Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating idea, philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. 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 or species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. We are humanists. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. If you share this conviction, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




October 28, 2015

The Age Prejudice in Tango


Few years ago a friend, after read one of my blog articles, made a comment in a personal email to me. Though I've kept the content private in respect of her concern at the time, I think it is time to "declassify" it now, because my last post, How to Get More Invitations in the MIlonga, generated a call for discussion on the men's part of the problem as well, and her comment is just about that. The following is her comment.

"I read your blog article with interest and agree with everything you say, but I'd like to comment on one aspect of behavior in relation to tango that you didn't mention. I'm making the comment privately instead of publicly because I know from bitter experience how annoyed it makes men to hear what I think on this subject. It has to do with the attitude that men have at milongas regarding whom they choose to dance with, and men in Argentina are even worse than men in America about this. Most men feel a sense of entitlement to dance only with the women they feel personally attracted to and think will enhance their esteem. I can understand not wanting to dance with women who are bad dancers or nasty people, but this is seldom the case. Men tend to ignore women who are either not sufficiently good-looking or not young enough, even if they are good dancers and even if they have friendly relationships with them. Women can sit out tanda after tanda, surrounded by men they know and who otherwise treat them in a friendly way, but who will ask every other woman around to dance while ignoring those who are deemed undesirable as potential romantic partners or status symbols on the dance floor. And men get very angry when this subject is broached, or even if a woman shows her disappointment on her face while sitting alone, because they don't like being made to feel that anything is expected of them that they don't want to do, or that they've failed in courtesy or generosity of spirit. Then they blame the women for being bad sports and having bad attitudes and being unfairly demanding. We're all taught that milongas are social parties, and much is made of the idea of the tango community, but although most women will dance with men they don't particularly enjoy dancing with just to be civil and not hurt people's feelings, almost no men will put themselves out to help a woman have a good time at a milonga unless they really want to dance with her for their own pleasure. I think that the concept of integrity and social concern as opposed to selfish individualism that you so rightly address also should incorporate more compassionate behavior in the choice of partners. At every milonga I've ever been to, I see women suffering silently as they sit unasked among groups of friends and acquaintances, to say nothing of strangers, while pretty young girls get asked constantly even if they're beginners. My own gray hair has put me in this position all too often, and in Buenos Aires I was even told that if I wanted men to dance with me I'd better dye my hair or get a wig, because guys don't like to be associated with aging women on the dance floor. This chronic macho selfishness is the biggest drawback to tango for women, and it's a huge source of sorrow for more women than you could imagine."

I have to admit the guilt I felt as I was reading these words, because until then I've never seriously thought about how deeply some women could feel because of the way they were treated by men, including myself. Though regarded as a refuge by many, the milonga is a bittersweet place in reality, where men and women come to tango with each other, yet our enjoyment of the dance is too often hampered by our own prejudice, arrogance and selfishness.

I can't argue against the human nature. Men are attracted to young, beautiful and sexy women, just like women are attracted to young, beautiful and sexy men, and we all tango for personal pleasure. However, we should not let our human nature mislead us. A tango partner is not a life partner. She does not have to be pretty and fertile. What she needs are the values, attitude, understanding, taste, musicality, skills, experiences and maturity of a tango dancer. These qualities take years of diligent study, training, practice and education to develop - ten years at least, in my opinion. Tango is an adult dance. Most people start tango at some point in their adulthood, and by the time they truly get it, they are no longer young. That is why milongueros and milongueras are not young people, yet in Argentina they are the status symbol. Tango dancers from all over the world come to Buenos Aires to dance with them.

In the US, the first and second generations of tango dancers also are in or reaching their senior ages, since the revival of tango has been thirty years now. But unlike in Argentina, in this country they often are the victims of prejudice and neglect. In a recent event that I attended, among more than a hundred participants, there were about a dozen old women, who were sitting there pretty much being left alone. Under the encouragement of the organizer, I decided to dance with them. It turned out to be a wonderful experience, since all of them are excellence dancers, most have danced for more than 10 years. This experience taught me a good lesson about how ignorant the bias against the old dancers is. I am not saying all older dancers are good tangueros or tangueras. Neither do I promote charity dance. But I believe the age prejudice in tango doesn't make good sense. It is for our own benefit to not be judgmental and mixing tango with courtship. My personal experience told me that women in their forties, fifties and sixties, are often the best social dancers. Men, especially younger men, should not miss them. Mature women may not look as pretty and sexy as young women, but their embrace, connection, musicality, communication and coordination are often much better. In other words, they have attained a deeper understanding of tango. That is the strength mature women can fully use for their own advantage.

