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.

August 29, 2009

Close Embrace and Open Embrace (I)

I like everything about Argentine tango: its music, passion, beauty, its artistic, sportive, social and recreational functions, and its culture (milonguero legends, milonga codes, cabeceo, and even machismo, etc.). All of these, however, would not mean so much if tango were not danced by a man and a woman. As Susana Miller said, “If you like tango, then you like women.” Let’s face it, at bottom it is women who attract men to tango, and vice versa. Although to some degree that is true with all partner dances, tango is different. It is much more intimate, physical and sensual.

One BBC commentator remarked, “Tango contains a secret about the yearning between men and women.” That is right on. The yearning, however, is not necessarily a sexual one. I believe tango fulfills a human need for affinity with the opposite sex in a nonsexual way. Our society is so sex oriented that this innocent yearning between men and women is often being deprived. Any intimacy between the opposite genders is deemed sexual, therefore, is repressed either voluntarily or involuntarily. Men and women cannot be intimate unless they want to have sex. In other words, our culture does not approve innocent intimacy between the opposite genders.

But Argentine tango represents a different view, or culture, that sanctions nonsexual intimacy. Tango is a product of that culture. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) In this context tango is not just a dance. It is a way by which that innocent human desire can be met with stylized sophistication and elegance under a set of rules designed to maintain the dignity and decency of the activity. That is why milonga codes are such an important part of tango. The influence of tango, I believe, is by far more cultural than artistic. Tango is now becoming a worldwide phenomenon for a reason. It serves a fundamental human need and fulfills that innocent yearning between men and women.

But that aspect of tango is still new to the Americans, as attested by the way we embrace tango. We dance tango as but another ballroom dance. We are not intimately engaged to each other in the dance. Many of us still shy away from close embrace and prefer open embrace instead, which, although rarely seen in Buenos Aires, is the dominant style in American tango. Cabeceo and milonga codes are not taught and practiced at most milongas in the US. The general culture in our tango community is still more individualistic, independent, competitive and even hostile than intimate, friendly, cooperative and accommodating. Those who have visited Buenos Aires know what I compare with. (See Close Embrace and Open Embrace (II).)

August 7, 2009


Sam, Max, Rebecca and me stayed at the same hotel when we attended a tango festival in Seattle. At the opening night Sam offered the rest of us a ride to the welcome milonga. It was a ten minutes drive. Since tango was the reason that brought us together, the conversations in the car naturally centered on tango.

"I am fed up with the attitude in the milonga."

"I know what you mean."

"Some women are so arrogant. They think they are too good for the beginners."

"Men too. I often sit there for hours but nobody come to dance with me."

"I remember the time when I just started. It was rough."

"My sister quit tango because she doesn’t like the hierarchy in the milonga."

"Well, this is the process everyone has to go through. It's a part of the tango experience."

"But why people have to be so snobby?"

"Everyone comes to have a good time. If they are good, it's only natural they want to dance with equals."

"Don’t good dancers have an obligation? If others didn't dance with them when they started, how could they become good?"

"Better be nice to the beginners. You never know how good someone can become in a couple of years."

"But people don’t dance to please others. They come to enjoy themselves, and dancing with the beginners doesn't help..."

"So you don’t think good dancers should dance with the beginners?"

"Well, it depends..."

"How long have you danced?"

"Seven years."

There was a moment of silence after that. I felt tension.

Then, the topic changed to something else.

August 5, 2009

Why People Quit Tango

Seldom we see people quit tango because of tango. Most often we see people quit tango because of people. When we dance tango we dance with people, and people are much more complicated than the dance itself. People have different interests, needs, style preferences, skill levels, philosophies, attitudes and biases, which are not easy to accommodate. People can be nice, kind, considerate, friendly and encouraging. Yet they can also be selfish, inconsiderate, rude, mean and discouraging. People can be as open-minded, tolerant and acceptant as they can be opinionated, discriminative, arrogant and snobbish. And people have egos, they are easily hurt and difficult to forgive. It won’t take many misconducts to ruin a relationship or a tango community. To be a social dancer, one in fact has more to learn about people than what one needs to learn about tango. As important as it is to improve dance skills, it is even more significant to improve ourselves as persons, our skills in dealing with each other, and our dance community on which our tango experience, whether good or bad, depends. As an intimate dance tango affects us deeply on many levels. The enjoyment of the dance depends on the interaction of the dancers and the ambiance of the milongas impacted by each and every participant's conduct. Therefore, a friendly, respectful, acceptant, cooperative and accommodating culture within the tango community is particularly important. (See Tango Is a Fellowship.) Unfortunately, that is often what is missing in our tango.