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.
November 29, 2013
1. Not listening to music
Some men do not dance to music because they do not know how to listen to tango music. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.) Others because they are so focused on doing the steps that they cannot hear the music. The former is a problem of musicality. The latter is that of attention allocation. Dancing tango requires the ability to allot attention to many elements simultaneously, including embrace, connection, posture, step, partner, coordination, relaxation, decoration, music, etc. Among these listening to the music must be the priority, because dancing tango is dancing the music, not the steps. The latter is but an expression of the former. In leading, the man must first pay attention to the music. He must not only think of the steps that he is leading and forget about the music.
2. The steps are too difficult
Some men like to lead difficult steps that are beyond their comfortable zone, which require so much of their attention that they become heedless of the other aspects of the dance. Beginners often mistake complexity for beauty. But in fact one has nothing to do with the other. On the contrary, keeping the steps simple will be easier for the dancer to allocate attention, listen to the music, relax the body, perfect the movement, and enjoy the relationship. Unlike stage tango that features performance, social tango emphasizes the feelings and the communication between the partners. Therefore, simple steps are more suitable. To dance social tango with difficult steps of stage tango could easily backfire. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)
3. Leading with hands
Many men lead with hands for various reasons. First, one's long-standing habit is hard to break. Second, it's easier to lead with hands than with the torso. Third, with the help of hands it is facile to do steps. Forth, many women prefer dancing in open dance hold, leaving men little choice but using hands. Fifth, beginners often see tango as steps rather than relationship, feeling and music interpretation, although the opposite is closer to the truth. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) Finally, in order to teach steps, many teachers encourage students to use open embrace, which reinforces the habit of using hands. However, using hands to lead conflicts with the essence of tango, that is, intimacy, sensuality, comfort, oneness and synchronization. Tango has been from its birth a dance of close embrace and torso leading, which distinguishes it from other partner dances. For the man, learning tango is primarily learning to lead with his torso, that is, to effect the movement of the woman's body with his body, not his hands. Beginners must overcome the habit of using hands, and develop the ability to lead with the torso.
4. Sending mixed signals
The problem of hand leading is that it often contradicts the body. Those who rely on the hands usually do not know how to lead with the torso. When their hands put forth strength in one direction but their torso does not turn or move accordingly, that sends mixed signals. The fundamental solution to the problem is to supersede hand leading with torso leading. Arms and hands must be completely relaxed in leading and used only to form a supportive frame rather than to coerce the woman to submit. Unawareness of the function of the torso often causes the man to lead with his hands while his weight is not completely transferred from one foot to the other. But, since the partners are connected, the incompleteness of his weight change means that she, too, has not yet completed her weight change. Asking her to take a step in such a position is demanding the impossible. She must first complete her weight change before she takes the step, resulting in the incoherence of the dance. Such errors caused by using hands could be avoided if the man uses his torso to lead. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)
5. Bending over
I stress leading with the torso rather than with the chest because the entire upper body is utilized in leading. Using the chest to lead could cause a tall man to bend his torso with his buttock sticks out, which not only looks bad, but also adds pressure on the woman, causing her to bend backwards. The correct posture is to keep the body upright and tall. In order to maintain an elegant posture, a tall man should use his stomach rather than chest to lead a short woman.
6. Bowing the head
Many couples stick their cheeks together in tango to enjoy the intimacy. However, if the man is much taller than the woman, this could cause him to bow his head, curve his torso, hold his chest in, stick his buttock out, and bend his knees, which not only look awful, but also add pressure on the woman. A tall man and a short woman would be better not tango together. If they choose to dance together, then the woman may rest her head on his chest, but the man should not bend over his head to meet her head. Rather, he should stand tall, keeping his torso upright, chest out, head up, and knees straight.
7. Coercing the woman to submit
An immature leader may think of follow as unconditional surrender and obedience. However, the surrender and obedience in tango is not unilateral, but mutual. Tango is about intimacy, coziness, empathy, adaptation, harmony and freedom. Both lead and follow must be gentle, thoughtful and comfortable. To lead is not to coerce, but to guide, support, collaborate, adapt, protect, and help the woman to unfold her skills and beauty. Just as the woman should submit to the lead, the man, too, should submit to the need of the woman. There must not be any coerce in leading.
