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 as individuals, but tango unites us as a team, 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
November 29, 2013
1. Not listening to music
Some men do not dance to music because they don't know how to listen to tango music (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.), others because they are so focused on doing the steps that they cannot hear the music. The former is a problem of musicality. The latter is that of attention allocation. Dancing tango requires the ability to allot attention to many elements simultaneously, including embrace, connection, posture, partner, coordination, relaxation, steps, adornments, music, etc. Among these listening to music must be the first priority because dancing tango is dancing the music, not the steps. The latter is but an expression of the former. In leading, the man must first pay attention to the music. He cannot only think about the steps and forget the music.
2. Leading difficult steps
Some men like to lead steps that are beyond their comfortable zone, which takes so much of their attention that they become heedless of other aspects of the dance. Beginners tend to mistake difficulty for beauty, but in fact one has nothing to do with the other. On the contrary, elegance lies in simplicity and easiness. Keeping the steps simple will be easier for the dancer to allocate the attention, focus on the music, relax the body, perfect the movement and enjoy the relationship. Unlike stage tango featuring performance, social tango emphasizes the communication of feelings; therefore, simple steps are more suitable. Dancing social tango with difficult steps of performance tango could easily backfire. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)
3. Leading with arms and hands
Many men use the arms and hands to lead for various reasons. First, this long-standing habit is hard to break. Second, beginners do not know how to lead with the torso. Third, many women prefer to dance in an open dance hold, leaving men little choice but using the arms and hands. Fourth, in order to teach steps some teachers allow students to use open embrace, which reinforces the habit of using the arms and hands. However, using the arms and hands to lead conflicts with the essence of tango, that is, intimacy, comfort, synchronization and oneness. Tango has been from its birth a dance of close embrace and torso leading, which separates tango from other partner dances. For a man, learning tango is learning to lead with his torso, that is, to effect the movement of the woman with his body, not his arms and hands. Beginners must overcome the habit of using the arms and hands and develop the ability to lead with the torso.
4. Sending mixed signals
He who uses the arms and hands to lead usually does not know how to lead with the torso. When his arms and hands put forth strength in one direction but his torso does not move or turn accordingly, that sends mixed signals. Although this can be amended by improving the coordination of the body parts, the fundamental solution is to supersede hand leading with torso leading. The arms and hands must be completely relaxed and used only to form a comfortable embrace. Unaware of how his body may impact the movement of the woman, the man often lead with his arms and hands when his weight is not completely transferred from one foot to the other. But, since the two dancers are connected, the incompleteness of his weight change means that she, too, has not completed her weight change. Asking her to take a step in that position is demanding the impossible. The woman must complete her weight change before she can take the step, causing the incoherence of her dance. Such errors made by leading with the arms and hands could be avoided if the man uses his torso to lead. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)
5. Bending over
I emphasize leading with the torso rather than the chest not only because the entire upper body is used in leading but also because chest leading is a misguiding concept. Using which part of the torso to lead depends on the heights of the two partners. If they are about the same height, then using the chest to lead is correct. However, if the man is much taller than the woman, using the chest to lead could cause him to bend over his torso and stick out his buttock, which not only look bad but also add pressure on the woman, causing her to bend backwards. A tall man should keep his body tall and straight and use his abdomen rather than chest to lead a short woman.
6. Bowing the head
Tango partners often stick their heads together in close embrace to enjoy the intimacy, which is nice if they are about the same height. But if the man is much taller than the woman, that could cause him to bow his head, curve his torso, hold his chest in, stick his buttock out and bend his knees, which not only look awful but also have a negative impact on the woman's dance. A tall man and a short woman would be better not dance together because that neither looks good nor feels comfortable. But if they choose to dance together, then the woman may lay her head on his chest, but the man should not bow his head over to meet her head. Instead, he should maintain a good posture by keeping his body tall, head up and knees straight.
7. Coercing the woman to submit
An immature leader may think of follow only as unconditional surrender and obedience of the woman, but in fact the surrender in tango must not be unilateral but mutual. Tango is a relationship and teamwork. Both partners must be empathetic, thoughtful, agreeable and accommodating. To lead is not to coerce, but to guide, support, collaborate, adapt, protect, and help the woman to unfold her skills and beauty. Just like the woman should submit to his lead, the man, too, should submit to the need of the woman in the dance. There must not be any coerce in leading.
