Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us into individuals, but tango unites us into a team, community, people and species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, 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 fraternity, cooperation, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
March 30, 2022
We describe Latin dances such as rumba, cha-cha and samba as passionate, sexy and hot, but we no longer describe tango in that way. Rather, we use graceful, soulful and elegant to describe this dance that once belonged to the Latin dance family. In other words, in its development tango has been gradually refined and gentrified, evolving from the dance of brothel to Tango de Salon.
But once upon a time, tango was a hot, sexy, passionate Latin dance.
Comparing the two tangos, we can see the following differences.
1. Tango de Salon is danced at a slower pace. Earlier tango is danced at a faster pace.
2. In Tango de Salon the steps are larger. In earlier tango the steps are smaller.
3. In Tango de Salon the woman's hip movement is moderate, remaining relatively paralell to the man's hips, but in earlier tango the hip movement of the woman is quite large, perpendicular to the man's hips.
4. Tango de Salon highlights elegance and harmony. Earlier tango highlights hot gender identity and gender expression.
5. Tango de Salon focuses on subtle, inward feelings. Earlier tango focuses on exaggerated visual impression.
Both tangos have their merits, one shows maturity and elegance, the other shows vigor and passion.
The fact that earlier tango is no longer seen is more or less a pity because it still has an aesthetic value and its techniques are worth studying, in my opinion. The change of human aesthetics, however, has its own logic that is beyond anyone’s personal preference. Perhaps, that "Elegance is the only beauty that never fades." - said Audrey Hepburn, is the underlying logic of human aesthetics and tango. Vigor loses with time, but elegance remains.
February 22, 2022
Tango students often focus on steps and pay little attention to choreography when they dance tango. However, in my opinion, the quality of a tango is determined more by choreography than steps. (See Floorcraft, Choreography and Hastiness.)
Here's how the milongueros dance tango.
What impresses me most about the dance of the milongueros is not the steps but the choreography of their dance, which has the following common characteristics.
1. Their dance pace is slower, enabling the woman to follow in an unhurried, elegant manner.
2. Every step is well thought out, carefully led and clear-cut.
3. There is a pause after each step or sequence, just like there is a period after each sentence.
4. The pause is not stationary but in subtle motion to allow the woman to embellish the step.
5. The featured steps are forceful and pulsating, like surging waves rather than flowing water.
6. That featured step does not stop abruptly but decelerates after the surge, often following a turn in slower motion, serving as a transition or preparation for the next surge in a different direction.
7. Surging steps, suspense and soft transitions form the rhythm of the dance. This arrangement better reflects the music and feelings that characterize social tango.
The dance of the milongueros is in sharp contrast to our tango that is hasty, busy and beat-chasing. If their tango is art, then our tango is more like gymnastics. We tend to step on every beat and dance in a hurried, monotonous speed, leaving the woman little chance to do decorations. There is a lack of pause, slow motion, subtlety, depth and emotional expressions in our tango. The following is an example.
In fact most videos found online are worse than this one. I chose this clip to illustrate that dance skill and choreography are two seperate skills. What most dancers lack is the latter.
Of course, it's not that all tango dancers outside of Argentina don't pay attention to choreography. In the following video I found few exceptions.
Some dancers in this video seem to have learned the style of the milongueros. A shining example is the man in the hat appeared at 3:10-3:50, who used a lot of pauses and slow motions. As you can see, by adopting the choreography of the milongueros, the dance becomes deeper, tastier and more inwardly, musical and meaningful.
January 7, 2022
There are numerous teahouses in the streets and alleys of Chengdu, China, and every one of them is booming with business. Chengdu people like to spend time with friends in teahouses, drinking tea while chatting, reading, playing chess, listening to local operas, etc. This leisurely pleasure has become an indispensable part of Chengdu people’s daily lives.
