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.

December 16, 2014

The Freedom in Tango

The freedom in tango is not that of the part in a lower sense, but that of the whole in a higher sense. (See The Spirit of Tango.)

In America, many people think of freedom as such: Every human being is an independent individual with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Since happiness is the motivation of each individual person, competing with others for self-interests is justifiable from one's own perspective. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of the individual to pursue self-interests and to compete with others. Education is designed to empower the individual so he/she may succeed in the competition, concerning little about the interests of the society as a whole and the cooperation of people. Economics aims at stimulating growth by promoting competition and consumption, disregarding that the natural resources are shared by all people and need to be exploited wisely and utilized prudently, the cooperation among people, and the fair distribution of wealth, etc. Politicians concern more about the special interests that they represent than environmental protection, ecological balance, rational use of natural resources, fair distribution of wealth, social harmony, public good and other things relating to the common interests of all people. 

This civilization, based on self-interests, competition, predatory development and irrational consumption, is facing grave crisis. On the one hand is the unchecked greed, on the other is the depleting natural resources. On the one hand is the extravagant lifestyle and tremendous waste, on the other is the deteriorating environment. On the one hand is the surge in GDP, on the other is the increasing inequality. On the one hand is the exorbitant wealth of a few, on the other is the struggles of many. Obviously, the theoretical foundation of our civilization has serious flaws. It only creates a tiny minority of winners but a vast majority of losers. It does not give enough consideration on coexistence, equality, fairness, cooperation and sharing(See Tango Is the Search of a Dream.)

The Declaration of Independence states, "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 to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." 

It seems to me that we need to take a long hard look at these words. Do we understand their meaning truthfully? Should we decide to change the constitutional foundation upon which our society was meant to be built? Because it turns out, the individualistic interpretation of the Constitution has not brought, nor will it bring the safety and happiness that most people are seeking for. 

When tango was imported, few Americans realized that a new idea was introduced. In contrast to individualismtango does not see the individual as an independent entity, but as a part of the whole in an interdependent, cooperative and complementary relationship with other people without whom the individual alone is not complete regardless of how important he/she is from his/her own perspective. (See Tango and Individualism.) In tango, the dancers can only perform well when they cooperate with each other, and only in such cooperation can each individual person enjoy the maximum joy. The success, therefore, is not that of any single individual alone, but that of the team as a whole. The two partners are not in a relationship of competition, control, power struggle or taking advantage of each other, but that of love, submission, collaboration and complement. (See A Dance that teaches People to Love.) 

Resting in his arms, surrendering to him, feeling his masculine strength, following his lead without worry, savoring his attention, enjoying his protection, sharing his emotions and feelings, moving with him in harmony, and letting her femininity display to meet and attract him, these to the woman mean security, pleasure and realization of her value as a woman. On the other hand, being with her, winning her trust, enjoying her gentle affection, obedience and seduction, feeling her feminine body twisting in his arms, pampering her, protecting her and displaying her beauty, these to the man mean comfort, pleasure and realization of his value as a man. Tango brings men and women to their original state where the two sexes are in a destined fellowship, where there is no calculations of gain and loss, no exchanges of money and power, no self-interests involved, no worldly concerns, only the simple joy and satisfaction of being together, and where all Cinderellas and Quasimodos enjoy the same dignity and respect of a royalty. (See Tango and Equality.)

Happiness is an inner harmony and contentment. Individualism, materialism, competition and power politics are destructive of that end. What is regarded virtuous in tango is love, affinity, mutual submission, altruism and cooperation. Although tango does not involve economic activities, as an act of cooperation its joy is shared. This principle can be extended to other aspects of life as well. What is not based on self-interests does not submit to the control of the invisible hand of capital and greed. We can logically infer that wealth can be distributed fairly to allow all who have participated in its creation to share, rather than being hogged by a few. Just like the victory of a sport team is resulted from the cooperation of all the players, so the honor is given to all team members rather than just the one who scored. Shareholding, therefore, seems to be a better way of distribution wealth than minimum wages. (See Mammonism.) 

How we see ourselves decides how we organize our political, economic, social and cultural lives. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains." We created our own chains. We must also be unchained by ourselves. Unfortunately, our civilization has not yet evolved to that stage, I am afraid, as attested again by the recent reports on tortures, etc. To be a free people, we must first understand what that means. There is still a long way before we truly gain freedom - the freedom that is stated in our Constitution. I can only hope that tango will help to gear up that process. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

November 22, 2014

The World Needs a Different Philosophy

Tango, as a drop in the ocean of human civilization, both reveals its beauty and reflects its pollution. The problems in our tango today in fact are not the problems of tango alone, but those our civilization is facing in modern times as well.

Just like how we understand tango affects how we dance it, how we perceive ourselves affects how we behave and live. In the course of the millions of years of human evolution, mankind have gradually separated ourselves from the beast. The distinction between man and animals can be summed up in one word: humanity. Our understanding of humanity has reached maturity in the Renaissance of 14th–17th centuries. Contrast to the twisted and demeaned image of man in the contemporary arts, his beauty, dignity and nobility were the dominant themes of the Renaissance. The consequent sublimation of human spirit formed a powerful force, which eventually led to the rejection of all forms of bondage, oppression and violation of human liberty, the establishment of democracy, the discharge of human creativity, the increase of human production, the advancement of science and technology, and the prosperity of modern civilization.

In this process, however, mankind has alienated itself. We left footprints in every corner of the Earth. Farmlands replaced forests, cities replaced farmlands, pollution replaced purity, materialism replaced idealism, extravagance replaced simplicity, competition replaced cooperation, stress replaced enjoyment, individualism replaced fraternity, self-interests replaced general interests, personal rights replaced common cause, monopoly replaced sharing, polarization replaced equality, legalism replaced common sense, pragmatism replaced integrity, corruption replaced uprightness, sex liberation replaced marriage, single parent family and gay family replaced traditional family, games replaced classics, artificiality replaced natural production, machine replaced people... Modernization has led mankind farther and farther away from nature and humanity. The environment is deteriorated. The natural resources are depleted. The morality is corrupted. Individual persons, genders, races, special interests, political parties and nation states are infighting with each other for self-gains. It seems that human liberty, the very thing that has led mankind to prosperity, is leading us to self-destruction. (See Tango Is the Search of a Dream.)

