zoom series of short readings from Rhode Islanders reflecting on 2020, a year of pandemic and protest.
I was really looking forward to joining What Cheer to connect with other writers in my home state. There haven’t been any in-person events since I moved back in March, but it’s certainly cool to connect with other writers virtually.
The pandemic can have a way of making us feel less than human since we have to wear masks and keep distance from each other to stay safe. Storytelling is a good way to keep our humanity alive. To gather around the virtual campfire and listen to each other. Maybe listening in will inspire you to write.
Today is probably the best, purest American holiday based on a value that I most appreciate: gratitude.
It’s not always simple to access gratitude for the blessings in our lives–and there’s always something to be grateful for. I just wrote a three-page list of everything and everyone I am grateful for and there is so much. Even in this disaster of a year there is so much!
There was one Thanksgiving, maybe 2012, I spent alone in the year after I got diagnosed as celiac. I couldn’t deal yet with navigating life gluten-free at Thanksgiving. I spent the day alone in my Oakland apartment making a pot of chicken soup and dwelling on gratitude, which actually took me to a kind of high solitude state. This was the opposite of loneliness, of lack: I felt so abundant dwelling in myself, thinking about all the goodness in my life. I realized then it was possible to go on a gratitude fest alone on Thanksgiving. I love social Thanksgivings too–don’t get me wrong–but it was nice to realize that there was another solitude-filled way to celebrate too.
This year will be a combination for me: solo time today and tomorrow my family will gather for an outdoor Thanksgiving. Today it’s raining.
I’m grateful to all of you who have been readers of my books and corresponders from the newsletter, those who are eager for my memoir to come out (you help me keep going), those who have come on Tango Adventures and participated in online classes, those who have tried out pussywalking and written me about their experiences, and my coaching clients who I find to be amazing people. You quirky people are all pretty fantastic. I hope for new things to emerge to engage with you on after I finish up with this book – so stay tuned for 2021!
I hope you have a beautiful day whether alone or together. Make a list of everything, everything you are grateful for. It’s fun. Three pages minimum. Get super granular and quirky.
I just got back from a camping weekend in southern Rhode Island near the beach, which means I took a two full days off screens. What a good decision to get offline for forty-eight hours! After two days away I’m noticing how hypnotizing screens can be… how much more ready I am to confront life and to take action.
Even though I didn’t sleep well on the camping trip (I’ve been struggling with insomnia lately like a lot of us!) I’ve come back with a dose of oompth that I have been so desperately waiting for. I have a new wave of energy.
I feel ready to do rather than despair. Wanna join me?
Now I am going to be perfectly honest. I have not been in the most empowered mood lately when it comes to the situation in the U.S., my home country. Our country is being led by a narcissist who only cares about himself, and that’s why we have more than 200,000 dead from coronavirus and no plan to control what seems to be a never-ending pandemic. Even when the one who needs no name knew the virus was fatal, he told people it was no worse than a flu. He brings together thousands of his own supporters without masks in campaign rallies, knowing some will die as a result. He’s a sadist, and he’s not dumb. He knows what he is doing.
But that’s not really the point.
We have been processing outrage and grief for four years now about the decisions made by this administration. Now is our time to make a difference, to stand up and use our voices. This is the time when we take all of that frustration and disgust into something. Conspiracy theories are multiplying everywhere which makes it more important to stand up and speak for basic values of kindness, dignity, love, community–coming together and being good for each other. Because Black Lives Matter. Because women matter. Because immigrants are human beings. Because we cannot ignore climate change for another second for the sake of younger people who are going to live on a warming planet. Because we really don’t want to lose our democracy.
Now I know a lot of people have less than thrilled feelings about the Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Believe me, Joe Biden was not my first choice by a long shot. But we don’t need perfect. Watching this video from Glennon and Amanda Doyle, I’m struck by this comparison. “When your house is on fire, you don’t wait to find the perfect house to move into. You just get yourself and your people the hell out of the burning house.”
We are the leaders we are waiting for. It is truly time to wake up and recognize ourselves that way because no one is going to save us! I felt my own leadership come back to me after taking time off in nature. You can do that too–do whatever you need as a pre-amble of self-care to find your own power and voice for this ultimate self-care of taking care of ourselves and our world.
Glennon is running this campaign as part of her nonprofit Together Rising which is all about pooling our small actions into meaningful impact. Here’s what Glennon and her sister Amanda say about the Challenge.
I am in.
“I will do everything I can to get us out of this burning house. That’s why today we are announcing WE CAN DO HARD THINGS: 40 Days of Outrage to Action.
Sister and I have been working closely with the Biden+Harris campaign and a wide variety of orgs mobilizing to preserve our democracy.
Every day until 11/ 3, Sister and I will offer a simple, effective way to turn our outrage, fear, and love into: Action, Information, and Healing.
Together, we will be: confirming our voter registrations, canvassing virtually, bolstering election security, activating in swing states; hearing from frontline warriors for justice; and collectively staying human, connected, and energized while we fight.”
Let’s do this together. In that video, Amanda encourages us to, “Get your people together.” “It’s like book club but it’s democracy club.”
Wanna be in the democracy club with me? If you want to be part of a group with me doing this then tell me in the comments of this blog post and we’ll see what we can create as a quirkytribe taking daily actions together.
I’m not sure what form this will take but I’m issuing the call now trusting that if enough of you want to do this together we’ll find a way to keep each other energized and accountable on the path toward November 3–so we can look at each other, our friends, our ourselves and know on that day we did all we could.
Let’s do this.
PS. Have you made a plan to vote yet? Have you checked to verify you are registered to vote? Maybe you don’t know if you need to reregister because you moved apartments or states?
If you’re figuring this out now, here’s a great website the SuperMajority Fund (which is building a powerful, diverse, women-led future where women are truly equal) to help check your registration and make a plan to vote in the best way for you. https://supermajority.com/educationfund-voter-checklist
Explore general life coaching with Sasha to work on confidence, reconnecting with your sensuality, and everything that is most important for you to prepare for your Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires. Learn more about life coaching with Sasha HERE.
(This video was filmed on Day 12 of the Challenge)
It’s the first day of 2020. I decided to start this year with a bang of new year’s energy.
I am beginning a new Challenge: 31 Days of Asking Men to Dance. A new decade merits a new experiment!
In truth, my idea was a recycle of an idea from last year, but reduce, reuse, recycle, right?
In January 2019 I decided to do a research project after another conversation with a fellow tanguera about my frustration with going out to dance, and often spending much of the night or afternoon waiting for a cabeceo (the nod of the head a man uses when he asks a woman to dance).
My plan was to go out dancing tango 31 nights in a row with the express intention of asking men to dance.
My rule for myself was: if you go to a milonga or practica, you must ask at least one man to dance with a mirada (the look of desire used by a woman in her eyes to show she wants to dance), a cabeceo (a head nod usually used by men to invite) or verbally (which would be OK to do in more casual milongas but not so much in formal, elegant milongas).
No matter how I needed to challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone to be the initiator of the dance. (In the end, I challenged myself by asking verbally because that was more direct than using the mirada [the look of desire].)
Now what’s the big deal with asking men to dance? We do live in the 21st century. I’m in my forties, not in seventh grade going to a junior high school dance! Wouldn’t I be over all these insecurities by now? Ummm, not totally.
Well, we teach what we need to learn. I have often struggled with the confidence to ask a man to dance–thus the Challenge.
Deep down for me, and I suspect for many of us women, we feel more attractive if we are chosen. It’s the same old Cinderella complex, waiting for a man to come, wake us from a passive slumber to validate us as worthy. But that’s the old way, or is it? Some men seem to like the idea of women asking them to dance to take the constant pressure of initiation off them. But I’ve also heard from men say they didn’t want women to ask them to dance because that would be taking away the last clear domain of power that men had.
I would have shared last year’s results with you but I lost the phone, so I lost the data recorded in audio messages each time I left the milonga.
So my dears, if at first you do not succeed then try try again. This year we start fresh. I’m going to attempt to do 31 whole nights.
That’s an intense goal since I am also working to complete my memoir but I’m thinking all this dancing will be good for my writing because I need a balance of mental and physical activity to inspire my creativity.
So I am going to try the experiment this year and live-blog it as I go along on this post, adding a new entry with data and emotional observations each night after I go out.
Here we go…
Day 1: January 1, 2020
Milonga: La Glorieta, an outdoor gazebo in Belgrano where people gather to dance nightly.
Results: 7 asks, 7 yesses
January 1, 2020: Night One of the Experiment at La Glorieta. Photo: fellow tanguera Geneviève Allard
The first night of the campaign was spectacular. Often new campaigns (like a diet) start on a high and the Asking Men to Dance campaign was no different. I asked 7 men to dance, verbally each time. All seven said yes. At least one was someone who I have danced with once before years ago, but I’m sure he thinks he is much higher level than me. Because he was standing alone looking rather glum I asked him anyway.
Me and one of my targets! He said yes. 😉
How did I ask the men to dance? My language of choice for all the men was “Bailas?” (“Do you dance?”), “Quer bailar?” (“Do you want to dance?” or “Bailamos” (“Let’s dance.”) I used “Bailamos” only with someone I know socially. Using a verbal invitation works at La Glorieta and other more casual milongas. I don’t know if inviting verbally would work well at a formal milonga like Canning. I may have to lean more on a heavy mirada or cabeceo. We’ll see over the next 31 days.
My mood was much better because I was asking the men and choosing who I wanted to dance with rather than standing around hoping someone I wanted to dance with would ask me. I felt like a bubblier version of myself than the passive me who stands around waiting to be chosen.
I asked one man to dance whom I have often danced with. He seemed a bit taken aback that I asked him. He was used to inviting me, not the other way around. I had flipped the gender roles, but he got over it. We danced a lovely tanda (in tango we dance four songs [a tanda]).
All of the other guys seemed quite fine with invitation. “Dale,” or “Dale si” was the usual response.
Overall this experiment started off winning.
Day 2: January 2, 2020
I was planning to go to De Querusa but I was too tired. I’ll make up for it tomorrow by asking EXTRA men to dance.
The Friday afternoon practica Cheek to Cheek is not a traditional milonga where men and women sit on opposite sides of the dance floor but it’s definitely more of an elite milonga than La Glorieta so I was feeling nervous about taking my “31 Days of Asking Men to Dance” Challenge to Cheek to Cheek.
La Glorieta is a “friendly milonga”–Cheek to Cheek not so much.
The last time I went to Cheek to Cheek a few months ago there was poca gente (very few people) and they were all ridiculously high-level. I danced with the organizer, which I feared was a pity tanda because I had been sitting for over an hour. I was plancharing. Planchar is the Argentine verb meaning “to iron.” In tango language, to planchar means sitting for hours, not dancing.
So how did it go? I saw a familiar face, a sweet dancer Max from La Plata. La Plata is about an hour south of Buenos Aires. I greeted him with a kiss on the cheek which is probably not what I would have done if it were not for the Challenge. Asking men to dance is making me more outgoing and less timido in general. After I changed my shoes he invited me with a cabeceo, but I really believe that my being friendlier with the kiss paved the way for the invitation.
My first dance. I didn’t ask him but I may have made it happen by being friendly.
Then my friend Jorge showed up. Jorge is part of my Solo Chica Tango Adventure team. If you come to Buenos Aires as part of our program you might dance with him too. I asked Jorge “Bailas?” just as he said “Bailamos.” It seems like “Bailamos” (“Let’s dance”) is a much more normal thing to say to a friend. “Bailas?” (“Do you dance?”) makes more sense to say to someone new. I’m still working out this verbal invitation language since I have spent most of my tango career following the rules of showing my interest with a mirada (look of desire).
Jorge one of our taxi dancers for the Solo Chica Tango Adventure–and moi! It’s always nice to run into a friend at the milonga.
After I am happy to say I invited two men! They both said yes. One was a Polish man living in Italy who seemed to be a beginnerish dancer. Very sweet. He seemed happy I invited him.
The other was a wonderful dancer that I went on a date with once. It can be kind of awkward to see someone that you don’t wind up dating at the milonga. This time because I had my Challenge fueling me I forced myself to creep up behind him and tap him lightly on the shoulder. He turned his head around and said, “Quer bailar?” with a friendly smile. We danced a magical tanda. I missed dancing with him. We dance together so well.
I am getting more and better tandas than I would have been dancing otherwise. Going to the milonga with the intention of asking at least one man to dance is definitely working. I’m feeling more present, less passive. No rejections so far, but I’m sure that will change when I ask more people.
I am quite pleased with the experiment so far.
Day 4: January 4, 2020
Practica: La Maria, an afternoon practica
Results: 7 asks, 4 yesses, 3 nos
La Maria is an afternoon practica on Saturdays.
On day four I received my first nos at La Maria. Three nos to be exact.
I was glad about the first “no” because I didn’t want men to be saying yes to me out of obligation or pity. His no proved that a man could say no. The Challenge is now real. Of course I had gotten “no” many times in the past! I wasn’t surprised because this guy seemed to be one of the high-level dancers who barely danced at all–he only dances with a chosen few.
