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.
September 16, 2014
Exhibition versus 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 of no importance or rivals, are indifferent or even hostile to others, do not surrender themselves in the dance, and focus only on personal performance, etc. This kind of attitude 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 whom, like the immigrants who created the dance, come to the milonga to seek connection, friendship and love, consider tango as a refuge or family. (See Why People Dance Tango.)
The highlight of tango, therefore, is not on how stunning its steps are, but on the connection, surrender, devotion, communication of feelings, and satisfaction from the same commitment that others paid in return. In that sense, tango, much like a church, is a fellowship. To enjoy tango, one needs not only to master the skills, but also be a part of a friendly, warm and intimate community, without which the skill is meaningless no matter how good it is.
For this reason, he/she who only dances exhibition 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 or performance. Hence the alienation of tango. However, vanity cannot quench the thirst of the soul. Once mastered the skills, most people will continue their search for deeper and more essential things, moving away from exhibitionism and turning to love and fellowship. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) This, I think, is where Euro-American tango still falls short from BA tango due to the self-centered ideologies such as individualism and feminism in our cultures.
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 centers already show signs of readiness to keep up with BA tango now, and should and must start the fellowship 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 acts in the milonga, treats others, invites or accepts the invitation, dances, and so on, not only reflects his/her understanding of the dance, but also impacts the community. (See How You Dance Matters.) I hope next time we go to a milonga, we will all look around and remind ourselves: "I am a part of this community and we are all in tango together. I must contribute to make this home of us a warm and welcoming place for all." If we do so, I believe, our milonga will become more and more like the milongas in BA. (See 惜缘.)