October 18, 2015

How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga


1. Being active
In fishing you need to attract the fish with baits and lure them to bite. If you just sit there with an empty and motionless hook, chances are that you will not get many bites. Non-action is a reason why some women do not get enough invitations in the milonga. Men, like fish, are attracted to live baits. They do not reach out without incentives. This is so especially because 54.1% of men are introverts compare to 47.5% of women are introverts in the US, according to a study by the Myers-Briggs organization. If you just sit there passively waiting for men to come, chances are that you will sit there for a long time. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

2. Being observant
A passive woman does not actively engage herself in the partner selection process. She does not pay attention to how men act, who are her proper matches, where they are seated, whether they are shy or aggressive, how they invite others, whether they use cabeceo or verbal invitation, etc. She just sits there chatting, eating, texting, or waiting passively for any volunteer to come to invite her. In contrast, an active woman is a good observer first. She pays attention to men, observes their behaviors, identifies prospective partners, locates their seats, and familiarizes herself with their invitation style, so she can take action to catch their attention, or be prepared to respond to their move.

3. Paying attention to men
It is important to pay attention to men not only because you need to know your partners, but also because men are more responsive to women who pay attention to them. Your attention signals your interest. A man can tell who are interested in him and who are not, and he responds much more positively to those who are. If you turn a blind eye to him, that sends a different signal. Be careful about the signal you send. A gentleman does not force his way on you, he acts according to your will.

4. Being available and responsive
Don't occupy yourself with things that may prevent men from inviting you, such as chatting, eating, reading, talking on the phone, sitting with a boyfriend, cliquing, wearing non-tango shoes, being unchanged, etc. Instead, let men see that you are available and ready. Pay attention to men who are watching you, and be responsive to their move. Don't be afraid of showing your desire to dance. Many times I ended up dancing with a woman because she stood up and looked at me with a smile on her face when I was just passing her. Oftentimes the woman I tried to cabeceo did not get the dance, because she sat there like a wooden chicken, but the woman sat next to her got, for she was positive and responsive.

5. Changing your attitude
Don't assume that initiating an invitation is easy for men. They, too, have egos and can feel rejected, embarrassed or humiliated if you say no to them. Many will not come back again as a result, and you don't want that. It takes courage for an introvert man to ask you to dance, as he is risking being rejected in front of your friends. Don't make it harder by ignoring him. Instead, show your friendliness with a warm eye contact and smile. Even if you don't want to dance at the time, responding kindly makes you no harm. You could save yourself some potential partners for later that way.

6. Being friendly and smiling more
Women often complain they don't get enough dance in the milonga, but how many search into themselves for why? I don't know how many times women turned a blind eye to me when I tried to reach them, and how many times they avoided me with a vacant look. If you want to be invited, the best advice I can give you is to be warm and friendly. Overcome your wariness and pride. Make it a habit to smile at men, look into their eyes when they come across you, and let them see the passion in your eyes. I guarantee that you will get a lot more dances that way.

7. Making eye contact with men
The importance of making eye contact with men cannot be overstated, because the first thing men do to invite you is to look at you into your eyes. You may think that they walk around you is to have a drink, wash hands or for other things that have nothing to do with you. But you are wrong. They are testing your response. If you sit there indifferently, that shows you are not interested. If you raise your head and make eye contact with them, that not only tells them you are looking for a partner, but also gives them a chance to cabeceo you.

8. Overcoming your ego and pride
In the milongas of Buenos Aires, when a man approaches a women's table, every woman in that table will look at him until they find out whom he is inviting. In the US, however, women have a different attitude. They sit there wearing a blank face and ignore the man until he has to verbally ask one to dance. Brought up in a culture that teaches women to have self-esteem, to keep a distance from men, to avoid intimacy, to behave and not give men ideas, to let men chase you and not submit yourself too easily, this kind of attitude is understandable. But if you act like a newbie in the milonga, your chance being invited is slim. Women, especially young women, should not confuse tango with courtship. What the world taught you may not work in the milonga, where men approach you to dance with you, not to steal your heart. In the milonga you need to learn from little children who are not ego-driven but pure in heart and can easily get along with other little children.

9. Being humble
A woman who turns a blind eye to a strange man may think that he isn't a good enough partner for her. By that bias she limits herself to dancing only with a few men she often dances with. However, this is a big world. If you spend money attending an event where a large group of dancers from different places gather, it would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity to dance with as many men you don't know as possible. The assumption that you are too good for someone is often wrong. Most people seek partners among equals. If you are good and he wants to dance with you, he likely is not too bad either despite his humble appearance. By expanding your horizon, you will enjoy, experience, and learn much more.