The second “no” came from a guy who appeared to be a foreigner. I was surprised he said no, because usually foreigners, who don’t have automatic dance partners, are happy to be asked.
At first I felt energized and happy with the “nos,” because I knew this project really hadn’t gotten started until I got a “no.” The “nos” felt good because I survived them, and then went on to ask other men to dance who said yes. This Challenge is for sure about building resilience, just as men have to suffer nos, why shouldn’t I? Doesn’t that make me a stronger, less delicate flower?
I danced a milonga tanda with a Brazilian who ran a tango school in Porto Alegre, and a German man who had been dancing tango in Buenos Aires since the 80s. That’s really something. Tango was coming out of obscurity after the dictatorships in the 80s.
I’m dancing better because I am dancing more. On average I have been dancing 7-10 tandas since I started this Challenge, compared to the 2-3 tandas per milonga I was dancing before. Going out with the intention of asking men to dance has definitely generated far more tandas. It’s also made me feel more in control of my afternoon or night. I identify men I want to dance with and scheme about how I will ask them rather than sitting in a chair, eyeing men, fruitfully or not.
I must admit after two “nos” I felt tired. Three “nos” may be the limit of what my ego can take.
Happily though I had four yesses, plus the three men who invited me without any work on my part.
I call Day Four a continued success.
Here’s a spontaneous little video I recorded sitting on a stoop on the street after leaving La Maria.
Day 5: Another rest day!
Wow, this asking men to dance thing is intense! I’m taking another rest day.
Day 6: Tango in Tigre
I wasn’t able to go to a milonga because I went to to this Tango in Tigre Day Trip to check it out as an option for Solo Chicas who come on our Tango Adventures. The day was marvellous: maravilloso! Beautiful people, home-made food by Hugo Satorre, a world-known bandoneonist, yoga, swimming, kayak, and a bit of tango to live music on the pier before we took the boat back to Tigre. Tigre is a small city with a river community just outside Buenos Aires. It’s the easiest place to get a nature fix on a day trip.
On the way back Sole Viladrich, another woman who had come on the day trip, and I discovered that we had massive amounts in common. Sole just released her documentary “Esto No Es El Tango: El Abrazo Dissidente” all about women, queer people, trans people, and other rule-breakers challenging rigid notions of tango.
We talked about the distinct challenge of asking men to dance in traditional milongas such as Cachirulo, which are run by a kind of ten commandments of tango. You can read more about the ultra-traditional Cachirulo in this New York Times piece “A Caricature of the Patriarchy: Argentine Feminists Remake Tango”. Sole said that she had seen a woman denunciado (denounced) in Cachirulo for asking men to dance. Wow. It will be a dare on a whole other level to break the codes in a traditional milonga.
Day 7: January 7, 2020
Oh my god, what was I thinking? 31 days in a row? Over the last couple of years I usually only go out twice a week! It was a night of rest to prepare for Day 8.
Day 8: January 8, 2020
Milonga: Maldita Milonga with Orchestra Affronte, an afternoon practica 4-8
Results: 1 ask, 1 yes
A night out with Sue Aikens and Wanda Abramor, Tango Fairygodmother in the Tango Adventure buenos airs
I asked one man to dance, a total stranger, and he said yes. No drama whatsoever.
Day 9: January 9, 2020
Milonga: De Querusa
Results: 2 asks, 2 nos
Officially both of my verbal invitations were refused by foreign dancers. That would be two nos.
However, from the moment I arrived I interacted in friendly, easy ways with men I have been dancing with recently, which resulted in three rather magical rapid-fire tandas that left me feeling like a dancing queen.
I’m starting to feel verbally asking men to dance is not hard. The sting of the no is not bothering me as much. However, it still holds true that I can only tolerate two nos. Any more than two nos starts to feel like a downer.
I’m also reaping the benefits of going out more often. It’s definitely true that it’s easier to get dances when you are going out to dance regularly in the tango scene. Frequency is rewarded.
Day 24: De Querusa and Canning
Results: 4 asks, 4 yesses (3 at De Querusa, 1 at Canning)
Well, we can see there is a large gap here between Days 9 and 24.
I really must laugh at my ambition Day 1 of going out every night. What delusional New Year’s energy!
Actually I have gone out to dance six times in the last two weeks but I didn’t focus on asking men to dance. We had clients with us for Tango Adventures, so when I went out to meet them, my attention was more on supporting those women than on asking men to dance.
