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.

June 11, 2015

Tango and the Outlook on Life


Two friends, Oliver and Tony, both are great tango dancers. One left Buenos Aires and came to the US to teach tango. The other left the US and moved to Buenos Aires to dance tango. They exchanged the following opinions on the life of the milongueros. 

Oliver: "There is a big, big fantasy in many people's minds about the life of the milonguero. Many are in love with the fantasy of emulating this life but maybe don’t actually know what a milonguero is, or what kind of life brought them to this status. They didn't plan this life, it just evolved through their passion and their choices.

Imagine yourself as a 20-year-old, going to the disco every night, hanging out with your friends, trying to get that girl or boy you like, not caring much about getting a job, avoiding responsibility. Without realizing it, time has passed and you are no longer in your 20's, you're 30, 40, or even 50 and still in the disco every night. During these 30 years you had to do something besides dancing, yes, some of you might chosen to still live with your parents (if they weren't smart enough to kick you out), some others might have had a mundane day job, or simple afternoon shift just to make enough money to sustain their disco lifestyle. Others might have even considered other 'special jobs' dangerous ones, easy money. Not always is there food on the table, not always was life simple. On the other hand the promoters of the disco world saw the opportunity to exploit these fanatics by offering more and more hours during which they could lose themselves in this dance. While others were able to study, make a career putting their love of dance in perspective, you were and are still dancing or hanging out in this world of the disco.

When you reach 70 you lived the life you have chosen. You didn't plan to become a 'milonguero' or, in this case, a 'discoero', it just happened because of your choices. You just lived! Had you been able to know the outcome, would you have done the same?

There is a fascination with the milongueros in BA. Unfortunately, as happens to all of us, time is the enemy and most of them are now resting in peace. Looking back at them, the question for those who worship them is would you have actually chosen to live the life they did. It's like being fascinated with the mafia world, but in reality, would you ever actually kill someone? Being able to handle a situation when talking is not an option anymore? You can't be a tough guy without being tough. 'I am living the life of a milonguero in Bs As, I know the rules of the milongas, I know where people sit, the icons of tango say hello to me' etc… I heard this quote somewhere and it made me think how much people just don’t get it. This is only the packaging my friends, it's not the reality.

A milonguero is a person who spent his life at the milongas either dancing, chatting, hanging out, or just wasting time. Some people have the sensibility to see the milonguero as a result of a life choice without a plan to become one! I don’t know if everyone who is a milonguero-wanna-be could make that transition and consciously pursue that status for the future. "

Tony: "While I appreciate the metaphor, and appreciate even more the American tendency to inappropriately romanticize the life of the milonguero, I ask that you consider an alternative scenario.

Imagine that you do not have the opportunities that we have in the US... that your government is in flux and regularly re-organized by the military... that you have friends who, on a regular basis, simply disappear, never to been seen again... that your economy periodically collapses... that inflation is a cyclical problem... that catering to the whims of tourists is the best alternative that you have available to you... and, that you happen to both like tango and have a natural set of skills that allow you to support yourself...

Imagine that, over your lifetime, the safest and most reliable place in your world was in the milongas...

How many American businessmen lie in a hospital bed, after their heart attack, before they look around and ask themselves... 'How did I end up spending my life this way? working too many hours... the love of my life is a stranger, if we haven't divorced... I missed my children growing up because I worked too much... I spent my lifetime, not with my friends, but pursuing 'financial security'... and in the end, I ended up here...'

Oliver, one thing that I completely agree with you on. 'They didn't plan this life, it just evolved through their passion and their choices.' And with those choices, we must each ultimately accept the responsibility for the outcomes."

Both views are factual but they disagree on whether it is advisable to pursue the lifestyle of a milonguero. So, what is the purpose of life? How should one live? What career should one choose? Why some jobs are considered good but others are not? What if dancing tango could make one rich like a movie star?


In our culture we are taught from a very young age to study hard, work hard and be rich and successful. Under such influences wealth and status become many's life ambition. People make unrealistic comparison with the fortunate few and resort to every conceivable means in order to get rich, to make more money, to own a bigger house, to drive more expensive cars, and to live a better life.

Meanwhile, the market takes advantage of such forging ahead mentality, keeps luring us to buy more upscale luxuries. As a result, we become more and more sophisticated materialists. Our politicians define this as the pursuit of happiness. Our economists advocate creating demands, encouraging consumption, promoting competition and stimulating growth. Our sociologists argue that such "Protestant ethics are the roots of capitalism." But no matter how they rationalize it, the fact is many problems in our society today, such as the intense competition, stress and polarization, the monopolist and fraudulent business practices, the promotion of narcotics, guns, obscenity, violence and gambling, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the influence of the special interests on politics, the plundering and predatory development, the disappearance of forests and farmlands, the depletion of natural resources, the deterioration of the environment, the increase of crimes..., all are the results of such relentless pursuit of material gains. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

Materialism is the cancer of the modern times. Any sensible person can understand that unrestrained pursuit of wealth, growth, development and consumption is an ill-advised practice. The resources on the Earth are limited, impossible to provide the world of seven billion people all with extravagant and squandering lifestyles. As nature's gift to all mankind whom we hold are born equal, the resources should be used rationally, temperately and fairly by all people and should not be spoiled willfully just for our own luxurious living at the cost of the environment and future generations, let alone to allow a few to use them as means to enrich themselves.

