‘Be Easy to Move, but Hard to Knock Over’

This aphorism comes from a local Argentine tango teacher. With it he’s explaining the elasticity of one dance partner to another, especially in the follower’s role. The follower reacts to the leader’s suggestions, though she may do so in her own way. While this is going on both partners must maintain their own balance. This leader-follower agreement is the structure on which all partner dances operate. Without it, partners will be nursing bruised shins and stubbed toes, but with it, you can sail around a room as one. 


Willy GS / Getty Images

Inevitably, I begin thinking of trees. With bonsai, we are the leaders, and trees are our followers. But occasionally, our tree follower may suggest something or resist a suggestion of ours, and it’s up to us to pay attention and adjust our approach. 

I feel a strong parallel between bonsai and tango. A healthy, well-rooted bonsai will be easy to move, easy to adjust. It will respond to sensible suggestions. But it’s pretty tough and won’t be impressed by anything silly, either. If you try that the bonsai will walk off the floor in a huff.

A tango friend on hearing this aphorism said, ‘It’s such a great line—a great metaphor for life, isn’t it?’ Be easy to move, but hard to knock over. Yes. I agree. Our tango teacher does this a lot, using phrases that mean more. It’s another reason to bring a notebook to classes of the great Alex Krebs.

Footnote: I’ve been dancing Argentine tango (not the flowery ballroom tango) for almost 15 years now, with short breaks. I actually love all sorts of dance from contact improv to swing. Tango though has a special place in my heart. I think it’s because tango is again so similar to bonsai. It’s challenging in a way most other dances are not, bringing a ton of vulnerability to the floor. That you then have to grow with. Bonsai is challenging in a way other horticultural arts are not, bringing a conversation with a plant to a whole new level. If we don’t refine our approach and become better tree leaders, we’re not the only ones not growing. 

Double Footnote: I drafted this post many years ago when Alex’s classes were up, though suspended at the time of this writing. Some dances and practicas are ongoing at his wonderful small studio in Portland, Oregon: http://www.tangoberretin.com.

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    Well, I will be damned… yet another interesting page out of your life’s playbook. Much respect for those who can truly dance… Jennifer Price (Walter Pall’s protégé) was a professional ballerina before Bonsai… and If I am not mistaken, Jim Doyle also has dance in his background… Beautiful !!! (And while not bonsai related, are you aware of Christopher Walken’s dance skills ? LOL but seriously !)

  2. Melvin Zamis says:

    A most beautiful post. Thank you

  3. Ray says:

    A great comment on life. One’s own growth and our listening , observing and growing our bonsai. If your not growing forward your going backwards.
    Thanks Michael

  4. bmaiorov says:

    Muy bien ahi! Do you also drink yerba mate? let me know if you want some Argentinian trees… I would trade 😉

  5. jelipe says:

    “Many ways lead to Rome” they say. And you show that for real. Bot just in this Tango-Bonsai analogy, but in all your writing. You choose bonsai as your way, but your open mind allows you to see all human efforts to explain why things are as they are. Thank you for the share…and keep dancing!

  6. stephen fluett says:

    hand in hand , pretty to read, pretty trees. Perhaps dance will out live all,

  7. vanaja suryakumar says:

    What a comparison! Very nicely written and would love to see you dancing sometime, somewhere. Thanks.

  8. Andrew Babiracki says:

    Thank you, Michael, for your post. I too live by the same tango philosophy of partnering. It was also good to hear you mention ‘Tango Berretin’, the place connecting so many nice memories.

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