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.

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 live a life of the milongueros. How should one live? What kind of life is a successful life? Why some kinds of life are considered good but others are not? What if dancing tango could make one rich like a movie star?

We are taught from a very young age to study hard, work hard and be rich and successful. Under this kind of influence pursuing wealth becomes the life ambition of many people, who resort to every conceivable means trying to make more money. Meantime, the market provides us with more and more upscale luxuries, turning us into more and more sophisticated materialists. We call this effort to possess more and more "the pursuit of happiness". We proudly attribute it to our Protestant ethics. We formulate theories like capitalism, private ownership, individual rights and economic freedom to justify our avariciousness. But no matter how we rationalize it, the fact is, many problems of our society, such as intense competition, stress, conflict, economic expansionism, predatory development, monopolization, arms sales, drug, human trafficking and other crimes, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the influence of money on politics, the depletion of natural resources, the pollution of the environment, the collapse of the ecosystem, injustice, polarization, the inequality between the haves and the have-nots..., all are the results of such relentless pursuit of wealth. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

Any sensible person can understand that unrestrained pursuit of growth, wealth and consumption is an ill-advised practice. The resources on our planet are limited, impossible to provide seven billion and counting people all with extravagant and squandering lifestyles. As nature's gift to all mankind whom we hold are born equal, the natural resources should be used rationally, prudently 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 the 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 most people. As winners they enjoy certain advantages such as using their money to influence the policy making, resulting in increasing disparities between the rich and the poor. The root cause of the problem, therefore, lies not just in a few who benefit from these but more so in the culture or value system that produced them.

A truly civilized society should encourage thrift, simplicity, 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 wealth as the symbol 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 take over small businesses one by one and monopolize the market; should treat everyone equally, provide all with a fair platform to work together, 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 the special interests to influence the making of rules in favor of themselves.


Lately, a story pregnant with meaning is 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: "An hour or so." 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 your day?" The Mexican answered, "I sleep until waking up naturally everyday, then I go to the sea to catch a few fish. When I return I play with my kids. After lunch I take a nap with my wife. At dusk I go to the wine shop to have a drink with my buddies and we play guitar. You see, my life is fulfilling." The American said, "I have an MBA from Harvard University. Let me give you a little advice. If you spend more time on fishing everyday, soon you will be able 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. Then you can expand your business to Mexico City, Los Angeles and New York City. This way you can make tons of money." The Mexican asked, "How long will all that take?" The American answered, "Fifteen to twenty years." The Mexican asked, "And then?" The American answered, "Then you can retire and move back. You can sleep until wake up naturally everyday, go to catch some fish, come back to play with 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 and naturalistic lifestyle, you can draw your own conclusion. Many may see the Mexican fisherman as a lazy idler who lacks the desire to succeed. But is that so? Does his "enough for today" philosophy make no sense? If that is the dominant philosophy of the mankind, what would the world be like? Would not there be less competition and more harmony? Would not 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 ecosystem 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, tango dancers seem to have a better take. They enjoy a simple life that emphasizes human connection, affinity and harmony rather than material gains. Many of them are willing to follow the footprints of the milongueros. I have the honor to know several such people who retired 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 luxury nor the lack of necessity." 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.

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