Someday, ideas like returning to nature, conservation, environmentalism, humanism, solidarity, teamwork, cooperation, harmony, fraternity, equality, coexistence, sharing, agreement, moderation, etc., will replace ideas like individualism, feminism, radicalism, competition, acquisition, aggression, power politics, conquest, expansion, winning, success, etc., to become the consensus of most people, I hope. But by then it may be too late.

The world needs a different philosophy, not the narrow-minded and unbalanced doctrines like individualism, feminism, capitalism, materialism, etc., but an idealism that can lead mankind to integrity, nobility, magnanimity, cooperation and harmony. Hopefully, tango will play a positive role in the return of humanity, because it embodies the values that make us human. (See  The Spirit of Tango and The Freedom in Tango.)

October 9, 2014

Boston Tango Marathon

Except in few large cities, most tango communities in the US are still quite small. Tango enthusiasts often travel long distance to big tango festivals around the country to dance tango. But that could be quite expensive. Festival pass is $250 to $1000 per person. Private lesson is $100 to $300 an hour. Round trip by air is $250 to $500 per ticket. Hotel room for four nights is $600. Rental car and gas add another $250. Plus other costs such as parking, toll and food. A couple could easily spend two to three thousand dollars for a single trip, enough to travel to Buenos Aires for few weeks.

That is why now I do not go to big tango festivals as often as I used to when I was single. Instead, I go to smaller events within few hours of driving. I still go to some big tango festivals, but only attend their milongas and skip the lessons to save time and money. Many seasoned dancers do the same.

In recent years, tango marathons have replaced tango festivals to be my favorite form of event because in which I can focus entirely on dancing. Unlike a tango festival, a tango marathon does not provide lessons, thus saves the organizers the trouble to find instructors and the money to hire them. As a result, the cost of a tango marathon is much lower than that of a tango festival. Without professional instructors, there is no display of fancy performance, which only cause confusions to the beginners. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.) With fewer novices, the size of a tango marathon is smaller and the floor is less crowded. Most participants are experienced dancers, thus the level of dance is higher, milonga codes are more closely observed, and the atmosphere is more cohesive. It has everything that suits me better than a tango festival.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Boston Tango Marathon. Although this was only their second year, thanks to the organizer Alla Lakov, Peter Simoneau, and fifty volunteers of the Boston tango community, it went very well. The marathon pass was only $100, which covered 40 hours of dancing in three days plus free meals, refreshments, drinks and an ice cream party. Obviously, making money was not the priority and efforts were made to provide the dancers with a wonderful time. Best of all, there was a refreshing theme in this marathon: friendship. The theme was emphasized again and again during the marathon. Every time when Alla and Peter asked the audience what was the theme of the marathon, the audience replied with one voice, "Friendship." And it worked!

I appreciate such efforts to make the event a warm and friendly experience for all, especially here in the US where attentions are often paid only to the dance and not enough to the culture or human side of the dance. In Buenos Aires, however, the reversal is true. It is regarded as their duty to promote a friendly culture by the organizers of BA milongas, where guests are warmly greeted at the door, seats are meticulously arranged to facilitate the cabeceo, tables are covered with pressed clean clothes, food and drinks are served to the table, milonga codes are observed, and conducts are addressed if violations occur. While in the US the break time is the announcement time, in Buenos Aires it is often the time for tango education. In the BA milongas, participants are advised to follow the milonga codes. Bad apples are even advised to leave on some occasions. Once I saw two children were brought to the dance floor, a committee of milongueros quickly discussed the matter, and the parents were politely advised to take the children out of the floor. I am sure everyone visited Buenos Aires know some stories like this. Richard Miller mentioned in his blog a post that he saw at the Milonga Cachirulo, which reads:

“Welcome to the best milonga in Buenos Aires. Tanguero friends, please pay attention.

    • Here we dance milonguero style tango, and we learn to respect the codes of the milonga.

    • We dance with a warm, respectful and close embrace.

    • We follow the line of dance, in a counter-clockwise direction.

    • We try not to step backwards into the line of dance, always walking forward, as it should be.

    • We do not lift our feet too much from the floor; this way we avoid hitting other dancers.

    • We invite women to dance through the classic 'Cabeceo del caballero'.

    • Furthemore, and very important, respect is the first card we play in the game of the milonga.

Much to our regret, not respecting these codes will make it impossible to dance in Cachirulo.”

It is the collective efforts like these that made the BA milongas wonderful. I am glad to see that now some organizers in this country start to move in the same direction. Tango is a simple pleasure created by the dancers for themselves to enjoy. Its focus should be the connection and fellowship rather than steps and self display. (See Tango Is a Fellowship.) It shouldn't cost an absurd amount of money to enjoy. A friendly culture governed by milonga codes must be introduced through education and good leadership. Now, thanks to Boston Tango Marathon, we have a good example.

September 16, 2014

Tango Is a Fellowship

Someone asks me to compare Euro-American tango and BA tango. Though a short essay cannot cover such a big topic, I am willing to make an observation from one perspective.

Those who see tango as a skill often think that once they mastered the skill they mastered the dance. Such people often disrespect the culture, ignore the codes, pay no attention to the conducts, overlook the relationships, care little about other people's feelings, regard others as rivals, are indifferent or even hostile to others, do not surrender themselves in the dance and focus only on their own performance. This kind of behavior is more visible in Europe and North America where there is a strong standing of individualism, which is incompatible with tango. (See Tango and Individualism.)

Tango is not a solo dance. It takes two to tango. Not only so, tango is not a show dance performed by a fixed couple only, but a social dance involving a large group of people. The majority of them, like the immigrants who created tango, come to the milonga to seek association, connection and affinity with other people, consider tango as a refuge, home or family. (See Why People Dance Tango.)

The highlight of tango, therefore, is not how fancy its steps are but the relationship, connection, cooperation, harmony, and the satisfaction resulted from the same efforts that others paid in return. Therefore, tango is first and foremost a fellowship rather than a skill - a fellowship not only between two partners but also among a group of dancers. To enjoy tango, one needs not only to master the skill but also be a part of a friendly, warm and intimate community, without which the skill alone is meaningless no matter how good it is. (See Never Forget Why We Started.)

For this reason, he/she who only dances exhibitory tango with a fixed partner is not a tango dancer in the true sense. Unfortunately, this kind of career performers are often regarded by novices in Europe and North America as role models. Under their influence, many young people do not see tango as a fellowship but a show, hence the alienation of tango. However, vanity cannot quench the thirst of the soul. Once mastered the skill, most people will continue their search for deeper meanings, moving away from exhibitionism and turning to the essence of the dance. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) That, I think, is what Euro-American tango still falls short from BA tango.

The revival of tango, started in the mid 1980s, has been thirty years now. In these three decades, Euro-American tango has also grown. Technically speaking many tango communities in Europe and North America are already catching up with BA tango and now need to pay more attention to the fellowship and community building. This is not a one man's job and will take the efforts of all dancers, teachers and organizers. How each and every dancer cherishes his/her tango community, acts in the milongas, treats others, invites or accepts invitations, dances and so on, not only reflects his/her understanding of tango but also impacts the community. As tango dancers we must take the responsibility to improve our dance community and the culture within it, only then will our tango become more and more like BA tango. (See 惜缘.)

July 3, 2014

The Psychology of Tango


The attraction between masculinity and femininity could be so strong to ignite passion and creativity that Freud believes art is the sublimation of sexuality. Although sexuality is not the only driving force of art, the theory seems to explain tango. As long as we do not view sexuality too vulgarly, its link with passion, romanticism, imagination, creativity and artistic expressions is not difficult to understand. In fact, is it not true that all human activities are derived from the need for survival and procreation, thus lead to love, marriage, family, economy, development, politics, corruption, pollution, crime, war, and so on? Sexuality can lead to evil, it can also lead to good. The vulgar understanding of human sexuality has caused the distortion and rejection of tango in the past. Tango's popularity today witnesses the progress of human understanding. (See Artistic Sublimation and Vulgarism in Tango.)


Tango is the dance of the immigrants. It is created by the immigrants. It expresses the feelings and serves the needs of the immigrants. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impactst.) Those who love tango are either immigrants, or people like immigrants who are homesick, lonely and yearning for love.

Jeanette Winterson said, "I want to go anywhere that is filled with love. I want to be like a migratory salmon, relentlessly searching for the traces of love." Love and loneliness are really the same feeling. Without that understanding, one cannot truly appreciate tango.

You do not have to leave your country to be an immigrant. Students going to schools far away from home, college graduates just stepping into the society, entrepreneurs struggling alone to start a business, migrant workers looking for jobs in big cities, homeless people, wandering travelers, lonely singles, women who married a wrong man, powerless people bullied by the powerful... aren't they all immigrants? One can say that immigrant is the common status of most people. Ever since we came into the world, we became immigrants in search of the love and home in our dreams.

Thus, tango, known as a refuge, or home, came into being.


"What is home? Home is not a house or place. It is the attachment, warm feelings and connection that we have in this vest mortal world. In absence of these even a mansion of a thousand rooms is but a cold building. Home is where our hearts belong, filled with affection and love." - Xiaomu

Xiaomu is talking about tango. Tango is not an image, but a feeling. Without affection and love, tango became a cold building.

But affection and love cannot be seen. People can only see the cold building.

Cancer patient Yu Juan wrote in her death bed, "When facing life and death, you realize that working overtime (long-term staying up late is suicidal), pushing yourself too hard, wanting to buy a new car or new house, these are all vanities. If you have time, spend it with your children. Use the money saved for the new car to buy a pair of shoes for your parents. Don't work overtime in order to move to a bigger house. Being with the loved ones is warm even live in a small apartment."

Yu Juan is also talking about tango. The most important thing in tango is not to impress others, but to enjoy the relationship and intimacy. Happiness is simple and artless. It belongs to yourself.

But happiness is internal and unseen. People can only see what looks impressive outside.


Parents tell children, "This cake tastes better than that cake." But children do not believe, they want that which looks more colorful and tempting. After they have tried everything, they decided that the parents are right. So they tell their children. But their children do not believe, they still want that which looks more colorful and tempting.

Milongueros tell beginners, "Fancy steps are useless in the milongas." But beginners do not believe, they want to learn fancy steps. After they have studied all they can learn, they decided that the milongueros are right. So they tell their students. But their students do not believe, they still want to learn fancy steps.

Again and again, we are deceived by our eyes.

How many efforts of the mankind are wasted on pursuing the vanity?

"Happiness is actually a lot simpler than what we thought. The problem is, if we do not explore all the possibilities and experience all the miseries, if we do not climb all the mountains and fall all the falls, we would not believe that happiness lies in that small piece of shade under that tree at the foot of that hill." - Liu Yu

Perhaps that is how we learn. But those who can set aside the ego and listen to others who have tried before them may avoid many unnecessary mistakes.


Zhu Deyong said, "There are two ways of life: one is to follow the expectations of others; the other is to follow your own heart. The former might get you a lot of applauses, but not your own. No one would applaud for the latter perhaps, but you will surely applaud for yourself."

Tango is lots of things: feelings, relationship, harmony, comfort, love, fellowship, community, refuge, home, etc. The only thing that tango is not is performance. A performance is a pigment-added show, just like McDonald's advertisements, made only to attract the eyes. Have you ever seen anything that is made just to attract the eyes real? Tango is tango only when it is not a performance. 

Not that you cannot watch videos. But keep in mind that tango is a feeling. Tango must be danced with the heart, for it's the dance of love, and love must be felt.


The feelings have a gender. There are men's feelings. There are women's feelings.

Men and women look for different things in tango. What is programmed in the DNA of the male is strength, which is why men are attracted to women, they need to be comforted by women. What is programmed in the DNA of the female is softness, which is why women are attracted to men, they need the sense of security. Masculinity and femininity attract each other, complement each other and bring out the best in each other. That is the law of nature. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)

Woman, you should make him feel comfortable so that he may see where you are is his home.

Man, you should lead, support and protect her attentively so that she may rely on you and feel safe.

Happiness is a feeling. The secret of tango lies not in aesthetics, but in psychology.


Li Ao said, "If you want to remember the beauty of the flower, leave before it fades. If you want to enjoy the taste of the wine, walk away before you get drunk. If you want to find lasting love, do not date forever."

It makes a lot of sense for tango to be short. It is only three minutes, so the aftertaste is endless.

"Perhaps the most beautiful love is that you love him and he loves you, but the two of you are not together." - Anonymous

Indeed, tango is more tasty when danced in the arms of a stranger and being pampered by an unexpected admirer. A poem entitled The Kiss wrote, "I ran up the door, opened the staircase, put on my prayer, said the pajama, turned off the bed, got into the light, all are because of the kiss you gave me, when you said goodbye." Many women left the milonga after a perfect tango, just to preserve that mysteriously and surprisingly wonderful feeling.

Tango is the art of feeling, it is created to feel.

In that feeling, many found a temporary home.

May 25, 2014

The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango

Various body parts, including the head, the arms and hands, the torso, the hips, and the legs, play different roles in tango. Dancers need to understand the function of each body part and properly allocate the attention in order to use the body correctly in a controlled and coordinate fashion in the dance. Incorrect use of the body parts is a common problem in tango.

In close embrace, the woman may rest her head on the man's temple, cheek or chin depending on her height. It's fine if she chooses not to do that, but if she does, then the touch of the head must be gentle and comfortable. Some women use their head to prop against the man's head in order to avoid the chest contact. Beginners tend to draw support from the head when they are in action. Such practices reflect a misunderstanding of the function of the head. The touch of the head is a sign of intimacy and must be very gentle. Dancers need to dissociate the head from the body and not use it against the partner to evade the chest contact or to assist the movement of the body, as both are uncomfortable.

The functions of the arms and hands are more complex. Arms and hands can be used to hold the partner to form a warm, intimate and comfortable embrace. They can also be used to support, protect and sooth the partner. These are the correct usages of the arms and hands. Arms and hands can also be used to convey intentions and to fight. Some people hence use them to coerce or resist the partner, wrestle with the partner, prop against the partner to avoid the chest contact, hold on to the partner for balance and stability, or grab the partner to assist the movement of the body. These are the misuses of the arms and hands. Beginners need to overcome the habit of using the arms and hands. Tango is led and followed with the torso. Arms and hands should be used only to form a comfortable embrace, not as tools to lead and follow, to maintain balance and stability, or to assist the movement of the body, let alone to resist or fight with the partner. The touch of the arms and hands should be gentle and weightless. Dancers need to dissociate the arms and hands from the body and not use them as weapons or movement tools.

The torso is the nerve or command center in tango. The distinct look and feel of tango are the result of the embrace in which the dancers use their torsos to form the connection, to communicate the feelings and to bring on the movements of the lower body. (See The Fourteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.) The intimate torso connection makes tango a chummy, feeling-oriented and comforting dance. Unfortunately, the importance of the torso is overlooked by the action-oriented dancers who use an open dance hold to replace the embrace, putting the torso to petty use under the command of the arms and hands. As a result, they created a style deviating from the embrace/feeling-oriented social tango. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

In my previous post I quoted a young woman's insightful observation on tango. What she called the first layer technique, namely, to maintain a comfortable embrace, and the second layer technique, namely, to pursue visual beauty, in essence refer to the function of the torso and the function of the legs respectively. In tango, the torso is in relative rest in the embrace, but the movements of the legs are brisk and colorful. If the torso is associated with the feelings, then the legs are the representatives of beauty. A good tango is a perfect combination of the two. Formalist dancers concern only about the look and ignore the feelings, and they use the torso as but another limb to create fancy movements under the command of the arms and hands. However, pursuing visual impression at the expense of the intimacy and comfort of the embrace is not worth the candle. Throughout its history, from tango milonguero, to tango Villa Urquiza, to tango fantasia, to tango Nuevo, the alienation of tango clearly follows an aesthetic path farther and farther away from the embrace and feelings. (See The Styles of Tango.) I do not think that direction is worth advocating. I believe the juxtaposition of the comfort of the embrace and the beauty of the footwork is totally possible. It does not have to sacrifice the embrace in order to pursue beauty. Many beautiful tangos danced by outstanding tango dancers, such as the Poema danced by Geraldine Rojas and Javier Rodrigues, and many tangos danced by Noelia Hurtado and Carlotos Espinoza, are classic examples.

These dancers can achieve such a degree of excellence because they are adept in using the hips, which are like the swivel that joins the upper body and the lower body. Because the torsos of the dancers are connected in the embrace, they need to swivel their hips in order to move their legs around each other. This in tango terms is called dissociation. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) Educated tango dancers can dissociate their upper body and lower body to a greater degree, so they can step freely around each other without breaking the embrace. Dissociation is not only a physical separation, but also an artistic division of labor that enables the upper body to remain in the comfort of the embrace while allowing the lower body to maximize its creativity.

In contrast, the body of the novice is not flexible enough to be dissociated freely, so, instead of using the torso to lead or follow, an inexperienced man often leads with his arms and hands, and an inexperienced woman tends to turn her whole body instead of swiveling her hips, and they grip hold of each other with their arms and hands to assist the movements of the body, causing the rupture of the embrace and awkwardness of the movements. You may call it by the fine-sounding name of "open embrace", but its real reason is the inability to maintain the embrace in the dance, thus resort to a cheap substitute. But cheating has a price, as it can only fool others, not yourself and your partner. The professionals use the open embrace on stage to perform for an audience, not to enjoy the intimacy and affinity. They pay that price for their job. As soon as they go to a milonga, they switch to dance in close embrace. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.) Novices who envy their glamour on stage, blindly imitate them in the milonga without even can embrace well. Such crude imitation only makes them look foolish.

To sum up, when dance tango, the head and the arms and hands should be completely relaxed and not interfere with the movements of the body. The function of the torso is to communicate the intentions and feelings and bring on the actions of the lower body via an intimate and comfortable embrace. Tango's beautiful steps are the function of the legs. The key to maintain a comfortable embrace and simultaneously maximize the beauty of the footwork lies in the swivel of the hips. Learning tango is not primarily learning steps, but learning to control, coordinate and properly use various parts of the body. Focusing on the steps and ignoring the embrace and feelings is the primary course of the misuse of the body parts in tango.

May 17, 2014

The Fourteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera

Fish is the primary ingredient of a fish dish. Other ingredients, such as garlic and onion, are dispensable. Short of the latter fish is still fish, but without the former the dish would be unworthy of the title. It is same with tango, which is made of many elements. Among these elements some decides the basic characteristics of the dance, without which tango cannot make itself; others are less essential, causing no harm if they are a bit less or more. We often see tangueras made their tango neither fish nor fowl, because in it the subsidiaries superseded the primary.

So, what is the primary ingredient of tango? Beginners tend to think that's the steps. They are wrong. Like garlic and onion, steps are subsidiary in tango. The key ingredient of tango is the embrace, which decides the characteristics of the dance. By embrace I do not mean "open embrace". Tango, known as the dance of love, is evolved from the real embrace. When two lovers embrace each other, they lean intimately into each other, chest against chest, cheek touches cheek and arms encircle and hold each other tightly. They do not make a fake hugging gesture without actually touching each other's body. A pretended embrace may look like a real embrace, but the involved couple can tell the difference. Stage dancers use pretended embrace to deliver intricate performance in order to entertain the audience. But social dancers do not tango for that. They tango to enjoy the intimacy and affinity between themselves, which is why they use the real embrace. This is the fundamental difference between tango and all show dances, including stage tango. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

Other dissimilarities are the consequences of this fundamental difference. For example, unlike other dances in which the dancers use the arms and hands to lead and follow, in tango communications are carried out through the torso. Although the arms and hands can transmit intentions, they are not as direct and effective as the torso. Dancers can achieve better understanding and synchronization by using their torsos to lead and follow. Intimate bodily contact is not only comfortable but also susceptible, effective in exchanging feelings, resulting in a deeper understanding and agreement between the partners. The distinct features of the tango steps are associate with the embrace also. Because the torsos of the dancers are connected in tango, the woman has to turn her lower body sideways in order to dance around the man. This technique, known as dissociation, is the basis of most tango steps, making the dance particularly capable of displaying the feminine beauty of the woman. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) The intimate embrace also attaches importance to the feelings, causing tango to be a feeling-oriented dance. Although formalist dancers have made unremitting efforts to exploit the visual impression of tango, the style that they have created cannot satisfy the needs deeply rooted in the human nature for intimacy, love, connection and the communication of feelings. These needs can only be met through the real embrace.

A young woman wrote about the importance of the tango embrace this way: "From the perspective of a girl, I think tango has two layers. The first layer is the core layer, that is to maintain a comfortable embrace with your partner and let him feel your absolute obedience and sufficient control of yourself. If you can do that, you will be able to survive the milonga even if you only can dance ballroom dance. The second layer is external, that is to pursue the visual beauty like other dances such as ballet, with similar artistic requirements. To put it in another way, ignoring the first layer and focusing only on the second layer is not tango. In most cases, if you can integrate some second layer techniques into a solid first layer foundation, your tango will be quite stunning already."

I appreciate this young woman's insight. She understood the essence of tango. Consequently tango becomes a simple and easy dance for her. Although we cannot dance tango without doing the steps, the essence of the dance lies in the embrace. The dancers must not compromise the embrace for the sake of the steps. Rather, they should concentrate on keeping the embrace intimate and comfortable at all time and use the steps to facilitate the embrace, thus put the embrace and the steps in a correct order.

Unfortunately, many women do just the opposite. They focus on the steps and ignore the embrace. Some women think it's inappropriate to be intimate with men. In order not to let her body touch his body, the woman often leans back, pushes him away with the hands, props her head against his head or uses her shoulder against his shoulder to prevent her breasts from touching his chest, resulting in an embrace that is awkward and uncomfortable. Such demeanor is often associated with the idea that it is indecent to be intimate with men, or with the worry of giving men ideas, shyness, the focus on self-performance and the aesthetic tendency regarding tango only as fancy steps, etc. In short, such women have not yet understood the essence of tango.

The problems in our tango are mainly ideological, I believe. Different ideologies lead to different dance styles and techniques. For example, many women in the US prefer to dance tango in an open dance hold in which their body is not attached to the man's body. Instead of swiveling their hips like they must do in close embrace, women using open embrace tends to turn the whole body, which is easier than rotating the hips. Consequently, their dance lacks the tango feel. Even when dancing in the social settings, women accustomed to open embrace often break the embrace and switch to open or semi-open position because they don't know how to maintain the embrace when in action. Unlike professionals who are versed in social tango and can use the right techniques in the performance, novices without training tend to do whatever is habitual and easier. That's why I believe learning tango should start from the close embrace style. A beginner should not start from the open embrace style associated with performance until she has laid the foundation. Otherwise the bad habit that is gained may not be easy to overcome. I know women who have danced tango for many years but their embrace is still stiff and uncomfortable. Such women are like the flower vases looking good only from a distance but cannot be held in the arms. In another post, Women's Common Mistakes in Tango, I listed thirteen pitfalls of tango women that are closely related to the subject of this post. The embrace, however, is an even bigger issue deserving a separate chapter, hence the title.

April 29, 2014

The Chivalry of the Milongueros

One hundred years ago when immigration to Argentina was at peak the gender ratio in Buenos Aires was five men to one woman. In other words, fifty men would compete for dancing with ten women in a typical milonga. The situation was so unfavorable to men that most men did not even have the guts to invite women. They would only spy at a distance and wait for women to nod at them, only then dared they venture to dance with the goddesses. That was the origin of cabeceo. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.) Before a man was able to dance with women for the first time, he had to spend years to practice with other guys and did not dare to try for real until he had completely grasped the craft. He had to be extremely careful with the woman in the dance also, fearing to lose the favor of the goddess if she felt slightest discomfort. Men's cherish and respect for women has since become a notable feature of the tango culture in Buenos Aires.