An inexperienced man often thinks from his own perspective and fails to take into consideration the balance, axis, time, space and support that the woman needs in her dancing. Examples of his self-centeredness include taking care only of his own balance and overlooking hers, leading her to make a step when her balance is not yet in place, letting her rotate on a tilted axis, leading her to move but blocking her path, not giving her enough time to finish her step, leading her do things beyond her ability, and so on. Such could cause her to feel coerced and uncomfortable. The man must think from the standpoint of the woman, constantly adjust his own position, embrace, axis, weight, speed, movement, lead, etc., to adapt to her needs and facilitate her movements, so that she can be free in the dance. (See Self-centered Leading and Partner-centered Leading.)
9. Not giving her support
Letting her dance freely does not mean letting her dance alone without your support. An inexperienced man often just sends a signal and then waits for the woman to follow, but fails to provide the support that she needs in her movement. In fact, such support is crucial because she is leaning on you. If you withdraw your support, even if you lean back only slightly, that could cause her to lose balance and compromise the quality of her dance. When she moves away from you, you have to move with her to maintain your support for her. When she moves into you, you have to retreat while not lose the support for her. Otherwise, she will feel falling away.
10. Overlooking ancillary actions
The lack of understanding of the structure of the movement is another problem of a beginner. Most steps in tango are not composed of only one action, but a combination of several actions. For example, dancing ocho from the crossed position includes five actions: unwinding the leg, taking a forward step, pivoting and swiveling the hips, taking another forward step, and pivoting and swiveling the hips again. Thus the entire sequence needs to be led in five action steps. If you do not break down the sequence and attempt to bring out two actions in one lead, that will make it hard for the woman. Beginners tend to focus on the main action and overlook the ancillary action. For example, the man may directly lead the woman to take a forward step without unwinding her crossed leg first, or lead her to step forward when she is yet to complete her hip rotation.
11. Lacking of sophisticated musicality
The tendency of overlooking ancillary actions is reflected also in the beginner’s handling of music. The musicality of the beginner is often raw and untrained. He may be able to identify the rhythm and lead the woman to step on the beat, but his handling of the ancillary actions is often crude and unmusical. Still use the example of ocho, in which the beginner tends to focus on the main action, i.e., the forward step. Once a forward step is made, he immediately moves on to lead the next forward step. While both steps may be led on the beat, the transitional action between the two steps, namely pivot and hip rotation, often is led without smoothness. Such lead cannot satisfy a mature follower who wants the leader to handle all aspects of the entire sequence in an exquisite way that every detail of the sequence meets the rhythm, melody, speed and mood of the music perfectly. Only in such a fashion dancing tango becomes a real treat.
We sometimes see men short of good taste use their partner as a foil for their own self-display. Such men have invented more and more exhibitional steps for themselves, showing off at the milonga and drawing eyeballs to their performance. In my view this is a bad trend in tango today, because it is in contradiction to the essence of tango. A man does not need to compete with his woman partner for attention. On the contrary, his job is to display her beauty. Instead of drawing eyeballs to himself, he should focus on making her feel pampered in his arms, shining her, and letting her be the center of attention. A leader's maturity is measured by how his partner dances, not by his own exhibition.
November 21, 2013
A reader commented, "I have enjoyed reading your other thoughts so much, that I am very sad to read about your view of gender roles in tango. In my view, tango, as with any art, is a subjective and living thing. The ability to reassign roles to me is a progression. It affirms that the art can and does live and breathe in our contemporary world, which, for most of us anyway, rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy. The art will continue to be shaped by those who choose it and I agree completely that there is so much that can only be considered bastardization. But the exchanging of gender roles, the influence of LGBT, this represents the beauty of the art, not at all some kind of a decay. It shows that it lives in our time of changing gender roles and progress in human rights and understanding. And, in wonderful irony, reflects tango revisiting its roots." (See The Alienation of Tango)
I appreciate the comment and would like to give a serious and sincere response to it because, in my opinion, gender roles are the single most important issue in tango dancing. Tango would not be the same if the gender roles are reversed. I do not think the transformation of gender roles and the influence of LGBT can be simply seen as a progress. Trend and progress cannot always be used synonymously. Although feminism and homosexuality are fashionable in the Western societies now, following the trend blindly may lead to unintended consequences. That tango is in conflict with the trend may be a blessing to the Western world because through tango it is easier to understand how men and women could live together in peace and harmony, at least for most people that is so. This doesn’t mean that some people may not have their own choice, and that most people should not accept them. But some people should understand that their choice must not be the choice of all people. It is simply not true to say that those who do not make the same choice as they do are all misogynic or homophobic, and that those who do not dance tango the same way as they do are all anti-progression.
