Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit 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 people and species. 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 the music, but they can listen to the music at home. Some say they like the movements, but they can enjoy 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 passionate 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 are 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 stand on one leg and lift your torso and hip until the other leg hangs loosely and can swing freely like a pendulum. You need to keep the knee and ankle of that 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 as well.

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. In order to do cadencia you need to let the man swing your torso first, and use the motion of the torso to bring the 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.

To swing the three sections of the body as a whole elegantly, you need to keep your body tall and in tone. A soft ribbon cannot swing well. If your body is like a piece of spaghetti, it won't work either. You need to keep your body taut as you swing it, imagine it is a pendulum with weight at the bottom, and you imitate the pendular motion to swing the body to and fro in the dance.

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

Cadencia is a teamwork and cannot occur without the lead. An experienced man knows how to use the inertia of the movement to swing the woman's body in correspondence with the rhythm and speed of the music. Men must be aware that whether women dance to the music depends to a large degree on the lead. Often, the woman 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 in both 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 harmony with the rhythmic flow of the music will make the dance much more pleasurable. 

The following example illustrates this technique:

Also see: