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, blacks, whites, 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.




June 18, 2016

Mammonism


In the beginning there is no money. People barter. I fish, you farm, and she weaves fabric. I use my fish to trade your vegetables and her cloth. As this becomes a common practice, the issue of equivalent trade emerges and the exchange rates of all kinds of products have been established. For example, one foot of cloth equals two pounds of fish or three pounds of vegetable. But such direct barter is inconvenient. You may want my fish, but I don't want your vegetables but her cloth, and she doesn't want my fish but your vegetables. What can we do? Thus, money, as a universal equivalent, comes into being. With money, trade becomes easier.

Initially, money is things that people all desire, such as salt, silk, gold and silver. People first convert their own products into such goods, and then use those goods to exchange for others' products. But they soon realize that this way of exchange is cumbersome. Since the function of money is to measure or represent the value of a commodity, a piece of paper will do and be easier to use. Thus, money changes its form from a material good to a bill. People then discover that even the bill is not necessary. Since the values are expressed in numbers, the exchange can be done numerically without a piece of paper. Thus, money changes form again from the bill to the digital figure on a bank card. This digital figure now becomes the life ambition of the modern people. In political euphemism, this is called "the pursuit of happiness."

In the beginning there is no accumulation of wealth, because fish and vegetables cannot be stored in large number, they will rot. Trade is only for daily consumption. But with money, that is no longer the case. Money can be accumulated infinitely and passed on to future generations, it can also be used to loan, speculate and invest in order to generate returns. With money I can buy vegetables from you and sell to her, and buy textiles from her and sell to you for a profit. It is soon discovered that I don't even need to possess the commodities to trade. One can do short sale and still make money. Thus, trade is no longer for consumption. It becomes the mere means of accumulating wealth.

Making money through trade is a tricky business. Strictly speaking there is no fair trade, or no profit can be made. One can only gain from someone else's loss. For example, an employer makes money by taking advantage of the employees and customers. Wall Street takes advantage of the regulators' ignorance on the dubious formulas they created to make money at the expenses of the ordinary investors and loanees. Insurance company takes advantage of people's sense of security, since more people are healthy than sick and alive than dead, the insurance company can make money by selling insurance. Jealous of the insurance company, the drug company increases the price of their product 5000%. You either buy or die, and it is paid by the insurance anyway. Hospital makes their money in the same way. I went to a hospital for a skin condition. They first sent me to a family doctor, who sent me to the lab to have the test down, and then sent me to a specialist. The specialist knew immediately it was eczema without seeing the test. The prescribed cream cost me $15 and the eczema was cured. But the hospital bill is $800, which is paid for by the insurance. The insurance company shifts the cost to the consumers by raising the premiums and reducing the coverage. Health insurance once covered everything, now you have to buy separate insurances for teeth, eyes, ears and drugs. House insurance once covered everything, now you have to buy separate insurances for fire, flood, tornado and earthquake.

Such practices undermined the fundamental principle in trade. Since the exchange rates of all products are proportional and balanced, the increase in price of one product will trigger a chain reaction of inflation. As a result, houses, cars, food, groceries, clothes, utilities, services, all become more expensive, and the government has to raise taxes just to keep even. The victims are the ordinary people. In our modern society, 63% of Americans are unable to pay a $500 surprise bill, but a small number of people benefiting from the system that they have created have accumulated tremendous wealth that reached astronomical figures.

Greed knows no limit and most crimes of our times, caught or not caught, are motivated by money. 
In a mammonish society, trade, education and medicine are all means of making money, and money respects no morality. The winners are those who have found ingenious ways to abuse others, and the losers are those who are ripped off. As a result, fairness, honesty and trust become a laughing matter. A man once could feed the whole family, not anymore because the price becomes so outrageous that women also have to work in order to maintain the middle class standard of living. Feminists may call it "women's rights and equal opportunities," in fact, it is the enslavement of women. A woman lamented, "More and more women work extremely hard to make money now. The society provides women with less and less security. Security used to mean a commitment, a clasped hand when crossing the street, now it is the money in our pocket and a fully charged cell phone... We all want to marry a man, only to find ourselves turned into a man!"

When a society allows people to accumulate unlimited wealth, measures success by one's money, uses the rich as the role models for the whole society to follow, provides them with legal loopholes and preferential treatments, and allows them to influence the policy making with their money, it is bound that people will want to get rich and use any possible means to make money, that the society will be subject to increasing polarization, that the morality will deteriorate, that the humanity will be corrupted, that the crime will increase, that the natural resources will be depleted, and that the environment will be destroyed. Mammonism is the cancer of the modern times, which dehumanizes people and turns us into the slaves of money. When mankind invented money, nobody thought it would lead to the alienation of the humanity. How to awaken mankind from this insanity is one of the most intractable problems facing modern philosophy, economics, sociology and political science.





May 24, 2016

Tolerance and Grit


In my spare time I enjoy fishing. Gu Feng depicts his fishing experience in a poem, "In the mist that shrouds the valley, by the stream that reflects the lush green bamboos and shiny red flowers, stood I in soft breeze, fishing in quietness. At dusk, I listened to the rain dripping on the pavilion. At dawn, I, holding an umbrella, in blue robe, walked in solitude along the stony path." 

Beautiful! But I am not Gu Feng. The fun of fishing to me is in the bite, without which the relaxing scenery is not enough to make me content. The disposition of the fish is elusive. In some days I don't catch any. In most days two or three fish an hour is normal. But sometimes the fish suddenly scramble to snatch. You toss the lure, and they jump up to bite. One after another you can catch dozens in an hour. This miracle happens only two or three times a year. My fancy for fishing, in addition to the soothingness of the nature, comes mainly from the temptation of such miracles. The addiction, therefore, is in the hope. In reality miracles are rare.


This situation is very much like dancing tango. The elegant venue, soft lighting, resplendent dresses, beautiful music, all are good, but not enough to make me happy without a good partner. One night, fortunately, you met a person, whose height, figure, musicality, dance skill, manner and temperament are all compatible to yours. Like a perfect match made in heaven, the two of you become instant pals, giving rein to the dance that enables you not only to enjoy the seamless cooperation, but also the freedom like in an unrestrained solo. This experience changed your outlook on life, because you now experienced the feeling of being one with another person in perfection. From then on, you go to the milonga again and again, week after week, hoping to re-experience that miracle. But miracles come only by luck and not will. In my fourteen years of dancing tango in countless milongas, that experience only occurred few times. Which, nonetheless, is still the reason I am addicted to tango, because I yearn to revisit that dream one more time. Tango is the search of a dream. In reality, however, miracles are rare. 


People often forget that ordinariness is the norm of life; therefore, we have to learn to accept, enjoy and cherish the ordinary, which is something many of us are not very good at. Voltaire said: "What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of fragility and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature." Of course, appreciating the ordinary is not enough. We all yearn to transcend the ordinary and achieve the extraordinary. Excellence is the consequence of grit. Only by repeating the ordinary countless times can one obtain the extraordinary. Therefore, let us also encourage ourselves and be gritty - the miracle will happen, that is the second law of nature.


March 29, 2016

A Wise Voice


Anna:  Hi, Paul, I totally agree with you on "Good human values are based on what is beneficial to the humanity rather than an individual person or gender." It is so beautifully said and so wise. Freedom and human rights movements led people to put a lot of emphasis on individuality and as a result, the inflated self image lessens our ability to view the world as a connected whole. This inflated self image is also probably the root cause to many modern psychological ailments and problems: loneliness, depression, and mental disorder. If we can zoom out and see ourselves as a tiny one, rather than the one, in this big universe, a fact that has not changed a bit since the big bang, we may again find the beauty in the ancient natural law and adopt the right perspective towards the self and the rest of the world.

I had a few Tango lessons by now and was deeply touched by this beautiful dance. I am a woman with strong characters in other people's eyes. When I first started, I experienced a lot of struggle, questioning, and doubt. As you have explained in your excellent blog, unless we adopt the appropriate values and mentality for this dance, we cannot dance the real Tango. As a matter of fact, unless the man and the woman take the right role, they cannot even get the dance going. They will be constantly on each other's toes. No agreement, no harmony, no beauty. Then one day luckily I met a partner who did all the things you mentioned that a good leader should do, he guided me, protected me and let me shine. And without me knowing I surrendered all my wariness and entrusted myself to him. The steps followed naturally. At that moment, I knew how Tango should be done and how beautiful it can be when it is done right, when a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Looking forward to more of your sharing.

Paul: Dear Anna, I appreciate deeply what you said because it summed up so well the theme throughout this blog - and you did it with such simple elegance. When I first started this blog, I thought it was just about tango. But I soon discovered that in fact I was in search of the missing humanity in ourselves, without which tango loses its soul. Tango awakens the humanity in us because it forces us to zoom out and see ourselves as a tiny one and connected whole, to understand our weakness and interdependence, as reflected in "the ancient natural law," and to appreciate the beauty of Creation from a macro or cosmological perspective, as you eloquently put it. The individual is trivial. The strength of mankind comes out of our connection and cooperation. This truth, as attested by tango, must not be forgotten no matter how much we have achieved. Please write and let your voice be heard! My best wish to your tango! (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II).)

March 24, 2016

惜缘


A reader commented on my last post, The Spirit of Tango, "A ten minute tanda is a radical response to the dehumanizing reality of modern day-to-day living. It is an opportunity for two humans to embrace each other in the promotion of humanity. Don’t let the precious opportunity slip away because your partner isn’t a good enough dancer, tall enough, young enough, old enough, attractive enough, friendly enough… whatever enough. Every embrace has a story - dance with it." I pondered on the comment, because it reminded me of a Chinese motto "惜缘" (pronounce shee-yuan).

惜缘 means cherishing the luck by which people are brought together. It's an unfamiliar philosophy in America where human connections are not as appreciated as in some other cultures like China and Argentina. Many Americans value individualism, independence and personal freedom. They live alone, act alone, work alone, die alone, are fierce fighters for gun right, but quite ignorant in communal life and relationships, and they often let the opportunity of affinity with people slip away.

But life is not a solo-dance even for Robinson Crusoe. If you think about it, your life and success are defined by people associated with you: parents who raise you, teachers who educate you, mentors who guide you, friends who stand by you, colleagues who work with you, and assistants who help you, etc. Fortune only brings a limited number of people into each person's life. These are the precious resources granted to us by fate. Those who cherish such resources can build great companies and achieve lofty goals. Those who don't, their life tends to be lonely, friendless, and unfruitful.

What is true in life is true in tango also. In each city there are only limited people who dance tango. These people, despite their differences, share something in common: their hunger for connecting with other people, their belief in love and fraternity, their nostalgia, romanticism, sentimentalism and life attitude... Those who cherish each other form a great tango community. Those who tear down the bridge and build walls, their community suffers. Unfortunately, that is often the reality in our tango. Many of us do not appreciate enough the lot that brings us together. They are haughty and prejudicial. They see others as rivals and are indifferent and cold towards others. They turn a blind eye to those who want to dance with them, thinking they are not worthy - attractive enough, young enough, slender enough, tall enough, white enough, good enough, etc. They remain detached and uninvolved in the dance, focusing on themselves rather than the partner, and they form cliques and squeeze out competitions, etc.

Individualism is incompatible with tango. I hope we can learn from the philosophy of 惜缘 and cherish what brings us together as a community, because that is what makes tango fascinating. Tango is not only a skill. It is a fellowship or community, an appreciation of other human beings, and a philosophy of regaining humanity through connection and cooperation (see Exhibition versus Fellowship). Instead of trying to change tango, I think we should let tango change us and turn us into a better connected and cooperative people.

March 15, 2016

The Spirit of Tango


One of the great human limitations besides our short life span, is our self-centeredness. We think first and often only from personal perspective, and we act first and often only for personal interests. 

But mankind is not always like that. When humanity is in its infancy and childhood, we rely heavily on each other for survival, everything is shared; cooperation, selflessness and Good Samaritanism are our first nature. Doctrines like individualism, human rights and personal liberty appear much later in human history, and are still imperfect theories, or in many ways even adverse to the best human interests overall, as attested by greed, selfishness, fierce competition, polarization, monopolist and fraudulent business practices, the destruction of environment and ecosystem, the alienation of marriage, the disintegration of family, and gun culture, etc., all in the name of individual rights and liberty. Mankind is still in its adolescence too self-centric to understand the relation between personal interests and communal interests. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.) 

