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.

March 29, 2016

A Wise Voice

Anna:  Hi, Paul, I totally agree with you on "Good human values are based on what is beneficial to the humanity rather than an individual person or gender." It is so beautifully said and so wise. Freedom and human rights movements led people to put a lot of emphasis on individuality and as a result, the inflated self image lessens our ability to view the world as a connected whole. This inflated self image is also probably the root cause to many modern psychological ailments and problems: loneliness, depression, and mental disorder. If we can zoom out and see ourselves as a tiny one, rather than the one, in this big universe, a fact that has not changed a bit since the big bang, we may again find the beauty in the ancient natural law and adopt the right perspective towards the self and the rest of the world.

I had a few Tango lessons by now and was deeply touched by this beautiful dance. I am a woman with strong characters in other people's eyes. When I first started, I experienced a lot of struggle, questioning, and doubt. As you have explained in your excellent blog, unless we adopt the appropriate values and mentality for this dance, we cannot dance the real Tango. As a matter of fact, unless the man and the woman take the right role, they cannot even get the dance going. They will be constantly on each other's toes. No agreement, no harmony, no beauty. Then one day luckily I met a partner who did all the things you mentioned that a good leader should do, he guided me, protected me and let me shine. And without me knowing I surrendered all my wariness and entrusted myself to him. The steps followed naturally. At that moment, I knew how Tango should be done and how beautiful it can be when it is done right, when a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Looking forward to more of your sharing.

Paul: Dear Anna, I appreciate deeply what you said because it summed up so well an important theme throughout this blog - and you did it with such simple elegance. When I first started this blog, I thought it was just about tango. But I soon discovered that in fact I was in search of the missing humanity in ourselves, without which tango loses its soul. Tango awakens our humanity because it forces us to zoom out and see ourselves as a tiny one in the connected whole, to understand our vulnerability, weakness and interdependence, as reflected in "the ancient natural law," and to appreciate the beauty of Creation from a macro or cosmological perspective, as you eloquently put it. The individual is trivial. The strength of mankind comes out of our connection and cooperation. This truth, as attested by tango, must not be forgotten no matter how much we have achieved individually. Please write and let your voice be heard! My best wish to your tango! (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II).)

March 24, 2016


A reader commented on my last post, The Spirit of Tango, "A ten minute tanda is a radical response to the dehumanizing reality of modern day-to-day living. It is an opportunity for two humans to embrace each other in the promotion of humanity. Don’t let the precious opportunity slip away because your partner isn’t a good enough dancer, tall enough, young enough, old enough, attractive enough, friendly enough, …whatever enough. Every embrace has a story - dance with it." I pondered on the comment, because it reminded me of a Chinese motto "惜缘" (pronounces shee-yuan).

惜缘 means cherishing the luck by which people are brought together. On the wall of my office is a script written in beautiful penmanship by a Chinese calligrapher: "Cherish those who are brought to you by fate. They enrich your life. They are the footprints of your destiny." It's an unfamiliar philosophy in America where human connections are not as appreciated as in some other cultures like China and Argentina. Many Americans value individualism, independence and personal freedom. They live alone, act alone, work alone, die alone, are fierce fighters for gun right, but quite ignorant in communal life and relationships, and they often let the opportunity of affinity with people slip away.

But life is not a solo-dance even for Robinson Crusoe. If you think about it, your life is defined by the people associated with you: parents who raised you, siblings who grew up with you, teachers who taught you, classmates who studied together, friends who stood by you, colleagues who worked with you, assistants who helped you, etc. Fortune only brings a limited number of people into each person's life. These are the precious resources granted to us by fate. Those who cherish such resources can build great companies and achieve lofty goals. Those who don't, their life tends to be lonely, friendless and unfruitful.

What is true in life is true in tango also. In each place there are only a limited number of people who dance tango. These people, despite their differences, share something in common: their yearning for human connection, their belief in love and fraternity, their nostalgia, romanticism, sentimentalism and life attitude, their passion for tango... Those who cherish each other can form a great tango community. Those who tear down the bridge and build walls, their community suffers. Unfortunately, the latter is often the reality in our tango. Many of us do not appreciate enough the lot that brings us together. They are haughty and prejudicial. They see others as rivals and are indifferent and cold towards others. They turn a blind eye to those who they deemed unattractive, old, heavy, clumsy, unskillful, etc. They remain detached and uninvolved in the dance, focusing on themselves rather than their partner, and they form cliques and squeeze out competitions, etc.

Individualism is incompatible with tango. I hope we will learn from the philosophy of 惜缘 and cherish what brings us together as a community, because that is what makes tango fascinating. Tango is not only a personal skill. It is a fellowship or community, an appreciation of other human beings, and a philosophy of regaining humanity through connection, cooperation and accommodation. (See Tango Is a Fellowship.) Instead of trying to change tango, I think we should let tango change us and turn us into a better connected and cooperative people. (See The Lessons of Tango.)

March 15, 2016

The Spirit of Tango

One of the greatest human limitations besides our short life span is our self-centeredness. We think first and often only from personal perspective, and we act first and often only for personal interests. 

But mankind is not always like that. When humanity is in its infancy and childhood, we rely heavily on each other for survival, everything is shared. Fraternity, cooperation and Good Samaritanism are our first nature. Doctrines like individualism, individual rights and personal freedom appear much later in human history and are still imperfect theories, or in many ways even adverse to the best human interests overall, as attested by selfishness, greed, competition, aggression, inequality, monopolist business practice, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the influence of money on politics, the spread of obscenity and violence, gun culture, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, single parent family, LGBTQIAPK, etc., all in the name of individual rights and freedom. "O Liberty! O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!" - said Madame Jeanne-Marie Roland. Mankind is still in its adolescence too self-centric to understand the relation between personal freedom and the common interests of the mankind as a whole. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.) 

Perhaps the most important lessons that tango teaches us are that we are interdependent rather than independent, that we need each other to succeed, that our well-being is inseparable from that of others, that one cannot be happy unless all are happy, that cooperation and sharing serve us better than competition and animosity, that human rights are the communal rights of the mankind as a species, not just personal rights, and that self-discipline and compassion are important attributes of what make us human. Tango tells the other side of the human story. It awakens the better part of the humanity in us and suggests a way for us to live together in peace and harmony through cooperation, generosity in spirit, loftiness of purpose and altruism. Wherever we go and dance, tango always reminds us that love, despite our many limitations, is what holds us together as a community, people, nation and species. (See The Freedom in Tango.) 

March 8, 2016

Spot Dancing in Tango

Progressive dances, such as foxtrot and waltz, are danced on a large dance floor like that in a ballroom or dance hall. Such a large floor is divided into two sections: the outer travelling lanes for progressive dancing, and the inner or center floor for spot dancing. Dancing progressive dance needs to follow certain rules, including traveling counterclockwise around the line of dance, not moving against traffic, maintaining the flow, avoiding spot dancing that could hold up traffic, avoiding frequent lane changes, moving to the center if you like to do spot dancing or practice new steps, not traveling through the center, keeping a proper distance from the couple dancing in front of you, adapting patterns to what the traffic permits, not focusing on completing a pattern if a collision can result, not forcing your way to overtake, etc.

Spot dances, such as disco and salsa, are danced in a fixed area. Such dances can be danced on a small floor like that in a restaurant or bar
. Dancing spot dances on a small dance floor follows different rules, including dancing on your own spot or slot, using minimum space, not drifting around the dance floor, using compact dance hold or embrace, using small steps, avoiding dangerous movements, respecting the dance spaces of others, not pushing or elbowing your way around, etc.

Now, is tango a progressive dance or a spot dance? What floor size is better suited for tango dancing? Which set of rules apply when it is danced on a small and crowded floor? There is no simple answer to these questions because tango, though a progressive dance in general, can also be danced on a tiny spot. The following is an example.

People do not dance foxtrot and waltz on a coffee table. But tango is different. It is danced in close embrace with compact steps, thus does not need a large floor. That is why milongas are often held in a restaurant or bar. On the up side, a small floor is easy to find, affordable and facile to do cabeceo. On the down side, a small floor cannot hold a lot of people and tends to be congested. In the famous bar El Beso in downtown Buenos Aires, for example, there are often over one hundred people packed in a room in the size of a large American family room, dancing tango. People are jammed together, using whatever space available to them, dancing in very compact steps. Obviously, in places like that you have to follow rules different from that in a spacious ballroom where lanes are divided, free travel is possible, and open embrace and fancy steps are allowed. We dance tango in various venues. Some are big, others are small. Some are sparsely populated, others are tightly packed. Even a large dance floor can become crowded from time to time. Therefore, one must dance in accordance with the changing situation. Sticking to the way that no longer fits, such as dancing in open embrace and using wild steps on a crowded floor, trying to finish a pattern when that will result in a collision, forcing an overtaking that will disturb others, etc., is a recipe for disaster. Such senseless behavior is a major cause of accidents in our milongas. (See Milonga Codes.)

This happens often because people do not know how to do spot-dancing. Many students are only taught to dance tango progressively in open embrace and with big fancy steps on a large dance floor. They have never learned to dance tango in close embrace and with compact steps on a small and crowded floor. However, with the growing popularity of tango, our milongas become more and more crowded, thus the ability to dance it in a compact way becomes increasingly essential. Dancing tango on a crowded dance floor requires using close embrace, small steps and a different set of skills such as changing position from one side of the partner to the other side of the partner in a very compact way, a much better command on dissociation, the ability to do spot-dancing, and the knack in floor crafting, etc. It also requires the dancers to focus more on the music and feelings rather than footwork and figures. Without these abilities, one's tango education is insufficient and inadequate.