Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating culture, idea, lifestyle, and philosophy. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, 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 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 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.




December 11, 2016

Tango and Family Values


I raise chickens in my backyard. In cold winter days like now, they huddle and tango together to keep themselves warm. Individualism is a luxury chickens couldn't afford. They rely on each other for survival, just like early human beings. (See The Spirit of Tango.)

Sometimes I wonder, are modern people really superior to chickens? Why they formulated so many theories like individualism, feminism, homosexualism and "marriage equality" to justify behaviors that are not for the best interests of the mankind as a whole? Why they are so obsessed with self-interests and personal rights but are apathetic to other people? Why they mistreat, exploit, take advantage of, rob, abuse, torture and slaughter their own kind? Why they greedily accumulate wealth far exceeding their needs at the expense of their fellow human beings? Why little by little they abandoned all the values that held them together and made them strong as a species?

I realize that, as history has shown, sometimes evil prevailed over good and people lost conscience allowed themselves to go with the flow. Perhaps we come across such a time again.

I am not willing to give up hope, though, because I still see goodness in people like firefighters, doctors without borders, and tango dancers alike. I appreciate them because it takes a big heart to open your arms to others, to provide a supporting shoulder for those in need, and to be a good Samaritan. Tango is created by such people, immigrants and street women who are homeless, vulnerable, lonely, looking for a refuge in a strange land, yearning to be loved, and who are sympathetic to others like themselves. Like chickens, they huddle and tango together to keep themselves warm in a cold world. (See Why People Dance Tango.)

I also see hope in parents who love their children and teach them to love each other, to take care of their little brothers and sisters, and to work as a team. When such children grow up, they will become responsible members of the society. Evil prevails only when family is disintegrated, when family values are lost, when human bonds are faded away, when everyone becomes egocentric, and when individualism, feminism, hatred, divorce, single parent family, irresponsible sex, self-indulgence, gun culture and materialism become the accepted norms in a society.

But I don't think that will be the case forever, because as history has also shown, so long as there are men and women, there will be love, children, family, family values, and tango, so evil cannot prevail for long. Family is and always will be the cornerstone of human civilization. Our collective desire to survive and our collective conscience reject what is bad for us as a species. After all, we are a part of nature, and the law of nature overrules the law of men.

Perhaps that's why in times like this more and more people turn to tango now, a dance that connects us, a dance that is consistent with family values, a dance that teaches the world to love, and a dance in which many rediscovered conscience and compassion. (See Tango Is the Search of a Dream.)

November 5, 2016

The Lessons of Tango


Having a broad vision, or being trivial, the results are different.

Seeing things from the vantage point of the team, or seeing things from the perspective of the individual, the results are different.

Zooming out to see yourself as a part of the whole, or zooming in to see yourself as everything, the results are different.

Focusing on what's in common, or focusing on the difference, the results are different.

Sympathetic, or unsympathetic, the results are different.

Taking the concerns of others into account, or rejecting opposite views, the results are different.

Being agreeable, or being disagreeable, the results are different.

Moderate and balanced, or rabid and extremist, the results are different.

Being willing to meet in the middle, or insisting on having one's own way, the results are different.

Building bridges, or building walls, the results are different.

Cooperative, or competitive, the results are different.

Team spirit, or individuality, the results are different.

Working for the common cause, or working for self-interests or group interests, the results are different.

Striving to achieve harmony, or striving to win competition, the results are different.

The former are magnanimous and patriotic, the latter are petty and self-centric.

The former, which are germane to tango, lead to a better society.

The latter, pertinent to individualism, lead to dissension, disunity and failure as a nation.

October 28, 2016

Meeting in the Middle


For many, life is good. For many others, it is not. We live in our own realities. But the fact is, as Guy de Maupassant wrote in his 1883 novel A Woman's Life, "Life is never as good or as bad as one thinks."

"I think, therefore I am." (Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes.) In order to think there must be a thinking entity, the self. Human cognition is biased by personal experiences, thus tends to be partial and rabid. Truth often lies in between two opposite views. For this reason, Confucius argues that the gentlemen's approach to life is to take a mean course, or to meet in the middle. (See How You Dance Matters.)

Meeting in the middle is not only a method of thinking or approach to life. It is also a civilized way to resolve a conflict. Opposite parties insisting on having their own ways can be stalled, unable to reach an agreement. But if they are willing to meet in the middle, they become less divided and more united. A compromised deal may not be as good as either party would like, but it is a common ground for them to move forward. In fact, that is how nature works. The black tulip does not come from the original parent plants overnight, but through a series of small improvements or compromises over generations, as Alexandre Dumas wrote in his 1850 novel The Black Tulip. Politicians often fight for a one-time deal. In actuality progress is a process. You move an inch through a compromise, then move another inch through another compromise. You probably will never get all you want. But everyone will be better off if they all agree to move forward by meeting in the middle.

The result is something better, the black tulip. Aristotle said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." When individual parts are united, it creates a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual effects. You can easily break individual sticks, but you cannot break them if they are tied together. Logically, the whole is the sufficient condition of its part, but the reverse is not true. In other words, what is good for the society benefits all, but what is good for an individual does not necessarily benefit the society. Individualism is erroneous as a methodology. It is also antidemocratic as an ideology, because it acts in accordance with the law of the jungle. (See Tango and Individualism.) Those who insist on having their own way and refuse to take the concerns of others into account are tyrants. A democracy formed by such individuals does not work, as proven by the increasing uninhibitedness, uncooperativeness, hostility, polarization, inequality, aggression and lawlessness in American society.