The real issue in question is the purpose of sex. Those who think sex is only for pleasure believe one can have sex with anyone including members of one's own gender, which from an individualistic point of view is a matter of personal rights and freedom, and they want the society not only to recognize their rights, but also provide means for all people to embrace their view and way of living.
Those who think sex is a responsibility relating to the procreation and upbringing of the next generation, on the other hand, believe the above view and way of living is detrimental to the best interests of the society and humanity as a whole. Individualism is a cracked ideology because we are not just individual beings but also social beings. Absolute personal liberty at the expense of the best interests of the society and humanity is fundamentally harmful to the individuals as well. One's tango is a part of one's lifestyle; therefore, it is not a matter of opening up and trying new things - a persuasion that drug dealers often use. It is choosing a way to dance that is consistent with one's value and way of living. (See Tango and Individualism.)
Humans are smart, able to intervene and alter nature. But humans are shortsighted as well, unaware of the long-term consequences of their actions due to their short life span. Modern humans have no memory of what happened tens of thousands of years ago, hundreds of thousands of years ago, and thousands of thousands of years ago. Monogamy, that is, marriage of one man and one woman who are not blood-related, is the eugenic mechanism suits the best interests of the humanity. This institution is resulted gradually from millions of years of human evolution through countless positive and negative reproductive experiences and a painstaking natural selection process. The soundness of the institution, however, has been so forgotten by modern people that alternative marriage now becomes a fashion. But, no matter how smart humans are, what is of nature is still the soundest, most proper and most fitting outcome, as it has gone through an extremely slow and gradual process of evolution, perfected little by little in the millions of years of making. Human interventions, on the other hand, are sudden and revolutionary, thus often lead to disastrous consequences.
Modern contraceptive technology is an example of such human interventions. Contraception changes human sexual behavior from that for procreation to that for sexual pleasure. Once this breach is made, a series of consequences follow. Contraception leads to sex freedom, which leads to homosexuality, which leads to the alienation of marriage, which leads to the disintegration of the traditional family, which leads to the decay of family values and morality, which leads to the fall of civilization. One ant hole could cause the entire dyke to collapse. Since heterosexuals may have sex for pleasure, why should homosexuals not be allowed to do the same? If the ban on homosexuality is lifted, then why not that on bisexuality, transgender sexuality, prostitution, adultery, group sex, incest, sodomy, and every other form of pleasure-oriented sex? In many Western societies, legislations have been passed to allow same-sex marriage, which changes marriage from that between a man and a woman for reproduction to that between gays or lesbians for sexual pleasure and welfare benefits. If sexual pleasure and welfare benefits are the sound reasons for marriage, then why should marriage be limited to non-consanguineous adults? Why brother and brother, sister and sister, brother and sister, father and son, father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, and other close relatives should not form a sexual relationship through marriage for the same reason? And why should marriage be limited to two adults? Why polygamy, polyandry and group marriage are not allowed? In fact, why is marriage even necessary at all if it is not for the procreation and upbringing of the next generation? As long as reproduction and children are not involved, a person choose to have sex with whom and with how many people is a personal affair because sex is a natural right of the individual, and there is no reason to limit sex to a one-to-one relationship called marriage, according to the logic of liberalism and individualism.