Most rich people are good people who act for their own interests just like everyone else, only they do better than others. As winners they enjoy certain advantages, such as being able to use their money to influence the policy making and advance their interests, leading to a greater disparity between the rich and the poor. The root cause of the problem, therefore, lies not in those who benefit from the practice, but the philosophy and culture that created them.

A truly civilized society should encourage thrift, simplicity, fraternity, equality, cooperation and sharing, not allow a few to accumulate unlimited wealth, let alone to make them role models for others to follow; should encourage the correct outlook on life, not advocate the so-called "philosophy of success", let alone to use money and status as symbols of success; should encourage small and diversified economic models conducive to the environment and social equality, not allow some to become so big that most people cannot compete with them, let alone to permit big financial institutions, big oils, big pharmaceuticals, big utilities, big manufacturers, big chain stores, etc., to crush and acquire small businesses one by one and monopolize the market; should treat everyone equally, provide all with a fair platform to compete and cooperate, not give the rich unfair advantages over the poor, let alone to deliberately create legal loopholes to increase inequality; should reform and optimize the democratic system, not deregulate political contributions and lobbies, let alone to allow them to influence the making of rules in favor of the special interests.


Lately, there is a story pregnant with meaning circulating on the Web.

An American businessman sat on the pier of a fishing village on a Mexican coast, watching a fisherman pulling his little boat into the dock, inside the boat were several large tunas. After complimenting the fisherman, the American asked the Mexican, "How long it took you to catch these tunas?" The Mexican answered: "About an hour." The American asked: "Why not catch more?" The Mexican answered, "These are enough for today's consumption." The American asked, "What do you do for the rest of the day?" The Mexican answered, "I sleep until waking up naturally, then I go to the sea to catch a few fish. When I return I play with my kids for a while. After lunch I take a nap with my wife. At dusk I go to the wine shop to have a little drink with my buddies and we play guitar. You see, my life is busy and fulfilling." The American said, "I have an MBA from Harvard University. Let me give you some advice. If you spend more time on work every day, soon you will have enough money to buy a bigger boat, with that you can catch more fish, then you can buy more boats and hire people to work for you. After that you can open a fish processing plant. You then can move to Mexico City, Los Angeles and New York City to expand your business. That way you can make a lot of money." The Mexican asked, "How long will that take?" The American answered, "Fifteen to twenty years." The Mexican asked, "And then?" The American answered, "Then you can retire and move back to the seashore, sleep until wake up naturally every day, go to catch some fish, come back to play with the kids, take a nap with your wife after lunch, have a little drink with your buddies at dusk and play guitar." The Mexican said, "Aren't that what I'm doing now?"

This story vividly depicts two different life philosophies. Whether it is a tribute to the visionary American businessman, or a satire on his short-sightedness, a ridicule on the Mexican fisherman's lack of ambition, or a praise on the wisdom of his leisurely, aloof, quietist and naturalistic lifestyle, you can draw your own conclusion. Many may see the fisherman as a lazy idler who lacks the desire to succeed. But is that so? Does his "enough for today" attitude make no sense? If his is the dominant philosophy of the mankind, what would the world be like? Would not there be less competition and more harmony? Would not the life be less stressful and more enjoyable? Would not there be less greed, waste, corruption, evil and more contentment, simplicity, honesty and good? Would not the sky be bluer, the water clearer, the resources more abundant and the ecology more balanced? Would not the world be more peaceful? Would not man and nature be more harmonious?

In my view, the crises of the modern world does not come from the Mexican fisherman's kind of simple approach to life, but from the American businessman's kind of blind greed and ambition, from the materialistic view of happiness. In this respect, many tango dancers seem to have a better take. They enjoy a simple dance that emphasizes human connection, affinity and inner happiness, and are willing to follow the footprints of the milongueros. I have had the honor to befriend with several such people who resigned from their well paid job and moved to Buenos Aires for tango. (See Tango Is the Search of a Dream.) Their choice at least can prove that though money may be a necessary condition for happiness, it is not the sufficient one. The sufficient condition for happiness is the contentment of the soul. History is not short of such examples. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu advocated detached simplicity, standing aloof from worldly success and returning to nature. Unwilling to bow servilely for a good salary, Tao Yuanming resigned from office and returned to his previous idyllic life. When asked what the best home is, Pittacus of Mytilene replied, "It has neither luxuries, nor the lack of necessities." Forrest Gump said, "There's only so much fortune a man really needs and the rest is just for showing off." Yu Juan said, "Being with the loved ones is warm even live in a small apartment." These people are the same kind as the milongueros and the Mexican fisherman. They have maintained the essence of being human and did not become the slaves of money. (See Mammonism.)

I think the world needs more people like them, because it cannot stand the devastation of materialism any more.