If we still hold that "all men are created equal" to be a self-evident truth, if we still believe that a united, cooperative and harmonious society is in the best interests of all its citizens, if we still need each other, and if we do not want to be disregarded by others, then we must take others into account and not insist on having our own way. A democracy is government by people, not strong individuals. It is based on the cooperation of the people, not on antagonism and sabotage. It aims at the balance, harmony and well-being of all, not the self-interests of a few. It follows the Golden Rule, not law of the jungle. It requires us to resolve conflicts through compromise, not guns and force. A democracy must educate its people on its principles. If we believe these to be true, then meeting in the middle is the sensible, practical and civil attitude we must have in our approach to each other, the approach of tango. I must add, right now we are not doing well in our politics, and in our dance. 

October 9, 2016

Tango and Individualism


We all assume certain roles in life. Husband and wife, father and mother, president and vice president, center forward and linebacker, leader and follower, etc., all are different roles. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) One must act in compliance with one's role in order to live and work with others together as a group or team. Acting in excess of one's role is often the cause of a failed partnership, whether in marriage, family, politics, sports, or tango.

Not only so, we also need to be agreeable with each other in order to function as a team. If we are disagreeable with each other, we are unable to work in unison for the same cause. For this reason, agreeableness was once regarded as an important virtue. People may have personal interests and personal opinions, but as members of a team they must think from the vantage point of the group, be sympathetic, overcome their own ego, seek common ground, and be willing to compromise, regarding them as a part of the whole that is bigger and more important than themselves.

But, when individualism becomes the dominant philosophy in a society where everyone thinks of himself or herself as the most important, that is no longer the case. In today's America, for example, individual rights and personal interests take precedence over the interests of the society as a whole. As a result, people disagree and bicker with each other on everything. The gridlock in our politics is but a reflection of the small-mindedness, selfishness, rabidity and obstinacy that characterize a nation's lack of broad visions, magnanimity, brotherhood and common cause. 

The disregard for human rights is a regrettable fact in human history. Liberalism, which places human liberty at the center of its cause, has played a positive role in human history. However, the view of men and woman as free and independent individuals is an unbalanced proposition. Human beings are not only free and independent individuals, but also interconnected and interdependent social beings. Our life, liberty and happiness depend on collective efforts and a stable and harmonious society. Therefore, human rights must not be conceived only as the rights of the individual, but that of the mankind or society as a whole also, among these rights are coexistence, equality, sharing, cooperation, and fraternity. (See The Freedom in Tango.)

In today's America, however, the collective rights and well-being of the society as a whole are often being ignored while individual rights and personal freedom are overemphasized and often pushed to the extreme by the right and the left alike. Business aggression and expansionism, the exploitation of other human beings, the destruction of the environment, squandering, monopolization, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the influence of big money on politics, the promotion of obscenity and violence, gun culture, sex freedom, homosexualism, same-sex marriage, etc., all in the name of personal freedom and individual rights, are typical examples. Too many people think only about themselves and disregard the common interests of the society and humanity as a whole. (See Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.)

Our tango reflects the same kind of thinking. Many dancers do not see themselves as a part of the team or community, but as independent individuals. (See 惜缘.) Freedom is being interpreted as against any compliance. Equality is being interpreted as against any submission. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) Gender roles are repudiated. Men do not lead, but only give suggestions. (See How Tango Is Led.) Women remain independent, may disobey men, interrupt the lead, or reverse roles. Tango embrace is being replaced with an open hold to avoid physical contact and emotional involvement. Personal performance supersedes intimate cooperation. The relationship of the partners becomes a cold working relationship, so does the atmosphere of the milonga. Everybody demonstrates a strong ego. Those who try to dance with others are often being humiliated by the rude response of the invitees. There is a lack of friendliness, brotherhood, intimacy and cooperation in our milongas. 

But, we are human beings still. Our individualistic illusion does not blot out our loneliness, longing, interdependence and need for each other. That is why we come to tango in the first place - to be in close contact with others, to form an intimate relationship, to satisfy our hunger for connection, affection and affinity. Unfortunately, these needs are often stymied by our independence, arrogance and disagreeableness.

Tango puts us in such an intimate contact with one another that we are forced to rethink what it means to be men and women, to change our self-centered behaviors, to be better connected and cooperative partners, and to dance in unison and harmony through abiding by the roles and being agreeable with each other. The lessons we learn from tango are valuable and applicable to other areas of life as well. (See The Lessons of Tango.) We need leaders who understand the truth revealed in tango, to unite people, set aside the difference, find common ground, restore brotherhood, focus on the common cause instead of the differences, and work as a team. Our milonga will be a better place in which to dance, and our society will be a better place in which to live, I believe, if we embrace the spirit of tango and reject individualism.


June 18, 2016

Mammonism


In the beginning there is no money. People barter. I fish, you farm, and she weaves fabric. I use my fish to trade your vegetables and her cloth. As this becomes a common practice, the issue of equivalent trade emerges and the exchange rates of all kinds of products have been established. For example, one foot of cloth equals two pounds of fish or three pounds of vegetable - according to the amounts of labor involved in producing these products. But such direct barter is inconvenient. You may want my fish, but I don't want your vegetables but her cloth, and she doesn't want my fish but your vegetables. What shall we do? Thus, money, as a universal equivalent, comes into being. With money, trade becomes easier.

Initially, money is things that people all desire, such as salt, silk and gold. People first convert their own products into such goods, and then use these goods to exchange for other products. A pound of fish is worth ten ounces of salt because the labor involved in producing a pound of fish is equivalent to the labor involved in producing ten ounces of salt. Gold eventually becomes the most popular form of money because it is easy to carry and can be conveniently cut into pieces to accurately measure the values of the products.

But people soon realize that this way of exchange is cumbersome. Since the function of money is to measure or represent the amount of labor involved in producing the product, a piece of paper can do the same job and be easier to carry and use. Thus, money changes form from a material good to a bill. People then discovered that even the bill is not necessary. Since the value is expressed in numbers, the exchange can be done numerically without a piece of paper. Thus, money changes form again from the bill to the digital figure on a bank card. This digital figure now becomes the life ambition of the modern people. In political euphemism, this is called "the pursuit of happiness."

In the beginning there is no accumulation of wealth, because fish and vegetables cannot be stored in large number, they will rot. Trade is only for daily consumption. But with money that is no longer the case. Money can be accumulated infinitely and passed on to future generations. It can also be used to loan, invest and speculate in order to generate returns. With money I can buy vegetables from you and sell to her, and buy textiles from her and sell to you for a profit. It is then discovered that I don't even need to possess the commodities to trade. One can do short sales and still make money. Thus trade is no longer for consumption. It becomes the mere means of accumulating wealth.

Making money through trade is a tricky business. Strictly speaking there is no fair trade, or no profit can be made. One can only gain from someone else's loss. For example, an employer makes money by taking advantage of the employees. Wall Street takes advantage of the regulators' ignorance on the dubious formulas they created to make money at the expenses of the ordinary investors and loanees. The insurance company takes advantage of people's sense of security, since more people are healthy than sick and alive than dead, the insurance company can make money by selling an empty promise. Jealous of the insurance company, the drug company increases the price of their product 5000%. You either buy or die, and it is paid by the insurance anyway. Hospitals make their money in the same way. I went to a hospital for a skin condition. They first sent me to a family doctor, who sent me to the lab to have the test down, and then sent me to a specialist. The specialist knew immediately it was eczema without seeing the test. The prescribed cream cost me $15 and the eczema was cured. But the hospital bill is $800, which is paid for by the insurance. The insurance company shifts the cost to the consumers by raising the premium and reducing the coverage. Health insurance once covered everything, now you have to buy separate insurances for teeth, eyes, ears and drugs. House insurance once covered everything, now you have to buy separate insurances for fire, flood, tornado and earthquake.

Such practices undermined the fundamental principle in trade. The essence of trade is the exchange of labor. A fair exchange reflects the equivalent amounts of labor involved in producing the products. Since the exchange rates of all products are proportional, the increase in price of one product will trigger a chain reaction of inflation. As a result, houses, cars, food, groceries, clothes, utilities, services, all become more expensive, and the government has to raise taxes just to keep even if nothing else. The victims are the ordinary people. In today's America, 63% of people are unable to pay a $500 surprise bill, but a small number of people benefiting from the unfair practice and the system that they have created have accumulated tremendous wealth that reached astronomical figures.

Greed knows no limit and most crimes of our times, caught or not caught, are motivated by money. In a mammonish society, science, education and medicine all become the means of making money, and money respects no morality. The winners are those who have found ingenious ways to abuse others, and the losers are the ripped-offs. As a result, people lost faith in goodness, honesty, fairness and trust. A man once could feed the whole family, not anymore because the price becomes so outrageous that women also have to work in order to maintain the middle class standard of living. Feminists may call it "women's rights" and "equal opportunities". In fact, it is the enslavement of women. A woman lamented, "More and more women work extremely hard to make money now. The society provides women with less and less security. Security used to mean a commitment, a clasped hand when crossing the street, now it is the money in our pocket and a fully charged cell phone... We all want to marry a man, only to find ourselves turned into a man!"

When a society allows people to accumulate unlimited wealth, measures success by one's money, uses the rich as the role models for the whole society to follow, provides them with legal loopholes and preferential treatments, and allows them to influence the policy making with their money, it is bound that people will want to get rich quickly and use any possible means to make money, that the society will be subject to increasing polarization, that the morality will deteriorate, that the humanity will be corrupted, that the crime will increase, that the natural resources will be depleted, and that the environment will be destroyed. Mammonism is the cancer of the modern world, which dehumanizes people and turns them into the slaves of money. When mankind invented money, nobody thought it would lead to the alienation of the humanity. How to awaken mankind from this insanity is one of the most intractable problems facing modern philosophy, economics, sociology and political science.



May 24, 2016

Tolerance and Grit


In my spare time I enjoy fishing. Gu Feng depicts his fishing experience in a poem, "In the mist that shrouds the valley, by the stream that reflects the lush green bamboos and shiny red flowers, stood I in soft breeze, fishing in quietness. At dusk, I listened to the rain dripping on the pavilion. At dawn, I held an umbrella, in blue robe, walked in solitude along the stony path." 

Beautiful! But I am not Gu Feng. The fun of fishing to me is in the bite, without which the relaxing scenery is not enough to make me content. The disposition of the fish is elusive. In some days I don't catch any. In most days two or three fish an hour is normal. But sometimes the fish suddenly scramble to snatch. You toss the lure, and they jump up to bite. One after another you can catch dozens in an hour. This miracle happens only two or three times a year. My fancy for fishing, in addition to the soothingness of nature, comes mainly from the temptation of such miracles. The addiction, therefore, is in the hope. In reality miracles are rare.

This situation is very much like dancing tango. The elegant venue, soft lighting, resplendent dresses, beautiful music, all are pleasant, but not enough to make me happy without a good partner. One night, fortunately, you met a person, whose height, figure, musicality, dance skill, manner and temperament are all compatible to yours. Like a perfect match made in heaven, the two of you become instant pals, giving rein to the dance that enables you not only to enjoy the seamless cooperation, but also the freedom like in an unrestrained solo. This experience changed your outlook on life, because you now tasted the feeling of being one with another person in perfection. From then on, you go to the milonga again and again, week after week, hoping to re-experience that miracle. But miracles come only by luck and not will. In my fourteen years of dancing tango in countless milongas, that experience only occurred few times. Which, nonetheless, is still the reason I am addicted to tango, because I yearn to revisit that dream one more time. Tango is the search of a dream. In reality, however, miracles are rare. 


People often forget that ordinariness is the norm of life; therefore, we need to accept, cherish and enjoy the ordinary, which is something many are not very good at. Voltaire said: "What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of fragility and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature." Of course, appreciating the ordinary is not enough. We all yearn to transcend the ordinary and achieve the extraordinary. Excellence is the consequence of grit. Only by repeating the ordinary countless times can one obtain the extraordinary. Therefore, let us also encourage ourselves and be gritty - the miracle will happen as a result, that is the second law of nature.


March 29, 2016

A Wise Voice


Anna:  Hi, Paul, I totally agree with you on "Good human values are based on what is beneficial to the humanity rather than an individual person or gender." It is so beautifully said and so wise. Freedom and human rights movements led people to put a lot of emphasis on individuality and as a result, the inflated self image lessens our ability to view the world as a connected whole. This inflated self image is also probably the root cause to many modern psychological ailments and problems: loneliness, depression, and mental disorder. If we can zoom out and see ourselves as a tiny one, rather than the one, in this big universe, a fact that has not changed a bit since the big bang, we may again find the beauty in the ancient natural law and adopt the right perspective towards the self and the rest of the world.

I had a few Tango lessons by now and was deeply touched by this beautiful dance. I am a woman with strong characters in other people's eyes. When I first started, I experienced a lot of struggle, questioning, and doubt. As you have explained in your excellent blog, unless we adopt the appropriate values and mentality for this dance, we cannot dance the real Tango. As a matter of fact, unless the man and the woman take the right role, they cannot even get the dance going. They will be constantly on each other's toes. No agreement, no harmony, no beauty. Then one day luckily I met a partner who did all the things you mentioned that a good leader should do, he guided me, protected me and let me shine. And without me knowing I surrendered all my wariness and entrusted myself to him. The steps followed naturally. At that moment, I knew how Tango should be done and how beautiful it can be when it is done right, when a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Looking forward to more of your sharing.

Paul: Dear Anna, I appreciate deeply what you said because it summed up so well an important theme throughout this blog - and you did it with such simple elegance. When I first started this blog, I thought it was just about tango. But I soon discovered that in fact I was in search of the missing humanity in ourselves, without which tango loses its soul. Tango awakens our humanity because it forces us to zoom out and see ourselves as a tiny one and connected whole, to understand our vulnerability, weakness and interdependence, as reflected in "the ancient natural law," and to appreciate the beauty of Creation from a macro or cosmological perspective, as you eloquently put it. The individual is trivial. The strength of mankind comes out of our connection and cooperation. This truth, as attested by tango, must not be forgotten no matter how much we have achieved. Please write and let your voice be heard! My best wish to your tango! (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II).)

March 24, 2016

惜缘


A reader commented on my last post, The Spirit of Tango, "A ten minute tanda is a radical response to the dehumanizing reality of modern day-to-day living. It is an opportunity for two humans to embrace each other in the promotion of humanity. Don’t let the precious opportunity slip away because your partner isn’t a good enough dancer, tall enough, young enough, old enough, attractive enough, friendly enough, …whatever enough. Every embrace has a story - dance with it." I pondered on the comment, because it reminded me of a Chinese motto "惜缘" (pronounces shee-yuan).

惜缘 means cherishing the luck by which people are brought together. On the wall of my office is a script written in beautiful penmanship by a Chinese calligrapher: "Cherish those who are brought to you by fate. They enrich your life. They are the footprints of your destiny." It's an unfamiliar philosophy in America where human connections are not as appreciated as in some other cultures like China and Argentina. Many Americans value individualism, independence and personal freedom. They live alone, act alone, work alone, die alone, are fierce fighters for gun right, but quite ignorant in communal life and relationships, and they often let the opportunity of affinity with people slip away.

But life is not a solo-dance even for Robinson Crusoe. If you think about it, your life is defined by people surrounding you: parents who raise you, teachers who educate you, friends who stand by you, mentors who guide you, colleagues who work with you, assistants who help you, etc. Fortune only brings a limited number of people into each person's life. These are the precious resources granted to us by fate. Those who cherish such resources can build great companies and achieve lofty goals. Those who don't, their life tends to be lonely, friendless, and unfruitful.

What is true in life is true in tango also. In each city there are only a limited number of people who dance tango. These people, despite their differences, share something in common: their hunger for connecting with other people, their belief in love and fraternity, their nostalgia, romanticism, sentimentalism and life attitude, their passion for tango... Those who cherish each other form a great tango community. Those who tear down the bridge and build walls, their community suffers. Unfortunately, that is often the reality in our tango. Many of us do not appreciate enough the lot that brings us together. They are haughty and prejudicial. They see others as rivals and are indifferent and cold towards others. They turn a blind eye to those who want to dance with them, thinking they are not worthy - attractive enough, young enough, slender enough, tall enough, white enough, skillful enough, etc. They remain detached and uninvolved in the dance, focusing on themselves rather than their partner, and they form cliques and squeeze out competitions, etc.

Individualism is incompatible with tango. I hope we will learn from the philosophy of 惜缘 and cherish what brings us together as a community, because that is what makes tango fascinating. Tango is not only a skill. It is a fellowship or community, an appreciation of other human beings, and a philosophy of regaining humanity through connection and cooperation (see Exhibition versus Fellowship). Instead of trying to change tango, I think we should let tango change us and turn us into a better connected and cooperative people. (See The Lessons of Tango.)

March 15, 2016

The Spirit of Tango


One of the greatest human limitations besides our short life span, is our self-centeredness. We think first and often only from personal perspective, and we act first and often only for personal interests. 

But mankind is not always like that. When humanity is in its infancy and childhood, we rely heavily on each other for survival, everything is shared; cooperation, selflessness and Good Samaritanism are our first nature. Doctrines like individualism, human rights and personal liberty appear much later in human history, and are still imperfect theories, or in many ways even adverse to the best human interests overall, as attested by greed, selfishness, fierce competition, inequality, polarization, monopolist and fraudulent business practices, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the spread of pornography and violence, the influence of money on politics, the destruction of the environment, the alienation of marriage, the disintegration of family, homosexualism, and gun culture, etc., all in the name of individual rights and freedom. Mankind is still in its adolescence too self-centric to understand the relation between personal interests and communal interests. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.) 

Perhaps the most important lessons that tango teaches us are that we are interdependent rather than independent, that our well-being is inseparable from that of others, that we cannot be happy unless all are happy, that cooperation and sharing serve us better than competition, that human rights are the communal rights of the mankind as a species, not just personal rights, and that self-discipline and self-control are important attributes of what make us human. Tango tells the other side of the human story. It awakens the better part of the humanity in us, I hope, and suggests a way for us to live together in peace and harmony through cooperation, generosity in spirit, loftiness of purpose, and altruism. Wherever we go and dance, tango always reminds us that love, despite our many limitations, is what holds us together as a couple, community, people, nation, and species. (See The Freedom in Tango.) 

March 8, 2016

Spot Dancing in Tango


Progressive dances, such as foxtrot and waltz, are danced on a large dance floor like that in a ballroom or dance hall. Such large floor is divided into two sections: the outer travelling lanes for progressives dancing, and the inner or center floor for spot dancing. Dancing progressive dance needs to follow certain rules, such as travel counterclockwise around the line of dance, do not move against traffic, maintain the flow, avoid spot dancing that could hold up traffic, move to the center if you like to do spot dancing or practice, avoid frequent lane changes, do not travel through the center, keep a proper distance from others (not too close or too far apart), adapt patterns to what the traffic permits, do not focus on completing a pattern if a collision can result, do not force your way to overtake, etc.

Spot dances, such as disco and salsa, are danced in a fixed area. Such dances can be danced on a small floor like that in a restaurant or bar, which tends to be crowded 
due to its small size. Dancing spot dances on a small and crowded floor follows different rules, such as dancing on your own spot or slot, not drifting around the dance floor, using minimum space, using compact dance hold or embrace, using small steps, avoiding dangerous movements, respecting other's dance space, not pushing or elbowing your way around, etc.

Now, the question is, is tango a progressive dance or a spot dance? What floor size is better suited for tango dancing? Which set of rules apply when it is danced on a crowded floor? There are no simple answers because tango, though a progressive dance in general, can also be danced on a spot. The following is an example.




People do not dance foxtrot and waltz on a coffee table, because that requires a large floor. But tango is different, it is an intimate dance danced in close embrace and compact steps that does not require a huge space. Which is why milongas are often held in restaurants and bars. A small venue is more intimate, readily available, affordableand easy to do cabeceo. On the down side, a small venue does not hold a lot of people and tends to be congested. In a small bar like the famous El Beso in downtown Buenos Aires, there are often over a hundred people packed in a room about the size of a large American family room, dancing tango. People are jammed together, using whatever space available to them, and dancing in very compact steps, drifting randomly around the floor in a generally counterclockwise direction. Obviously, in places like that you have to follow rules different from that in a spacious ballroom where lanes are divided, free travel is possible, and open embrace and fancy steps are allowed. We dance tango in various venues, some are big, others are small; some are sparsely populated, others are tightly packed. Even a large floor can be crowded from time to time. Therefore, one must dance in accordance with the changing situation. Sticking to the way that no longer fits is a recipe for disaster. For example, dancing in open embrace and using wild steps on a small and crowded floor, trying to finish a pattern even that will result in a collision, or forcing an overtaking that may disturb others' dancing, etc. Such senseless behaviors are a major cause of accidents in our milongas. (See Milonga Codes.)

This happens often because people do not know how to do spot-dancing in tango. Many students are only taught to dance tango progressively in open embrace and fancy steps on a large dance floor. They have never learned to tango on a tiny spot in close embrace and compact steps in a crowded milonga. However, with the growing popularity of tango, the ability to do so is becoming increasingly essential, as our milongas become more and more crowded. Dancing tango on a crowded dance floor requires using close embrace and small steps, such as rock step, ocho cortado, sacada, giro milonguero, the ability to change the body's position from one side of the partner to the other side of the partner in a very compact way, a much better command on dissociation, and the knack in floor crafting, etc. It also requires the dancers to focus more on the music and feelings rather than the steps and performance. Without these skills, one's tango education is insufficient and inadequate. 




February 27, 2016

Floorcraft, Choreography and Hastiness


Many people think of floorcraft as safety measures intended to keep the milonga running in an orderly and safe way. Examples of such measures include dividing the dance floor into lanes, avoiding zigzagging between lanes, maintaining the flow and avoiding blocking the traffic, not dancing against the traffic, keeping a proper distance to prevent accident, and using safe and compact steps, etc.

While floorcraft plays a crucial role in keeping the dance in order, it is more than just safety protocols. Floorcraft is an important component of choreography. In tango, the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. In general, the couple moves forward counterclockwise around the line of dance, but their dancing route is not a straight line. Rather, it is a random course with alternate right and left moves, forward and backward steps, and various turns. If the legs of the dancers were brushes, they would leave on the floor an intricate pattern with its own character - graceful or vigorous, neat or chaotic, beautiful or plain, organized or disorderly, interesting or boring, etc., just like a work of calligraphy. This work of calligraphy is not only two dimensional, composed of footwork in large, small, conspicuous and inconspicuous strokes and in random orientations, or composed of steps in uniform size and single direction. It also has a time dimension, made of steps in a variety of tempos and suspensions, or made of steps in constant speed without hesitation, etc. Floorcraft is an art by its own right. A couple can be skillful in footwork, but their floorcraft or choreography can still be monotonous in size, orientation, speed and rhythm. Good footwork does not guarantee good choreography. The following is an example.


These Italian students are skilled dancers. Their dance style, embrace, connection, footwork and sense of rhythm are all good. The only evident problem is hastiness. Young people are energetic. They tend to dance with great eagerness and haste, stepping on every beat regardless of the mood of the music. In this example, every couple is chasing the beats and doesn't know how to slow down. There is a lack of rest, subtle movement, slow motion, and momentary pause in their dance. Dancers, especially young dancers, need to know that dancing to the music does not require stepping on every beat. Dance is like other composition arts. In writing you need to use punctuation, in painting you need to use empty space, in calligraphy you need to leave margins, and in tango you need to pause. Silence is also an expression, which sometimes speaks more than words. Hesitation, slow motion, pause and pose must also be a part of your tango vocabulary.

In comparison, the following example is more relaxed and tasteful.


These Hungarian dancers are about the same age, but they dance in an easygoing and unhurried way, slower, and use more pauses. The glaring example is the couple in white and purple appeared at 0:00-0:35 in the center and again 0:55-1:05 to the right. The man danced patiently, giving the woman enough time to finish her steps and not pushing her to chase the beats. Sometimes he paused to enjoy the moment, adding an interesting variety to the composition. It must be pointed out that floor crafting is mainly the man's job. The woman's job is to beautify the dance with her colorful footwork, but she cannot change the choreography. That responsibility lies in the leader. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Too often, we see men so focus on the steps that they neglect their leading duty, which is to plot the dance, making it interesting, diversified, musical and well-arranged, so that it can bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play. That is not to say that the woman does not contribute to the choreography. Often, the couple rushes because the woman dances with great haste, forcing the man to rush with her as a result. A good follower inspires the leader and allows him the complete freedom to lead and shine her. Tango is a teamwork in which the two sexes play different roles. It requires intimate cooperation between the partners.

I believe the above example is not a nonchalant play without deliberate efforts, but the result of dedicated education and learning. Many tango organizers and teachers make great efforts in teaching floorcraft to their students. The following is an example.


As the woman teacher said, they talk about floorcraft every year, every day, in every class, and in every milonga. The result is demonstrated in the following video, which, although long, is worth your time to watch at least to the chacarera.


This event, Romolino Tango Festival, is held in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. I was surprised to see the balanced level of their tango dancing, in comparison to what I often see in the milongas and festivals in the US. Floorcraft is not difficult to teach and learn. If after three decades the Americans still dance like rebellious teenagers, something must be wrong with our culture. All the above examples, including the first Italian tango marathon, are in sharp contrast to how we Americans dance tango. Please do not be biased by my critique on the first clip, because the Italians are very good tango dancers. The following Italian example may humble us and make us envy of their tango.



January 22, 2016

From Steps to Feelings


How tango is danced in Buenos Aires

Many Europeans and Americans dance tango differently from the Argentinians. For years I tried to find a video to show how tango is danced in Buenos Aires in order to change people's perceptions. But I couldn't find a satisfying one because tango video clips are mostly shot by people interested only in their version of tango. A few that reflect the truth are often poorly made and with annoying nonsense. Perhaps most milongas even in Buenos Aires are not up to the standard, since foreigners are always heavily involved, making it difficult to capture a truly porteno milonga. Only recently I came across this video produced by Paul Holman, which I find is representative of a milonga that I can call home.


I love this video not only because of its clarity, lighting, color and cinematography, but also because of the producer's unique perspective. Paul Holman understood that tango is about the embrace, music and feelings, that steps and footwork are not important, that the milonga codes play a crucial role, and that he needs to capture the entirety of all the essentials and avoid the misleading trifles to let the viewers understand what a good milonga is. I watch this video every day lately, just to enjoy that soulful scene and remind myself of how one should dance and behave in the milonga.


How tango is danced in Europe and North America

In Europe and North America, people have a quite different perception of tango. Here is how they dance tango in a common Euro-American milonga.


They dance tango not to enjoy the embrace, but to practice steps and show footwork. I believe people understand tango is an intimate and soulful dance. Most of us even yearn to taste that apple, which is why we dance tango. (See Why People Dance Tango.) But for some reasons we just don't feel comfortable enough to be intimate with another person, so we shy away from the embrace, keep a bashful distance from each other, and focus on the steps instead.

To be fair, this is not the worst case. One can tell it's a growing tango community. A number of dancers dance in the milonguero style, some of whom are fair to good dancers. But the majority are still novices who focus on the steps rather than the embrace and feelings. They avoid intimate torso-to-torso contact and use the arms and hands to lead and follow. Many are busy in keeping up with the beats. Some are practicing what they recently learned. Most are emotionally detached. The milonga codes are not well complied, as attested by the verbal invitation, blocking the traffic, remaining on the dance floor during the cortina, wearing ornaments that would rub the partner's body, loud background noises, and a lot of talking. The music, although traditional, is not very engaging, and the whole scene is quite chaotic. Towards the end there are some better dances. But overall, I don't find this milonga terribly attractive and satisfying. Unfortunately, this is a typical tango scene in Europe and North America.


Another common Euro-American tango scene 

Common among our young people is another kind of tango scene showing below.


Young people seem need to discharge their youthful energy and to prove their ability of doing things unconventional. Dancing in open hand holds rather than embrace, they can do fancy steps and showy movements. Some even attained certain degree of skillfulness in what they are doing. Nevertheless, there is no fundamental difference between this kind of tango and other sport dances. Personally I don't see how such way of dancing tango is even enjoyable in comparison to the feeling-oriented milonguero style. I wish there were better reasons why some people insist on doing this when there's a better way, other than they need to release energy, show off, have obstacles, or don't know better. As far as comfort, soulfulness, indulgence and gratification are concerned, there is really no comparison between the two styles.

It may be characteristic for young people to act rebelliously, but being obsessed with the stereotype or wanting to show that they are different from the old people is childish and naive. Old people are once young and rebellious, too. In fact, many milongueros can do Nuevo steps better than most young people today. They quit doing that because they become wiser after tried everything that young people with their limited experience cannot even imagine. Most young people learn tango from their peers, who learn from their peers, and they simply don't know another way to dance tango. Once they experienced the milonguero way, most will renounce theirs and follow suit. (See The Psychology of Tango.)


This is how milongueros emerge

Three decades of trial and error since 1983 eventually lead some tango dancers in Europe and North America to move away from exhibitionism and pay more attention to the embrace, music and feelings. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) As a result, scenes like this start to appear in Europe and North America in recent years.


Their embrace becomes closer. Their connection becomes more intimate. Their dance becomes more feeling-oriented. Their steps become simpler, more musical and elegant. Their milonga becomes better organized. Antisocial behaviors are less seen. While showy footwork still occurs, the embrace still brakes sometimes, the hand use still remains habitual for some, the music selections are still more dramatic than sentimental, the hastiness is still common, the dresses are still too casual, the skill levels are uneven, progress nevertheless is evident in comparison to the previous two scenes. Such transformation certainly would not come without pain, given the strong Western tradition of individualism, liberalism and feminism. But the dancers in this example prove that they can change. It is a reassurance that there is really a lot of hope in tango, in humanity, and in our ability to adapt.


How social tango should be danced

It is worth your time to watch Holman's video again and compare it to your own tango dancing. The following is a better edited version. This time please pay attention to how the milongueros and milongueras follow the milonga codes, from sitting, making eye contact, doing cabeceo, dancing, to sending the woman back to her seat. If you wonder what kind of steps they use to make their dance so coherent and concordant, you can watch those who dance in the background. But nothing fancy really. Their dance is not about the steps. (See The Conceptional Beauty of Tango.)


As you can see, they concentrate entirely on the music and feelings, as if the steps are irrelevant. Dancing tango to them is to enjoy the sentiment and intimacy, not to do gymnastics. They dance with complete relaxation, unhurried pace, subtle movements, and tasteful suspensions. Their steps are small and simple, totally void of flaunt, and used only to remain united with their partner in the dance. The beauty of their tango is in the oneness of the union rather than the performance of the individual. In their tango nothing is ornate, but everything is exquisite and elegant. Even the music selections are more sentimental and intriguing than ours, fitting perfectly to the mood of their tango.

Please also pay attention to the woman. Her ability to remain coherent with the man is amazing. She rests comfortably in his arms, intimately leans on him with her arm around his shoulder, so that she can enjoy the caress of his embrace. Her eyes are dreamily closed, allowing herself to focus inward on the feelings. Her inconspicuous footwork magically keeps her body moving in perfect unison with his no matter how he turns, permitting her to tune to the soft whispers of his body and enjoy his attentive ride. (See Driving and Synchronization.)

To tango is to indulge yourself, not to impress others. On a crowded dance floor who cares about your footwork anyway. The only thing that matters is the feelings you experience. This is why performance tango doesn't make good sense in the milongas. I hope Holman's video will inspire more people to learn the milonguero style of tango and accelerate the transformation of our tango from a step-oriented dance to a feeling-oriented dance. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.)


P.S.

There are quite a few Noches Hungria Tango Marathon video clips on the YouTube. Most are positive, here is an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC3z7O1JpS4. The clips I selected are used to illustrate a phenomenon, not to reflect the whole picture of any community or event.

January 14, 2016

Women's Walk in Tango


The tango walk is done by two partners chest against chest in the embrace. The man walks forward, the woman walks backward, and they must walk with matched CBM, dissociation, lilt, rhythm, posture, etc., in perfect coordination, balance, harmony and elegance. Many students cannot walk well because they don't have the needed muscles, flexibility and techniques, their legs and feet are too weak to maintain balance and stability, their postures and habits are not up to the standard of tango, and their personal praxes conflict with each other, causing disharmony and instability in the walk.

There are more exercises in tango designed for women than for men, just like there are more fashionable dresses, shoes, jewelry, and cosmetics designed for women than for men. Which is not surprising given the importance of beauty to women and the fact that, while men lead women in tango, it's women who beautify the dance. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) How women walk, therefore, matters more than how men walk in tango.


Muscle development

In order to walk well, you first need to develop muscles that enable your feet to suck the floor and stay very grounded in the walk. Dancing a lot certainly helps. Exercise and workout can also be beneficial. One exercise that I found particularly helpful is demonstrated by Vanessa Gauch in the following clip.


When done in slow motion, this exercise can effectively build foot muscles and improve stability and elegance in women's walk. The exercise can be summed up in six steps to help you memorize the sequence: (1) Stand on one leg and stretch the other leg forward. (2) Transfer the weight forward until you stand on the heel of the front foot and the toes of the back foot. (3) Change weight back and forth a few times in that position. (4) Transfer the weight to the front leg completely. (5) Start the next step by sway the hip forward in a curved motion and use the hip to move the leg - this will generate a hip motion that gives women's walk a feminine look. (6) Repeat the sequence with the other leg.


Walk backwards

In tango, women mostly walk backwards, which is difficult because that is not how people normally walk. To learn to walk backwards, you almost need to start from toddle. The following clip, demonstrated also by Vanessa Gauch, can help you understand how it should be done.



Walk backwards in leaning position

It is important to point out that the embrace affects the walk significantly. Walking in an A-shaped frame is very different from walking in an H-shaped frame. Women using open hand holds in the dance cannot stretch their leg back far enough, because without leaning on the man it is hard to keep balance on one leg while outstretching the other leg. Here is an example.

The two teachers are competent dancers, I believe, but the H-shaped frame they used in the exercise hampered their performance. In comparison, walking in close embrace, or an A-shaped frame, is much more stable, balanced and elegant, as illustrated in the following example by Jennifer Bratt and Ney Melo.


Notice that Jennifer often use slight dissociation - turns her hips slightly upward and downward - to allow the leg to reach back a little farther, causing a hip motion that adds the feminine touch to her walk. Notice also that when her hips are turned, she uses the thumb rather than the toes of the foot to reach the floor. Notice still that her leg is swayed by the hip slightly sideways, in contrast to the forward walk in which the leg is swayed by the hip towards the center, as demonstrated by Vanessa Gauch in the first clip.

Here is how her walk works in real dance.



Hip sway

Good tangueras all use the hip to move the leg, without exception. Here is another excellent example, danced by Mariana Montes with Sebastian Arce.


Their style is too exhibitionist to suit the milonga, especially on the leader's part, in my humble opinion, but the opening walk (0:15 - 0:28) is absolutely gorgeous, appropriate in social dancing, and worth watching again and again. The walk is done in close embrace that enables Mariana to stretch her leg out farther. Her beautiful hip sway, combined with a subtle dissociation, and a very straight leg line, all contribute to the unequivocal beauty and elegance of her walk. Notice that her leg is also swayed slightly sideways as a result of using the hip to move the leg.


Keeping your own balance is the key to be weightless

As comfortable as it is to lean on your partner, you need to keep yourself light and not become his burden. This means you have to keep your own balance by bending your standing leg when you stretch your free leg backwards, as explained by Vanessa and illustrated by Jennifer and Mariana, so that most of your weight is carried by your standing leg rather than on him. This will also allow you to outstretch your free leg farther. Personally I found that when a woman leans lightly with her chest rather than heavily with her stomach on me, she becomes lighter.


Improving your walk is the key to improve your dance

I hope these illustrations would give you an idea of how to walk in tango as a woman and help you to improve your walk. Walk is not only an important part of tango, but also the foundation of the dance because other steps are but variations of walk. One's walk defines one's dance, as demonstrated by my favorite tango couple Noelia Hurtado and Carlos Espinoza in the following tango. Pay attention to Noelia's walk and see how it relates to her other steps. For a woman, beautiful walk is a guaranteed eye catcher and proof of her ability. By learning to walk elegantly, your tango can be improved in more ways than you can imagine. (See Walk.)