10. Using cabeceo
Women in this country spend more time on dress than on cabeceo. While dress works to some degree, you will be more successful if you use cabeceo in combination. Cherie Magnus calls cabeceo one of "the most civilized customs" in the milonga, which I agree. (See Women's role in Cabeceo.) Women must learn this skill because that is the way, and often the only way, sophisticated tangueros use to invite a woman. (See The Issues on Cabeceo.) An experienced tanguero does not oblige you to dance. He watches you from a distance, or walks to where you can see him and gazes at you. If you exchange eye contact with him, he will nod at you to invite you. If you sit there like a dummy, that shows you are unworthy of his time, and he will turn to someone else instead. Only novices will force their way to your seat and ask you to dance. By using cabeceo, you not only get more dances, but better dances as well.

11. Being brave
Dancing with someone better than you can be rewarding, but you need to be brave and take initiative, because he probably will not ask. Most experienced dancers use cabeceo to invite a woman, which will not work if you avoid their eyes. You should not let the thought that you are not good enough to intimidate you. Schopenhauer said, "Man is either vulgar or lonely." The better he is, the lonelier he becomes, and he will be happy to dance with you if you are willing. A good dancer knows how to dance with anyone, because to him tango is not a show of steps but an expression of love. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) You will be glad that you made the eye contact with him.

12. Staring at him longer
Some women do make eye contact with men, but they make it very briefly in order not to seem like they are begging for a dance. Women often think that a subtle cue, such as a quick glance or change of seat, is enough to call a man's attention. However, that's not how men think. A man needs to see you eye-to-eye for a few seconds to make sure you want to dance with him before he makes a move. If you turn your eyes away too quickly, he will take that as you are unwilling. If you want to dance with him, you need to fix your eyes at him. Only if he doesn't act after ten seconds or more should you then turn your eyes to someone else. (See Tango Etiquette: Talking, Eye Contact, Clique and Hierarchy.)

13. Being moderate
In exhibition tango you need to be as striking as you can, but in social tango it would be wise to follow the doctrine of the Golden Mean. Our culture encourages boldness and creativity, which is fine if you only need one man to appreciate your uniqueness. In the milonga, however, you want to get as many invitations as possible. Most men are ordinary folks. If your style is too unconventional, if your skill is too above average, if your dress is too exotic, if you are too pretty and showy, most men will find that intimidating. The emphasis of social tango is the communication of feelings, not the display of styles. A social dancer must balance being yourself and meeting the tastes of most people. Good dance skills do not have to be superficial. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

14. Being a woman
Men are attracted to women who are feminine and not masculine or gender neutral. If you cut your hair like a man, dressed like a man, like to lead, like to dance with women, or wear flat shoes, your chance being invited by men will be limited. Some women think it's cool to imitate men. While there may be few men who like that, most men don't. That's just the nature of being men. If you believe you don't need to respect that, that's your choice. But if you want to dance with men, then you must assume the feminine role in the partnership. Tango is not a showcase for individualism and feminism. (See Femininity and Feminism (I).)

15. Improving yourself
Not getting enough invitations is one of the most expressed frustrations among women. While men may be a part to blame for that (see The Age Prejudice in Tango), I believe women have issues to address also. We all need to realize that our cultural heritages, such as individualism, feminism, egoism, personal liberty, independence, and the focus on the self, contribute to the problem. (See Tango and Individualism and Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.) Unless we've learned to accept, respect, love and cooperate with each other and developed a culture in our milonga that is different from the culture in which we live, we are not able to fully enjoy tango. That is a challenge we as non-Argentinians all have to face. (See The Freedom in Tango.)

August 24, 2015

Artistic Sublimation and Vulgarism in Tango


Humans are able to draw on common nature or essence of things and abandon their individual and non-essential property in order to formulate a concept. For example, in the minds of men,  a "woman" often is not a particular female person, but an abstract idea. As Carlos Gavito put it, "She's a dream of something I want in real life, but that ideal does not have a face." Abstract thinking is one of the things that make us different from animals. While it may lead to generalized biases such as racism, it also is the origin of art. Beauty, after all, is an abstract concept. We take common properties of all women to formulate a goddess with perfect face, body, curves, hips, legs, softness, flexibility, sexuality, temperament, etc., - an ideal lover, partner, friend, companion, wife, and mother of human offspring. (See The Conceptional Beauty of Tango.) 

