Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.




December 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 liberalism to justify behaviors that are not for the best interests of the humankind? Why they are so obsessed with personal interests and rights but are apathetic to other people? Why they mistreat, exploit, take advantage of, bully, rob, abuse, torture and slaughter their own kind? Why they greedily accumulate wealth far exceeding their personal 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?

As history has shown, sometimes evil prevails over good and people lost good conscience allow themselves to go with the flow. Perhaps we come across such a time again. I am not giving up hope, though, because there are still 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 - immigrant men and women who are homeless, lonely, vulnerable, 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 teach their children 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 can last forever because men are a part of nature and the law of nature overrules the law of men. As history has also shown, as long as there are opposite sexes, there will be love, children, family and family values 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 the species as a whole. After all, we cannot survive alone and must succeed together. That is why in times like this more and more people turn to tango, a dance that connects us, a dance that teaches people to love, a dance that is consistent with family values, 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 petty, the results are different.

Seeing things from the perspective of the community, 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 differences, the results are different.

Being sympathetic, or being unsympathetic, the results are different.

Taking the concerns of others into account, or rejecting different 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.

Willing to meet in the middle, or insisting on having your own way, the results are different.

Accommodating to each other, or fighting with each other, the results are different.

Being cooperative, or being uncooperative, the results are different.

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

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

Team work, or individuality, 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 trivial 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 when 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 polarization, hostility, uninhibitedness, uncooperativeness, aggression and lawlessness in American society.

If we still hold "all men are created equal" to be a self-evident truth, if we still believe 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 say, right now we are not doing very 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., are all different roles. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) One must act in compliance with one's role in order to live and work together with others as a group or team. Acting in excess of one's role often is 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 team members are disagreeable with each other, they cannot 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 and be empathetic, 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. (See Pluralism vs. Monism.)

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 pettiness, selfishness, rabidity and obstinacy that characterize a nation's lack of broad vision, magnanimity, fraternity and common cause. 

The disregard for personal rights is a regrettable fact in human history. Liberalism, which places individual liberty at the center of its cause, has played a positive role in human history. However, the view of men and women 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. Human rights must not be conceived only as individual rights, but the collective rights of the mankind as a whole also, among these rights are equality, coexistence, sharing, cooperation and fraternity. (See The Freedom in Tango.)

In today's America, however, the collective rights and well-being of the mankind as a whole are often being ignored while individual rights and personal freedom are overemphasized and are pushed to the extreme by the right and the left alike. Business aggression and expansionism, the exploitation of other human beings, squandering, monopolization, the destruction of the environment, the depletion of natural resources, 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 dance hold to allow more individuality and independence. Personal performance supersedes intimate cooperation. The relationship of the partners becomes a cold work relationship, and so becomes the environment of the milonga. Everybody demonstrates a strong ego. Those who seek partners are often being humiliated by the rude response of the invitees. There is a lack of friendliness, brotherhood and cooperation in our milongas. 

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

Tango puts us in such an intimate relationship with one another that we are forced to rethink what it means to be men and women, to change our self-centered attitude, 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 have learned 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 square 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 has a high value, is easy to carry and can be conveniently cut into pieces to accurately measure the values of other products.

But people soon realize that this way of exchange is still 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 is much 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 values are 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. Euphemistically, that 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 soon discovered that, by using short sales, one can do trade without even actually possessing the commodities. 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 for 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, then sent me to a specialist. The specialist knew immediately it was eczema without seeing the test result. 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 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. 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 prices become 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 men!"

When a society allows the individuals to accumulate unlimited wealth, measures success by one's money, uses the rich as the role models for others 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 use any possible means to get rich quickly, 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, fished in quietness. At dusk I listened to the rain dripping on the nearby pavilion. At dawn, in blue robe, with an umbrella, I walked in solitude along the stony path."

Lulling! But I am not a poet. 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 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 happens only few times a year. My fancy for fishing, in addition to the soothingness of nature, comes mainly from the temptation of such wonders. The addiction, therefore, is in the anticipation. In reality miracles are rare.

This situation is very much like dancing tango. The elegant venue, soft lighting, resplendent dresses, enchanting music, all are captivating, but not enough to make me happy without a good partner. One night, fortunately, you meet 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 it gives you a new understanding and hope. From then on you go to the milonga again and again, week after week, hoping to re-experience that moment. 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 moment one more time. Tango is the search of a dream. In reality, however, miracles are rare.

People often forget that imperfection is the norm in life. To enjoy life, we need to learn to cherish the ordinary - something not everybody is versed. 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, cherishing the ordinary is not enough, we all yearn to transcend the ordinary and to be extraordinary. Excellence is the consequence of grit. Only by repeating the ordinary countless times can we reach the extraordinary. Therefore, let us 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 in the 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 individually. 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 the people associated with you: parents who raised you, siblings who grew up with you, teachers who taught you, classmates who studied together, friends who stood by you, colleagues who worked with you, assistants who helped 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 place there are only a limited number of people who dance tango. These people, despite their differences, share something in common: their yearning for human connection, their belief in love and fraternity, their nostalgia, romanticism, sentimentalism and life attitude, their passion for tango... Those who cherish each other can form a great tango community. Those who tear down the bridge and build walls, their community suffers. Unfortunately, the latter 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 they deemed unattractive, old, heavy, clumsy, unskillful, 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 personal skill. It is a fellowship or community, an appreciation of other human beings, and a philosophy of regaining humanity through connection, cooperation and accommodation. (See Tango Is a 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. Fraternity, cooperation and Good Samaritanism are our first nature. Doctrines like individualism, individual rights and personal freedom 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 selfishness, greed, competition, aggression, inequality, monopolist business practice, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the influence of money on politics, the spread of obscenity and violence, gun culture, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, single parent family, LGBTQIAPK, etc., all in the name of individual rights and freedom. "O Liberty! O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!" - said Madame Jeanne-Marie Roland. Mankind is still in its adolescence too self-centric to understand the relation between personal freedom and the common interests of the mankind as a whole. (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 we need each other to succeed, that our well-being is inseparable from that of others, that one cannot be happy unless all are happy, that cooperation and sharing serve us better than competition and animosity, that human rights are the communal rights of the mankind as a species, not just personal rights, and that self-discipline and compassion 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 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 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 a large floor is divided into two sections: the outer travelling lanes for progressive dancing, and the inner or center floor for spot dancing. Dancing progressive dance needs to follow certain rules, including traveling counterclockwise around the line of dance, not moving against traffic, maintaining the flow, avoiding spot dancing that could hold up traffic, avoiding frequent lane changes, moving to the center if you like to do spot dancing or practice new steps, not traveling through the center, keeping a proper distance from the couple dancing in front of you, adapting patterns to what the traffic permits, not focusing on completing a pattern if a collision can result, not forcing 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
. Dancing spot dances on a small dance floor follows different rules, including dancing on your own spot or slot, using minimum space, not drifting around the dance floor, using compact dance hold or embrace, using small steps, avoiding dangerous movements, respecting the dance spaces of others, not pushing or elbowing your way around, etc.

Now, 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 small and crowded floor? There is no simple answer to these questions because tango, though a progressive dance in general, can also be danced on a tiny spot. The following is an example.




People do not dance foxtrot and waltz on a coffee table. But tango is different. It is danced in close embrace with compact steps, thus does not need a large floor. That is why milongas are often held in a restaurant or bar. On the up side, a small floor is easy to find, affordable and facile to do cabeceo. On the down side, a small floor cannot hold a lot of people and tends to be congested. In the famous bar El Beso in downtown Buenos Aires, for example, there are often over one hundred people packed in a room in the size of a large American family room, dancing tango. People are jammed together, using whatever space available to them, dancing in very compact steps. 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 dance floor can become crowded from time to time. Therefore, one must dance in accordance with the changing situation. Sticking to the way that no longer fits, such as dancing in open embrace and using wild steps on a crowded floor, trying to finish a pattern when that will result in a collision, forcing an overtaking that will disturb others, etc., is a recipe for disaster. Such senseless behavior is a major cause of accidents in our milongas. (See Milonga Codes.)

This happens often because people do not know how to do spot-dancing. Many students are only taught to dance tango progressively in open embrace and with big fancy steps on a large dance floor. They have never learned to dance tango in close embrace and with compact steps on a small and crowded floor. However, with the growing popularity of tango, our milongas become more and more crowded, thus the ability to dance it in a compact way becomes increasingly essential. Dancing tango on a crowded dance floor requires using close embrace, small steps and a different set of skills such as changing 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, the ability to do spot-dancing, and the knack in floor crafting, etc. It also requires the dancers to focus more on the music and feelings rather than footwork and figures. Without these abilities, one's tango education is insufficient and inadequate. 



