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 believe in this, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




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 serves 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.