In fact, it goes further. Desirable features are even highlighted. Statues of women often have exaggerated curves, fuller breasts, narrower waist, wider hips and longer legs. This kind of abstraction is found in nearly all artistic expressions. We read even in the Holy Bible such verses, "Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle." (Song of Songs 7:3) "How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit." (Song of Songs 7:6-7) The woman echoed, "I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment." (Song of Songs 8:10)

Tango as an art form is aligned with the holy word. It humanizes us, elevates our humanity, and enables us to transcend vulgarism and hypocrisy. A culture that separates decent intimacy from vulgarism and sanctions the former, I believe, is more human and civilized than that equates the two and disapproves both. (See Close Embrace and Open Embrace (I).) Women need to be honest about their body, draw on it in the dance, not only to receive information, but also to seduce, comfort and bring contentment to the male partner. For example, to rub him when you rock back and forth in ocho cortado, or massage his chest when you twist in his arms. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) Using her body to seduce, comfort and bring contentment is an essential part of the feminine role in tango. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)

The same is true for men. As Perri Lezzoni eloquently wrote in his essay, A Little Machismo Goes A Long Way, "One of the most difficult things leaders have to learn is how to put some machismo into the tango connection. The tiniest amount will do but exuding it without offense is not easy. It is the most important spice in the stew; without it there are no women and without women there is no tango... Machismo is the expression of a person’s inner warrior and it is not solely manufactured by men. It is the fighter inside of us that the follower finds so alluring."

Men need to understand that what makes us special to women is the makings of us, our manhood, strength, masculinity and machismo, not political correctness. Women like to rely on our broad shoulder, melt in our strong arms, feel our muscles, admire our strength, and enjoy our protection. It is of their nature to seduce us, get our attention, arouse our hunger for them, submit and surrender to us, and follow our lead. Using our body to support, protect, lead, comfort, and bring contentment to them is the essential part of our role in tango. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)

The innocent intimacy and playfulness in tango is human and healthy, which satisfy our need for connection and love, strengthen the bond between the two sexes, comfort us and stir up our emotions without being offensive and disrespectful. Despite the criticism that tango is a politically incorrect dance by those who want to promote a "sanitized version" featuring open embrace and gender neutralization (see Tango and Gender Equality), their belief that tango leads to sexual urge contradicts the reality. Tango, like other arts, is a sublimation. Tango dancers all over the world can testify that tango, though an intimate dance, is not sexual. The mind of the dancer is in a state of meditation, so focusing on the music, sentiment, emotions and artistic creation that other mental exercises become unfeasible. It would be like attempting to compose a dirty poem in fishing when the fish is actively biting. Moral defenders either are outsiders who know nothing about tango, or hypocrites with dubious intentions. Instead of blaming tango, they should get to know the dance and its codes first. (See Milonga Codes.) They should also be advised that good manner is the first card people play in tango, that improper behavior will encounter resistance, that nobody will dance with you if you show no respect, and that repeated offender will not be welcomed by the community, so the "sanitized version" is superfluous. 

June 11, 2015

Tango and the Outlook on Life


One

Two friends, Oliver and Tony, both are great tango dancers. One left Buenos Aires and came to the US to teach tango. The other left the US and moved to Buenos Aires to dance tango. They exchanged the following opinions on the life of the milongueros. 

Oliver: "There is a big, big fantasy in many people's minds about the life of the milonguero. Many are in love with the fantasy of emulating this life but maybe don’t actually know what a milonguero is, or what kind of life brought them to this status. They didn't plan this life, it just evolved through their passion and their choices.

Imagine yourself as a 20-year-old, going to the disco every night, hanging out with your friends, trying to get that girl or boy you like, not caring much about getting a job, avoiding responsibility. Without realizing it, time has passed and you are no longer in your 20's, you're 30, 40, or even 50 and still in the disco every night. During these 30 years you had to do something besides dancing, yes, some of you might chosen to still live with your parents (if they weren't smart enough to kick you out), some others might have had a mundane day job, or simple afternoon shift just to make enough money to sustain their disco lifestyle. Others might have even considered other 'special jobs' dangerous ones, easy money. Not always is there food on the table, not always was life simple. On the other hand the promoters of the disco world saw the opportunity to exploit these fanatics by offering more and more hours during which they could lose themselves in this dance. While others were able to study, make a career putting their love of dance in perspective, you were and are still dancing or hanging out in this world of the disco.

When you reach 70 you lived the life you have chosen. You didn't plan to become a 'milonguero' or, in this case, a 'discoero', it just happened because of your choices. You just lived! Had you been able to know the outcome, would you have done the same?