What the teahouse is to Chengdu is like what the milonga is to Buenos Aires. There are numerous milongas in the streets of Buenos Aires. The Portenos like to pass time there, meeting friends, drinking coffee, listening to music, and dancing tango. Over time, they became skilled dancers, and tango became an integral part of their daily lives. For many Portenos, a day without tango is like a day without food.
Tango dancers in small cities where their number is too small and milonga is rare don't have that luxury. That’s why I used to drive to nearby big cities to dance tango. For a three-hour milonga, the round trip took me five to six hours. In addition to fatigue and sleepless nights, the cost adds up to a considerable amount annually. In the end I couldn't take it any longer and had to accept the reality and dance locally.
Dancing locally may not be as gratifying as dancing in big cities, but it is convenient, time-saving, and affordable. It's okay to go out to dance occasionally, but to enjoy tango on a regular and sustainable base, you have to do it locally. Tango aficionados in small cities must accept that reality. In big cities there are established tango groups and milongas readily available. But in small cities we have no choice but to make our own. Creating a tango community isn't easy, but if we don't do that and choose to travel long distances, then we'll have to say goodbye to tango when we are tired of travel, or we’ll have to face reality again. Would it not be better if we put that energy in building our own tango community so that we can enjoy tango like people in big cities?
Tango dancers in small cities have to have a strategic vision. We can't expect other people to plant trees for us to enjoy the shade. We have to plant our own trees and enjoy our own fruit. Building a tango community requires dedication and a lot of work. Despite the difficulties, we should not exchange that vision for immediate pleasure. We need to invest for the future, so that when we can no longer travel around, we will still have a place to dance tango. Don't be intimidated by starting small and slow. So long as we stick to the cause, the community will grow. Right now we are still in the start-up stage, but that stage will pass. What we ought to think is how to make our community stronger and better, not to leave the community and dance elsewhere.
The importance of building a local tango group cannot be overstated. It is where we improve our dance skills and enjoy tango on a daily base. Tango is team work. Without a team there cannot be tango. You go out to dance tango because there is a better team there. So why not spend time on making our own team better? As tango dancers we can't only think about the present but not the long-term, focus only on personal gains but ignore team building, enjoy without contributing and take without giving back. I have provided you with a place to dance tango, and I do it willingly as my contribution to the group. I expect every one of you to make your own contributions, not as a way to return the favor, but as a way to improve the group and make it bigger, better and more united. Do not come just to dance tango. Ask yourself at least once a month, "Have I done anything for the group this month?" If everyone can do their part, then our group will grow stronger and faster, so that tango can become an indispensable part of our daily lives, too. (See Never Forget Why We Started.)
December 9, 2021
The American thinking is microscopic and analytical. Americans atomize people into individuals and believe that every individual is a free, independent and autonomous being with an unalienable right to pursue self-interest and is accountable only for his/her own interests; therefore, competition with others is justified. American law promotes and protects competition. Anyone may defeat another as long as the means are legal. The result is that a small number of smart individuals gradually defeated all others and established their dominance. These smart individuals argue that they have the right to form political parties to protect their interests. There are irreconcilable conflicts of interest between interest groups, all of which must have representations in the political decision making process. For fairness' sake political parties take turn to rule through election. One-party rule is considered undemocratic. Using money, lobbying and press to influence elections and policy making, on the other hand, is considered freedom of speech. As a result, media is exploited and lost its impartiality, and those who can afford are in the best position to control public opinion and the political system. Since elections can be manipulated by money, misinformation and incitement, the elected politicians tend to be sensational and lack moral integrity and practical abilities. They serve their patrons and their own re-election more than the interests of the people. The rotation of power by opposing parties causes policies to oscillate between the two extremes and makes long-term planning impossible. The current administration often takes irresponsible actions such as overspending, over borrowing and overprinting of money to benefit its own tenure, leaving disastrous consequences to future administrations. Partisan fights severely weaken the government's ability to govern and cause deep divisions among the people. It is a very flawed, divisive and inefficient system, but Americans seem to believe that this is the only way to be democracy.
