Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating culture, idea, lifestyle, and philosophy. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. We are humanists. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation and compromise. If you believe in this cause, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




March 18, 2017

Dancing around the Man


Tango masters Alberto Pas and Valorie Hart first discussed this important concept in 1998: the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. But many students today still don't know what that means.

Simply put, it mean in his duty to follow the line of dance the man needs to step a little bit away from the woman, and it is the woman's job to keep up with him and stay close to him.

Many women may think they dance close enough to the man but in fact they do not. Students new to tango often step away from the man in their attempt to keep a distance. Amateur dancers may intentionally save a room for them to do fancy steps. In fact, most tangueras outside of Argentina do not dance close enough to the man. They don't feel comfortable to be in close physical contact with a stranger man. They lean back, or prop with their arms and hands against the man to keep a distance. Their steps are too big. Many never learned to dance in close embrace. Their body is untrained and inflexible, and they do not know how to dance in a compact way.

The truth is, to truly enjoy tango, the woman needs to dance really close to the man. Close does not mean within an arm's length, or even in inches. In tango, close means cheek touches cheek, body touches body, and leg touches leg. In other words, she needs to integrate into his body and be one with him.

The man leading the dance must keep up with the traffic. The woman dancing around him must stay close to him and not step away from him. To dance around the man, the woman needs to swivel her hips to let her lower body face his side, so that she can step around him. She must keep her upper body still and turn only her lower body. If she cannot dissociate her lower body, then she has to turn her whole body, which will cause the rupture of the embrace. That is often a reason why dancing with an amateur dancer is uncomfortable.

Dancing around the man often involves molinete, a figure in which the woman dances around the man who serves as the anchor for her rotation. Their torsos are connected and she only rotates her hips side to side in order for her to do four steps - a front step, a side step, a back step, and a side step - around him. Every tanguera knows the figure, but execute it in a coherent way so it feels smooth and comfortable is not easy. In fact, most women cannot do it well because of their lack of training in dissociation.

Where she places her foot is also critical. It should be placed very close to his foot. If her foot is too far apart from his foot, that will carry her away from him - a common problem of those who dance in big steps. A novice woman often tries to avoid touching her partner's foot. In fact, that is what she should do. Her foot must always land next to his when she dances around him. Even a slight over-reach or misplacement of her foot can cause incoherence of the dance. 

In short, three things are critically important: First, establishing the concept of dancing around the man, which means integrating into his body and being one with him in the dance. Second, spending a lot of time to practice dissociation (especially in the molinete sequence) until you master the skill of swiveling your hips while keeping your upper body still. (Do not cheat by turning your upper body and keeping your lower body still.) Finally, being careful about the details, including how to move your body around him and where to land your foot, so that the two of you may always remain coherent in the dance. For a woman, learning tango is learning to be one with the man. Tango is an intimate dance. How you dance it could make a big difference. 


March 11, 2017

For Milongueras


Being a milonguera is a high call - only the best tangueras deserve that title. A milonguera is not an exhibitionist but a social dancer. She dances not to impress others, but for her partner's enjoyment and her own pleasure. Her skill is so superb that she can focus her entire attention on him instead of on the steps. Her body is so well-trained that she is able to make him feel totally comfortable even in the most challenging maneuvers. Her musicality is so excellent that dancing with her is a pure enjoyment of the music, without slightest disharmony.

A milonguera has transcended the narrowness of egocentric popular ideas like individualism and feminism. She understands that tango is a teamwork and relationship, that the satisfaction of tango comes from surrender, cooperation and sharing, that her own enjoyment of the dance depends on her partner, and that unless he is contented she cannot be so. Therefore, she gives her undivided attention to him, just like he does to her. Tango is an altruist dance, and a milonguera is an altruist.

A milonguera connects to her partner by leaning her body slightly forward against his body with a firm yet gentle pressure of her breasts on his torso, tuning constantly to the messages emitted from his chest. She stretches her torso upwards, as if it were the string of a violin that vibrates at his slightest touch. Her head rests tenderly on his cheek, void of pressure. Her body is completely relaxed, thus it is comfortable to be held in the arms and is easy to lead. Her weight is on the ball of her standing foot, but her whole foot, including the heel, is in contact with the floor, thus she is stable. Her right hand rests in his left hand without weight, and her left arm lands on his right shoulder to allow her to enjoy his embrace. But she keeps her own balance and doesn't hang on him for stability, thus she is light. (See Raul Cabral, Driving and Synchronization.)

