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 and species. 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

March 25, 2012

Why People Dance Tango

The reason we dance tango has something to do with the gloomy side of life. Some people say they dance tango because they like tango music, but they can listen to tango music at home. Some say they like the movements, but they can do movements in other dances as well. Some say they like the unrestrained form of tango, but martial arts may give them the same satisfaction. Some say tango is artistically challenging, but ballet raises that bar even higher. If these were the only reasons people dance tango, then there would not be tango, because the alternatives are many.

Tango triumphs for a unique reason. While most dances are created to celebrate life, tango serves a different purpose. It is created by the least fortunate to shelter their sorrows. They do not come to the milonga to play peacocks, but to expose their vulnerability and seek comfort, to dance the loneliness, homesickness, nostalgia and grief in them, to find a shoulder to rely on, to take refuge for their wounds, to quench their thirst for love, and to touch and be touched by another human being. These are the ordinary people, poor people, immigrants, construction workers, waiters, waitresses, shop assistants, maids and taxi drivers. They may not be splendid in their appearance, but you feel it when you dance with them. Their embrace is warm and affectionate, their feeling is sincere and deep, their heart is sensitive and sympathetic, their movement is raw and infectious, and their dance is emotional and sentimental. Tango is their refuge. The intimate, soulful, sensual and comforting nature of tango reflects and serves their deep, inward, human needs. This is the tango still danced in less affluent societies, such as Argentina and Uruguay.

Not all people share these needs, of course. Rich people, successful people, arrogant people and superficial people, for instance, like the beauty of tango but don’t embrace its purpose. Instead, they use tango to celebrate their life, to glorify their success, to show off their style, to display their ego, and to boast their superiority. The traditional tango is too modest for them, so they make changes - opening up the embrace, inventing fancy steps, adding ostentatious tricks, using exotic music, etc. As a result, they created a peacocky version of tango. It looks flashy and feels empty. This kind of tango now is the fashion in affluent societies such as ours.

Tango has survived many challenges in the past. It will survive this one as well, I believe, because needs, desires, yearnings, loneliness, love, interdependence, tenderness, sentimentalism and romanticism are an intrinsic part of human nature even among the toughest. The less fortunate people are particularly vulnerable, which is why they created tango. This may also explain why milongas are more crowded in bad times than in good times, why more women dance tango than men, and why the revival of tango happens now when there are more travelers and immigrants in the world than ever before. Tango will always be the dance of the lonely, homesick, nostalgic, needy, vulnerable, sentimental and romantic. The fortunate people need tango, too, if they are not blind by their success and arrogance. After all, we are human, and tango is for all who search inward for their humanity.

March 3, 2012


Beginners often think of dancing to music only as stepping on the beat, but there are much more to it. (See Notes on Musicality.) Dancing with cadencia, for example, is also a part of the equation. Cadencia refers to the body swinging back and forth to the rhythm of the music. In other words, dancing to music involves not only timing the steps, but timing the swings of the body also. Cadencia is one of the key techniques in tango that is essential to the dance but often being overlooked.

To learn to do cadencia, you first need to learn to swing your body. Many students don’t know how to swing their leg, much less to swing their body. To swing the leg, you need to lift the hip on the free leg side until that leg hangs loosely and can swing freely like a pendulum. You need to keep the knee and ankle of the leg straight when you swing it, so that the leg looks long and graceful.

Imagine, now, that your leg does not start from the hip but from the chest, that is, imagine everything below your chest is your leg. The chest is where you and your partner connect in the embrace. It can serve as a fixed point to swing everything below it as a whole. That way, not only the line of your leg looks long, but your whole body looks tall and elegant also.

Swinging the body is like swinging a cudgel of three linked sections. The first section is the torso. The second section is the hip. The third section is the leg. A little motion of the first section will lead to a bigger motion of the second section, which will lead to a still bigger motion of the third section. In other words, the swing of the leg is the result of the swing of the torso and hip in a chain reaction. A novice woman often uses her thigh to move her leg because her focus is on the steps rather than the swings. Consequetly there is no cadencia in her dance. In order to do cadencia the woman needs to let her body swing. Her torso, hip and leg should maintain a certain level of resilience, so the whole body will swing elegantly like a pendulum with weight at the bottom rather than a fluttering ribbon.

The swing is in the horizontal direction. Students fail to do cadencia often because they only focus on the vertical action of stepping down and there is not nough horizontal motion. To generate cadencia the man needs to speed up the pace to drive the woman's body swing laterally, and their movements must be pulsive, that is, like surging waves rather than even-paced trickle, so her body will lilt with each surge. At the compeletion of a step the man reverses the course to drive her body swing in the opposite direction. This horizontal motion of the body between two steps, feeling like riding back and forth on a swing, is called cadencia.

Cadencia is a teamwork and will not happen without the lead. The man must be aware that whether the woman's body swings to music depends in part on his lead. Often, the woman fails to step on the beat because her body is led to swing too little or too much, too slow or too fast, disabling her foot to land on the beat. An experienced man generates just enough swing, so the woman’s foot may land exactly on the beat. Likewise, a skillful woman times the swing of her body and leg to the music as well. She complements the lead in her own capacity.

Cadencia is used both in social tango and performance tango, but it primarily is a social tango technique aiming at increasing the sensual pleasure rather than the visual impression of the dance. Dancing with cadencia requires not only excellent musicality but also superb balance control, which is not an easy task. But, once you’ve learned to do it, the sensation of two connected bodies swing together in sync with the rhythm of the music will make the dance much more enjoyable. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.)

The following video illustrates this technique:

Related videos:

Cadencia - the pendulum effect

Tango close embrace, connection, cadencia