In fact it is partisan democracy rather than people’s democracy. Many researchers believe that the American political system has alienated into a plutocracy, a cartel disguised as a government that is controlled by capital and special interests, and is no longer a democracy. The political elites funded by the special interests do not care about the interests of the American people at all. This can be clearly seen from what they have done. America has the most severe discrepancy between rich and poor in the world. It has the largest numbers of covid cases and deaths in the world. The nation’s finance has been so badly mismanaged that it has a debt of 30 trillion dollars and counting, much of which went into the special interests in the form of government contracts. It has the worst drug and gun proliferation and public safety problems. Its prisoner population is the largest in the world although its total population is only one fourth of that in China and India. It has very severe domestic racial conflict and human rights abuse problems. Its healthcare is the most expensive in the world that ordinary Americans cannot afford. Its public education is broken and infrastructures crumble. It has been at war for 229 years in its 245-year history, constantly creates tensions and provokes conflicts around the world in order to maintain its global military presence, lucrative arms sales and massive military spendings to benefit the special interests. These special interests are the loudest hawkers of the so-called American values, which is how they keep themselves in power and dominate the world. They call it democracy, but the American people actually have very little say in matters that concern them.
In comparison, the Chinese thinking is macroscopic and holistic. Human rights as understood by the Chinese are the collective rights of the people. These rights include coexistence, equality, sharing, cooperation, and the well-being of society as a whole, as well as individual freedom. The Chinese regard people not as independent and autonomous individuals but connected and interdependent members of society who are born into relationships with roles to play and responsibilities to fulfil. The Confucian culture emphasizes unity rather than individuality, encouraging people to abide by the ethics established to maintain social harmony, seek common ground and set aside differences, put communal interests above personal interests and work as a team. (See Understanding China: Geography and Confucianism.)
Democracy as understood by the Chinese is people's democracy rather than partisan democracy. People have different personal interests and opinions; therefore, uniting them and governing the country according to the common interests and common will of the vast majority of the people is the key to true democracy. Five-thousand years of political experiences have made the Chinese deeply aware of the dangers of partisan politics and the importance of a unitary political party that serves the best interests of the people. This party, made up of socially conscious members of society who regard the interests of the people as a whole as their highest mission, plays a pivotal role in uniting and leading the people. The country’s decision-making body is elected every five years by the Party’s National Congress and the National People’s Congress. Political decisions are made after thorough investigation and extensive consultation of the people and are carried out with the full participation and supervision of the people. These decisions address the current concerns of the vast majority of the people as well as the long-term interests of the nation. Chinese government does not work for the special interests. Its mission is to build an egalitarian and harmonious society for all and lead the Chinese people to common prosperity. The government ensures its purity and self-renewal through continuous improvement of systems such as meritocracy, collective decision making, clean government, self-correction, anti-corruption, mass supervision, disciplinary inspection, age restrictions, term limits, and impeachment procedures, etc., to prevent it from becoming a dictatorship.
The different understandings of human rights between Americans and Chinese are reflected in their attitudes towards many things. For example, Americans believe that taking covid precautions is a personal matter. An individual is responsible for his own health and does not need others to tell him what to do. He can do whatever he wants as long as it fits him. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe that taking precautions during the pandemic is not only a personal matter, but is also related to the health of others. It is necessary to impose some restrictions on individual freedom to protect the entire population. Americans believe that gun ban is a violation of individual rights. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe that a safe living environment is a fundamental human right for the vast majority of the people, thus gun control is necessary. Americans believe that restrictions on private enterprises is a violation of the individual's right to pursue wealth. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe that equality is a fundamental human right. It is necessary to restrict practices that will perpetuate the gap between rich and poor. Americans believe that individual rights are superior to sovereignty. The United States frequently uses human rights as an excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and imposes its own values on other nations. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe that launching wars, invading other countries, creating instability and refugee problems all over the world, is the greatest human rights violation.