A milonguera dances beautifully, but the point of the steps to her is not so much the esthetics as it is the communication. Just like the embrace, the steps are the tool a milonguera uses to connect to her partner, communicate her feelings to him, seduce him, and pamper him. They are a part of what makes tango an intimate, loving, playful and comforting dance.

Her body is so supple and flexible that she can dance on either side of him without upsetting the embrace or causing discomfort to him. She can twist her body in his arms in such tender and seductive way that it pleases to the sense of his body. She can dissociate her upper body and lower body to such a degree that the two bodies intertwine seamlessly even in the most difficult movements. For her, to tango is to pamper the man in her arms, and she is equipped with a perfect and educated feminine body to do that.

She has danced the milonguero style of tango for at least ten years and has accumulated tremendous experiences. Her skill is so proficient that she can dance by intuition without having to think about the techniques or steps. Thus she is able to concentrate on making him feel good. She knows all the tricks to please him with her body and dance: massaging his torso when twists her body in his arms, letting her chest trundle on his torso when swivels her hips, caressing his chest with her breasts in ocho cortado, wrapping his body with her body in molinete, and entangles his leg with her leg in sacadas, etc. She is a maestra of the art of seduction.

A milonguera knows the music inside out. She knows the stories of each and every tango songs, and she knows how to express the feelings of the music with her body. She is moody when the music is moody, passionate when the music is passionate, sentimental when the music turns sour, and tender when the music becomes affectionate. She accelerates, slows down, softens, stresses, syncopates, pauses, and suspends as the music tells her to do so. She can express the feelings of the music so well that you feel like you are dancing with the music itself. Dancing with a milonguera is a pure enjoyment of the music without slightest disharmony.

A milonguera is versed in the milonga world. She follows the rules about dressing, seating, invitation, navigation, mirada, cabeceo, and all the dos and don'ts of the milonga. She is warm, polite, charming, and easygoing. She greets everyone, respects everyone, is friendly to everyone, and does not have an attitude that scares men away. She always let men know her love and appreciation for them. Milonga codes have been a part of her life for so long that they become her life principles. She might have been an arrogant, egocentric, individualistic, independent, competitive, and feminist ultraist. She might have possessed all the attitudes, habits and imperfections many did when they started tango. But tango changed her and turned her into a miracle - a milonguera treasured by all milongueros.


P.S.

I've just returned from Newport News Tango Encuentro, one of the best milonguero gatherings I have attended. It is the women that I have danced with in that event inspired me to write something about them. My special thanks to Liga Losseva, Sherry Chou, Olimpia Stein, Eva VonEsse, Flo Woodreuff, Yemiko Yagui, Marina Aleshker, Sandra Angel, Emily Mooney, Shirley Putnam, Gloria Swindoll, Pamela Ruth, and many others whose names I don't know or remember. Special thanks also to Andy Stein, the organizer of the event, and to Raul Cabral, whose writings are always an inspiration and whose appreciation for milonguera women I deeply share.

January 29, 2017

My Two Cents on Music Selections


Music plays a crucial role in the milonga. Of all the elements that make a successful milonga, music is among the most important three. The other two are a friendly environment governed by the milonga codes, and a high level of dancing. Good music connects and motivates the dancers, touches their hearts, lifts their spirit, stirs up their emotions, synchronizes their movements, and ignites their creativity. Without good music, the dancers cannot perform well and be totally satisfied no matter how good other conditions may be.

Unfortunately, the music played in our milongas is not always good. Many DJs choose to play songs that are not of the highest quality while leave the best songs sit in their computer rest in peace. I have heard the theory that dancers like to try new things, they don't like to dance to the same old songs again and again, and they'd rather take risk than be bored, etc. Such theory does not match my experience. Most dancers that I know like to dance to music that they know well. Familiar songs arouse their desire to dance because, like singing and playing music instrument, they do better when they know the music. Tango dancers will never ever be tired of the best classic tango music. Although there may be generation gaps, I believe the majority of the songs played in the milonga should be well-known to the dancers overall, including younger generations. New songs can be experimented, but they must be absolutely danceable and kept in minimum.