Perhaps the most important lessons that tango teaches us are that we are interdependent rather than independent, that our happiness is inseparable from that of others, that we cannot be free unless all are free, and that cooperation serves us better than competition. Tango tells the other side of the human story. It awakens the better part of the humanity in us, I hope, and suggests a way for us to live together in peace and harmony through cooperation, generosity in spirit, loftiness of purpose, and altruism. Wherever we go and dance, tango always reminds us that love, despite our many limitations, is what holds us together as a couple, people, nation, and species. (See The Freedom in Tango.) 

March 8, 2016

Spot Dancing in Tango


Progressive dances, such as foxtrot and waltz, are danced on a large dance floor like that in a ballroom or dance hall. Such large floor is divided into two sections: the outer travelling lanes for progressives dancing, and the inner or center floor for spot dancing. Dancing progressive dance needs to follow certain rules, such as travel counterclockwise around the line of dance, do not move against traffic, maintain the flow, avoid spot dancing that could hold up traffic, move to the center if you like to do spot dancing or practice, avoid frequent lane changes, do not travel through the center, keep a proper distance from others (not too close or too far apart), adapt patterns to what the traffic permits, do not focus on completing a pattern if a collision can result, do not force your way to overtake, etc.

Spot dances, such as disco and salsa, are danced in a fixed area. Such dances can be danced on a small floor like that in a restaurant or bar, which tends to be crowded 
due to its small size. Dancing spot dances on a small and crowded floor follows different rules, such as dancing on your own spot or slot, not drifting around the dance floor, using minimum space, using compact dance hold or embrace, using small steps, avoiding dangerous movements, respecting other's dance space, not pushing or elbowing your way around, etc.

Now, the question is, is tango a progressive dance or a spot dance? What floor size is better suited for tango dancing? Which set of rules apply when it is danced on a crowded floor? There are no simple answers because tango, though a progressive dance in general, can also be danced on a spot. The following is an example.




People do not dance foxtrot and waltz on a coffee table, because that requires a large floor. But tango is different, it is an intimate dance danced in close embrace and compact steps that does not require a huge space. Which is why milongas are often held in restaurants and bars. A small venue is more intimate, readily available, affordableand easy to do cabeceo. On the down side, a small venue does not hold a lot of people and tends to be congested. In a small bar like the El Beso in downtown Buenos Aires, there are often over a hundred people packed in a room about the size of a large American family room, dancing tango. People are jammed together, using whatever space available to them, and dancing in very compact steps, drifting randomly around the floor in a generally counterclockwise direction. Obviously, in places like that you have to follow rules different from that in a spacious ballroom where lanes are divided, free travel is possible, and open embrace and fancy steps are allowed. We dance tango in various venues, some are big, others are small; some are sparsely populated, others are tightly packed. Even a large floor can be crowded from time to time. Therefore, one must dance in accordance with the changing situation. Sticking to the way that no longer fits is a cause of problem. For example, dancing in open embrace and wild steps on a small and crowded floor, trying to finish a pattern even that will result in a collision, or forcing an overtaking that may disturb others' dancing, etc. Such senseless behaviors are a major cause of accidents in our milongas. (See Milonga Codes.)

This happens often because people do not know how to do spot-dancing in tango. Many students are only taught to dance tango progressively in open embrace and fancy steps on a large dance floor. They have never learned to tango on a tiny spot in close embrace and compact steps in a crowded milonga. However, with the growing popularity of tango, the ability to do so is becoming increasingly essential, as our milongas become more and more crowded. Dancing tango on a crowded dance floor requires using close embrace and small steps, such as rock step, ocho cortado, sacada, giro milonguero, the ability to change the body's position from one side of the partner to the other side of the partner in a very compact way, a much better command on dissociation, and the knack in floor crafting, etc. It also requires the dancers to focus more on the music and feelings rather than the steps and performance. Without these skills, one's tango education is insufficient and inadequate. 



