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, fellowship, 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 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 affinity, altruism, cooperation, and accommodation. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
February 15, 2024
Ismael Heljalil (1929-2018) was a revered figure within the milonguero community, known for his kind nature and gentle demeanor. Though details about his life remain scarce, his legacy endures through the dance videos he left behind, offering glimpses into his gentle character and profound love for tango. (Please click the link to watch on YouTube.)
What distinguishes Ismael Heljalil from his peers is his distinctive choreography, characterized by a seamless fusion of rock, back steps, and turns. His movements, dominated by a fluid interplay of retreats and rotations, reveal a mastery of the art form. A hallmark of his style is the rock steps with the left leg as the fulcrum to place his right leg behind, culminating in a graceful pivoting to the right.
While this movement can be mirrored with the left leg, Ismael's preference leans towards the right, showcasing his comfort and mastery with his signature spin.
Another notable move involves rocking the right leg back, shifting weight to his left leg while pivoting to the left, and then stepping the right leg forward. As his weight is now on the right leg, he can either continue walking in circles to the left, or step back with his left leg and pivot to the left. No one can alternate right and left turns with sometimes forward and sometimes backward steps as seamlessly as Ismael does. This remarkable ability hinges on his unparalleled musicality.
In essence, Ismael's dance style is characterized by a continuous rotation anchored in backward motion, skillfully blending elements of rock, back steps, and turns. This unique approach sets him apart, inspiring many to emulate his technique, yet few can truly replicate his finesse. What is difficult to copy is not his footwork, of course, but his understanding of music, underscoring the depth of skill possessed by the master himself.
"If God could dance, he would dance like Ismael. He masterfully improvises what he feels in the moment. He walks, and oh…how he walks with intimate knowledge of every phrase and nuance of the music from his soul." - Jantango
February 8, 2024
When we lead the dance, it is important to depart from boring convention. Here are some tips to help you lead with distinction:
1. Embrace variety in your dance route: Instead of sticking to a predictable path on the dance floor, dare to explore different directions and shapes. Break away from monotony by leading your partner in unexpected move patterns and angles.
2. Incorporate backward steps: In tango, men mostly move forward and women move backward. If a man could break the pattern and dance backwards, it would be a change for both parties and make the dance stand out. (Click the link to watch on YouTube.)
3. Simplify your movements: In a world where complexity often reigns supreme, dare to stand out by embracing simplicity. Remember, less is often more when it comes to making a lasting impression.
4. Master the art of pivoting: In tango, it's customary for men to navigate the dance floor while women move around them, often resulting in men relying on static steps. However, by integrating pivots into your movements to enable agile and fluid turns toward your partner, your lead will truly shine.
5. Engage your torso and hips: Most men don't rotate their torso and hips very much when dancing. If you can engage your torso and hips more, your leading will improve. The first rule of tango is that your torso must always face your partner, no matter which side of you she is on or moving to. The competence to swivel the torso or hips helps the man to maintain good physical contact with the woman and enhances his ability to use his torso to lead her.
6. Use a variety of rhythms：Most men dance too fast and in a monotonous rhythm. If you slow down the pace and use a variety of rhythms, your dance will stand out from most people. Pause and slow motion are to dance what punctuation is to writing. They make your expression more meaningful and interesting.
7. Lead her to turn in slow motion：A slow-motion turn can better express a woman's grace. When leading movements that involve turning, such as ocho and planeo, slowing down can make the movements stand out.
8. Dance to express, not to impress: Above all, remember that tango is a dance of feelings, connection, and expression. Instead of focusing on showcasing your technical prowess, dance with genuine emotion and feeling. Let the music guide your movements, allowing its rhythm and melody to inspire your every step. By dancing to express the music and feelings, you'll create a profound and unforgettable experience for both you and your partner.
February 6, 2024
Chinese philosophy embraces a holistic perspective, viewing the universe as a cohesive whole rather than a collection of disparate parts. It posits that despite the existence of contradictions, harmony prevails, with seemingly opposite elements interdependent and complementing each other like the two sexes. Humanity is perceived not as isolated individuals but as a collective entity, wherein success hinges on collaborative efforts. Central to this worldview is the pursuit of unity, balance and harmony, eschewing conflict escalation and adversary elimination. (See Understanding China: Yellow River and the Character of the Chinese Nation.)
Emphasizing win-win cooperation, Chinese philosophy prioritizes collective interests over personal ones, advocating for consensus-building and the creation of an equitable, just, and moral global community. In this framework, human rights extend beyond individual entitlements to include the collective well-being of all humanity, encompassing equality, justice, peaceful coexistence, freedom from hunger and crime, a satisfactory living environment, cooperation and resource-sharing, humanitarian assistance, as well as individual liberties.
Politically, the Chinese emphasize the role of the state in fostering unity, managing differences, providing infrastructure, protecting the vulnerable, and advancing the common good. They endorse democratic centralism while opposing decentralization and partisan politics. Economically, China operates a mixed economy that includes state-owned, private and market components, with the goal to achieve common prosperity for all citizens. This approach harnesses individual initiative while maintaining state oversight of capital to safeguard the interests of all people. (See Democracy vs. Plutocracy.)
In international affairs, China upholds the following five principles: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. It advocates for international cooperation, peaceful development, global common prosperity, and the creation of a community with a shared future for mankind.
In contrast, Western thought is characterized by atomism, which deconstructs the world into discrete entities and posits that these entities compete for self-interest. Western individualism views people as independent actors with conflicting interests, subscribing to the Darwinian concepts of the "struggle for existence" and "survival of the fittest." It embraces a "law of the jungle" mentality wherein the suppression or elimination of opponents is seen as necessary to safeguard one's own interests. (See Darwinism and Eastern Philosophies.) The Western view of human rights is individualistic, prioritizing personal interests over collective concerns. This version of human rights is highly deceptive. While ostensibly promoting freedom for all, it in fact only serves a powerful minority, allowing these privileged few to exploit competitive advantages to defeat the disadvantaged majority, thereby controlling legislation, the economy, media, military affairs, and foreign policy, to benefit themselves. The result is that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and for most people, human rights and freedom have become empty words.
Politically, Western elites employ Machiavellian tactics and engage in partisan maneuvers, fostering social division, conflicts and polarization. Economically, Western ideology champions private ownership, free competition, capitalism, mercantilism, financialization, and neoliberalism. Although these unscrupulous, profit-oriented practices may spur initial economic growth, they also cultivate inequality and corruption, subjecting national interests to the dominance of capital and ultimately resulting in economic collapse. (See America Is in Big Trouble.)
In international relations, the West adopts strategies of divide and conquer geopolitics, promotes unipolar hegemony, and engages in zero-sum games. These approaches disrupt global equilibrium, provoke conflicts, and sow turmoil worldwide. The success of the West historically hinges on the conquest, colonization, genocide, exploitation, and plunder of weaker nations.
For a considerable period, the Chinese struggled to comprehend Western behaviors, yet they have now come to understand its underlying logic. Unless Western plutocrats alter their philosophical outlook, global peace remains elusive. This sentiment was succinctly expressed by the Chinese delegation during the Sino-US talks in Alaska: "We overestimated you and assumed you would adhere to basic diplomatic norms. We must clarify our stance: You lack the authority to assert dominance over China." Despite the potential calamitous consequences of their worldview, Western plutocrats are unlikely to relinquish it. It may require the collapse of the existing paradigm before humanity can aspire to construct a new world. (See Pluralism vs. Monism.)
January 26, 2024
The topography of China is high in the west and low in the east. The west is composed of many mountain ranges with altitudes exceeding 5,000 meters, among which the highest Himalayas are 8,848 meters above sea level. The east gradually drops to a plain below 50 meters above sea level. The Yellow River originates from the Bayan Har Mountain with an altitude of 5,369 meters, located in Qinghai Province. This second longest river in China crosses the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Loess Plateau, Inner Mongolia Plateau, and North China Plain from west to east, and finally flows into the Bohai Sea. Its drainage area reaches 795,000 square kilometers, covering Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan and Shandong nine provinces.
Millions of years ago, east of the Taihang Mountains (box in map below) in central North China was the ocean. The North China Plain (the upper two thirds of the green area below) was formed by the accumulation of sediment from the Yellow River over millions of years. The middle section of the Yellow River flows through the Loess Plateau, carrying a large amount of sediment. It transports 1.6 billion tons of sediment downstream every year, about a quarter of which remains on land, and the rest washes into the Bohai Sea. The silt deposited in the lower reaches of the Yellow River gradually raises the riverbed. Every once in a while, the Yellow River will change its course due to the blockage of large amounts of sediment. Wherever the terrain is low, that's where the diverted river will flow, bringing sediment with it. For millions of years, sediment from the Yellow River has filled the low areas back and forth, creating the vast North China Plain, which is larger than the UK. Today, the Yellow River is still reclaiming land from the sea and constantly pushing the coastline eastward. Scientists estimate that the Bohai Sea will be filled in within a few hundred years, further expanding the North China Plain.
Archeology has discovered that eight thousand years ago, people already lived in this plain created by the Yellow River. The North China Plain has always been the most densely populated, economically and culturally prosperous region in China due to its fertile soil, temperate climate, and abundant rainfall brought by the maritime monsoon, making this region suitable for agriculture. The Yellow River nourishes the people lived on this plain, but it also brings them disasters. As the riverbed rises, people need to constantly strengthen the river embankments to protect farmland, villages and cities on both sides. As a result, the riverbed gradually rises above the ground, and in some areas is even 5-10 meters above the ground, turning the river into a hanging river. Once the embankment breaks, it will cause a devastating disaster, washing away everything in its path. Historical records show that in the past 2,500 years, the Yellow River burst and flooded 1,593 times, and had major diversions 26 times. Every time the Yellow River bursts and floods, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people are killed and displaced. River management has never stopped since ancient times. Perhaps no other populace in the world experiences such a complex love-hate dynamic with their mother river as the Chinese. They express gratitude for her nourishing while harboring resentment for her harshness. But it is precisely with this rugged character that the Yellow River has cultivated the Chinese people's spirit of perseverance, tenacity, hard work, and resilience.
Chinese parents tend to use strict discipline to train their children so that they can learn to face the severe challenges of life. This is not unrelated to the fact that they themselves grew up under the temper of the Yellow River. Westerners who embrace individualism emphasize protecting children's individuality and independence. Chinese parents pay attention to cultivating children's perseverance, endurance and team spirit. Such education is closely related to their harsh living environment. In front of the Yellow River, individuals are insignificant. Controlling the Yellow River relies on collective strength. Therefore, Chinese philosophy emphasizes collectivism and teamwork. Western philosophy conceptualizes individuals as autonomous and independent actors, giving precedence to personal interests over collective concerns. Chinese philosophy perceives individuals as interconnected and interdependent members of society with a common destiny and shared interests and responsibilities. This prioritization of collective concerns over individual interests is influenced by their shared burden imposed by the Yellow River.
The fertile, rich and troubled land of the lower reaches of the Yellow River makes the people living on the land not only enjoy the blessings of the Yellow River, but also face the challenges it brings. This paradox has nurtured the dialectical thinking of the Chinese people. The Chinese do not perceive things in stark black and white terms like Westerners do. They recognize that opposing qualities juxtapose in all things, akin to the nature of the Yellow River. This awareness empowers them to approach the complexities of life with composure, remain vigilant during peaceful times, and discern opportunities within challenges. Chinese philosophy opposes simplistic, polarized thinking, such as zero-sum game and unipolarism, and believes that moderation and balance are more in line with the laws of nature in which diverse things complement each other and coexist harmoniously like the two sexes. This seemingly meek position allows the Chinese to live in harmony with an environment that is both contradictory and integrated. Confucius' teaching that "a gentleman does not form factions", the Confucian stance of not taking sides, and the Chinese people's refusal to participate in Western-style partisan politics, these are all due to the wisdom given to the Chinese by the Yellow River. (See Meeting in the Middle.)
Managing China's huge population and making them act in a unified manner to carry out large projects like regulating the Yellow River and building the Great Wall, which involve vast areas of land, huge amounts of manpower, enormous resources, comprehensive planning, and the joint efforts of the whole country, requires a unified, centralized government with strong organizational capabilities. In fact, China's state power was born out of the need to control the Yellow River. Dayu, the founder of the Xia Dynasty (about 2070 BC - about 1600 BC), the first dynasty recorded in Chinese history, was known as a great leader who led the people to manage the Yellow River. With thousands of years of experiences, the Chinese have mastered the way of mobilizing and organizing the masses, and have trained the Chinese people into the most organized, disciplined, and well-managed people, making this nation extremely strong and able to face the most severe challenges. The Western political model based on individualism, division, and party politics, in which different interest groups fight against each other and take turns in power, may serve the special interests, but cannot meet China's needs.
In summary, the character, mindset, culture, and political framework of the Chinese nation are inextricably intertwined with the Yellow River. This influential river shapes the people under her nurture to embody qualities of magnanimity, generosity, kindness, sophistication, and strength - reminiscent of the attributes of their mother river. Such a nation is resilient, indomitable, and cannot be underestimated. (See Understanding China: Geography, Confucianism, and the Chinese-Style Modernization.)
January 17, 2024
Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), a Confucian scholar from the Northern Song Dynasty, wrote a beautiful essay, On the Love of Lotus. The following is the English translation.
"There are many kinds of lovely flowers and plants. Tao Yuanming of the Jin Dynasty only loved chrysanthemums. Since the Tang Dynasty, affection for peonies has become a fashion. But my favorite is the lotus, which comes out of the mud but not stained, washed with clear waves but not looking coquettish. An emblem of purity, modesty and perfection, it stands there quietly, allowing its fragrance to waft far - something to be regarded reverently from a distance, and not be profaned. To me, chrysanthemum is the hermit among flowers, peony is the plutocrat among flowers, and lotus is the gentleman among flowers. Alas, few have loved the chrysanthemum since Tao Yuanming, and none love the lotus like myself, whereas the peony is a favorite with many people."
I was reminded of this essay when I watched Paola Tacchetti dance tango. I saw her dancing only once many years ago in Buenos Aires. She was still very young at the time, dancing socially at Salon Canning. In a pool of sophisticated dancers, she was like a fresh lotus protruding from the water. Her partner, a prominent milonguero, kissed her hand to show his admiration for her after they danced, which left a deep impression on me.
Recently, I was reminded of the essay again when I watched some Paola Tacchetti's dancing videos taken around the same time. I like her style because she is a natural, without pretense and exaggeration. Her dance has a pure and intrinsic beauty that is in sharp contrast to the affected fashion of our times. Such innocent dance style is rare nowadays.
Tango conveys a person's character and aesthetic taste. True beauty is gentlemanly - free, simple, implicit and genuine, rather than pretentious and conceited. I hope the prose quoted above can inspire more dancers to become like Paola Tacchetti, especially in this age of ostentation and artiness.