A self-centered leader often fails to take into consideration the balance, axis, time, space and support that the woman needs in her dance. Examples of his self-centeredness include taking care only of his own balance and overlooking hers, leading her to make a step when her balance is not yet in place, letting her rotate on a tilted axis, leading her to move but blocking her path, not giving her enough time to finish her step, leading her do things beyond her ability and so on. Such could make her feel being compelled and rushed. The man must think from the standpoint of the woman and always adjust his embrace, posture, position, axis, weight, speed, lead, etc. to adapt to her needs and facilitate her movements, so she can feel free in the dance. (See Partner-Centered Leading vs. Self-Centered Leading.)
9. Not giving her enough support
Letting her dance freely does not mean letting her dance alone without your support. An inexperienced man often just sends a signal and then waits for the woman to follow, but fails to provide the support that she needs in her dancing. In fact, such support is very important because she is leaning on you. If you withdraw your support even slightly, that could cause her to lose balance and compromise her dance. When she moves away from you, you have to move with her to maintain your support for her. When she moves into you, you have to retreat without losing your support. Otherwise she will feel falling away.
10. Overlooking ancillary actions
Unfamilliar with the structure of the step is another problem for a beginner. Most tango steps are not composed of only one action but a serious of actions. For example, doing ocho at position 5 includes five actions: unwinding the crossed leg, taking a forward step with that leg, swiveling the hips and pivoting, taking another forward step with the other leg, and swiveling the hips and pivoting again. Thus the entire sequence needs to be led with five actions. If you do not break down the sequence and attempt to bring out two actions with one lead, that will be difficult for the woman to follow. A beginner tends to focus on the featured action and overlook the ancillary action. For example, he leads the woman to take a forward step without unwinding her crossed leg first, or leads her to make a step when she is yet to complete her hip rotation.
11. Unsophisticated musicality
That problem is often reflected in the beginner’s handling of music. The musicality of a beginner is crude. He may be able to identify the rhythm and lead the woman to step on the beat, but his handling of the ancillary actions is often unmusical. Still use the example of ocho in which the beginner tends to focus on the featured action, i.e., the forward step. Once a forward step is made, he immediately moves on to lead the next forward step. While both steps may be led on the beat, the transitional action between the two steps, namely the hip rotation and pivot, often is led off beat. Such lead cannot satisfy a mature follower who expects the leader to handle all aspects of the entire sequence in an exquisite way that every action of the sequence meets the rhythm, melody, speed and mood of the music perfectly. Only in such a fashion dancing tango becomes a real treat.
Some men use their partner as a foil to their own exhibition. They invent more and more fancy steps to show off at the milonga and draw eyeballs to their own performance. In my opinion that is a bad trend in social tango today. The man's job is to plot the dance, stir up the woman's feelings, bring her skills into full play, shine her, protect her and let her fully enjoy dancing with him. Instead of drawing eyeballs to himself, he should focus on making her feel pampered in his arms, dislay her beauty and letting her be the center of attention. A leader's maturity is measured by how his partner dances, not by his own exhibition. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)
November 21, 2013
A reader commented, "I have enjoyed reading your other thoughts so much, that I am very sad to read about your view of gender roles in tango. In my view, tango, as with any art, is a subjective and living thing. The ability to reassign roles to me is a progression. It affirms that the art can and does live and breathe in our contemporary world, which, for most of us anyway, rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy. The art will continue to be shaped by those who choose it and I agree completely that there is so much that can only be considered bastardization. But the exchanging of gender roles, the influence of LGBT, this represents the beauty of the art, not at all some kind of a decay. It shows that it lives in our time of changing gender roles and progress in human rights and understanding. And, in wonderful irony, reflects tango revisiting its roots." (See The Alienation of Tango)
I appreciate the comment but disagree with the commentator and want to further explain my view on the subject for the sake of tango because, in my opinion, gender roles are one of the most important issues in tango. Tango will not be the same dance if gender roles are reversed. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)
I do not think the transformation of gender roles and the influence of LGBT can be simply seen as a progress. Trend and progress cannot always be used synonymously. Although feminism and homosexuality are fashionable right now in many Western societies, following the trend blindly could lead to unintended consequences. That tango is in conflict with the trend may be a blessing to the Western world because through tango it is easier to understand how men and women can live together in peace and harmony, at least for most people. This doesn’t mean that some people may not have their own choice and that most people should not accept them. But some people should understand that their choice must not be the choice of all people. It is simply not true to say that those who do not make the same choice as they do are all misogynic or homophobic, and that those who do not dance tango the same way as they do are all anti-progression.