Marriage, however, is not a universal human right, but privilege granted to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes only, for it relates to the reproduction and upbringing of the next generation and hence the well-being of the society as a whole. Various offbeat sexual relationships are in contradiction to the best interests of the human species, and therefore are prohibited by law - first by natural law in the prehistoric period for at least tens of thousands of years if not hundreds of thousands of years, followed by written laws in the historical period for at least thousands of years in the past. Now, by means of contraception, humans can enjoy the pleasure of non-consequential sex, open-minded people therefore start to advocate the lift of the ban. In the US, the gay rights movement is surging. So far, sixteen states have passed same-sex marriage legislations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, sodomy and incest, which never cease to exist even when traditional marriage is the only legal form of marriage but previously are done in the closet, now start to enjoy some legitimacy and popularity thanks to these legislations. When such radical ideas become the generally accepted norm in a society, sex freedom, the alienation of marriage, the disintegration of the nuclear family, the destruction of the human eugenic institution, and the decline in population quantity and quality are bound to happen. Modern men have completely forgotten about the repeated lessons in early human history that societies and civilizations withered away because of this.
Homosexuals are human beings, too. Their human rights, including that of selecting sex partners and forming partnerships, should be recognized. However, we must also recognize that homosexuality is not a normal and natural biological function, otherwise the species would cease to exist. Marriage equality, i.e., treating homosexual relationship equally as heterosexual relationship, thus blur the distinctions between the two, is not a good idea in my opinion. It is another serious human intervention against nature. As mentioned above, marriage is a eugenic mechanism resulted from millions of years of human reproductive practice and a painstaking natural selection process. It is a privilege granted to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes for procreation only. For the best interests of the human species, this privilege must be protected by law. Failure to do so will have serious consequences.
The notion of "marriage equality" implies that marriage does not have to be between a man and a woman, that gender is irrelevant in forming a sexual relationship, that every human being is entitled to have sex with anyone regardless of gender and consanguinity, that it is moral to have a homosexual or bisexual relationship with one or more partners, that sex is only for pleasure with no social responsibilities attached, that marriage is not a eugenic institution but only a lifestyle, that procreation and upbringing of the next generation is not the function of marriage, that the healthy growth of children does not depend on the presence and joint efforts of both father and mother, that the welfare incentives intended to encourage marriage between a man and a woman for procreation should also be extended to homosexual partnerships, and that individual freedom, personal rights, self-indulgence and self-interests are the only things that matter, etc. Can you imagine how such false ideas, if sponsored by the state, enforced by law, enhanced by propaganda, media coverage, TV shows, movies, popular literature, school education, workplace regulations, and dinner table conversations could influence the young minds and impact the future of the humanity?
We know that introducing alien species may endanger native species, marketing genetically modified food may result in the reduction of natural food supply, promoting tango Nuevo may inhibit traditional tango, encouraging alternative marriage may accelerate the disintegration of traditional family, taking affirmative action may cause reversed discrimination, etc. Instances of this kind are too numerous to mention. It is a human nature to be fond of the new and tired of the old. People rush to follow what is fashionable and despise what is proven to be reliable. Those who question the new trend are blamed down, as if what has been proven is obsolete and not good anymore, but what has not been proven is instead the cutting edge and progressive. If the distinct status of marriage were not protected and preserved, reversed discrimination, the destruction of human eugenic institution and the disintegration of the traditional family would become inevitable.
More importantly, failure to protect traditional marriage would undermine the family-centered value system on which human civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes, who are mutually attractive, interdependent and cooperative to each other by nature, is the foundation of all interpersonal relationships. From this relationship comes out children, family, society, political state, and the consequent moral system on which our civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes therefore is the foundation of all social relationships. In other words, it is through the most intimate reproductive relationship that people learn to love and get along with each other. The decline of family will have, and already had, a profound impact on the society, because it means the loosening of the natural bond between closely related people and the rising of individualism with an emphasis on personal independence, liberty, freedom, rights and self-interests while denying the interdependence and the need for cooperation and compromise among people. (See Tango and Family Values.) Feminism as a replica of individualism on gender issues opposes the interdependence of the two sexes, advocates women’s independence, encourages women to emancipate from family, to fight for their own rights, to be strong and aggressive like men, to compete with men, and not to be outdone by men, etc. Such radical propositions only exacerbate the antagonism and confrontation between the two sexes and are not conducive to social harmony. (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I).) The way to improve the relationship is to be friendly, respectful, loving, cooperative, yielding and adaptive to each other rather than being rejective, resentful, hostile, confrontational and uncompromising to each other. The recent government shutdown caused by refusing to make concessions serves as an alarming example of the impairment of such extremist ideologies. (See Meeting in the Middle.)