In such a gender ratio, the privilege of dancing with a woman was granted only to men capable of making her completely satisfied. Therefore, self-centered peacocks had little chance to compete with the milongueros who mastered a comfortable embrace, exquisite musicality and the ability to accommodate, pamper and protect women. Laymen may think of milongueros as some goof-offs. (See Tango and the Outlook on Life.) But if you believe that surrounded by a battalion of admirers the goddess would pick a mediocrity or that she would be fooled by fanfares, you certainly underestimated the goddess. Even today, women cast their eyes only on the best. They don't want a man who is sloppy, who feels insecure, who does not have a comfortable embrace, whose musicality is not perfect, who uses the arms and hands to lead, who can't do cabeceo, who doesn't know milonga codes, and who is short in manner, not to mention in those days. Therefore, the milongueros are thoroughly steeled tango elites with great knowledge and skills on the dance, music, codes, culture, lunfardo, and the ways off the milonga world. (See Milonga Codes.) Like the knights in the medieval Europe who were gallant, honorable, generous, kind and respectful especially to women, and like the samurais in feudal Japan who were loyal, courageous, simple in living and preferring death to dishonor, the Argentine milongueros are a group of sophisticated specialists who follow certain tenets. For them, tango is the religion and milonga codes are not only guild regulations but life principles as well. One may say that, though without the title of nobility, the Argentine milongueros are a comparable class to European knights, Japanese samurais and Chinese literati. Their doctrine is the chivalry, bushido and Confucian orthodoxy of Argentina.

Times have changed. Today the gender ratio in the milongas becomes one man to one point five women. In addition, women are instigated to compete with men for dominance and the chivalry of the milongueros is criticized by the feminists. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) As a result, men do not respect and cherish women to the degree they used to. Nowadays even a beginner who can't walk stably dares to obligate a woman to dance with him and use her as a foil to his self-centered exhibition. One has to reckon that a failure of feminism. Feminists thought the two sexes would be equal if women were as strong as men, little did they realize that once women lose their femininity, they are no longer the goddesses in men's eyes.

Dancers of the contemporary age need to learn from the history and reflect on their demeanors. For the sake of tango women cannot lose femininity and men cannot lose their love for women. Gender roles are crucial in keeping the two sexes in harmony. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Upsetting the natural law that guides the two sexes will have serious consequences. (See Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.) I wish men will always cherish women the way they did when there were five men to each woman. I wish women never cease to be feminine and quit to play the masculine role. Tango was created to be a bridge uniting the two sexes. I pray it remains that way.

April 19, 2014

Cadencia and the Flow of Tango

The body produces continuous lilt due to the alternate weight change from one foot to the other. The lilt can be enhanced by the push or pull of her torso with his torso to increase the motion of the body in accordance with the rhythm of the music. This technique is called cadencia. When the woman is led to do cadencia, it feels like the baby in the cradle being swayed, or fish in the water being driven by the waves, which is a cozy feeling for both but especially for the woman, as she is the one nestling in his arms and enjoying the ride. (See Cadencia.)

Cadencia is usually done alternately in the opposite directions. The man swing the woman's torso with a push or pull of his torso to bring her hip and leg to swing. As that leg lands on the floor and her weight is transferred to it she pivots and swivels her hips instantaneously to allow him to take advantage of the inertia to swing her other hip and leg in the opposite direction. This is how ocho is danced. Tango teachers often emphasize the swivel of the hips or dissociation but overlook the swing of the body or cadencia when they teach ocho. However, if the cadencia is blended in, it will not only increase the elegance of the movement but also produce a lilting feeling, making the ocho more enjoyable.

In order to do that there must be some speed or momentum. If you dance on the same spot without a horizontal motion, it would be difficult to generate the swing. That is why experienced dancers like to dance in the flow. When the floor is full of experienced dancers, you will see a counterclockwise flow of people like waves surging forward in correspondence with the rhythm of the music, and the speed of the flow is quite fast. But if there are too many novices on the dance floor, then the speed of the flow is slowed down. Sometimes it even becomes like a pool of stagnant water.

Novices who have no sense of flow often remain at the same spot doing steps, disregarding the people behind waiting for them to move on. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.) In an empty room that may cause no problem, but if you dance on a crowded floor, that could cause obstruction to traffic. Mark Word calls such people "rocks in the stream". You drive to work in the morning and suddenly there is a slow car blocking your way, that is the same feeling. People dancing on a crowded dance floor must not be such "rocks in the stream". I'm not saying that you may not slow down or pause for a moment and then move on. Experienced dancers do that also, but they do so only when there is enough space, or when the music tells everybody to slow down. If the people behind are approaching, then you need to move forward to avoid causing obstruction to traffic. This is the code, which everyone dancing on a crowded dance floor must follow.

April 1, 2014

The Characteristics of Classic Tango

Dancing tango is not just stepping on the beats of whatever songs played - that perhaps is how disco is danced, but not tango. Dancing tango is dancing the feelings of the music. This dance, created by early immigrants to Argentina, contains the homesickness and nostalgia of its creators and reflects their thirst for love and longing for a better life. (See Tango: The Historical and Cultural Impacts.) Good tango music is very sentimental, which is a notable feature of classic tango. Modern rock bands with electronically amplified instruments might be able to create a more majestic sound, but they could not replicate the lingering sentiment of the classic tango. That is not only because electronic instruments are short on expressing the mood of tango, but also because the contemporary rockers lack the experiences of the early European immigrants. Classic tango is a product of that particular era. The environment of its mass production has ceased to exist in modern times. But, the human feelings expressed in classic tango are universal and ageless, which people of the contemporary age, especially those struggling at the bottom of the society, can still understand and resonate. (See Why People Dance Tango.) When dancing tango, one should not just dance the steps and ignore the feelings of the music, because only by understanding and resonating with these feelings can one dance tango well.

The feelings expressed are those of men and women of the time, represented by the opposite moods that are both different and coherent. Classic tango is heterosexual rather than homosexual in nature. It has a rhythm that is masculine, robust, lucid and steady and a melody that is feminine, sentimental, beautiful and moody. Each note or phrase expresses the strength, resolution and firmness of men, or gentleness, affection and obedience of women. The two opposite moods intertwine with each other and complement each other, reflecting the two sexes in the dance. Dancing tango, you have to imagine that you are playing the music with your body. The man and the woman are different instruments. One is like the bandoneon, the other the violin. One is the passion of the drums, the other the beauty of the melody. One is philosophy, the other poem. Each with a unique sound, expresses a different mood. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable, and they must collaborate harmoniously in order to create a beautiful tango. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)

Those who deny gender roles do not know what they are doing. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) The so-called new tango or alternative music promoted by them often lack an opposite theme. (See The Signature of Tango.) It is either too soft, without a clear rhythm, or too monotonous, lacking of rhythmic diversity. In contrast, classic tango is created in line with the characteristics of the dance. Unlike mush soft-music and monotonous march, classic tango not only has a recognizable rhythm, but also is rich in syncopation and, therefore, is very danceable. Syncopation means changing the location of an accented beat by emphasizing an unaccented beat, or beginning a tone on an unaccented beat and continue it through the next accented beat. Syncopation modifies or spices up the music, making the rhythm more interesting, challenging and adaptable to a rich variety of footwork to express complicated emotions. (See Tango Music and Its Daceability.) This feature of the classic tango, however, may cause a difficulty for a beginner to grasp its rhythm. As a result, some people prefer the monotonous alternative music instead. The taste of the beginners will improve with the advance of their education and experiences. Tango dancers need to study tango music, understand its sentiment and be familiar with its melody, rhythm, tempo, syncopation, pause and extension in order to dance tango well.

Most classical tango music has a vocal part, which usually is not throughout but appears only in certain parts of the song, as if it is an instrument collaborating with the other instruments. The lyrics are commonly written in lunfardo, the old street slang of the lower classes in Buenos Aires, expressing nostalgia, homesickness and the pain of lost love. These are the songs of the immigrants. Only old milongueros and a small number of portenos today can fully understand them. Those who do not understand the lyrics may not always feel easy to grasp the syncopated and extended syllables, thus could have a difficulty to follow them. But these beautiful lyrics express deep and delicate feelings, and so are favored by the Argentinians. Many of them can sing the lyrics and dance to them with facility, which is one of the reasons why the milongueros perceive their dance quite differently from the foreigners. Not understanding the lyrics is a disadvantage of the foreigners, but that is not an insurmountable obstacle. The dancer's education may compensate for his/her inadequacy in language, because as long as one is willing to listen, the emotions of the song can be perceived through the melody, rhythm, tempo, tone and mood of the music. Of course, learning the language can help to better understand the emotions of the song. By the way, some foreigners understood neither the culture nor the language of tango, but they thought they knew tango better than the milongueros, which to me is ridiculous. (See Tango and Gender Equality.)

March 18, 2014

The Affinity and Harmony between Partners

Tango only happens when the partners are immersed in the music and find the connection between them. There cannot be tango between two beginners who do not listen to the music, are physically detached, emotionally disconnected, focus only on themselves and the steps, and are not able to communicate their feelings. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) They dance like two individuals bickering and disagreeing with each other. In contrast, mature dancers are mutually committed, emotionally connected and are able to communicate what they feel. They focus on the music, which stirs up their emotions, enables them to identify with each other's feelings and find the connection. As a result, they dance like two soulmates in perfect understanding and agreement. This agreement is what makes tango intoxicating.

What we look for in tango is the affinity and harmony between the partners. A good tango partner does not need to be good-looking, but he/she must be a good match to you so dancing with him/her makes you feel the chemistry. Novices tend to be attracted to superficial things like appearance and fancy movements. But such external things are not essential. What is essential is the dancer's inner quality: her femininity, lightness, softness, flexibility, obedience, agreeableness and adaptability; his masculinity, strength, dependability, musicality, thoughtfulness, finesse and protection; and the connection and understanding between them. Those who pursue the vanity and ignore the essence cannot find tango, just like they cannot find love. People often compare tango to love because the two share a common theme. (See A Dance that Teaches People to Love.) They both involve a relationship between a man and a woman in which the two sexes play different roles but complement each other. They both aim at achieving harmony through understanding, submission, devotion, cooperation and accommodation. A reader, after read my post The Gender Roles in Tango, remarked, "These seem to be applicable to real life as well." Indeed, the concept of tango is universal. It reveals the way to achieve cooperation and harmony between any individuals, genders, political parties and social groups. (See The Lessons of Tango.)

Beginners need to change their focus from on what is external to what is internal. I do not mean that the steps are totally insignificant. But when you do the steps, your attention should be placed on being one with your partner. If you only focus on executing the steps, it is easy to forget about your partner, or even blame him/her for not doing so well and try to correct him/her, resulting in two partners uncoordinated. If you focus on being one with your partner, you will try to collaborate with him/her, or even be conceding enough to make him/her feel at home, so that the two may become one in the dance. Tango is like marriage. What makes it work is not pressing your partner to follow your will, but being cooperative and accommodating. Novice women often feel comfortable dancing with a milonguero, not because the novices know their stuff, but because the milonguero knows how to accommodate them. Surrendering, adapting to and being one with your partner, therefore, are more important than doing the steps. (See Tango Is a Relationship.)

March 13, 2014

Tango Is the Search of a Dream

Tango reflects the dream, longing and hope of the early immigrants to Argentina. (See Tango: The Historical and Cultural Impacts.) It is a utopia where brotherly love, intimacy, affinity and kindness triumph over prejudice, hatred, conflict and injuries, where masculinity and femininity compliment each other and bring out the best in each other, and where peace and harmony are achieved through cooperation and accommodation rather than power struggle. It is an oasis in which people can enjoy a temporary relief from the animosity, competition and conflicts of the real world.

Those who regard modernization as a progress overlooked its down side. Modernization is also an alienation or dehumanization process that makes people increasingly self-sufficient, independent, egocentric and aggressive. It weakens the natural bond that united people, shifts their focus from on the common survival to self-interests, and deprives them from the intimate cooperation that they used to enjoy. The mutual attachment, support, fraternity, interdependence and care among people have faded away. Family and society are disintegrated. The common values and common cause are lost. Natural resources are depleted. The environment has suffered irreversible damage. Individualism, feminism, homosexuality, divorce, same-sex marriage, single-parent family, materialism, competition, stress, psychological imbalance, violence, cruelty, corruption and crime have grown in intensity. In short, humanity is being replaced by modernity. (See Tango and Individualism.)

