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.

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 a woman, as Eileen Chang said, love means being loved - a safety net for her and her 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 advantages, since a proactive giver may end up wining 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 reserved 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 a woman to be overly defensive, cut down her efforts and become a perfunctory partner, or rely on her beauty to bargain for what she wants, or demand more than what she is 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 the male partner, use an open hand hold to replace the embrace, prop with the arms against the man or lean backward to evade intimate bodily contact, dance emotionlessly, focus on the steps instead of the feelings, and neglect their duty to make their partner feel good in the dance. 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 dance tango, she is not accepting an invitation to do solo performance but to be a part of a relationship in which the two partners must support, complement, comfort and be there for each other. She must not think of tango as a courtship in which she could or should remain 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 that focus on the self and self-interests of the individual, tango focuses on the cooperative relationship and the collective efforts to build something beautiful and fulfilling for the couple as a team. 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 evolution. Women's biological function demands a safety net and urgent sense of security. Men, on the other hand, are hunters. It gives them pleasure to chase, conquer and protect. Laboratory research 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 can lead to 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 learning, dancing and artistic creation. Tango, after all, is a non-sexual partnership. A fulfilling partnership is one in which both partners are equal contributors willing to meet each other's needs. I believe that willingness to make others happy is an essential trait of a good tango dancer.


  1. This is very much written from a man’s perspective. A woman needs to be invited to closer embrace. It must feel natural. There is a certain level of trust that woman gives to a man when they dance in close embrace. If a man assumes and starts groping woman from the start it feels as a violation rather than consensual embrace. If you end up dancing a few songs in open embrace, maybe that is a way of women asserting her will, and ensuring her voice will be heard.

    1. Men do not assume and start groping a woman from the start. It is always a mutual choice. Men and women who understand tango choose to surrender to each other from the start. Those who choose to dance a few songs in open embrace first and then decide whether they should surrender do not understand tango, in my opinion.