I am a fervent believer that only the most beautiful and danceable songs should be played in the milonga - so fervent that I deleted all the songs that are not of the best quality, and only kept the very excellent, beautiful and danceable songs in my computer. The fact is, you don't need thousands of songs to dj a milonga. A three-hour milonga only contain 12 tandas or 48 songs. If you meticulously select 500 songs that are of the highest quality, you can play for ten milongas in a row without any repetition. It is the quality and not the quantity that counts. (See The Signature of Tango.)

Some DJs play too many fast songs, which, although energetic, could cause fatigue easily. Others play too many slow songs, which, although sentimental, lack an energy and excitement. I believe the majority of the songs played should be in media tempo, but they should be combined with fast and slow tandas to avoid boredom. If all tandas are of the same speed, whether fast, medium or slow, the dancers will get tired. A proper mixture of different tempos and moods suits the tastes of most dancers. But the majority of the songs should be in walking pace, which is most suitable for tango dancing.

Tango as an intimate dance is best danced to music that can stir up tender feelings. DJs should select songs that are beautiful, sentimental, soulful, fluid and rich in syncopation to facilitate protean steps capable of expressing delicate and involved sentiments, and avoid songs that are dull in emotion and monotonous in rhythm. Nonetheless, the music must have lucid beats that are not too difficult to follow. DJs need to be aware that not all tangos are created for dancing. There was a period in Argentina during which tango as a social dance was suppressed by the military rulers (1955 - 1983). Tango music produced in and after that period is largely for listeners and not dancers, often with unpredictable rhythms, or using vocal techniques influenced by the Jazz music that are hard to follow. Such songs should not be played in the milonga no matter how novel and creative they are. Good, danceable tango songs, in fact, are small in number in comparison to songs created for listening and not dancing. A DJ should be able to distinguish the two and play only good, danceable songs in the milonga. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

In selecting tango music, I believe the attention should be paid particularly to songs that are juxtaposed with opposite moods. A good, danceable tango has a rhythm that is crisp, forceful, steady and easy to dance to, accompanied by a melody that is beautiful, supple, fluid and sentimental, so it can ignite the masculinity of the man and the femininity of the woman in the dance. The two partners in essence are playing the music with their bodies. The man and the woman are different instruments like the bandoneon and the violin, each with its unique sound, expressing different emotions. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable. They must complement each other and collaborate harmoniously to create a beautiful tango. Lacking either mood would make the music less symphonious, gender expressive, and gratifying for the dancers. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)

I always feel indebted to good DJs like Tine Herrman, Paul Akmajian and Burak Ozkosem, to name a few. Every time I hear their music, I feel worth the trouble to travel a thousand miles just to enjoy the music. But the truth is, such pleasure is rare. I believe DJs should let their playing philosophy known to the public, so dancers may have a choice. I believe event organizers should be more specific about the music requirements to the DJs they hire. And I hope, with the growth of our tango, the music in our milongas will improve also, so that wherever we go, we can always enjoy the very best music and dance. 

January 22, 2017

Tango and Equality


Tango is created by people living at the bottom of the society. Their imprint still remains in the dance. The original tango is a lowbrow dance. It is raw, simple, sensual, soul-searching and comforting, touching the heart of one's humanity. Dancing that tango reminds Beatriz Dujovne of a birthing mother's ecstasy, struggle, agony, sweat, pain and joy. Whether a maid or a queen, she wrote, the basic birthing experience of all women is identical, just like that in tango. "Tango is all of us in life's common places. It is who we are at the core, behind our social masks." (See The Tango in All of Us.)

That shared humanity in tango is a huge source of sublimation for people struggling at the bottom. Tango liberates them because in tango they have regained the dignity of being on an equal footing with others. All dancers are created equal in tango whether they are taxi drivers or CEOs, servant girls or first daughters. You enjoy that person dancing with you for who he/she is as a fellow human being regardless of his/her social status. Tango is where Cinderella and Prince Charming fall in love. "It melts down differences by zeroing in on our commonality," Dujovne wrote, "it feeds our hunger for being on a level with others." (See The Tangoin All of Us.)

Equality has been a dream of the American people since the creation of this nation. When the early immigrants to America were unfairly treated by the English King, they called for equality. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That document, The Declaration of Independence, laid the foundation for this nation.

