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.

May 24, 2016

Tolerance and Grit

In my spare time I enjoy fishing. Gu Feng depicts his fishing experience in a poem, "In the mist that shrouds the valley, by the stream that reflects the lush green bamboos and shiny red flowers, stood I in soft breeze, fished in quietness. At dusk I listened to the rain dripping on the nearby pavilion. At dawn, in blue robe, with an umbrella, I walked in solitude along the stony path."

Lulling! But I am not a poet. The fun of fishing to me is in the bite without which the relaxing scenery is not enough to make me content. The disposition of fish is elusive. In some days I don't catch any. In most days two or three fish an hour is normal. But sometimes the fish suddenly scramble to snatch. You toss the lure, and they jump up to bite. One after another you can catch dozens in an hour. This happens only few times a year. My fancy for fishing, in addition to the soothingness of nature, comes mainly from the temptation of such wonders. The addiction, therefore, is in the anticipation. In reality miracles are rare.

This experience is very much like that in tango. The elegant venue, soft lighting, resplendent dresses, enchanting music, all are captivating but not enough to make me happy without a good partner. One night, fortunately, you meet a person whose height, figure, musicality, dance skill, manner and temperament are all compatible to yours. Like a perfect match made in heaven, the two of you become instant pals, giving rein to the dance that enables you not only to enjoy the seamless cooperation but also the freedom like in an unrestrained solo. This experience changed your outlook on life because it gives you a new understanding and hope. From then on you go to the milonga again and again, week after week, hoping to re-experience that moment. But the miracle comes only by luck and not will. In my fourteen years of dancing tango in countless milongas, that experience only occurred few times, which, nonetheless, is still the reason I am addicted to tango because I yearn to revisit that moment one more time. Tango is the search of a dream. In reality, however, miracles are rare.

People often forget that imperfection is the norm in life. To enjoy life, we need to cherish the ordinary, which is not something everybody is versed in. Voltaire said: "What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of fragility and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature." Of course, cherishing the ordinary is not enough. We all yearn to transcend the ordinary and become extraordinary. Excellence is the consequence of grit. Only by repeating the ordinary countless times can we reach the extraordinary. Therefore, let us encourage ourselves and be gritty. The miracle will happen as a result - that is the second law of nature.


  1. “Only by repeating the ordinary countless times can one obtain the extraordinary.”? Fourteen years of tango. When was your first magic tanda? One or two years in? When I think back at my skill level at my first magic tanda I’m convinced the miracle wasn’t the heavenly connection; it’s that the magic happened to me, such a low skilled dancer. I don’t think a magical connection is created by will, or improved dance skill. It happens when the moment is right.
    Recently I had a discussion about magic tandas with man who is an excellent dancer, professional instructor, and performer. I asked him how often he has a magic tanda. I was surprised when he said he had a few when he reached a certain level of proficiency, but hadn’t had any in years. Maybe because tango is a vocation, maybe because he thinks about technique too much, maybe because his reputation creates expectations, maybe because dancing for personal enjoyment just isn’t available. Who knows? But the skills he developed through tolerance and grit have never been higher. In his case, the number of magic tandas appears to be inversely related to skill. I’m wary of these notions of grit, tolerating, paying your dues, suffering, earning status, achieving excellence….climbing the hierarchy. This is the language of a shame culture, where inclusion and exclusion are the motivating factors, and the mob defines right and wrong. I prefer offering your embrace, accepting the lead, learning from the novice, connecting, allowing time, opening your heart, 惜缘. This is the language of a community regulated by conscience. I encourage people to web search “Honor-Shame vs. Guilt-Conscience cultures”, and look at their tango community from that perspective, and the header statement that appears on In Search of Tango.

    1. Excellent point. The first time I completely enjoyed a tanda was in my sixth year, in BsAs, where the dance level, number of dancers and chance of meeting a match are all higher. Dance level, by which I don't only mean skills but also the understanding of the dance, matters. It is true that with increased experience and expectation, chances of meeting a match seem decrease, even to a point that one may lose hope. That's why I wrote this piece. Miracles favor not quitters, but those who are prepared. I recommend Angela Duckworth's book, Grit: Power of Passion and Perseverance.