That said, at at least one time in one of those milongas I did invite a man to dance verbally. He said yes.
The other nights quite frankly I was tired. Since this is not a normal behavior for me, and I’m breaking gender codes, let’s face it: Asking men to dance requires a lot of energy. First, I have to pick out a man to invite, then I need to screw up my courage to break gender codes and face the risk of rejection–well, it’s a lot. I’ve learned that my energy needs to be good to ask men to dance! I expect and accept there will be plenty of milongas when I simply don’t feel the strength. I’m trying to not beat myself up when my shy nights happen. When I have energy, I invite!
Last night I went back to De Querusa, a moderately friendly milonga where I have some nice regular partners.
I invited two men heavy miradas with a slight dash of an head nod (slightly cabeceo-like toward two men, somewhat regular partners, or at least men I had danced with before). Both resulted in dances.
I made one verbal invitation to a French beginner. I asked him “Bailas?” and he didn’t know what that meant, which resulted in an awkward exchange in English, and then a lovely dance.
Then at Canning, I used a delicate tap on the back and a head nod toward the floor with a man where I know for sure we enjoy dancing with each other–our musical sensitivities and embrace are compatible.
The Challenge helped me to initiate the dance quickly because I knew I wanted to go to bed by 2 am. Tapping him on the back was much better than sitting there passively waiting for him to invite me. We might not have danced because I turn into a pumpkin before many other tangueros.
Day 25: January 25, 2020
Milongas: La Maria and La Carretta
Results: 4 asks, 3 yesses, 1 no
At the afternoon practica La Maria I asked two men to dance. Both said yes.
The second man was someone that I danced with many times in the past but we have not danced in about 9 months.
Well, I was sitting there bored, not dancing, and neither was he, so I decided to ask him to dance because of the Challenge. I had already been acting friendlier to him and kissed him on the cheek when I arrived. I sidled up to him at the bar and asked “Queres bailar?” He either didn’t understand me or possibly he needed to be the one to ask “Queres bailar?” Again, sometimes I get the feeling that the men need to feel they are the inviter, even if I already invited them. Or maybe I mumble?
Did he want to dance with me or was he saying yes out of obligation? A number of women have asked me this question since I started the Challenge. Many women fear dancing with someone who doesn’t really want to dance with them–as if that would be unpleasant or even humiliating. I say most men I invite are happy to dance with me when I ask.
With this particular guy… I’m not so sure. I didn’t feel him inject his full heart and soul in the dance, but I don’t think he’s my ideal dance parter anyway. He’s a little machista, at least in tango classes. I like the more sensitive, open-minded, kind and egalitarian men. But that’s OK. We can do a tanda together when I don’t have anyone else to dance with. Ha! See how I flipped that around? It’s about what I prefer, not him.
I went on to a late-night milonga La Carreta after dinner with a new tango friend.
I asked two men who were sitting next to me on the couch. A man of Asian origin dressed in elegant wide-legged dark pants and a white shirt seemed disoriented that I invited him. He said, “No,” and looked away confused.
The second was an Argentine sitting to my left, also elegantly dressed–a serious tanguero. I asked on the third song of the tanda. He said “dale.” (OK.) We danced a lovely two songs.
I left happy to go to bed at 1:15 am.
TOTALS from the 31-Day of Asking Men to Dance Challenge, Buenos Aires Tango, January 2020
Total Asks: 29. I asked 29 men to dance in a month!!!!
Total Nos: 6 men said NO!
Total Yesses 23 said YES!!!
Pretty good ratio, right? Over 79% said yes!
The data says it pays to ask men to dance.
Postscript: This Challenge was an experiment in new-habit-formation as well as building courage and resilience. During this month, the new habit of inviting men to dance becomes integrated and less dramatic to practice. Did it stick in February? Sort of. I would say inviting men to dance in February met with less resistance in me than December but it wasn’t as easy as in January when I was in full swing. I think this Challenge may become an annual thing.
Want to come away to Buenos Aires and learn how to invite men to dance, or to attract invitations to dance? Come away with Sasha’s Tango Adventure program for a 7-Day community-based, transformative dance immersion vacation in Buenos Aires and you will learn that and way more. Solo Chica means this program is designed to make it easy for you to come as a woman alone. Solo Chico Adventures for men are available.
Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to live their best lives + do their best work. Author: of Quirkyalone + To-Do List. Forthcoming: WET.
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
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