Gay rights movement, feminism and individualism have an undeniable influence on tango. Feminism disapproves the surrender and obedience of the woman to the man in tango, advocates that the woman maintains her independence in the dance and keeps a distance from the man, that the man can only suggest or invite the woman rather than lead the woman to move, that the woman may decide how, when or whether to accept the suggestion or invitation, that the man must wait for the woman's decision at the pace of her choice and then follow her, that the woman is free to express herself, may interrupt the man’s lead and insert her own steps, and that the woman may lead the man or another woman, etc. Some authors write books to advertise this kind of ideas. Like-minded teachers also promote such ideas through their teaching, and students naively mistaking radicalism for progress blindly follow the trend, contributing to the alienation of tango and changing tango from a dance in which the two sexes collaborate intimately to achieve oneness and harmony, to a dance in which the two sexes are distant and antagonistic, focusing only on personal performances.
I believe most people are not extremists. But, living in the contemporary world which “rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy,” few could be totally immune from such radicalization. We often see beginners stick to the attitude that they have obtained over a long period of time, thinking of oneself as an independent individual rather than in relation to others, regarding oneself not as a part of the whole, and thinking of others as rivals, etc. Most people, after going through a period of learning, will gradually overcome such self-centric mindset and adopt a cooperative attitude consistent with the values of tango. (See The Spirit of Tango.) But there are people who cannot overcome individualistic mentality even after years of learning. Students of the contemporary age need to know that learning tango is learning a new set of values completely different from the values of the world. The world is about competition and winning. Tango is about cooperation and harmony. The world believes that balance is gained through might and fight. Tango believes that balance is gained through collaboration and compromise. Tango is not about individuality, independence, personal freedom and self-exhibition, but about achieving a higher sense of common cause and mutual interests through teamwork. (See The Freedom in Tango.) Principles in tango, such as surrender, obedience, communication, love, yielding, collaboration, adaptation and complement, not only help the two partners to dance together in unison, but also provide universal values for people to live together in peace and harmony. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)
Wherever cooperation is involved, so is the division of labor. For example, in a household, the man often does more works that require strength, and the woman often does more light chores. Such natural division of labor is based on the physiologies of the two sexes, not at all some form of discrimination. In tango, the man leads the woman and the woman beautifies the dance, which, too, is a natural division of labor based on the physiological characteristics of the two sexes, not at all some form of gender inequality. Do you think it’s natural for the woman to lead the man and the man to beautify the dance? When you see a gal leads a guy, and the guy wriggles his body and swivels his butt, pretending to be feminine, do you think that looks beautiful? You have seen couples of the same sex dancing together and in them there is only femininity and no masculinity, or only masculinity and no femininity, do you think that looks pretty? Tango is subjected to laws of nature and art, not ideologies. I need not to repeat what has been dwelt upon in my other articles on gender roles. Please click the links to read more if you haven't already: The Gender Roles in Tango, Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I), Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II), Tango and Gender Equality, The Gender Expression in Tango. I believe those who are not driven by narrow-minded ideological extremism will not find such division of labor discriminative against women. Male chauvinists use the division of labor between the opposite sexes as an evidence of male superiority and female inferiority, which is ridiculous. Feminists therefore want to repeal or reverse gender roles, which is even more absurd.
I believe tango is a good thing for the Western world. True progress is not radical, but rational, gradual, moderate and peaceful as nature is. Nature at its norm is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It leads to coexistence, harmony, balance, peace, to the recognition of the connections of things and the abandonment of radical ideas like individualism, feminism and power politics, to communal interests rather than self-interests, integration rather than segregation, adaptation rather than antagonism, moderation rather than extremism, compromise rather than obstinacy, love rather than hatred, and peace rather than war. In other words, nature is in opposition to the extremist human tendency against nature. Tango embodies the principles of how the two sexes can get alone with each other by the very nature of their being: mutual attraction, collaboration, adaptation, compromise, complement and love, which is the reason of its vitality. Tango can help people to understand the harm of hostility and the benefit of cooperation. It provides useful lessons for us to live together in peace and harmony, thus is conducive to the true human progress. (See The Lessons of Tango.)