As successful and powerful as the United States once was, a country that fails to mend its institutional flaws will end in disaster. These institutional flaws, including individualism, inevitably lead to the domination of a handful of special interests such as military-industrial complex, arms dealers and capital predators, and the failure of the vast majority of the people. The process of a democracy turning into a plutocracy and its doom, learning from the experience of China, will not exceed three hundred years. (See The Vicious Circle of Regime Change.) For this reason, Chinese culture stands for collectivism and egalitarianism against individualism. With the rise of China, Confucian values will also have a greater impact on the world. I believe that will be something to celebrate for the world. (See Pluralism vs. Monism.)
The following video explains the American monetary system, from Bretton Woods agreement, overprinting of money, decoupling of USD to gold, USD pegging to oil, consumer capitalism, vendor financing, outsourcing manufacturing, job losses, big trade deficits, big debt, big military, lots of wars, printing more and more money and having more and more debt, huge inequality, to devaluation of USD and inflation. The speaker attributes this doomed system to dollar as the world reserve currency and suggests that these will all end when a new currency regime emerges. But I believe the logic behind all these is much deeper. It is the microscopic thinking, competition, profit-driven capitalism, and the special interests who benefited from these that caused this vicious cycle.
And here are the consequences:
November 30, 2021
The enchanting music, comforting embrace and rhythmic motion of the milonguero style of tango can cause the woman to enter a state of daydreaming, similar to a baby being swayed to sleep in her cradle, that she doesn’t want to wake up when the tanda ends. I call that outcome the cradle effect. (See Tango Is a Feeling.)
In the beginning of a tanda, some women may try to keep a distance from the man if they do not know the man. But a good leader knows how to relax a woman, relieve her resistance, and mesmerize her with the dance. Here are three ways to do that.
The first is to have a comfortable embrace, or to put it figuratively, provide her with a cozy cradle. You must embrace her gently, tenderly and affectionately to let her feel safe, comfortable and not coerced. You should allow her if she wants some personal space but must insist on using your torso instead of your arms and hands to lead her, otherwise she will focus on the steps. Your goal is to soothe her with your embrace and make her feel you and communicate with you with her body rather than her arms and hands, so that she can focus on feelings instead of steps.
The second is to immerse her in the music, or figuratively speaking, hypnotize her with music. You must dance the music and not steps, so that her attention, too, is tuned to music rather than steps. You have to let her enjoy and resonate with the music and forget about the steps in order to enter that daydreaming state. To do so you need to present her with your own interpretation of the music. If you step on every beat mechanically without interpretation, then she, too, will step on every beat mechanically without actually listening to and enoying the music. Here again, good music plays a crucial role, which, however, is in the hands of the DJ. (See My Two Cents on Music Selections.) Dancers can only use whatever music provided to them as much as possible.
The third is to make the steps simple and easy so that she doesn't need to work hard on the movements and is able to give her full attention to the music and feelings. (See The Elegance of the Milonguero Style.) You should not lead her to do fancy steps because the goal here is to mesmerize her and not to impress others. Difficult steps defeat that purpose. Generally speaking, natural, simple, small and rocking movements make it easier for the woman to enter the state of daydreaming. When you feel that she has stopped struggling, surrendered herself to you and is completely in one with you, she is in that state.
On her part, all she needs to do is relaxing her body and surrendering herself to the man. (See Learning Tango: Two Perspectives.) The woman must overcome her ego, independence and desire to act, and focus on the embrace, music, feelings, synchronization and being one with the man. Women in general are more intuitive, emotional and susceptible to music and feelings than men, so they are more likely to enter the hypnotic state, which perhaps is why more women love tango than men. This is not to say that the cradle effect does not work for men. Men, too, desire to be rocked to dream in the comforting embrace of the woman. When both partners know how to do that, the dance becomes mesmeric, intoxicating and unforgettable. (See Dancing to Rhythm and Melody in Milonguero Style.)