After 240 years, however, the gap between the rich and the poor in America did not narrow. In fact, it is widened in our times. Power corrupts. When we were under the oppression of a despot who mistreated us, we wanted equality. When we gained the control of our own destiny, we started to do the same thing to others. Compassion and self-interests are juxtaposed in human nature. When we keep a balance between the two, we are doing fine. But when we lose that balance, when we only think about ourselves and disregard others, when we formulate theories like personal liberty, individual rights and individualism to legitimize selfish behaviors (see Tango and Individualism), when we misinterpret the founding documents from a narrow, individualist perspective in favor of the self rather than the society, the rich rather than the poor, and the criminals rather than the victims (see The Freedom in Tango), when we allow ourselves to pursue self-interests at the expense of others, when we form monopoly groups and build unfair systems such as those in our financial, insurance, healthcare, pharmaceutical, commercial, real estate, and legal institutions to benefit and protect special interests (see Mammonism), when we allow the rich to use their money to influence the policy making, when we use freedom to promote violence, obscenity, homosexuality and alternative life styles (see Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes), when personal liberty is used to undermine traditional marriage and family - the very foundation of the society (see Tango and Family Values), when divorce, irresponsible sex, single parent family and gay marriage become the accepted norms and are sponsored by the state, etc., we get ourselves further and further into the mess we now are in.

Ours is the lesson of freedom lost for the majority of people when we only seek for personal freedom. Only few can be winners in the competition if equality and justice are not the premise of all other human rights. True freedom is the freedom from being violated by others, not the freedom to violate others. It is the right to act within the limits of law necessary to the public good, not that to harm the society. It is a self-disciplined human right under the principle that all men are created equal, not the right to do whatever one pleases at the cost of others. In other words, a free society is an equal society based on compassion and cooperation, not on self-interests and competition. It is where individual rights are subject to the communal interests of the society as a whole, where nobody's freedom will be deprived by another's freedom, and where coexistence, brotherhood, compassion and sharing are the common values of all people. It is a society consistent with the spirit of tango.

The following clip is relevant to the subject. I cannot refrain from smiling when watch this video. It is well-directed, thought-provocative, and with many humorous details like the responses of the crowd, the looks in the girls' eyes, and the old lady being carried away, etc. The dance is of the highest quality with excellent musicality and choreography. I especially appreciate the ending where the elegant dignity of the heroic nonentity won over the arrogance of the elites. Watch in fullscreen.





Related Reading

The Freedom in Tango


December 11, 2016

Tango and Family Values


I raise chickens in my backyard. In cold winter days like now, they huddle and tango together to keep themselves warm. Individualism is a luxury chickens couldn't afford. They rely on each other for survival, just like early human beings. (See The Spirit of Tango.)

Sometimes I wonder, are modern people really superior to chickens? Why they formulated so many theories like individualism, feminism, homosexualism and "marriage equality" to justify behaviors that are not to the best interests of the mankind as a whole? Why they are so obsessed with self-interests and personal rights but are apathetic to other people? Why they mistreat, exploit, take advantage of, rob, abuse, torture and slaughter their own kind? Why they greedily accumulate wealth far exceeding their needs at the expense of their fellow human beings? Why little by little they abandoned all the values that held them together and made them strong as a species?

I realize that, as history has shown, evil sometimes prevailed over good and people lost conscience allowed themselves to go with the flow. Perhaps we come across such a time again.

I am not willing to give up hope, though, because I still see goodness in people like firefighters, doctors without borders, and tango dancers alike. I appreciate them because it takes a big heart to open your arms to others, to provide a supporting shoulder for those in need, and to be a good Samaritan. Tango is created by such people, immigrants and street women who are homeless, vulnerable, lonely, looking for a refuge in a strange land, yearning to be loved, and who are sympathetic to others like themselves. Like chickens, they huddle and tango together to keep themselves warm in a cold world. (See Why People Dance Tango.)

I also see hope in parents who love their children and teach them to love each other, to take care of their little brothers and sisters, and to work as a team. When such children grow up, they will become responsible members of the society. Evil prevails only when family is disintegrated, when family values are lost, when human bonds are faded away, when everyone becomes egocentric, and when individualism, feminism, hatred, divorce, single parent family, irresponsible sex, self-indulgence, gun culture and materialism become the accepted norms in a society.