There is a fascination with the milongueros in BA. Unfortunately, as happens to all of us, time is the enemy and most of them are now resting in peace. Looking back at them, the question for those who worship them is would you have actually chosen to live the life they did. It's like being fascinated with the mafia world, but in reality, would you ever actually kill someone? Being able to handle a situation when talking is not an option anymore? You can't be a tough guy without being tough. 'I am living the life of a milonguero in Bs As, I know the rules of the milongas, I know where people sit, the icons of tango say hello to me' etc… I heard this quote somewhere and it made me think how much people just don’t get it. This is only the packaging my friends, it's not the reality.

A milonguero is a person who spent his life at the milongas either dancing, chatting, hanging out, or just wasting time. Some people have the sensibility to see the milonguero as a result of a life choice without a plan to become one! I don’t know if everyone who is a milonguero-wanna-be could make that transition and consciously pursue that status for the future. "

Tony: "While I appreciate the metaphor, and appreciate even more the American tendency to inappropriately romanticize the life of the milonguero, I ask that you consider an alternative scenario.

Imagine that you do not have the opportunities that we have in the US... that your government is in flux and regularly re-organized by the military... that you have friends who, on a regular basis, simply disappear, never to been seen again... that your economy periodically collapses... that inflation is a cyclical problem... that catering to the whims of tourists is the best alternative that you have available to you... and, that you happen to both like tango and have a natural set of skills that allow you to support yourself...

Imagine that, over your lifetime, the safest and most reliable place in your world was in the milongas...

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...'

Oliver, one thing that I completely agree with you on. 'They didn't plan this life, it just evolved through their passion and their choices.' And with those choices, we must each ultimately accept the responsibility for the outcomes."

These two views on the milongueros all tally with the reality. The difference lies in whether it is advisable to pursue a lifestyle as a milonguero. To answer this question, we first have to understand the purpose of life. What is the meaning of life? How should we live? Why in the eyes of the world pursuing a career is good, accumulating wealth is good, engaging in a business adventure is good, being a doctor, lawyer or politician is good, but not a milonguero? What if dancing tango could make one rich like a movie star?


Two

In our culture, people are taught from a very young age to "study hard, work hard and be rich and successful". Under such an influence many people learned to measure success and happiness by wealth and status, which become the ambition of their life. They struggle to compete with others, make unrealistic comparison with the rich and successful, and resort to every conceivable means in order to make more money, to drive more expensive cars, to own bigger houses, to realize their dreams, and to live a "better life". On the other hand, the market takes advantage of such forging ahead mentality, keeps providing people with innovative products, luring them to throw away their still usable but outdated stuffs and keep buying more fashionable and upscale luxuries. As a result, people become more and more sophisticated materialists. Our economics advocate "creating demands, encouraging consumption, promoting competition, and stimulating growth". Our political science calls this "the pursuit of happiness". Our sociology argues that such Protestant ethic is the roots of capitalism, etc. But, no matter how people try to rationalize it, the fact is, many problems in our modern society, such as intense competition, stress, polarization, monopolist and fraudulent business practices, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, corruption, squandering, the disappearance of forests and farmlands, the depletion of natural resources, the deterioration of the environment, the diminishing of the human bond that bound people, the rise of individualism, the disintegration of family, the decay of morality, the increase of crime, and so on, all are the results of such relentless pursuit of material gains. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

Materialism is a disease of the modern times. Any sensible person can understand that unrestrained pursuit of wealth, growth, development and consumption is an ill-advised practice. The resources on the Earth are limited, impossible to provide the world of seven billion people all with extravagant and squandering lifestyles. As God's gift to all mankind whom we hold are born equal, the natural resources should be used rationally, temperately and fairly by all people, and should not be spoiled willfully just for our own luxurious living at the cost of the environment and future generations, let alone to allow a few to use them as means to enrich themselves.

Most rich people are good people, who act for their own interests just like everyone else, only they did better than others. As winners they enjoy certain advantages, such as being able to use their money to influence the policy making, and such policies usually further increase the gap between the rich and the poor. The root of the problem, therefore, lies not in those who benefit from such practices, but the philosophy and culture that created them. A civilized society should encourage simplicity, thrift, moderation, coexistence, equality, fraternity, cooperation and sharing, not allow a few to accumulate unlimited wealth, let alone to make them role models for the whole society to follow; should encourage proper views on life and happiness, not advocate the so-called "philosophy of success", let alone to use money and status as symbols of success; should encourage small and diversified economic models conducive to the environment and social equality, not allow some to become so big that most people cannot compete with them, let alone to permit big financial institutions, big oils, big pharmaceuticals, big utilities, big manufacturers, big chain stores, etc., to crush and acquire small businesses one by one and monopolize the market; should treat everyone equally, provide all with a fair platform to compete and cooperate, not give the rich unfair advantages over the poor, let alone to deliberately create legal loopholes to increase inequality; should reform and optimize the democratic system, not deregulate political contributions and lobbies, etc., let alone to allow them to influence the making of rules in favor of the special interests.