The real issue in question is the purpose of sex. Those who think sex is only for pleasure believe one can have sex with anybody including members of one's own gender, which from the standpoint of liberal individualism is a matter of personal rights and freedom, and they want the society not only to recognize their rights, but also provide means for all people to embrace their view and way of living.
Those who think sex is a responsibility relating to the procreation and upbringing of the next generation, on the other hand, believe the above view and way of living is detrimental to the best interests of the society and the human race as a whole. Individualism is a cracked ideology because we are not just individual beings but also social beings. Absolute personal liberty at the expense of the society and humanity is fundamentally harmful to the individuals as well. One's tango is a part of who one is; therefore, it is not a matter of opening up and trying new things - a persuasion that drug dealers often use. It is choosing a way to dance that is consistent with one's value and way of living. (See Tango and Individualism.)
Humans are smart, able to intervene and alter nature. But humans are shortsighted as well, unaware of the long-term consequences of their behaviors due to their short life span. Modern humans have no recollection of what happened tens of thousands of years ago, hundreds of thousands of years ago, and thousands of thousands of years ago. Monogamy, that is, marriage of one man and one woman who are not blood-related, is the eugenic mechanism serving the best interests of the mankind. This institution is resulted gradually from millions of years of human evolution through countless positive and negative reproductive experiences and a painstaking natural selection process. The soundness of the institution, however, is so forgotten by many modern people that alternative marriage now becomes a fashion. But, no matter how smart humans are, what is of nature is still the soundest, most proper and most fitting outcome, as it has gone through an extremely slow and gradual process of evolution, perfected little by little in the millions of years of making. Human interventions, on the other hand, are revolutionary and experimental, thus often lead to disastrous consequences.
Modern contraceptive technology is an example of such human interventions. Contraception changes human sexual behavior from that for procreation to that for sexual pleasure. Once this breach is made, a series of consequences follow. Contraception leads to sex freedom, which leads to homosexuality, which leads to the alienation of marriage, which leads to the disintegration of the traditional family, which leads to the decay of the family-centered value system, which leads to the decline of the civilization, as being the case in Europe and North America now. One ant hole could cause the entire dyke to collapse. Since the heterosexuals may have sex for pleasure, why shouldn't the homosexuals be allowed to do the same? If the ban on homosexuality is lifted, then why not that on bisexuality, transgender sexuality, adultery, prostitution, group sex, incest, pedophilia, sodomy, and every other form of pleasure-oriented sex? In many Western societies, legislations have been passed to allow same-sex marriage, which changes marriage from that between a man and a woman for reproduction to that between gays or lesbians for sexual pleasure and welfare benefits. If sexual pleasure and welfare benefits are the sound reasons for marriage, then why should marriage be limited to non-consanguineous adults? Why by using contraception brother and sister, brother and brother, sister and sister, father and daughter, father and son, mother and son, mother and daughter, and other close relatives should not form a sexual relationship through marriage for the same reason? And why should marriage be limited to two adults? Why polygamy, polyandry and group marriage are not allowed? In fact, why is marriage even necessary at all if it is not for the procreation and upbringing of the next generation? As long as reproduction and children are not involved, a person choose to have sex with whom and with how many people is a personal affair. Liberal individualism, therefore, maintains that sex is a natural right that should not be limited to a one-to-one relationship between the opposite sexes.