February 27, 2016

Floorcraft, Choreography and Hastiness


People often think of floorcraft as navigation rules intended to keep the dance safe. Examples of such navigation rules include dividing the dance floor into lanes, traveling on your own lane and avoiding zigzagging, not traveling against traffic, maintaining the flow, avoiding spot dancing that may cause obstruction to traffic, keeping a proper distance from the couple in front to prevent accidents, and avoiding dangerous steps that may hurt others, etc. While floorcraft does play a safety role, it is more than just safety protocols. Floorcraft is also an important component of choreography.

In tango, the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. In general, the dancers move counterclockwise along 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 dance floor an intricate pattern with its own characteristics - robust or graceful, neat or chaotic, organized or disorderly, beautiful or ugly, interesting or boring, etc. - just like a work of calligraphy. This work of calligraphy is not only two dimensional, composed of steps in various sizes and orientations or in single size and direction, it also has a time dimension, made of steps in diversified tempos and beats or in single speed and rhythm. Floorcraft is an art by its own right. A couple may be skillful in footwork, but their floorcraft or choreography can still be monotonous in size, pace, rhythm, speed and orientation. Good footwork does not guarantee good choreography. The following is an example.


These Italian students are skillful dancers. Their dance style, embrace, posture, connection and footwork are all good. The only apparent problem is hastiness. Young people tend to dance with great energy and eagerness. They chase the beats regardless of the mood of the music and don't know how to slow down. There is a lack of rest, subtlety, slow motion, suspension and pause in their dance.

Dancers, especially young dancers, need to know that dancing to music does not require stepping on every beat. Dance is like other composition arts. In writing you need to use punctuation marks, 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. Pause, hesitation, slow motion, suspension 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 danced in an easygoing and unhurried way, slower, and using more pauses. The glaring example is the couple in white and purple appeared at 0:00-0:35 in the middle and again 0:55-1:05 to the right. The man danced patiently, giving the woman enough time to finish her step and not pushing her to chase the beats. Sometimes he paused to let her enjoy the moment, adding an interesting variety to the composition.

It must be pointed out that plotting the dance is the job of the man. The woman's job is to beautify the dance with her flexible body and colorful footwork, but she cannot change the choreography. That responsibility lies in the leader. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Too often, the leader is so focused on leading the steps that he neglects his duty to make the dance diversified, interesting and well-arranged so it could bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play. (See Revealing Her Beauty in Tango.) This is not to say that the woman does not contribute to the choreography. Often, the couple rushes because the woman dances with great haste, leaving the man no choice but rush with her as a result.

I believe the above example is not a nonchalant play but the result of dedicated education. Many tango teachers have made 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 dancing in comparison to what I often see in America. Floorcraft is not difficult to learn, but the Americans seem to have a problem with rules. If after three decades we still dance like rebellious teenagers, something must be wrong with our culture. All above examples, including the first Italian one, are in sharp contrast to how we dance tango. Please do not let my critique on the first video mislead you because the Italians are in fact very good tango dancers. The following Italian example could humble us and make you 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 perception. But I couldn't find a satisfying clip because tango videos are mostly shot by people interested only in their version of tango. A few that reflect the truth are poorly made, often with annoying nonsense. Perhaps even in Buenos Aires most milongas 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 made by Paul Holman, which I found is representative of a milonga that I can call home.


I like 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 mainly about the embrace, music and feelings, that steps and footwork are secondary, 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 often lately just to enjoy that soulful scene and remind myself of how one should behave and dance in the milongas.


How tango is danced in Europe and North America

In Europe and North America, people have a quite different perception. Here is how they dance tango in the milongas.


They dance tango not to enjoy the music, intimacy and feelings, but to practice steps and show off skills. I believe the majority of them understood that tango is a soulful dance and that they come to dance because they want to taste that apple. But for some hypocritical reasons they don't feel comfortable enough to be intimate with the opposite sex, thus they use an open dance hold to replace 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 danced in the milonguero style, some are fair to good dancers. But the majority are still novices who don't know how to embrace. They relied on the arms and hands to lead and follow. Some were practicing what they recently learned. Most were emotionally detached. Very few actually were dancing to the music. The milonga codes were poorly complied, as attested by the use of 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, was not very engaging. The whole scene was quite chaotic. Towards the end there were few better dances. But overall, I don't think this milonga is very 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 to do things unconventional. Dancing in open hand hold rather than embrace, they can do fancy steps and showy figures. 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 is clearly 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 older people is childish and naive. Older 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 learned tango from their peers, who learned 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 Styles 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. As a result, scenes like this start to appear in Europe and North America in recent years.