Three

Lately, there is a story pregnant with meaning circulated on the Web.

An American businessman sat on the pier of a fishing village on a Mexican coast, watching a fisherman pulling his little boat into the dock, inside the boat were several large tunas. After complimenting the fisherman, the American asked the Mexican, "How long it took you to catch these tunas?" The Mexican answered: "Only an hour." The American asked: "Why not catch more?" The Mexican answered, "These are enough for today's consumption." The American asked, "What do you do for the rest of the day?" The Mexican answered, "I sleep until I wake up naturally every day, then I go to the sea to catch a few fish. When I return I play with the kids for a while, and then take a nap with my wife after lunch. At dusk I go to the wine shop to have a little drink with my buddies and we play guitar. You see, my life is busy and fulfilling." The American said, "I have an MBA from Harvard University. May I give you some advice? If you spend more time on fishing every day, soon you will have enough money to buy a bigger boat, with that you can catch more fish, and then buy more boats and hire people to work for you. Then you can open a fish processing plant. You then can move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles and New York to expand your business. This way, you will make a lot of money." The Mexican asked, "How long will that take me?" The American answered, "Fifteen to twenty years." The Mexican asked, "And then?" The American answered, "Then you can retire. You can move back to the seacoast, sleep until wake up naturally every day, go to catch some fish, come back to play with the children, take a nap with your wife after lunch, have a little drink with your buddies at dusk and play guitar." The Mexican said, "Aren't that what I'm doing now?"

This story vividly depicts two different life philosophies. Whether it is a tribute to the visionary American businessman, or a satire on his short-sightedness, a ridicule on the Mexican fisherman's lack of ambition, or a praise on the wisdom of his leisurely, aloof, quietist and naturalistic lifestyle, you can draw your own conclusion. Many may see the fisherman as a lazy idler who lacks the desire to succeed. But is that so? Does his "enough for today" attitude make no sense? If his is the dominant life philosophy of mankind, what would the world be like? Would not there be less competition and more harmony? Would not the life be less stressful and more enjoyable? Would not there be less greed, waste, corruption, evil and more contentment, simplicity, honesty and good? Would not the sky be bluer, the water clearer, the resources more abundant and the ecology more balanced? Would not the world be more peaceful? Would not man and nature be more harmonious?

In my opinion, the crises of the modern world did not come from the Mexican fisherman's kind of simple approach to life, but from the American businessman's kind of blind greed and ambition, from the materialistic view of happiness today. In this respect, tango dancers seem to have a better taste. They love a dance that emphasizes the relationship and feelings. In other words, they value human connection, fraternity and inner fulfillment more than superficial things. That is why many are willing to give up a comfortable material life and follow the trails of the milongueros. I have had the honor to befriend with several such individuals who resigned from their well paid job or moved to Buenos Aires for tango. (See Tango Is the Search of a Dream.) Their choice at least can prove that though money may be a necessary condition for happiness, it is not the sufficient one. The sufficient condition for happiness is the contentment of the soul. (See The Psychology of Tango.) History is not short of such examples. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu advocated non-action, detached simplicity, standing aloof from worldly success, and returning to nature. Unwilling to bow servilely for a good salary, Tao Yuanming resigned from office and returned to his previous idyllic life. When asked what the best home is, Pittacus of Mytilene replied, "It has neither the luxury, nor the lack of necessity." Forrest Gump said, "There's only so much fortune a man really need and the rest is just for showing off." Yu Juan said, "Being with the loved ones is warm even live in a small apartment." These people of wisdom are the same kind as the milongueros and the Mexican fisherman. They maintained the essence of being human and did not become the slaves of money. (See Mammonism.)

I think the world needs more people like them, because it cannot stand the devastation of materialism any more.

March 7, 2015

Activity and Passivity in Tango


If caught in the dilemma either marry someone who loves you or someone you love, what would be your choice?  Most women may prefer the former because security is programmed in women's psychology. For women, as Eileen Chang said, love means being loved - a safety net for them and their children. In contrast, most men are more likely to marry someone they love because men are brought up to be the provider and protector. Which gives men certain advantage, since a proactive giver may end up winning the love he yearns, whereas a passive receiver could end up losing everything. Unfortunately, that is often the fate of those who marry security and fail to contribute.