February 27, 2016

Floorcraft, Choreography and Hastiness


Many people consider floorcraft as a safety measure intended to keep the milonga running in an orderly and safe way. Examples of such measure include dividing the floor into lanes, avoiding zigzagging between lanes, maintain the flow, not moving against the traffic, not blocking the traffic, using safe and compact steps, keeping a proper distance from each other to prevent accident, etc.

While floorcraft plays a crucial role in keeping the dance in order, it is more than just safety protocols. Floorcraft is an important component of choreography. In tango, the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. In general, the couple moves forward counterclockwise around the line of dance, but their dancing route is not a straight line. Rather, it is a random course with alternate right and left moves, forward and backward steps, and various turns. If the legs of the dancers were brushes, they would leave on the floor an intricate pattern with its own character - vigorous or graceful, neat or chaotic, beautiful or ugly, organized or disorderly, interesting or boring, etc., just like a work of calligraphy. This work of calligraphy is not only two dimensional, composed of footwork in large, small, conspicuous and inconspicuous strokes and in random orientations, or composed of steps in uniform size and single direction. It also has a time dimension, made of steps in a variety of  tempos and suspensions, or made of steps in equal speed without hesitation, etc. Floorcraft is an art by its own right. A couple can be skillful in footwork, but their floorcraft or choreography can still be monotonous in size, orientation, speed and rhythm. Good footwork does not guarantee good choreography. The following is an example.


These Italian students are skilled dancers. Their dance style, embrace, connection, footwork and sense of rhythm are all good. The only evident problem is hastiness. Young people are energetic, they tend to dance with great eagerness and haste, stepping on every beat regardless of the mood of the music. In this example, every couple is chasing the beats and doesn't know how to slow down. There is a lack of rest, subtle movement, slow motion, and momentary pause in their dance. Dancers, especially young dancers, need to know that dancing to the music does not require stepping on every beat. Dance is like other composition arts. In writing you need to use punctuation, in painting you need to use empty space, in calligraphy you need to leave margins, and in tango you need to pause. Silence is also an expression, which sometimes speaks more than words. Hesitation, slow motion, pause and pose must also be a part of your tango vocabulary.

In comparison, the following example is more relaxed and tasteful.


These Hungarian dancers are about the same age, but they dance in an easygoing and unhurried way, slower, and use more pauses. The glaring example is the couple in white and purple appeared at 0:00-0:35 at the center and again 0:55-1:05 to the right. The man danced patiently, giving the woman enough time to finish her steps and not pushing her to chase the beats. Sometimes he paused to enjoy the moment, adding an interesting variety to the composition. It must be pointed out that floor crafting is mainly the man's job. The woman's job is to beautify the dance by her colorful footwork, but she cannot change the choreography. That responsibility lies in the leader. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Too often, we see men so focus on the steps that they neglect their leading duty, which is to plot the dance, making it interesting, diversified, musical and well-arranged, so that it can bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play. That is not to say that the woman does not contribute to the choreography. Often, the couple rushes because the woman dances with great haste, forcing the man to rush with her as a result. A good follower inspires the leader and allows him the complete freedom to lead and shine her. Tango is a teamwork in which the two sexes play different roles. It requires intimate cooperation between the partners.

I believe the above example is not a nonchalant play without deliberate efforts, but the result of dedicated education and learning. Many tango organizers and teachers make great efforts in teaching floorcraft to their students. The following is an example.


As the woman teacher said, they talk about floorcraft every year, every day, in every class, and in every milonga. The result is demonstrated in the following video, which, although long, is worth your time to watch at least to the chacarera.


This event, Romolino Tango Festival, is held in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. I was surprised to see the balanced level of their tango dancing, in comparison to what I often see in the milongas and festivals in the US. Floorcraft is not difficult to teach and learn. If after three decades the Americans still dance like rebellious teenagers, something must be wrong with our culture. All the above examples, including the first Italian tango marathon, are in sharp contrast to how we Americans dance tango. Do not be biased by my critique on that particular clip, because the Italians are very good tango dancers. The following Italian example may humble us and make us envy of their tango.