But I don't think that will be the case forever, because as history has also shown, so long as there are men and women, there will be love, family, children, family values, and tango, so evil cannot prevail for long. Family is and always will be the cornerstone of human civilization. Our collective desire to survive and our collective conscience reject what is bad for us as a species. After all, we are a part of nature, and the law of nature overrules the law of men.

Perhaps that's why in times like this more and more people turn to tango now, a dance that connects us, a dance that is consistent with family values, a dance that teaches the world to love, and a dance in which many rediscovered conscience and compassion. (See Tango Is the Search of a Dream.)

November 5, 2016

The Lessons of Tango


Having a broad vision, or being trivial, the results are different.

Seeing things from the vantage point of the team, or seeing things from the perspective of the individual, the results are different.

Zooming out to see yourself as a part of the whole, or zooming in to see yourself as everything, the results are different.

Focusing on what's in common, or focusing on the difference, the results are different.

Sympathetic, or unsympathetic, the results are different.

Taking the concerns of others into account, or rejecting opposite views, the results are different.

Being agreeable, or being disagreeable, the results are different.

Moderate and balanced, or rabid and extremist, the results are different.

Being willing to meet in the middle, or insisting on having one's own way, the results are different.

Building bridges, or building walls, the results are different.

Cooperative, or competitive, the results are different.

Team spirit, or individuality, the results are different.

Working for the common cause, or working for self-interests or group interests, the results are different.

Striving to achieve harmony, or striving to win competition, the results are different.

The former are magnanimous and patriotic, the latter are petty and self-centric.

The former, which are germane to tango, lead to a better society.

The latter, pertinent to individualism, lead to dissension, disunity and failure as a nation.

October 28, 2016

Meeting in the Middle


For many, life is good. For many others, it is not. We live in our own realities. But the fact is, as Guy de Maupassant wrote in his 1883 novel A Woman's Life, "Life is never as good or as bad as one thinks."

"I think, therefore I am." (Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes.) In order to think there must be a thinking entity, the self. Human cognition is biased by personal experiences, thus tends to be partial and rabid. Truth often lies in between two opposite views. For this reason, Confucius argues that the gentlemen's approach to life is to take a mean course, or to meet in the middle. (See How You Dance Matters.)

Meeting in the middle is not only a method of thinking or approach to life. It is also a civilized way to resolve a conflict. Opposite parties insisting on having their own ways can be stalled, unable to reach an agreement. But if they are willing to meet in the middle, they become less divided and more united. A compromised deal may not be as good as either party would like, but it is a common ground for them to move forward. In fact, that is how nature works. The black tulip does not come from the original parent plants overnight, but through a series of small improvements or compromises over generations, as Alexandre Dumas wrote in his 1850 novel The Black Tulip. Politicians often fight for a one-time deal. In actuality progress is a process. You move an inch through a compromise, then move another inch through another compromise. You probably will not get all you want. But everyone will be better off if they all agree to move forward by meeting in the middle.

The result is something better, the black tulip. Aristotle said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." When individual parts are united, it creates a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual effects. You can easily break individual sticks, but you cannot break them if they are tied together. Logically, the whole is the sufficient condition of its part, but the reverse is not true. In other words, what is good for the society benefits all, but what is good for an individual does not necessarily benefit the society. Individualism is erroneous as a methodology. It is also antidemocratic as an ideology, because it acts in accordance with the law of the jungle. (See Tango and Individualism.) Those who insist on having their own way and refuse to take the concerns of others into account are tyrants. A democracy formed by such individuals does not work, as proven by the increasing uninhibitedness, uncooperativeness, hostility, polarization, inequality, aggression and lawlessness in American society.

If we still hold that "all men are created equal" to be a self-evident truth, if we still believe that a united, cooperative and harmonious society is to the best interests of all its citizens, if we still need each other, and if we do not want to be disregarded by others, then we must take others into account and not insist on having our own way. A democracy is government by people, not strong individuals. It is based on the cooperation of the people, not on antagonism and sabotage. It aims at the balance, harmony and well-being of all, not the self-interests of a few. It follows the Golden Rule, not law of the jungle. It requires us to resolve conflicts through compromise, not gun and force. A democracy must educate its people on its principles. If we believe these to be true, then meeting in the middle is the sensible, practical and civil attitude we must have in our approach to each other, the approach of tango. I must add, right now we are not doing well in our politics, and in our dance.