The popularity of tango in the contemporary world is a profound phenomenon. We dream of a society that is equal, fair, friendly, cooperative, orderly and harmonious like a well-organized milonga, not one that is driven by self-interests and imbued with competition, hostility, injury, stress, madness and polarization. Is modernity at the cost of humanity and environment worth pursuing? A blogger wrote, "The world is like water and mankind is like ink. What men do to the world is like what the ink does to the water. With the passage of time, the ink only makes the water muddier, not clearer. Comparing to the postmodern world of today, the past is simpler, purer, hence better." A woman wrote, "In modern-day life, we are centered around our work, which demands aggression. But if we keep being aggressive in our marriage, constantly fighting for self-interests and pushing our partner to make concessions until he gives up, then such marriage can only create an unhappy person." A Facebook friend wrote, "How many American businessmen lie in a hospital bed, after their heart attack, before they look around and ask themselves, 'How did I end up spending my life this way... working too many hours... the love of my life is a stranger, if we haven't divorced... I missed my children growing up because I worked too much... I spent my lifetime, not with my friends, but pursuing financial security... and in the end, I ended up here?'" Indeed, modernization is like a fatal attraction that causes us to lose the essence of being human. What happened to our sanity? Why couldn't an intelligent species like us create a better world for ourselves that makes more sense? (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

I believe this universal reflection on the modern living and the nature of being human, this yearning for a balanced life and a harmonious world, is not irrelevant to the revival of tango today. One hundred years ago, immigrants far away from home created this dance in which they placed their dream, a dance full of human spirit and beauty, a dance that highlights human connection, love, cooperation and harmony. I believe today's tango dancers are searching for the same dream. People who have the fortune to get involved in tango must take the responsibility to preserve this sanctuary for the mankind. We not only need to teach others how to dance tango but also to teach its ideas, because without these ideas tango could be dehumanized and assimilated by the world as well. (See The Freedom in Tango.)

February 12, 2014

The Conceptional Beauty of Tango

Unity of content and form is an important proposition in tango. Tango is created out of a human need. (See Why People Dance Tango.) From that need comes beauty, which then results in a tendency to deviate from the need and only pursue beauty, hence the alienation of tango. The admiration for beauty is not an unjustifiable one, without which there would not be art. But, in the pursuit of art it is easy to forget that in the end beauty cannot stand alone and must serve the need. A watch that cannot run properly is not a good watch, though it may look exquisite. A selfish woman is not a good wife, though she may look beautiful. It is same with tango. You may invent fancy steps, but without the essence of tango it is not a good tango.

People new to tango tend to focus on the look and neglect the feelings, just like those who are not worldly-wise tend to use external standards to measure success. Warren Buffett said, "The truth is, when you come to my age you will understand, success is measured by how many people really care about you and love you. Money doesn't make people rich. What makes us rich is love." You may be attracted to someone's look, but in the end you only want to be with a person who cares about you, knowing that the inner quality is more important than the look.

Marie Curie said, "If you are not beautiful at seventeen, you may blame your parents for not giving you a pretty face. But if at thirty you still are not beautiful, then you only have yourself to blame, because in that long period of time you haven't added anything new into yourself." In other words, what is truly attractive is one's inner quality. A tango dancer who focuses only on the look and ignores the essence of tango is like a parvenus who lives in a big mansion and drive luxury cars but at heart he is still a poor man. What makes one noble is not one's possessions but upbringing. Formalist dancers and extravagant upstarts are birds of a feather. Arts that stand the test of time, whether painting, music or dance, are those with inherent depth of humanity rather than just aestheticism. Mother Teresa once eloquently said: "Hunger does not only mean the need of food, but also the need of love. Cold does not only mean the want of clothing, but also the want of human dignity. Homelessness does not only mean without a home, but also the rejection and abandonment by the society." What tango quenches is the thirst of the soul. It is not only beautiful in its form, but more so in its content, depth and humanity.

This kind of inner beauty is invisible. It exists in the human minds, emotions, characters, relationships and imaginations. (See Tango Is a Relationship.) In the eye of a lover his beloved is a beauty. What seems attractive at the first sight may become plain with time. Some people are beautiful because of their intelligence, others because of their charisma. Certain beauty can only be perceived with the heart and not the eye, such as poem, music, love and friendship. A tango can stir up different feelings, as what people hear may not be the song but their own emotions. Everything seems bright when the heart is shiny, and gloomy when the heart is clouded. The past is more splendid in the memory than it was in reality, and so is the future in the vision. All these suggest that beauty is not just a form but also a subjective feeling.

Ultimate beauty is conceptional, transcending the visual boundaries and allowing the mind to fly in the realm of imaginations. Unlike painting, sculpture and ballet, tango is not primarily a visual art but an art of perception and feeling. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) In tango you can close your eyes and follow the instinct. You do not see the actions of your partner, only feel his/her body, embrace, touch, movements etc. and through which his/her emotions and personality. His masculinity, strength, dependability, support, protection and finesse, her femininity, softness, obedience, affection, seduction and tacit agreement, all are but feelings. Even his/her musicality and quality of dance are conceived through the sense. Tango provides plenty room for feelings and imaginations. Dancing tango is like attending a banquet of emotions. Its beauty is largely conceptional.

It is regretful that the formalist dancers focus only on what is visible and ignore what is invisible. What makes tango unique, fascinating and different from other dances is its inward, spiritual and conceptional beauty. Tango has great potentials in this respect. Exploring its inner beauty so tango may become an even richer emotional feast is a worthy goal. Although it is natural for the beginners to focus on the external, as comprehension proceeds from the outside to the inside and from the shallow to the deep, and with time they may understand the essence of tango, my wish is that the process could be shortened so when they come to the age of Warren Buffett, Marie Curie and Mother Teresa they would not regret for what has been missed out in the pursuit of vanity. Isn't that often the case beyond tango? (See The Psychology of Tango.)