It may be wise for a woman to be passive initially during the courtship, as she needs to know that the man is worthy of her before she gives herself up to him. But if she remains passive forever, that could be potentially problematic to the relationship. Women must not be deceived by the lie that men are only interested in one thing. That belief could cause some women to be overly reserved and defensive, cut down their efforts and become perfunctory partners, or rely on their beauty to exchange for security, or demand more than what they are willing to give, etc. I suspect that is relevant to the perfunctoriness of some women in tango as well. They sit there chatting and pay no attention to men, keep a distance from their partner, use open hand holds to replace the embrace, prop with the arms against the man or lean backwards to avoid intimate bodily contact, dance emotionlessly, focus on the steps instead of the feelings, and neglect their duty to their partner. At the same time, they expect their partner to make them totally satisfied.

A woman needs to understand that when she accepts an invitation to tango with a man, she is not accepting an invitation to do solo, but to be a part of a relationship in which the two must support, comfort, complement, and be there for each other. She must not think of tango as a courtship where she could or should be reserved. Rather, she has to see it as a marriage in which both partners must spare no effort to work together as a team. Contrary to the ideologies such as individualism and feminism that focus on the self and self-interests, tango focuses on the relationship, cooperation, and generosity in spirit in order to build together something beautiful and fulfilling for both. To tango, therefore, is not to demand and take, but to contribute and give. (See A Dance that Teaches People to Love.)

The passivity of women is a result of millions of years of human evolution through natural selection. Women's biological function demands a safe environment and urgent sense of security. Men, on the other hand, are hunters. It gives them pleasure to chase, conquer and protect. Laboratory researches of mice show that certain part of the male brain is associated with both sexuality and aggression. Stimulating that part will cause sexual urge. Increasing the stimulation on that same spot will result in violent behaviors. This suggests that the empathy and self-control of men are learned or cultured behaviors, which elevate them from the beast. Women, on the other hand, need to learn to counteract their passivity and be more active in their relationship with men, because they are not just men's mating partners, but partners in many other areas of life as well, including that of emotional, social, recreational, artistic, intellectual and spiritual. Tango, after all, is not about sex but companionship. A fulfilling companionship is one in which both partners are equal contributors desiring to satisfy each other's needs, especially those beyond sex. I believe that willingness to make others happy is an essential trait of a good social tango dancer. (See The Freedom in Tango.)

January 21, 2015

The Gender Roles in Tango


The two partners in tango play different roles in correspondence with their respective gender. Gender roles are violated, for example, when the woman refuses to surrender, when she neglects her duty to make the man feel comfortable, when she resists him with disobedience, when she interferes with his lead or initiate her own steps, when the man fails to protect the woman, when he coerces her with force, when he does not follow the music, when he shines himself instead of her, etc. Unfortunately, such things frequently happen in our milongas.

One reason for that is we do not teach gender roles. Unlike in Argentina, in this country we do not use the words "men" and "women" in our tango instructions. Instead, we use the gender-neutral terms "leaders" and "followers", and we allow either gender to play either role with absolutely no knowledge of what that role is about and how to play it. In our "politically correct" way of thinking, everyone is a gender-neutral person. We do not train students to function as men or women, to be masculine or feminine, and to be attractive to the opposite sex. We only teach them mechanical movements. There is no role play, no passion, no emotional involvement, no masculinity and femininity, no seduction, and even no bodily contact. Consequently, our tango lacks what tango actually is. It becomes a gender-neutral dance.

However, in Argentina where men are much more masculine and women are much more feminine, tango is exactly the opposite of a gender-neutral danceArgentine tango is a passionate and elaborate display of masculinity and femininity. It highlights rather than hides the characteristics and functions of the opposite sexes. It fulfills the need for intimacy between men and women through close embrace and intimate bodily contact. It is a sensual and seductive dance.  (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)

As fashionable as it is to transform gender roles in the US, this fact remains unchanged: no one can be at his/her best against nature. Frankly, a woman is too feminine to be a leader. She simply cannot be as masculine as the leader must be, and function as a man must function to a woman, regardless of how technically adequate she can lead. Likewise, a man is too masculine to be a follower. He simply cannot be as feminine as the follower must be, and function as a woman must function to a man, regardless of how technically adequate he cam follow. Tango is not just lead and follow. It is the interaction between the two sexes. Without masculinity and femininity, tango loses its charm and splendor.

So, what are the roles of men and women in tango, and how different these roles are?

Men in general are physically taller, stronger, firmer and more dependable than women. They also have a psyche different from that of women due to men's hunting nature formed in the millions of years of human evolution through natural selection, such as their need for taking initiatives,
subduing, conquering, keeping under control, and protecting their loved ones, etc. Naturally, men assume the masculine role in tango as they do in life. The following are the functions of men's role in tango:

1. Leading the woman. For the couple to dance in unison, their actions must agree. For this to happen, only one person must take the lead, and the other must follow. In tango, the man leads the women. He does so not by force, but by showing an intention of how he wants her to move from his torso that she in his embrace can feel. He then matches her response to complete the lead.