Their embrace and connection become closer and 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 proved 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 seating, 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 concentrated entirely on the music and feelings as if the steps were irrelevant. Dancing tango to them was to enjoy the sentiment and intimacy, not to do gymnastics. They danced with complete relaxation, unhurried pace, subtle movements and tasteful suspensions. Their steps were small and simple, totally void of flaunt, and used only to remain united with the partner in the dance. The beauty of their tango lies in the oneness of the union rather than the performance of the individual. In their dance nothing was ornate, but everything was exquisite and elegant. Even the music selections were more sentimental and intriguing than ours, fitting perfectly to the mood of their dance.

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 to allow herself to enjoy the caress of his chest. Her eyes are dreamily closed so she can focus inwardly on the feelings. Her inconspicuous footwork magically keeps her body moving in unison with him no matter how he turns, permitting her to tune to the soft whispers of his chest 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 emotions and 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 Social Tango and Performence Tango.)


P.S.

I received several comments on my video selections and now understand a little better how political correctness becomes a necessity in our culture. Please be aware that the clips I selected for this post are used only to illustrate a phenomenon, not to reflect the whole picture of any community or event.

January 14, 2016

Women's Walk in Tango


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 posture, pace, alignment, CBM, dissociation, lilt, rhythm, 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 fashions, 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 the man leads the woman in tango, it's the woman who beautifies 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 video.


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 swiveling the hips and using the hip to move the leg - this will give 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 they normally walk. To learn to walk backwards, you almost need to start from toddle. The following video, demonstrated also by Vanessa Gauch, can help you understand how it should be done.



Walk 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. A women using open hand hold in the dance cannot stretch her 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 video by Jennifer Bratt and Ney Melo.


Notice that Jennifer leans on Ney with an increased gradient. She bends her standing leg and uses a little bit dissociation - turning her hips slightly upwards and downwards to allow the leg to reach back farther. Notice also that when her hips are turned, she uses the thumb rather than the toes of the foot to reach the floor. Also notice 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 video. All these add a feminine touch to her walk.


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 outstretch your free leg, 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.


Pushing with your standing leg

You stretch your free leg back until the thumb of the foot touches the floor. At that point you should not just wait there for the man to push you. Rather, you transfer weight to that leg by pushing with your standing leg. Failure to do that is the reason why some women are heavy in the walk. Be careful, though, not to self-propel so hard as to lose the torso connection with the man. You only push with enough force to make yourself lighter, but remain your leaning position and hence the connection with him. The following clip illustrates the correct way of doing it.



Walking with straight knees

Walking with bent knees is inelegant, which is a common problem for beginners. Although you need to bend your standing leg down a little bit in order to outstretch your free leg farther, the free leg must remain straight until the transfer of weight to that leg is completed. In order to do that you should not use the thigh to move the leg, which is the cause of the curved leg. Rather, you should lift the hip and use the hip to swing the leg so the leg remains straight, and you should keep the leg straight as you transfer weight to it. Keeping the knees straight makes the dance look more elegant, as this video shows.


Alignment

When walk in parallel system, the free leg should move back in line with the hip and not cross over the standing leg. Walking with a distorted line is the cause of instability, which is a common problem for beginners. When walking in cross system, you should rotate your hips before you outstretch your free leg, and the free leg must still move in line with the hip. You should not cross the free leg over the standing leg without rotating the hips. However, unlike in back ocho, the rotation of the hips does not need to be huge since you are just walking along the line of dance in cross system.



Synchronization

Tango walk is synchronous. The two partners walk not as two independent individuals but as a whole. Their legs must start, move and arrive together with exactly the same timing, speed and pace. It is important for the woman to constantly feel and mirror every inch of the man's movement and not land her foot too soon before he completes his step. A common problem is that she walks on her own and lands her foot on the floor before he finishes his step, causing him to step on her toes. The correct way is to hold her free leg outstretched in the air and allow him to push her, with the push of her own standing leg, so the two free legs may land on the floor at the same time and with the same pace.


Improving your walk is the key to improve your dance

One's walk defines one's tango, as demonstrated by my favorite tango couple Noelia Hurtado and Carlos Espinoza in the following dance. Pay attention to Noelia's walk and see how it relates to her dance. Walk is not only an important part of tango, but also the foundation of the dance because other steps are but variations of walk. 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.)