But contrary to this liberal view, marriage in fact is not a universal right but a privilege granted to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes exclusively, for it is related to the reproduction and upbringing of the next generation, hence the well-being of the society as a whole. Various offbeat sexual relationships are in contradiction to the best interests of the human species, therefore are prohibited by law - first by natural law in the prehistoric period for at least tens of thousands of years if not longer, followed by written law in the historical period for at least thousands of years in the past. Societies that did not comply with this law have been eliminated in the natural selection process. Now, by means of contraception humans can enjoy the pleasure of non-consequential sex, open-minded people therefore start to advocate the lift of the ban. In the US, the gay rights movement is surging. So far, sixteen states have passed same-sex marriage legislations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, sodomy and incest, which never cease to exist but previously are done in the closet, now start to enjoy some legitimacy and popularity thanks to these legislations. When such radical ideas become the generally accepted norm in a society, sex freedom, the alienation of marriage, the disintegration of the traditional family, the destruction of the human eugenic institution, the decline in quantity and quality of the population, and the replacement of the population by another population that complies with the Law are bound to occur. In fact, that is what's happening in the Western world right now. Modern men have completely forgotten about the repeated lessons in early human history that societies and civilizations withered away because of this.
Homosexuals are human beings, too. Their human rights, including that of selecting sex partners and forming partnerships, should be recognized. However, we must also recognize that homosexuality as an abnormal sexual act must not become a common practice, otherwise the species will cease to exist. Marriage equality, i.e., treating homosexual relationship equally as heterosexual relationship, thus blurring the distinctions between the two, is not a good idea in my opinion. It is another serious human intervention against nature. As mentioned above, marriage is a eugenic institution resulted from millions of years of human reproductive practice. It is a privilege granted only to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes for procreation. For the best interests of the human species, this privilege must be protected by law. Failure to do so will have serious consequences.
The notion of "marriage equality" implies that marriage does not have to be between a man and a woman, that gender is irrelevant in forming a sexual partnership, that every human person is entitled to have sex with anybody regardless of gender and consanguinity, that it is moral to have a homosexual or bisexual relationship with more than one partner, that sex is only for pleasure with no social responsibilities attached, that marriage is not a eugenic institution but only a lifestyle, that procreation and upbringing of the next generation is not the function of marriage, that the healthy growth of children does not depend on the presence and joint efforts of both father and mother, that the welfare incentives intended to encourage marriage between a man and a woman for procreation should also be extended to homosexual partnerships, and that individual freedom, personal rights, self-indulgence and self-interests are the only thing that matters, etc. Can you imagine how such false ideas, if sponsored by the state, enforced by law, enhanced by politically motivated media coverages, TV shows, movies, popular literature, school education and workplace regulations could influence the young minds and impact the future of the humanity?
We know that introducing alien species may endanger native species, marketing genetically modified food may result in the reduction of natural food supply, promoting tango Nuevo may inhibit traditional tango, taking affirmative action may cause reversed discrimination, etc. Instances of this kind are too numerous to mention. It's human nature to like the new and dislike the old. People rush to follow what is fashionable and despise what is traditional. Those who question the new trend are blamed down, as if what has been proven is obsolete and not good anymore, but what has not been proven is instead the cutting edge and progressive. If traditional marriage as the eugenic institution were not protected, the disintegration of the traditional family, the rise of same-sex marriage, gay family and single parent family, the reversed discrimination, and the decline in population quantity and quality would become inevitable.
More importantly, failure to protect traditional marriage will undermine the family-centered value system on which human civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes, who are mutually attractive, interdependent and cooperative to each other by nature, is the foundation of all interpersonal relationships. From this relationship comes children, family, society, and the consequent moral and political institutions on which human civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes, therefore, is the foundation of all social relationships. In other words, it is through the most intimate reproductive relationship that people learn to love and cooperate with each other. The decline of family will have a profound impact on the society because it leads to the weakening of the bond between closely related people and the rise of individualism with an emphasis on personal liberty, freedom, rights, independence and self-interests while denying the interdependence and the need for cooperation and compromise among people. (See Tango and Family Values.) Feminism as a replica of individualism on gender issues opposes the interdependence of the two sexes, advocates women’s independence, encourages women to emancipate from family, to fight for their own rights, to be strong and aggressive like men, to compete with men, and not to be outdone by men, etc. Such radical propositions can only exacerbate the antagonism and confrontation between the two sexes and are not conducive to social harmony. (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I).) The way to improve the relationship is to be friendly, acceptant, agreeable, cooperative, yielding, loving and accommodating to each other rather than being rejective, resentful, hostile, confrontational and uncompromising to each other. The recent government shutdown caused by refusing to make concessions serves as an alarming example of the impairment of such extremist ideologies. (See Meeting in the Middle.)
Gay rights movement, feminism and individualism have an undeniable influence on tango. Feminism disapproves the surrender and obedience of the woman to the man in tango, advocates that the woman keeps a distance from the man and maintains her independence in the dance, that the man can only make proposals instead of taking the lead, that the woman may choose how, when or whether to accept his proposals, that the man must wait for the woman's decision at the pace of her choice and then follow her, that the woman is free to express herself, to interrupt the man and to insert her own steps, and that the woman can also lead the man or another woman, etc. Some authors write books to advertise this kind of ideas. Like-minded teachers also promote such ideas through their teachings, and students naively mistaking radicalism for progress blindly follow the trend, contributing to the alienation of tango, and changing tango from a dance in which the two sexes collaborate intimately to achieve oneness and harmony, to a dance in which the two sexes are distant and antagonistic, focusing only on personal performance.
I believe most people are not extremists. But living in a society that “rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy,” few people are completely immune to this kind of brainwashing. We often see beginners stick to the attitude that they have obtained over a long period of time, think of oneself as an independent individual rather than being in relationships with others, regard oneself not as a part of the whole, and think of others as rivals, etc. Most people, after going through a period of learning, will gradually overcome such self-centered mindset and adopt a cooperative attitude consistent with tango. (SeeThe Spirit of Tango.) But there are people who cannot overcome individualistic mentality even after years of learning. Students of the contemporary age need to know that learning tango is acquiring a new set of values totally different from the values of the world. The world is about competition and winning. Tango is about cooperation and harmony. The world believes that balance is gained through might and fight. Tango believes that balance is gained through collaboration and accommodation. Tango is not about individuality, independence, personal freedom and self-interests, but about achieving oneness and harmony through teamwork. (See The Freedom in Tango.) The principles of tango such as surrender, obedience, yielding, agreement, collaboration, accommodation, complement and love, not only help the two partners to dance in unison but also provide universal values for people to live together in peace and harmony. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)
Wherever cooperation is involved, so is the division of labor. For example, in a household the man often does more heavy-duty works that require strength, and the woman does more light chores. Such natural division of labor is based on the physiologies of the two sexes, not at all some form of discrimination. In tango, the man leads the woman and the woman beautifies the dance, which, too, is a natural division of labor based on the physiological characteristics of the two sexes, not at all some form of gender inequality. Do you think it’s natural for the woman to lead the man and the man to beautify the dance? When you see a gal leads a guy, and the guy wriggles his body and swivels his butt, pretending to be feminine, do you think that looks natural? You have seen couples of the same sex dancing together and in them there is only femininity and no masculinity, or only masculinity and no femininity, do you think that looks attractive? Tango is governed by the law of dance, not ideologies. I need not to repeat what has been dwelt upon in my other articles on gender roles. Please click the links if you haven't read them already: The Gender Roles in Tango, Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I), Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II), Tango and Gender Equality, The Gender Expression in Tango. I believe those who are not driven by narrow-minded and extremist ideologies will not find such division of labor discriminative against women. Male chauvinists use the division of labor between the opposite sexes as an evidence of male superiority and female inferiority, which is absurd. Feminists therefore want to repeal or reverse gender roles, which is even more ridiculous.
I believe tango is a good thing for the Western world. True progress is not radical, but rational, gradual, moderate and peaceful as nature is. Nature in its norm is not revolutionary but evolutionary, leading to coexistence, harmony, balance, peace, to the recognition of the connections of things and the abandonment of radical ideologies like individualism, feminism, neoliberalism and power politics, to communal interests rather than self-interests, integration rather than segregation, adaptation rather than antagonism, moderation rather than extremism, compromise rather than obstinacy, love rather than hatred, and peace rather than war. In other words, nature is in opposition to the extremist human tendency against nature. Tango embodies the principles of how the opposite sexes can get alone with each other by the very nature of their being: mutual attraction, mutual depencence, mutual complement, mutual adaptation, collaboration and love, which is the reason of its vitality. Tango can help people to understand the harm of hostility and the benefit of cooperation. It provides useful lessons for us to live together in peace and harmony, thus is conducive to the true human progress. (See The Lessons of Tango.)