2. Plotting the dance. In tango, the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. The woman may beautify the dance with her colorful footwork, but she cannot plot the dance and change the choreography. That responsibility lies in the man, who must make the dance interesting, diversified and well-arranged, so that it may bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play.

3. Supporting her. The man must be supportive to the woman. Although she is liable for keeping her own balance, in actual dancing she often needs his help, especially if she is a less experienced dancer. The man must be the pillar for her, supporting her with his body to help keeping her balanced and executing her steps. He must be as stable as a refrigerator. Any unsteadiness and unbalance on his part will shake her trust and confidence.

4. Timing her steps to the music. The man must lead the woman dance to the music. His musicality is the most important element in leading. He must not stick in the figure that he is leading and forget about the music. He must not just pay attention to his own timing and forget about hers. Rather, he must focus on timing her steps to the music, even that may mean that he has to be a little bit off beat sometimes, because he dances for her.

5. Shining her. A gentleman makes the woman shining in his company. He leads her to dance in such a way that fully reveals her feminine beauty. (See Revealing Her Beauty in Tango.) He makes her, rather than himself, the center of attention. He does not show off over her for self-glorification and leave her eclipsed.

6. Protecting her. A gentleman is very protective of the woman. He must prevent her from being bumped, kicked or stepped on by others. He must comply with navigation rules and respect the line of dance, keep a distance from others, halt when necessary and not run into people, and he must not lead steps that may hurt her or others. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.)

7. Pampering her. It is not manly to be rude and savage to a woman. A gentleman treats the woman with respect, admiration and attentiveness. He leads her carefully, patiently, tenderly and protectively. He makes her feel pampered in his arms and lets her fully enjoy dancing with him. (See Men's Common Mistakes in Tango.)

In contrast, women in general do not have the build and strength of men. They are smaller, shorter, lighter, softer, more flexible, beautiful and delicate. In addition, they have a psychology different from that of men due to women's reproductive nature, such as their need of beauty (to attract male), affection, submission and security, which are also results of millions of years of human evolution through natural selection. (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II).) Consequently, women assume the feminine role in tango as they do in life. The following are the functions of women's role in tango:

1. Complete surrender. The woman must entrust herself to the man. She must let go her ego, relax her body, settle comfortably in his arms, be obedient, and move in unison with him. By her surrender she dispels his misgiving and gives him permission to be her leader. Just like when a baby is born the young parents suddenly become grownups, she makes him a man by being a woman.  

2. Following his lead. She must be calm and unhurried, wait for his signal to tell her how to move, and follow the lead one step at a time. She must not act on her own, initiate the step, or interfere with his lead. (See Women's Common Mistakes in Tango.) While being obedient, however, she must remain an active part of the dance. Following is not passively responding. It is a dynamic action that takes wit, ingenuity and creativeness. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

3. Being light and agile. She must relax her body and make herself light and easy for him to lead. She must not put too much weight on the man and become a burden to him. She must keep her own balance, not grab or hang on him for stability, or wrestle with him. She must be sensitive to his lead and ready to respond at all time. And, she must move dexterously.

4. Keeping her own beat. An experience woman follows intuitively so she can concentrate on the music instead of the lead. The man does his part to lead her dance to the music, but he can only do so by estimating the beat. As a result he may not be one hundred percent accurate at all time. The woman must listen to the music and be responsible for micro-adjusting her steps to the beat. A good follower can dance to music creatively while remain in perfect unison with the man.

5. Complementing the man. As his partner she must help him, bring out his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses. She excites him with her femininity. She dances in such a way that is light, inspiring and contagious. She supports him when he loses his balance, keeps the beat when he is off time, slows him down if he rushes, and warns him if he is to run into others. She helps to maintain the coherence and oneness of the dance.

6. Beautifying the dance. A woman is a natural beautician and decorator. The man leads the dance, but it is the woman who shines the dance with her flexible body, beautiful footwork and sparkling embellishments. A good follower, however, does not interfere with the lead. She remains in unison with the man while beautifying the dance.

7. Being a woman. The woman must not dance as a mechanical follower, but as a woman. She must make the man feel comfortable in her arms. She must willingly show her female softness, flexibility, grace and seductiveness. She understands that her womanhood, femininity and gentle softness are the reason why he enjoys dancing with her rather than with another man. By being a woman, she can bring out the best in him and be rewarded fully as a result. (See Women's Common Mistakes in Tango and The Thirteenth Pitfall of  A Tanguera.)