Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, 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 community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

March 25, 2012

Why People Dance Tango

The reason we dance tango has something to do with the gloomy side of life. Some people say they dance tango because they like tango music, but they can listen to tango music at home. Some say they like the movements, but they can do movements in other dances as well. Some say they like the unrestrained form of tango, but martial arts may give them the same satisfaction. Some say tango is artistically challenging, but ballet raises that bar even higher. If these were the only reasons people dance tango, then there would not be tango, because the alternatives are many.

Tango triumphs for a unique reason. While most dances are created to celebrate life, tango serves a different purpose. It is created by the least fortunate to shelter their sorrows. They do not come to the milonga to play peacocks, but to expose their vulnerability and seek comfort, to dance the loneliness, homesickness, nostalgia, and grief in them, to find a shoulder to rely on, to take refuge for their wounds, to quench their thirst for love, and to touch and be touched by another human being. These are ordinary people, poor people, immigrants, construction workers, waiters, waitresses, shop assistants, maids, and taxi drivers. They may not be splendid in their appearance, but you feel it when you dance with them - their embrace is warm and affectionate, their heart is sensitive and sympathetic, their feeling is deep and sincere, their movement is raw and infectious, and their dance is emotional and sentimental. Tango is their refuge. The intimate, soulful, sensual and comforting nature of tango reflects and serves their deep, inward, human needs. This is the tango still danced in the milongas of less affluent societies, such as Argentina and Uruguay.

Not all people share these needs, of course. Rich people, successful people, arrogant people, and superficial people, for instance, like the beauty of tango but don’t embrace its purpose. Instead, they use tango to celebrate their life, to glorify their success, to show off their style, to display their ego, and to boast their superiority. The traditional tango is too modest for them, so they make changes - opening up the embrace, inventing fancy steps, adding ostentatious tricks, using exotic music, etc. As a result, they created a peacocky version of tango. It looks flashy and feels empty. This kind of tango now is the fashion in affluent societies such as ours.

Tango has survived many challenges in the past. It will survive this one as well, I believe, because needs, desires, yearnings, loneliness, love, interdependency, tenderness, sentimentalism and romanticism are an intrinsic part of human nature even among the toughest. The less fortunate people are particularly vulnerable, which is why they created tango. This may also explain why milongas are more crowded in bad times than in good times, why more women dance tango than men, and why the revival of tango happens now when there are more travelers and immigrants in the world than ever before. Tango will always be the dance of the lonely, homesick, nostalgic, needy, vulnerable, sentimental and romantic. The fortunate people need tango, too, if they are not blind by their success and arrogance. After all, we are human, and tango is for all who search inward for their humanity.

March 3, 2012


Many people think of dancing to music only as stepping on the beat, but there is much more to it. Dancing with cadencia, for example, is also a part of the equation. Cadencia refers to the swing of the body in correspondence with the rhythm and speed of the music. In other words, dancing to music involves not only timing the steps, but timing the swings of the body also. Cadencia is one of the key techniques in tango that is essential to the dance but often being overlooked.

To learn to do cadencia, you first need to learn to swing your body. Most people don’t know how to swing their leg, much less to swing their body. To swing the leg, you need to lift your hip until your free leg hangs loosely and can swing freely like a pendulum. You need to keep the knee and ankle of the free leg straight while swinging it, so the leg looks long and graceful.

Imagine, now, that your leg does not start from the hip but from the chest, that is, imagine everything below your chest is your leg. The chest is where you and your partner connect in the embrace. It can serve as a fixed point to swing everything below it as a whole. That way, not only the line of your leg looks long, but your whole body looks tall and elegant also.

Swinging the body is like swinging a cudgel of three linked sections. The first section is the torso. The second section is the hip. The third section is the leg. A little motion of the first section will lead to a bigger motion of the second section, which will lead to a still bigger motion of the third section - the motion of the last section is caused by the motion of the first section. A novice woman often moves her leg before her torso is led to swing because her attention is on the step rather than the swing. The correct way is letting the man swing your torso and allow the torso to bring your hip and leg to swing. In other words, the swing of the leg is not caused by its muscle but by the swing of the torso and hip in a chain reaction.

For the body to swing elegantly it must remain long and straight. A curly ribbon cannot swing well, neither can a soft spaghetti body. You need to keep your body tall and tenacious so it can swing like a pendulum with weight at the bottom.

The swing is in the horizontal direction. Many students fail to do cadencia because there is a lack of horizontal motion and they only focus on the vertical action of stepping down on the beat. In order to do cadencia you need to generate enough speed. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.) The foot must land on the beat, but the horizontal motion of the body continues due to the inertia, carrying the body to pass over the center of gravity until the other foot lands on the next beat. Cadencia is the lilting motion of the body between two steps. It feels like the fish in the water being pushed by the waves, or the water hits the beach, then retreats, and hit the beach again, then retreats.

Cadencia is a teamwork and cannot occur without the lead. An experienced man knows how to utilize the inertia of the movement to swing the woman's body to the music. The leader must be aware that whether the woman dances to the music depends to a large degree on the lead. Often, she fails to step on the beat because her body is led to swing too little or too much, too slow or too fast, disabling her foot to land on the beat. A skillful man generates just enough swing, so the woman’s foot may land exactly on the beat. Likewise, a skillful woman times the swing of her body and leg to the music as well. She complements the lead in her own capacity.

Cadencia is used both in social tango and performance tango, but it primarily is a social tango technique aiming at increasing the sensual pleasure rather than the visual impression of the dance. Dancing with cadencia requires not only excellent musicality but also superb balance control, which is not an easy task. But, once you’ve learned to do it, the sensation of two connected bodies swinging together in sync to the rhythmic flow of the music will make the dance much more pleasurable. 

The following example illustrates this technique:

Also see: