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Foresight has 2020 Vision. [Jan. 8th, 2020|03:15 am]
syn_tangotherap

Tango, one of my main creative passions in life, is connected to my use of social media to keep up with people and events. Social media is a problem for me. Something needs to change in 2020. So this year I hope for foresight, not hindsight, having 2020 vision.  I am dedicating myself to JOLO--the Joy-Of-Living-Omnipresent, which is my new term for a pervading awareness to care for my physical and psychological health.  "Omnipresent" sounds like something only Divinity can do, but perhaps that is what the Universe wants more from us--being all-present and present-in-all. 

And for my 2020 foresight, I guess I will need a smarter SMART phone to help me with more joy and less obsession . . .

Spiritually
Mature
Aware
Resilient 
Transformational Phone

Oh, yes.  Another clarification is needed for a my new SMART phone.  Literally, a "phone" is a sound and a "telephone" is transmitted sound.  The sound that I plan to make will be more in person and less through technology.  

Here's how I'll use my not-so-SMART telephone:

1. SMV.  I have deleted Facebook, Messanger, Apple News, and the YouTube app off of my cell phone.  This will help.  I still keep connected to the news, but I don't want to be obsessed. Also, I don't know about you, but for me, Social Media Voyeurism (SMV) engenders FOBLO, the fear of being left out of tango events one sees on social media. (FOBLO is not just fear for millennials who made up the term.) I wish to have a 2020 vision with less and less regret that I am not present in all the photos of my favorite dancers dancing at a festival or milonga I did not attend. I am changing notification settings on my not-so-smart phone and spending more time on my truly SMART phone--talking to a diversity of people.  The decision to turn off the notifications takes some smart common sense.

2. Engage my maturity and resiliency skills.   Being-happy-with-what-you-have is a difficult task for everyone striving to mature and grow spiritually.  So FOBLO is a monster not only for a generation who has grown up on selfies but everyone engaged in social media. As for me, I want to be continually working on "growing up," being on a path of an ever-maturing person, and on a path of multiple passions to pursue in life.

3. Time for depth.  An example just in tango is my resolution to even celebrate "being left out." I can celebrate having time for other things, such as reading that book on tango orchestras; practicing more by myself. (I will have week-long quests to dance every day--even at work with my door closed, but every day.) Also, I may enjoy just giving my feet a needed break. Who knows? Perhaps, I enjoy a needed vacation from tango to broaden my life in things not related to tango, such as, reading more, writing, learning French, working out or hiking more, exploring more tai chi and getting great sleep.

4. The spiritual part:  There's just no time for missing out or having FOBLO if my 2020 foresight gives me "JOLO," the joy of living omnipresent.  Coming into the New Year, I am happy to focus on my health and well being more than ever before. Back in 2017 my resolution was to give up [unhealthy] tango--late-night tango.  I have done really well at that, and I recommend it to everyone that we all eschew late milongas for the most part or at least promote early milongas in our local communities because sleep and health are two sides of the same coin. So my first tango event in 2020?  Houston--a marathon--but I will only attend the early events. This is the practice of living JOLO. Foresight has a 2020 Vision.


Photo credit:   https://www.balfour.com/Blog/2019_October-22-Theme-Ideas
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Never Forget Why We Started [Dec. 21st, 2019|08:39 pm]
syn_paulyinga

As our second anniversary is approaching, we can be proud of the progress we’ve made in the past twenty-two months. Our group is steadily growing. Our dance skills have improved a lot. We now hold our own milonga on a regular base. When we go out to dance as a group, people are impressed by us. We start to have an impact on the tango of this city.

But there are no grounds for complacency. We are still far away from our goal. Our number is still small. Our dance skills are still not adequate. We are still a marginal section in local tango scene. The entire community remains in the shadow of the Nuevo influence. There are still a lot for us to do both in terms of personal development and community building.

But some of us feel so good about themselves already that they don’t want to remain unknown. They want to be seen by the public. They want to try new experiences and dance with new people. They chose to miss classes when there are conflicting events to ours. Some think they are good enough to be independent and don’t need the group anymore. Some left already.

While curiosity and exploration are commendable, we shall not forget why we started. This group has a mission. We are not individualists who come only for personal gain and leave when that end is met. We are here for a much bigger cause: to build a strong tango community, to promote the milonguero style of tango, to reform the tango culture in this city, and to bring more people into our cause. (See Champaign Milongueros Group Charter.)

This requires commitment, teamwork, discipline, responsibility, grit and personal sacrifice. If we only think about our own interests and neglect our responsibilities, we will end up repeating the mistake of those before us who have wandered in tango for many years and still do not have a place to dance. People seeking independence will discover soon or later that they need a home group to study, dance, improve themselves and enjoy tango. Having a group of like-minded dancers is important because we cannot enjoy tango with anybody. We can only enjoy tango with people who hold the same philosophy, use the same embrace, dance the same style, know the same steps, and reached the same level of proficiency. Tango is the collective work of like-minded dancers; without them one alone cannot enjoy tango no matter how good his/her skill is. That is why we must work together to build a strong group for ourselves.

But that is not an easy task. People are different and unleveled. Some are quicker learners and better dancers than others. It will take time for everyone in the group to reach the same level of proficiency. Meanwhile, those who are better may lose patience and think it’s just easier to go out dance on their own. When we put personal interests above the group, we lose the vision, the group suffers the consequence, and we all pay a price.

On the other hand, if we stick and work together to support, encourage and help each other, the group will grow faster and become stronger and better sooner, and we will all benefit as a result. It takes committed people to make a strong group. It takes a strong group to make an impact. Until we become a much better group than we are now, we cannot convince people to join us, and we cannot make a real difference. Therefore, the most important thing for us to do now is not to flaunt ourselves, but to refine ourselves. History will be made by those who stick to the goal, work together, and don’t give up.

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Old Milongueros don't sleep much [Dec. 6th, 2019|02:53 am]
syn_tangotherap
"Once upon a time, old milongueros danced all night and worked all day!"  A tango myth?  Yes, one I used to believe!

The Early Milonga
I have it from different sources of those who have lived in Buenos Aires, that the old milongueros did their serious dancing at early milongas.  Sure they would show up at later milongas, but that was to drink and court women at the late milongas to score or simply socialize. The tango-myth of eschewing good sleep is pure fairy-tale machismo

How to die early
I have worked with soldiers for all my professional life as a therapist.  Soldiers express a similar idiotic machismo--that "sleep is for wimps" and then these same soldiers die young from believing this rampantly popular stupidity. (Ask the Veteran's Administration.)  Tango dancers too often choose sleep deprivation--I did for years! But soldiers and others dealing with PTSD would like to sleep, but cannot. If you have a choice, choose health; choose sleep!

But maybe I am wrong
Let's agree hypothetically that the stories are true of the milongueros defying the need for sleep. Some yogis, through meditation, have reduced their need to sleep through meditation.  So let's agree that some dance or meditate all night and work all day the next. I think meditation and tango have a health-giving element that helps us get good sleep.  But little sleep? Even if tango or meditation helps, what does your body tell you?  Can you feel well on less than four hours of sleep? Do you personally know anyone who can? 

Is it possible that tango compensates for not sleeping?
I wish it were true. But no. Although tango has a huge salutary effect on anyone who loves to dance, it will not compensate for disregarding the body's need for sleep.  In fact sleep deprivation leads to poor dancing, poor balance, and poor memory.  Even if these milonguero tales were true, we don't hear the many voices of all of those who died early from the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.

So what is essential for tango?  Good music, talented dancers, a good dance floor.  And good sleep.



Photo credit:

Ovidio José Bianquet also see http://www.tangovalsmilonga.com/the-old-milongueros/



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Replacing Gaydar with Tangdar [Nov. 16th, 2019|11:05 pm]
syn_tangotherap
Who is the target?
In many cultures, men must protect their physical and mental well being from the "dancing-man prejudice."  Especially a man who dances in North America finds himself constantly in the scope of both men and women's "gaydar." At least, this has been my experience.

recent article about men avoiding recycling in order not to appear gay (or be "outed") made me wonder if this fear keeps so many men away from dancing. Why are there so few men in many parts of the world who avoid being dancers? By reflection on my own experiences throughout my life, I realized that men--both gay and hetero--have reason to be warry of how men and women "scope them out." As I thought about this subject, many of my own experiences were reawakened--like recovered memories. I became more and more somber, even repulsed, as each memory surfaced:
  • I heard in seventh grade from some female classmates that their mothers said that if a man crosses his legs he was gay.  I thought that was stupid, even funny, but I took note and tried not to cross my legs so much.
  • My private music teacher was scoped out by an ex-sailor's gaydar. He told everyone that my music teacher was gay and said he was nearly ready to beat him up because he saw my teacher touch me in a friendly way.  I am horrified that as a young teen, I assumed the ex-sailor's gaydar was accurate. As I learned over time, the veteran sailor's gaydar had malfunctioned.
  • When I was in my 20's and a musician in Oakland, California, my church made a threat to ex-communicate a pastor because she and I attended our mutual church and musician friend's gay wedding. My friend was disallowed from being a member of the church.
  • A good friend and fellow long-distance cyclist was identified by a salsa partner of mine as being gay.  Her gaydar malfunctioned too, sending off warning signals because he shaved his legs. She did not know that the majority of serious cyclists shave their leg hair since if they get in a wreck it is easier to clean wounds without hair in the way. He later married the woman he was dating.  (I didn't tell her about my legs.  ;-)
  • Dancing tango in Washington, DC in 2016, a woman remarked that she loved my cologne. She asked what it was. "Cartier," I said. "I got it in France." That surely set off her gaydar. So she sent out another gaydar signal to be sure. "Who makes it?" she said.  "I don't know," I said. "Oh, well I guess that means you're not gay," she assured me. According to her gaydar scope, if I had known who made the cologne, that surely would have confirmed my gayety. As always, I took note.
  • A salsa partner years ago taunted me with her gaydar because I was not interested in her. "You are a good dancer, and my theory is that a man has to be gay if he is a good dancer." She was baiting me, jealous of the woman I was dating with whom I had just broken up. She was implicitly trying to have me prove myself and my sexual identity or be labeled in her inner circle of friends.  Again, I took note.
  • In 2012 I lived in Germany when my female coworkers found out that I like to dance. Their gaydar was set off unwittingly by my Cuban boss who told that them that my girlfriend and I were avid tango dancers. They told me later that they first had assumed I was gay. Again I took note. Another department at the hospital knew I danced, and when I said I was engaged to a French woman, they all checked their gaydar and agreed that it was a decoy--until they met her at an organizational dinner.
  • When I was deployed to Egypt in the Army, a staff sergeant said that our Executive Officer was gay (according to his gaydar).  "I can see it a mile away," he told a group of us as we sat eating at the chow hall. "Really?" I thought. "I don't see that!"  But I took note.
  • My ex-wife and mother of my two children took some of my personal letters to court from my gay musician and church friend (mentioned above).  She argued to the court that I should be limited in my ability to see my two children because I had a gay friend. The female judge had asked my children if they wanted to stay with me until Monday mornings every other week. The judge allowed and then disallowed my request because of this damning "evidence." At that time I wasn't even living in the homophobic US, I was living in a country that made homosexual people wear pink triangles on their clothes in 1938 before eventually killing many of them. Gaydar.  Toxic laser rays.
  • Lastly on this abbreviated list: Long ago, my ex-brother-in-law (divorced for a very good reason), was imprisoned for having killed a man whom he had thought was trying to seduce him.  Gaydar is not funny for any man, especially a gay man.
Gender imbalance harms the health and longevity of tango because a large part of the world's population is or wishes to be perceived as heterosexual. The larger part of female dancers would prefer to dance with a man, even in spite of great women dancers who know both roles very well. Too many women are sitting and unhappy with the state of affairs in tango's gender imbalance in many countries. 

Tangdar
The casualties of gaydar are mostly the men who never show up to dance. If men are even afraid for their lives--and they have every right to be--I hope that I have influenced a few people to put away their gaydar, especially in our non-violent, non-judgemental tango community.  I have promised myself to keep my own gaydar scope to myself and to ask others to keep theirs as a "concealed weapon"(before someone gets hurt)! Another positive step, too, is to think of ways to inspire men to join our dance community. It's about time we start reversing the damage already done.  Replace it with finding guys who have warm embraces and move their bodies as if controlled by the music. This is Tangdar--the ability to spot future tangueros and nurture them that they may find their dancing self.


Photo credit:
https://theoutdoorland.com/best-scopes-for-coyote-hunting/




Addendum:
Before you buy your very own gaydar mug (yes, they are for sale), you should know that the definition is not accurate. The real definition is: "The stupidly proud, usually erroneous and sometimes dangerous belief that one has the ability to correctly label people as gay."




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Why your tango seems like an addiction [Oct. 31st, 2019|11:39 pm]
syn_tangotherap

Tango itself is a wonderful activity that has no dark properties that are any different than other wonderful things in life, such as holding a child, surfing a wave, watching a sunset, listening to an inspiring live concert, or simply "dancing for joy." Tango is not an addiction.  If you agree then there is no reason to read farther! However, if you are not so sure, then read on.

Why your tango may seem like an addiction
When tango is paired with behaviors that color it in the dark, smokey hues of a private cigar and brandy club, then it may seem like an addiction.  Late-night venues with alcohol are the last vestige of tango-as-an-addiction.  There used to be more unhealthy things tied to tango, such as fights, knives, prostitutes, thick clouds of secondary smoke filling your lungs, fierce competition for competition's sake, men and women looking for love or a night of pleasure. These things are still possible; however, tango itself is slowly distilling down to its primal essence as a healthy avocation that focuses on the dance and the music.

So if you feel that you are "addicted" to tango, then look at the things you have paired it with.  Is your tango community toxic or your dance partner or tango teacher? Are you obsessed with buying tango clothes?  Are you spending impulsively on endless lessons that have made tango the most expensive hobby in your life?  Is there an obsessive drive to be acclaimed in your tango performance skills that cannot be quenched, leading to a very dark dead-end street of getting older and unable to keep up?  Even then, these are obsessions and compulsions, not "addictions."

The dark side of tango is not the dance called tango.  Even the dark side (obsessions and compulsions) are not usually addictions unless you are snorting coke or drinking excessively with your tango.  Yet to have the full joy of tango, these must be "surgically removed," which means to stop pairing stimuli (tango and smoking or tango and drinking or tango and sleep deprivation, or tango and toxic relationships).  Dissect your tango and leave the good part and eschew that which is not good for you.

And what is left?

Musicality, a great embrace, the joy of movement, and mindful-flow.  This is not an addiction.  This is the pure joy of tango.





Photo credit and article on addiction
https://theconversation.com/is-addiction-a-brain-disease-51248
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The one behavior that helps us survive psychological trauma [Sep. 16th, 2019|12:39 am]
syn_tangotherap
He danced great as a baby, but now says he can't dance. 
What happened?



Homo sapiens are hardwired as the dancing animal.

How is it that many of my friends, family, and colleagues say, "I cannot dance," or "I have two left feet"? Even if you have some friends who can dance, how is it that there's a good chance that they bemoan that their life-partner cannot dance?  How is it that the dancing animal believes that it is not hardwired into the human psyche? Growing up as a white, heterosexual male in a country that sees dance as unimportant, I have a few theories and anecdotes to tell. But not today. I would like to focus on why homo sapiens dance when they hear music even if they had never seen anyone dance. It's fascinating!  And dance is not a random trait.  It's all about survival from psychological trauma.

Survival of the Fittest [Dancers]
Dance has long been associated in human history to survival.  Dance is continuously and ubiquitously supporting psychological wellbeing:


  • Dances of birth, new beginnings
  • Dances for courting a mate
  • Wedding dances
  • Dances of celebration, like coming of age
  • War dances
  • Dances telling the story after war and other human tragedies
  • Dance for rain during droughts; dances of celebration after it rains
  • Dances to express each and every human emotion.

These dances often have their focus on the survival of the person, or perhaps the group, even the race. Nerdy scientists (who often don't dance or see dance as superficial or even primitive) don't seem to even wonder why humans dance. Certainly, evolutionists seem particularly inept at seeing this link, even when it is under their noses:  If dance is hardwired into our brains, then survival is behind it.  Those who dance (along with musicians) know the answer in their gut: We dance to survive. In a world experiencing an international epidemics of suicide, this should be clear:  Wellbeing = survival.

After years of being a musician, then a dancer and now a trauma therapist, it seems pretty clear to me. As we have evolved, music and dance help us survive terrible things like slavery, sexual assault, and war.  No wonder that the great dances of the Americas were started by slaves! Have troubles in your life? Then the music and dance will come to you in the form of the blues, or melancholy country or tango. And of course, music and dance are there to celebrate life too, which, in turn, also helps us survive.  Dance meets us as infants and follows us through life.

I am not sure about you, but I need to deal with the many psychologically difficult events in my life through music and dance. Movement--like walking and running or biking or swimming is great--I know, my "therapy" was once completing an Ironman Triathlon while I was living in a little a town without dance.  But what movement has the most psychological benefits over all other movements?  Dance.  Please don't repeat the shoe company ad, "Just Do It!"  No.

 Just dance. Survive.





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Learning Tango: Two Perspectives [Sep. 6th, 2019|08:13 am]
syn_paulyinga

The following behaviors are common among beginners: (1) They are eager  to learn steps but neglect the fundamentals. (2) They don’t follow instructions carefully. (3) They want to run when they still cannot walk well. (4) They imitate the movements but don’t pay attention to technique details. (5) They lean back to avoid intimate bodily contact. (6) They use the arms and hands to lead and follow. (7) They grasp hold of the partner to do steps. (8) They focus on personal performance and neglect the partner. (9) They don’t listen to the music. (10) They dance according to their own will and anticipation. (See Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills.)

These are all due to one reason: They focus too much on the steps and themselves. Tango to them is only the steps or a personal skill and they think if they acquired that skill, they can dance tango. That wrong perspective leads them to overlook many other aspects of the dance.

Tango is not steps but what the steps express, that is, the feelings stirred by the music. The emotions of the song affect the dancers and arouse their sympathetic feelings. Tango is the expression of that feeling through movements. (See Tango Is a Feeling.)  

Tango is also a teamwork. The two partners who listen to the same music share their feelings via direct bodily contact, which is intimate, personal and soulful. Dancing tango requires seamless cooperation. The dancer not only has to follow the music but also has to match the movement of the partner in order for the two to dance as one unified body. Different bodily movements carry different messages. For example, when the man’s right chest becomes tense and pushing and his left chest becomes soft and pulling, that indicates he wants the woman to swivel her hips to his right, and when his left chest becomes tense and pushing and his right chest becomes soft and pulling, that indicates he wants the woman to swivel her hips to his left. Often, the movement of the body is so subtle that it cannot be seen and must be felt. Tango is a sophisticated body language. Learning tango is not primarily learning steps but learning that body language, learning to feel, communicate, lead, follow, comfort and bring contentment to the partner with the body. (See Tango Is a Language (1).)

This perspective requires the dancer to lay emphasis not on the steps but on the body, embrace and connection, to use the sense of the body to feel, to pay attention to the music, to listen to the inner voice and feelings of the partner, to share with the partner what you feel, to agree and cooperate with him/her, and to please him/her with your body. Tango is created to feel. It is the dance of love. (See The Thirteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.)

The transformation from a step-oriented, self-centered and single-focused beginner to a feeling-oriented, partner-centered and multitasking team player is a long process. Beginners will not fully understand the essence of tango until they have accumulated enough personal knowledge, skills and experience. But right perspective from the beginning can shorten the process and save them from wasting time on wrong approaches. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) Unfortunately, many students get this too late.

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Who takes the blame for Magical Moments? [Aug. 25th, 2019|05:17 pm]
syn_tangotherap


A common experience I hear from followers is that during their earlier tango days, they experienced the most wonderful magical moments

I wonder if this comes from giving all the praise--especially as a beginner--to a great leader. And leaders, being human, can easily and gladly accept the "blame" for the magical moment. My experience is that equally wonderful moments happen in the arms of a non-judgemental woman who opens doors I didn't know even existed. 

A few women especially come to mind. As a relatively new dancer, I once met a beginner who co-created magical moments with me.  Now as a veteran dancer, she still does it. The problem that I see, is that she still "blames me" entirely for all the cool ideas that come out of our dance--things I have never done before. If anyone is to blame, she is. Another woman in the same community does the same thing for me, and just recently after years of not seeing her, we danced again.  It's true that I feel I have far passed her ability, but the same magical moments happen with doors opening that I never knew existed.  I do not "blame her" for these moments. We share the "blame" for our mindful moments and magic.

Tango addictions
It's no wonder that people call tango "addictive."  Tango that has it's best highs early on sounds a bit like cocaine. The best cocaine highs are reported by addicts when they first snort this drug, and then after this early experience, one is simply chasing that earlier high.  So get over the addiction model, and start taking at least half of the "blame" for your highs in tango. This will snuff out the addiction model, which eventually will lead you to be "cured" one day from lack of working on your responsibility and your need to grow as a dancer, both psychologically and spiritually.  No one is perfect in this regard, but magical moments will increase and not diminish on this path of shared responsibility.

Tango detox
Tango is not a drug that is responsible for our highs.  But this perception happens when another person's great dancing is perceived as responsible for our magical moments. It's hard not to blame others who are either judged as good or bad dancers.  But it is all about shared responsibility. Generally speaking, I think it easy to practice tango "blaming"--both positive and negative. These are two sides of the same coin.

Share responsibility!  Even if the dance did not go right, many other things are amazing about the night when I look mindfully. The person who isn't dancing well may have just recovered from cancer treatment or is finally getting on with their life after a dark period.  Who knows?  The magical moment is to be present, and when I do this, I have lots of magical moments in all aspects of my life, not just tango.

I need to remind myself of this over and over.

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How to Dance Milonga [Jul. 26th, 2019|04:09 pm]
syn_paulyinga

Among the three genres of tango music, milonga is the fastest. Milonga music is 2/4 time with 16 sixteenth notes in each measure, counted as: 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and, 5-and, 6-and, 7-and, 8-and, which is twice as fast as tango. How well one dances milonga depends on one's ability to handle its fast rhythm.

There are three ways to do that.


Milonga Lisa

The first way is milonga Lisa, in which the dancer uses two feet alternately to step only on the downbeats, that is, right foot on 1, left foot on 3, right foot on 5, left foot on 7, in even speed.




Milonga Lisa is the simplest way to dance milonga. But it feels a little monotonous.


Complex timing

Another way to dance milonga is using complex timing to let the two feet step alternately on both downbeats and upbeats in different speeds: slow, quick-quick, slow, quick-quick; or quick-quick, slow, quick-quick, slow; or slow, quick-quick, quick-quick, slow; or slow, quick-quick, slow, slow, or quick-quick, quick-quick, slow, slow; or slow, quick-quick, slow, slow; or slow, slow, slow, quick-quick; or quick-quick, quick-quick, quick-quick, slow, etc., which requires very good handling of the rhythm of the music. Using complex timing to dance milonga is more interesting, but it is busy and could be tedious if the whole tanda is danced this way.






 Milonga Traspie

The more advanced and more relaxed way to dance milonga is milonga traspie. Meaning stumble, traspie refers to the stumble like steps used to reduce the movements thus slows down the pace of the dance.

When the foot is blocked by an obstacle, it would either cross over to land on the other side of the obstacle, or rebound in the opposite direction. Similarly, there are two ways to do milonga traspie.

The first is double-step traspie, in which the dancer steps twice with the same foot on two consecutive downbeats in slow-slow timing. The first step resembles the foot meets the obstacle. The second step resembles the foot crosses over the obstacle. The first step is not an actual step but only a tap carrying 50 percent of the body weight. The second step is a real step carrying 100 percent of the body weight to allow the other leg to be free.






The second is rock traspie, resembles the foot rebounds in the opposite direction after meeting the obstacle. In rock traspie, the dancer uses a rock action to transfer weight from one foot to the other foot back and forth three times in quick-quick-slow timing: (1) steps forward/side/back with one leg and transfers 50 percent of the body weight to that leg on the downbeat, (2) pushes with that leg to transfer weight back to the standing leg on the upbeat, (3) pushes with the standing leg to transfer weight completely to the other leg again on the downbeat to free the standing leg. 






Whether using tap or rock, traspie cuts down the movements to allow the dancer not always have to busily change weight from one leg to the other leg on every beat, thus makes the fast-paced milonga easier to dance. 

Experienced dancers mix all above methods in their milonga dancing to make the dance more diversified, expressive, interesting and fun. The following are few examples.








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The Intimacy of Dancing Tango: Therapy for Contact Deprivation in North American Society [Jul. 24th, 2019|09:32 am]
syn_tangovoice
  • In English speaking North American subcultures, outside family and intimate relationships, in most circumstances there is a tendency during social interaction to minimize physical contact and maintain a relatively large space between individuals.
    • Limitation of physical contact is particularly evident in interactions between men.
    • Reliance on social media for social interaction in lieu of face-to-face interaction, increasingly common in modern North American society, has also reduced physical contact between individuals, adding to feelings of physical isolation.
    • Increased awareness regarding sexually inappropriate behavior (e.g., via the Me Too Movement), while addressing a serious problem, has had some unintended consequences in inhibiting the initiation of appropriate intergender expressions of affection.
  • Insufficient physical contact with other human beings can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression and therefore have a negative impact on physical and mental health.
  • In contrast to North America, in Argentina daily social interactions are characterized by hugs and kisses on the cheek given to friends and acquaintances, typically in the context of greetings and departures.
    • Cross-cultural research has identified that, in general, Argentines maintain a smaller interpersonal distance than identified in other cultures.
    • Tango dancing, as practiced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, with its close personal contact (chest-to-chest, cheek-to-cheek) between partners, sometimes between people who have never met previously, is an example of the lower limits of personal space in Argentine society.
    • In North American milongas there is a wide range of variation in partner connection, from the maintained embrace characteristic of Buenos Aires milongas to a maintained open position, with a partner hold shifting between closed and open positions appearing to be the most common.
  • Close personal contact with other human beings has a positive effect on human health, lowering stress and blood pressure and decreasing the risk of loneliness and depression.
  • Tango dancing in a maintained embrace provides the benefits of close personal contact.
    • When the Traditional Milonga codes of partner respect are practiced, intergender couple formation in tango creates the possibility for dancers to explore romantic and sexual relationships under conditions of mutual consent and safe boundaries.
    • Use of the cabeceo in partner selection, as well as within community policing to identify violators of the mutual consent guideline, should be sufficient in marginalizing sexually inappropriate behavior at the milonga.
  • The promotion of tango as a performance dance, common in North America, prevents many developing tango dancers from experiencing the physical and emotional intimacy of tango.

 

Outside family and intimate relationships, and oftentimes even within the boundaries of these relationships, daily social interactions between adults in Anglophone North America are characterized by the avoidance of physical contact and a relatively large distance between interacting individuals (Personal Space and American Individualism), especially when viewed from a worldwide perspective (Americans Love Wide Open Spaces Between People; What Personal Space Looks Like Around the World). This contact avoidance is magnified in interactions between adult men (Why Men Need Platonic Touch), where physical contact is typically ritualized in the form of handshakes, fist bumps, back slaps, and other forms of brief and hard physical contact; interpersonal contact of a softer nature (e.g., hugs, arm and shoulder touching) may play a role in some interactions between adult women who are close friends. Increased societal acceptance of open homosexuality (and awareness regarding it) may also play a role in contact avoidance between men (Inside the Fear of Being Gay) and, in some cases, between women, when there is concern that affection with a person of the same sex may be perceived as homosexual.

Technological changes also have contributed to physical and social isolation in North American society, as well as in other technologically advanced societies. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) have been designed to create connections between individuals, yet the consequence of social media engagement has often been the opposite, i.e., social isolation (Is Social Media Making You Lonely?). The availability of electronic communication often results in a decrease in face-to-face interaction and thus also less physical contact between individuals. This social isolation can lead to loneliness and depression (Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time On Social Media May Be Why; Health Effects Of Isolation).

In North American society (and elsewhere in modern progressive societies), intergender interactions (see Appendix) in particular are often fraught with ambiguities and therefore misunderstandings regarding physical contact, with entry into one’s personal space itself often being regarded as sexually suggestive and viewed as invasive, or perhaps desirable, depending upon the intentions of the interactants. In recent years, the Me Too Movement has drawn public attention to the most egregious assaults of a sexual nature, in particular those committed by prominent men in politics, business, and entertainment, but has also raised awareness regarding verbal comments of a sexually imposing or suggestive nature (Verbal Sexual Harassment: What You Need to Know to Identify and Report It).

Although the root causes of sexually aggressive behavior (sexual harassment and assault) are complex, and its motivation is not purely or even primarily sexual (i.e., it is a expression of power) (The Thinking Processes of Sexual Predators) to a significant degree these behaviors are characteristic of individuals who are socially isolated and therefore have not experienced normal affectionate physical contact and, in particular normal intergender contact (Common Characteristics of Sex Offenders); sexual repression and its consequence – a barrier against normal expression of affection between the sexes – has been implicated as one causal factor for abnormal sexual expression (The Dark Reality Of What Happens When Someone Is Sexually Repressed).

In contrast to the clear violation of individual integrity in cases of sexual assault and harassment, there are situations in which physical contact is initiated (e.g., placing a hand on someone’s shoulder) or compliments are made (e.g., regarding attractiveness of personal appearance) in which there is ambiguity regarding the intentions of the actor, yet the recipient nevertheless feels uncomfortable, possibly even threatened. Therefore, associated with the social exposure of unwanted physical contact has been a discussion and/or reevaluation of the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate physical contact and verbal content (e.g., compliments, humor) in social interaction in general, or in specific environments [in the workplace (What Are the Boundaries of Appropriate Touch in the Workplace?), on a college campus (Be Curious Not Invasive … Physical Contact & Personal Boundaries), in religious institutions (Safe Church Unit: Physical Contact)]. Often the recommendation in these latter cases, in order to avoid the creation of discomfort, is to minimize physical contact and verbal compliments. The standard established in many social environments is to limit physical contact to a handshake, and to not make compliments regarding one’s personal appearance (The Dilemma of Physical Touch & Appreciation in the Workplace).

As prior standards for intergender interaction are being reevaluated, men sensitive to social mores are placed in a quandary regarding initiation of physical and verbal contact with women, with the result that often the choice made is to minimize this contact. These newly imposed prohibitions, in conjunction with more general cultural norms of contact avoidance and larger personal space, have led to increased emotional isolation in North American societies (Health Effects of Isolation), with a greater impact on men than women.

Given the traditional prohibitions against interpersonal contact and the increased sensitivity regarding intrusion into intimate space in intergender interactions, tango dancing, in which couples envelope their arms around each other with chest-to-chest and even cheek-to-cheek contact, maintaining this close contact unwaveringly for minutes without separating, stands in stark contrast to the contact avoidance prevalent in North American society. This contrast indeed may present the primary attractiveness of tango dancing, in that it provides a relief from chronic physical isolation. However, how tango dancing achieves (or attempts to achieve) social acceptability within a culture awakened to increased sensitivity to respect for intimate space is an interesting enigma. This post examines the status of tango dancing within this matrix of cultural traditions, changing values, and personal choices. These issues will be examined here within the framework of the cultural underpinnings of the Argentine culture that has engendered this unique form of social interaction. Implications of the transference of traditional Argentine milonga customs to North American milonga are also discussed.

 

Contact and Personal Space during Daily Social Interaction in Buenos Aires

Contrast the paucity of physical contact characteristic of North American social interactions with daily life in Buenos Aires. During the course of a typical day, most porteños greet numerous people with hugs and kisses on the cheek; even men greet each other in this way. Although greetings with hugs and kisses are typically (but not always) limited to family, friends and close acquaintances (of which there are many), upon introduction to friends of friends for the first time, hugs and kisses on the cheek are standard interaction [Argentine Culture: How to greet an Argentine; Getting Cheeky in Argentina: How and when to Kiss People in Buenos Aires; The Art of the Kiss (video)]. Argentines are also recognized as having a small personal space, standing close to one another when talking, in a queue, or sitting next to one another. They frequently touch one another during conversation. One study found Argentines to have the smallest personal space among all 42 nationalities examined (Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology; Summaries: Washington Post; The Telegraph).

 

Personal Space in Buenos Aires Milongas

Personal space boundaries are relaxed further in Buenos Aires milongas. Upon entering a milonga, the guest is often greeted by the host(s) with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Additional exchanges of hugs and kisses may follow upon encountering friends and familiar dance partners (and sometimes their friends and family) in movements to and from where one is seated. This is more common in Milongas del Barrio, where neighborhood residents who are already familiar with one another tend to congregate, than in Milongas del Centro [Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga (Part II of ‘Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression’)], but is common in both types of milongas.

If not coming to the milonga with a partner, the means of acquiring a partner for a particular tanda is through visual signaling with the cabeceo (Use of the Cabeceo and Gender Segregated Seating in Milongas in Buenos Aires and Elsewhere in the World). After agreement to dance together has been achieved through this communication from a distance, the man walks to the part of the dance floor in front of the woman’s table; she rises and comes out onto the floor and they embrace, often prior to exchanging any words. This embrace is maintained throughout the first song in the tanda (set of 3 or 4 songs) they are dancing. They then separate and there is no body contact, if the milonga customs are followed [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. There is some conversation for about 30 seconds into the next song of the tanda. During this conversation the man may give piropos (Tango Adelaide), usually compliments about the woman’s appearance or dancing. These piropos may be poetic and romantic in nature and are not vulgar (examples). They embrace again and follow this pattern of contact and conversation until the end of the tanda. Men following traditional milonga customs then may escort the woman back to her seat by gently holding her arm or placing his forearm gently around her waist (Tango Chamuyo). This pattern continues with each partner over the course of the milonga.

When a woman accepts the invitation to dance by cabeceo from a man, there is a tacit agreement that they will embrace upon dancing, i.e., that they will enter into and remain in each other’s intimate space. Nevertheless, there are still rules governing this engagement. The embrace should be firm but not constraining; the woman should not feel that she is being pulled toward her partner, only positioned comfortably in his embrace. Hands should be placed in a comfortable position on the partner’s back or upper arms and maintained in that position; i.e., hands should not move below the waist, wander around the back, or touch the front of the torso or the face. Frontal body contact does not extend below the waist; i.e., there is no pelvic contact. Interlacing of legs with the partner’s legs (ganchos, leg wraps) or upper body (piernazo) is considered vulgar, whereas sacadas (displacements) of the leg and caricias (gentle brushing with the foot) directed below the knee are acceptable, though uncommon in Milongas del Centro [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. Between songs in a tanda, the embrace is released and the partner is not touched. When behavior extends beyond these boundaries, the offended partner has the right to cease dancing with the perpetrator and leave the dance floor. Thus, although permission is granted to enter one’s personal space, there are rules governing this release of personal boundaries. In essence, for the most part the embrace in tango is an extension of the embrace given upon greeting in that it is maintained and incorporated into a walk.

In contrast to the entry into intimate space permitted in a couple’s embrace, making contact with other couples on the floor while dancing is considered rude in Buenos Aires milongas. Movements that increase the risk of making contact with other couples on the floor (e.g., high boleos) are frowned upon.

 

The North American Tango Environment

With the exception of ‘slow dancing’, social dancing in North America typically lacks an embrace; in most circumstances, there is a social taboo against maintained upper body contact while dancing, reflecting the general lack of embrace in social settings outside family and intimate relationships. Therefore, when teaching newcomers to dance tango, the dance is almost always taught in what is usually described (in oxymoronic terms) as an ‘open embrace’, i.e., upper body contact at arm’s length (Variations in the Tango Embrace – ‘Open Embrace’ and ‘Close Embrace’ Styles of Tango: The Evidence from Buenos Aires Milongas). [Nevertheless, there have been some North American tango instructors who have advocated teaching dancing tango in an embrace (often redundantly referred to as ‘close embrace’) at the beginning level of instruction (e.g., Albuquerque NM; Minneapolis MN; Portland OR; San Diego CA; San Francisco CA area; Santa Fe NM).] Avoidance of the embrace is usually characteristic only of beginners, with most North American tango dancers eventually entering into some form of embrace while dancing, the main exception being those who do not bring their (Argentine) tango dancing outside the ballroom dance community. However, the current trend in North American tango dancing is to use what is often referred to as a ‘flexible embrace’, i.e., to begin dancing in an embrace and then open the embrace for ochos, giros, and the ubiquitous sandwich. With this shifting ‘flexible embrace’ and the associated attention paid to steps and adornments, the connection, relaxation, and emotional intimacy of a maintained embrace are not achieved.

Even when there is a maintained embrace in dancing tango in North American milongas, the likelihood of emotional release in the embrace is less likely and usually of lower intensity than is typical of porteños in Buenos Aires milongas, something to which North American tango dancers who have attended Buenos Aires milongas can attest. Porteños often comment that North Americans can be very good tango dancers technically, but lack emotion while dancing. This is undoubtedly a consequence of the inhibition against expression of affection characteristic of a contact avoidant culture.

In contrast to Buenos Aires milongas, in North American milongas, some violations of Traditional Milonga codes [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)] regarding interpersonal contact and between couple contact are generally permissible; e.g., use of ganchos and high boleos is common and unintentionally making contact with other couples on the floor is usually tolerated to some degree.

 

The Healing Power of Physical Contact

Physical contact is a critical ingredient in forming social bonds with other human beings. This is apparent immediately in infancy, where prolonged physical contact forms an integral part of parent-child relationships. Physical contact in various manifestations (e.g.. hugs, hand holding, contact play) continues to play a role in normal early childhood development, typically including other family members; physical contact is also a characteristic of social interaction between peers as children become more peer oriented. However, after puberty, the role of social interactions between peers changes, and this varies among cultures. In North America, adolescent girls to varying degrees still retain some affectionate physical contact with one another, but physical contact between adolescent boys is channeled primarily through vigorous or rough contact, e.g., as rough play and in sports activities; contact between the sexes often needs to be negotiated and may be interpreted as expressing a sexual motivation. Among more highly educated or wealthier people, where certain rules of social etiquette come into play, physical contact may be reduced even further in adulthood, particularly between men, and is often reduced to a formalized hand shake in greetings, introductions and departures.

Nevertheless, giving and receiving physical contact of an affectionate nature (e.g., touching while conversing, holding hands, embracing) is critically important for emotional health. Affectionate touch communicates caring, support, comfort, and love (The Healing Language of Appropriate Touch). Physical contact, particularly prolonged physical contact of an affectionate nature (gentle touch) has a positive impact on health (The Power of Touch), reducing stress (as indicated by decreased cortisol levels and decreasing blood pressure), and eliciting increased pleasure (in part a result of increased levels of oxytocin).

Absence of affectionate physical contact can lead to feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, chronic anxiety and depression, as well as being associated with physical health problems such as insomnia, hypertension and a weakened immune system (What Lack of Affection Can Do to You; Health Effects of Isolation; Loneliness Predicts Increased Blood Pressure: Five-Year Cross-Lagged Analyses in Middle-Aged and Older Adults).

 

Intimacy in Dancing Tango  

Dancing tango in a maintained embrace is an intimate experience that provides the health benefits of close personal contact. Several tango dancers have publicized their experiences and the associated benefits of dancing tango.

Kathy Davis (2015; Dancing Tango: Passionate Encounters in a Globalizing World, New York University Press) describes the stimuli and impact associated with the tango embrace:

The embrace is what sets tango apart from other couple dances….

…(O)ne is immediately assailed with smells…. Partners can hear each other’s breathing, feel each other’s hearts beating. They sense skin against skin, … the cushiony feel of a stomach or breasts as bodies lean together. … This is an intimacy without words. (pp.57-58)

There is an embodied sensation that occurs without words being said. The embrace conveys the sense of being free of all distractions, able to leave everything else behind. As experience, it resembles meditation. (p.60)

Veronica Toumanova describes tango dancing as ‘intimacy practice’ (Facebook). She covers considerable ground in describing the effects of tango dancing:

(S)ocial tango is a world in itself, capable of profoundly transforming your life….

(T)he most important thing will always be not what the dance looks like to the outsiders but how you feel dancing it with this particular partner to this particular music….

Toumanova notes that for many, the first impression of tango is that provided by the tango of the stage but, upon learning to dance tango, that image changes:

The first thing that shatters completely when you get to know social tango a little better is the very image of vulgar erotism described in the beginning. Instead comes an understanding of this dance as a play between two different energies meeting in music and starting an unpredictable, yet surprisingly harmonious exchange….

The impression that strikes a new person observing the dancefloor in a milonga for the first time is actually the intimacy of what is happening, despite tango being quite a dynamic dance to quite a dramatic music. A man and a woman embrace each other closely and start moving in a synchronised way, harmoniously, but without showing off….

The first and probably most important thing is learning to create a close physical contact with another person, a contact that is sensuous, deeply felt, musical, intimate, yet not sexual….

The sexual nature of dancing tango is underestimated here, but Toumanova is correct in describing the contact in dancing tango as intimate and sensuous.

She continues, emphasizing the positive physiological and social consequences of the tango embrace:

As modern human beings we mostly lack this kind of physical contact in our urbanised context. Our environment rarely provides us with a possibility of close physical contact devoid of (sexual) ambiguity…. (S)cientific studies confirm that physical contact helps to heal depression, reduce anxiety and increase the level of the “love hormone”….

By setting up clear boundaries, tango creates a safe space for bodily contact in its most general sense.

Similar sentiments are expressed in an oral presentation by Gina Cloud entitled “The Intimacy of Tango” (YouTube).

Dancing tango can be transformative for those engaged in its practice. Shy people can experience a deep emotional connection with others that is missing in their lives. In this regard, Kathy Davis (op. cit.) comments:

Tango provides the possibility for men who could be considered unattractive, insecure, or even social losers outside the milongas to discover a new identity on the dance floor. Given the almost chronic surplus of women dancers in most salons, men who are good dancers will find themselves in great demand. Women who wouldn’t give them a second look outside the salon are suddenly vying for a chance to dance with them (p.114).

Davis expounds further on the romantic possibilities emanating from dancing tango:

… (W)hile love and romance are conventionally associated with women, tango seems to open up this unfamiliar terrain for men as well. It enables them to experience the affective intensity of a romantic attachment and, at the same time, keep it safe from the encumbrances that are part and parcel of relationships outside the milonga. (pp.117-118)

Tango’s attraction resides precisely in the kind of encounter it offers. It provides physical contact, intimacy, and emotional intensity, all without the messiness of sex, long-term obligations, and children. In late modernity, intimate alliances have become temporary, fragile, or fluid. With the erosion of the constraints of community, family values, and tradition, the “pure” relationship has emerged, undertaken for its own sake and requiring ongoing negotiation between autonomous agents, responsible only to themselves. Whatever the vicissitudes of these relationships, they have left modern individuals with an insatiable longing for intensity, risk, excitement, and danger. In this view, tango provides the perfect encounter with its endless recycling of intense connection followed by “easy exits”. (p.122-123; references excluded)

Although intergender relationships in contemporary technologically advanced societies are complicated by changing gender roles and increased sensitivity regarding initiation of physical contact, tango dancing provides a safe environment not only for experiencing the interpersonal contact missing in daily life, but also for having a romantic experience, however short-lived. Nevertheless, despite Davis’ deemphasizing of the possibility of romantic relationships extending beyond the milonga, many people become involved in dancing tango with the specific purpose of seeking such a relationship. It is readily apparent that the milonga environment provides safe opportunities for exploring, initiating and developing romantic relationships that extend beyond the milonga, as an alternative to the more precarious arenas of the singles’ bars and online dating. It is a good environment for this precisely because one can focus on dancing in the here and now, getting to know someone gradually over time without the pressure of a interaction cast immediately into the spotlight of dating and hooking up. So, although Davis is correct in noting that the shared tanda is a safe intimate connection from which one may escape when the cortina intervenes, it can also be the first interaction in the development of more intimate relationship.

One shared tanda can be the first step on the pathway to further intimacy because much can be learned about a partner in dancing in a maintained embrace during this 10-12 minute connection. The embrace communicates the emotional state and character of one’s partner, whether that person is kind, affectionate, caring, supportive, sharing, confident, insecure, aggressive, controlling, self-centered, etc. On the basis of this emotional communication, usually augmented by repeated dancing with this partner, one can feel to what extent a relationship with this person can develop. For some partner combinations, there is a brief respite from the lack of physical intimacy experienced in daily life, and nothing more, although this in itself can be beneficial. But for other couples, there may be an exploration of an increased level of physical and emotional intimacy through mutual relaxation in the embrace, an increased affection in touch, cheek-to-cheek contact, and coordination of breathing. This increased intimacy may be only an episode whose duration is no longer than the course of the tanda, satisfying only some immediate need for intergender connection, from which each partner can safely extricate oneself; however, if both partners are willing, this can be the first encounter in the development of a more intimate relationship.

In a more general sense, affectionate contact in the milonga need not be limited to intergender interaction while dancing. If associated Buenos Aires milonga customs of hugs and kisses upon greeting and departure (for all gender combinations) are incorporated into the atmosphere of the milonga, the overall milonga environment becomes a warmer and more welcoming place, a refreshing contrast to the impersonal atmosphere of contemporary urbanized society; one can leave this impersonal environment behind at the door when crossing the threshold into a milonga.

 

Caveats

One aspect of Buenos Aires milonga customs that is unlikely to be widely incorporated into North American milongas is the use of piropos, the romantic / poetic compliments given by men to women, usually during the pauses in dancing that occur between songs in the tanda. Piropos may be interpreted as archaic, corny or possibly even demeaning by contemporary standards [and they are also decreasing in frequency in Buenos Aires milongas (Living in Argentina: Catcalls and Piropos)]; nevertheless, after sharing intimate personal space in the embrace, nonvulgar compliments regarding a partner’s appearance, dress, demeanor, or dancing skills should not be considered out-of-place, when they occur. These compliments can be shared in both directions, from leader to follower and vice versa. It is a shame if contemporary society has become so overly sensitive that polite compliments regarding personal appearance are considered disrespectful.

While the milonga may and should be a safe environment for seeking comfort in close intergender physical contact, the possibility of unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the intimacy proffered cannot be ignored; i.e., the milonga should not provide a safe haven for sexual predators. Buenos Aires milonga guidelines of proper etiquette for interacting couples have been discussed above. If someone violates the accepted boundaries of physical or verbal interaction, the offended partner has the right to cease dancing with the perpetrator and leave the dance floor. Communication among members of the milonga community should be exercised to raise awareness regarding sexual miscreants, achieving their marginalization. In conjunction with the adoption of the cabeceo as the standard for dance invitation and the associated rejection of the Direct Approach method, the possibility of dancing with violators of personal space boundaries can be minimized.

Despite the positive benefits and appeal of dancing tango, it would be naïve to think that dancing tango could be a panacea in combating the pervasive malady of contact avoidance imbedded in North American and other technologically advanced urbanized societies; tango dancing simply does not have and is incapable of having the widespread distribution of participants to transform social interaction outside the milonga. It is necessary to understand that even in Argentina, tango arose from Argentine culture; tango is a reflection of that culture rather than a factor that has transformed the nature of social interaction within that society. The social environment in North America has a long history of contact avoidance and although it has changed significantly in 400 years, it still stands as a socially conservative culture in which spontaneous expression of affection is limited to prescribed moments defined by family, intimate relationships, and rituals within events of celebration and commiseration. Nor should one be naïve in assuming that dancing tango can be an effective inoculation against sexual aggression, the causes of which are numerous and complex (The Etiology of Sexual Offending).

Some dancers become committed to tango because of the physical intimacy it offers. However, working in opposition to this is the marketing of various derivations and deviations of Tango Argentino that avoid or minimize focus on the embrace and emphasize instead various step concoctions, e.g., Tango Escenario, Tango Nuevo, Tango Campeonato. These direct appeals to a culturally inculcated appetite for exhibitionism in social dancing may assist in attracting newcomers to tango, but dancers enticed by conspicuous step patterns are also attracted by other step-oriented social dance forms (of which there are many) and therefore are less likely to remain involved in tango dancing or, if they remain involved with tango, may never understand and experience the intimacy it offers; attention paid to step acquisition common in tango instruction masks the unique enjoyment and benefits experienced by persistent involvement in tango culture. In contrast, dancers who find fulfillment in the tango embrace are less likely to abandon tango for other social dances.

Tango community organizers are advised to consider the factors discussed here in planning the development and sustenance of tango communities.

 

Appendix: Note on Terminology Related to Sex and Gender

Definition of terms related to sex and gender are inconsistent in contemporary English speaking countries. Therefore, definition of some terms with regard to sex and gender, as used in Tango Voice, are necessary to minimize misinterpretation.

Sex refers here to reproductive anatomy (i.e., genitalia) and secondary sexual characteristics (e.g., breasts for women, facial hair for men). With the exception of persons in medically based sex transition and the rare condition of ambiguous sexual classification at birth (intersex), humans can be classified according to their reproductive organs as belonging to the female sex (women) or the male sex (men).

Currently in English speaking countries, particularly in vernacular usage, ‘gender’ has often been used as a synonym for ‘sex’. The definition for ‘gender’ used here is:

Gender is the state of being male or female in relation to the social and cultural roles that are considered appropriate for men and women.

Thus, ‘gender’ refers to a person’s cognitive identification with culturally predominant feminine or masculine behavioral characteristics. A person who identifies with neither culturally prescribed role of male or female is usually classified as ‘gender non-binary’ or ‘intergender. However, the term ‘intergender’ has also been used as an adjective to describe interaction between people with different gender identities (Wordnik), which is the preferred definition here, with ‘gender non-binary’ the preferred term for those who do not identify with traditional binary gender classifications.

With respect to dancing tango, commonly used terms to differentiate role either refer to ‘man’s part’ vs. ‘woman’s part’ or ‘masculine role’ vs. ‘feminine role’ (‘rol masculino’ y ‘rol femenino’ in Buenos Aires) or the gender nonspecific designations of ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. Although there is value in using this last classification, in particular with respect to Queer Tango, there is no simple commonly accepted adjective to describe the interaction between leader and follower. The term ‘intergender’ is used here to define this interaction and, for the sake of economy in argument, it is assumed here that all tango partnering occurs between people who are compatible in sexual orientation (i.e., heterosexual for opposite sex partnering, homosexual for same sex partnering), while recognizing that, in reality, this may not always be the case; however, these latter incompatible pairings are considered to be outside the realm of the arguments presented here.

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Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills [Jul. 20th, 2019|09:58 am]
syn_paulyinga

One reason beginners are eager to learn new steps is that they want to succeed in the milonga as soon as possible. Many of them only regard learning tango as imitating steps. Once they can imitate a step, they think they have learned the step, and their attention is shifted to imitating another step instead of spending time to temper the step. They believe in this way they can learn faster and be able to dance sooner.

What they don’t know is that whether they can dance well is not decided by the number of steps they know, but by the behind the scene skills on which the steps are built: posture, embrace, connection, communication, torso leading and following, lightness, flexibility, balance, stability, pivot, dissociation, gear effect, cadencia, musicality, and basic steps like walk, salida, resolucion, cross, front ocho, back ocho, media luna, molinete, giro, rock and traspie. These are the building blocks of all tango steps. Those with a good grounding in these basic skills can dance beautifully even with few simple steps. Those lack these basic skills, their dance looks awkward and ugly even though they may know a lot of fancy steps.

The purpose that the teacher teaches a step is not just teaching the step, but more importantly training basic skills. For example, when teaching back ocho, the teacher instructs the students to use dissociation, because that skill can benefit them in many other tango steps. But students don’t understand that. They only focus on imitating the step by crossing one leg behind the other leg and leave out the hard work of swiveling the hips. Instead of taking the pain to develop the skill, they take a short cut to get quick results. Consequently, even though they may have touched many steps, they have mastered none, their basic skills remain poor, and their dance does not look good.

The eagerness to succeed is a big obstacle to learning for beginners. Students must understand that it is not the fancy steps but the basic skills that decide the quality of their dancing. They need to focus on developing skills rather than copying movements, so that what they learn in each step can become the building block for the next step. By proceeding in an orderly and gradual way, by carefully following the instructions and paying attention to technical details, by taking pains to practice, and by obtaining a solid grounding in basic skills, they will be able to achieve twice the result with half the effort overall. This is the only way to become a good tango dancer. (See Tango Is a Language (I).)

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It takes too TIRED to tango . . . [Jul. 6th, 2019|04:07 pm]
syn_tangotherap

>It takes saying "too tired to tango" before we realize that doing something great for one's health at the wrong time will harm our health and levels of energy.

>It takes "too tired to tango" until exhaustion or multiple health issues stop us in our tracks.  

>It takes "too tired to tango" 
before a person finally tries to find balance.

That's my story: Just call me Mr. Sleep Deprived I fully participated in the worst health risk of tango. No longer, but I was too tired to tango.  That doesn't mean I stopped tango! I tried to stop in 2017.  But instead, I just started dancing at earlier events. Presently, I go to a practica in my town that has great dancers and starts and ends early.  I started a Facebook group called Early Milonga Enthusiasts in my town (please copy the idea in your town). I now go to encuentros where the timing is always an early milonga and an evening milonga that does not go so late.  I sleep in as much as I can on these weekend encuentros.  But I'm not "too tired to tango"--during an encuentro! I dance for as much as 8 hours of tango. My Fitbit, worn on my ankle, indicates I walk for over 5+ miles (8-10 kilometers).  The point of good sleep is that we are NOT too tired to tango!  Sleep and tango are buen amigos!
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The Early Milonga Revolutión [Jun. 22nd, 2019|11:40 pm]
syn_tangotherap
Catch to 8am milonga at La Confitería Ideal* in Buenos Aires.
But how about your town's own early milongas?
I am asking you to take up arms!  And use those arms to hug people who also enjoy earlier milongas. I think they are the silent majority, and it is time for an Early Milonga Revolutión!

When I wrote about the health risks that tango dancers have because of sleep deprivation caused by late-evening start times, I got hundreds of emails, messages, and comments in agreement.  (See Tango's Worst Heath Risk.)  I made the point that sleep deprivation is unnecessary if we just had earlier milongas.
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Tango's Worst Health Risk [Jun. 17th, 2019|12:15 pm]
syn_tangotherap
Is tango harming your physical health? Probably.

It is very likely that tango is harming your long-term health more than helping it.

Luckily, that can be changed easily enough. Tango is healthy for us in many ways as this blog has pointed out for over ten years. In the last ten years, scientists have only started realizing just how bad sleep deprivation is. And the problem with tango?  Mostly we do it at the wrong time of our sleep cycle! Our present enjoyment of tango too often leaves us sleep-deprived and with a messed up circadian rhythm.
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The Suspicious Tango Pastor [Jun. 1st, 2019|09:16 pm]
syn_tangotherap

Organizers and teachers in my experience most have been wonderful, giving people. But then there are a few bad apples.  (If you have a bad apple in your community, see the "solutions" at the bottom of this page.)

Most people I know have great skills with avoiding cults, religious zealots, and hell-and-brimstone pastors who claim to have "all the truth." Politicians too.  But with tango?  All those skills of being leary of zealots seem to be thrown out the window sometimes when a tango organizer or teacher claims they have the whole truth, the only way to tango heaven. Why?
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Yin Power in the Stillness of Tango [May. 27th, 2019|05:21 pm]
syn_tangotherap

Yin is the unsung hero of tango's magic. 

What people often watch and praise, however, is the Yang-action in tango.

Even in life, Yin is the unnoticed hero, in my opinion. I wrote the majority of this post about six months ago. When rediscovering the draft, I took away about half of it and now, I'll add something my wife told me about one of her favorite dance partners:  She said he had a way of building a feeling of preparation for the next move. Isn't this an example of Yin? That night the added description changed the way I dance.  (Yes, I listen to her descriptions of tango magic.) My wife noticed my change right away.

It is worth a moment or two to consider what this Yin energy is. Instead of thinking in male/female terms, here are two analogies of the Yin energy which promotes balancing these energies in oneself:
  • Breathing:  Each person needs to breathe in (the action of Yin) in order that a person can breathe out or talk (the action of Yang).  Yin is powerful!  One cannot just breath in or just breath out. But for those who are singers, swimmers or practice breathing medication, balanced breathing takes effort to fully breath out and then fully breathe in. 
  • Throwing a ball:  Yin as behavior is winding up gracefully. Yang is throwing with grace and also with power.  The often unrecognized power, however, is in the graceful, relaxed winding up before throwing the ball!
People notice movement, not stillness.
But stillness is the power that brings effective movement.

At tango performances watch how people tend to notice leading or ornamentos, but then fail to see stillness (which precedes, not "follows"). Women who so wonderfully embody Yin Power, which precedes everything I do, too often deny their important role.  They say, "I was just following what you led" after I say how wonderfully she empowered the dance.  How can Yang do anything without Yin?  Yes, and so in remains: Yin is the unsung hero of tango's magic.



Photo Credit:  Alan Thornton --Getty Photos
https://www.thespruce.com/the-yin-yang-theory-and-feng-shui-1275241


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When will the Tango Teacher Disappear? [May. 8th, 2019|11:42 pm]
syn_tangotherap


Get ready!
If you love a subject and you are ready, the teacher will appear-- or so goes the saying.  But it's just not that easy. Most find that there is more to it. So...

Get set!
As a student, you will find teachers who will demotivate you or attempt to distract you from the good path you were on. Maybe you had a wonderful embrace or amazing walk that a new teacher has now "disassembled."  Now your latent talent must be recovered.  So the "get set"phase may slow your greatest desires.  It's just the fact in any human endeavor of learning that teachers can be a student's biggest obstacle.  On the other hand, if you have a lot to give as a teacher, many students will appear who will not be able to hear or find what you have to give.  It will all be worth it when the right student or the right teacher appears.

Go!
If you stick with it, the student will find the teacher and the teacher will find the student. Then one thing remains.  When will it be time to disappear from one another, the student from the teacher and teacher from the student?

Lao Tzu answers this question in his wisdom for both teacher and disciple:
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Study [May. 5th, 2019|07:58 pm]
syn_ireneyman
Some people like to study with championship tango dancers and watch videos of championship tango dancers dancing tango so some day they may also win a championship.  And if you don't win this time, try, try, try again!

Some people like to study stage tango movements because if they can't get people to pay attention to their low key, boring social dancing, they can kick it up a notch by flinging their partner into outer space (and other people)!  

Does anybody really want to study how to dance well on a crowded dance floor anymore?  Where the best dancers can express the music with the simplest movements while they are shoulder to shoulder with the couples around them?


Maestros Blas Catrenau and Myriam Pincen dancing on a VERY crowded dance floor.  Perfection!

I don't know about others, but I think this is the highest form of Tango expression.  I leave ambitions about winning championships and showing off for other people!
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Changing Direction with Rock Steps [Apr. 21st, 2019|11:23 am]
syn_paulyinga

Rock refers to using a rebounding action to transfer weight from one leg to the other leg when the two legs are apart and not collected. It is a three-step sequence typically done in a quick-quick-slow rhythm: (1) step forward with one leg, (2) push with that leg to transfer weight back to the standing leg, (3) collect the free leg and change weight again. The first two steps are rock steps, carried out when the legs are apart. The last step is a normal weight changing step to allow the other leg to take a new action. Rock can be done in various ways: back and forth, left and right, forward and side, back and side, vertical or diagonal, linear or circular, on spot or drifting, with or without turn, with or without pivot, with or without dissociation, etc. Rock steps are often used to alter the direction of travel in dancing. The following video show you how.




This lesson includes three parts. In the first part, the man starts with the basic forward-back-collect rock pattern: He rocks forward with the left leg, transfers weight back to the right leg, and collects and changes weight to the left leg again. He then repeats the sequence with the right leg. This pattern can also be done diagonally by stepping to her left with his left leg and stepping to her right with his right leg. The woman mirrors the man’s movements. Notice that she does not collect the free leg but lets the free leg remain in place as her weight is transferred back to the standing leg. She keeps the knee of the free leg straight and tilts up the foot to make the movement stylish.

In the second part, the man changes the rock pattern to a forward-back-side pattern: (1) steps forward with the left leg, (2) transfers weight back to the right leg, (3) steps sideward with the left leg. He then repeats the sequence with the right leg. Notice the 90-degree turn of his body when he rocks to either side. The woman keeps her standing leg in place, but moves her free leg side to side as she mirrors his movements.  

In the third part, the man demonstrates how to use rock steps to change direction at position 5. He first leads the woman to the cross, then uses a forward-back-side rock pattern: (1) steps forward with the left leg, (2) transfers weight back to the right leg, (3) steps to the side with the left leg. The last step changes the direction of travel 90 degree to the left. He then adds a forward-turn-collect pattern: (1) steps forward with the right leg, (2) transfers weight back to the left leg while pivots the left leg 180 degree counterclockwise, (3) collects and changes weight to the right leg. The two rock patterns are combined to form a revised version of ocho cortado, which is done on his right side instead of on his left side, though. Notice that in doing the second rock pattern the woman steps forward with her left leg, pivots 180 degree to the left, then steps back with her right leg, which is a common technique used in the change of direction.

Other rock patterns could also be applied at the cross, as shown in the following clip.




In this example the man starts with a forward-turn-turn rock pattern: (1) steps forward with his left leg to lead her step back with her right leg, (2) turns right 90 degree and changes weight to his right leg to lead her change weight forward to her left leg, (3) turns right 90 degree while collects and changes weight to his left leg to lead her step forward with her right leg. On her part the woman uses a back-forward-forward rock pattern: (1) steps back with her right leg, (2) transfers weight forward to her left leg, (3) steps forward with her right leg. Notice, again, as her weight is transferred to the standing leg, she does not collect the free leg but lets the leg remain in place, keeps the knee straight and tilts up the foot to make the movement stylish.

The man then uses a right-left-turn rock pattern: (1) steps diagonally forward to the right with his right leg while turns his upper body 90 degree to the right to lead her right leg pivot 180 degree and her left leg step on his right, (2) pivots 90 degree to the left with his right leg while transfer weight to his left leg to lead her transfer weight to her right leg, (3) continues the pivot with his left leg to lead her left leg to step forward and pivot 180 degree to face him, while he collects and changes weight to his right leg. The woman uses a left-right-forward rock pattern: (1) pivots 180 degree on her right leg to let her left leg to step on his right, (2) transfers weight back to her right leg, (3) steps forward with her left leg and pivots 180 degree counterclockwise to face him. Notice the dissociation of her upper body and lower body when she walks back and forth on the side of him. The whole sequence is another creative variation of ocho cortado.

The couple further exploit rock patterns in another video.




This time, the man uses a forward-back-back rock pattern in a circle. After leading the woman to the cross, he (1) steps forward in a curve with his left leg to lead her right leg to step back to her right, (2) steps back in a curve with his right leg to lead her transfer weight forward to her left leg, (3) steps back in a curve with his left leg to lead her right leg to step forward to his right. Notice that his upper body is turned to the right to allow her walk in circle around him. He then uses a back-side-turn rock pattern: (1) steps back in a curve with  his right leg to lead her left leg to step forward, (2) steps to the side with his left leg to lead her right leg to step to her right, (3) pivots to the left with his left leg to lead her left leg to step forward and pivot 180 degree to face him, while he collects and changes weight to his right leg. The result is a circular version of ocho cortado. It is the most interesting variation of ocho cortado that I have seen.

Rock steps are featured steps of tango milonguero that contribute to its simple, compact, rhythmic and elegant style. The patterns described above are only a few in a pool of rock patterns commonly used by the milongueros. Familiarizing yourself with these patterns can help you improve your dance.

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Walkie-Talkie Dancers [Apr. 16th, 2019|02:09 pm]
syn_tangotherap
He's talking and she's looking for an escape.
This blog post focuses on Mindfulness (one of the four M's of Tango).

tango community where I once lived had a problem. When I arrived there, I was astounded by conversations going on while dancing. The garrulous dancers were entirely veteran men and women dancers!

The word "conversation" should not need to be defined, but let me clarify:  Walkie-Talkie Dancing is not occasional sighs, or a few chuckles, a once-in-a-while "wow" or an occasional blurted "that was fun." Walkie-Talkie Dancing is an ongoing conversations while dancing.

Walkie-Talkie Dancing usually stops when a person learns a bit of tango etiquette. But seasoned dancers? No excuse.

This post is for new dancers who have to decide for themselves if their local veteran dancers (role models) are modeling the best habits or not.


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Tonight will be my last ever milonga . . . [Mar. 17th, 2019|12:23 am]
syn_tangotherap

This is what she says each time she goes dancing:

"Tonight will be my last ever milonga."

But she says it with a smile.  She makes the most of each "last time" she has in a joyous way.

She practices for the true last time that surely will come sooner or later--not as a sad reminder that there is in all things always the very last time, but that she may be aware and simply to show up fully.  She's not on her phone.  She's not just chattering loudly next to the dancers. She is present, catching the eyes of others who want to dance too. She's aware. She's there.
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Osvaldo [Mar. 10th, 2019|08:25 pm]
syn_ireneyman

Osvaldo and Coca performing a beautiful Vals at La Nacional - "Con Tu Mirar"

Today would have been Osvaldo's birthday.  We remember the first time we celebrated Osvaldo's birthday, we were at Confiteria Ideal on the closing night of Martha and Manolo's Camicando festival in 2007.  It was the first time that we were in Buenos Aires, and Osvaldo and Coca were teaching milonga at the festival.  It was a wonderful night - live performances by all the maestros of the festival, live music by Tubatango, and even a group performance by the students.  A night to remember!

Our dear milonguero friends and maestros were full of life, living their tango lives to the fullest with milongas every night, busy teaching schedules and teaching tours lined up for months in advance.  In a blink of an eye, we have lost Alberto, Martha, Osvaldo....and we miss them every day.

Last night we were talking to two veterans of Toronto Tango, both have been dancing Tango for over 20 years.  They had seen and experienced even more of the old maestros than we had, the ones that passed before we even started learning.  How quickly things change in life and in Tango!  A mere five, ten years ago, tangueros and tangueras all around the world wanted to dance with the milongueros and like the milongueros.

Now everyone wants to train and dance with the newest and shiniest cookie cutter competition winning couple, learn the fanciest figures and adornos, and maybe even win a competition themselves.  Milonguero?  What is that?  Those old people danced strange and funky.  They didn't follow competition rules.  We don't want that!

Luckily we have the magic of Youtube to keep examples of the old style milonguero dancing alive and accessible to all - along with hundreds of videos of performances by Osvaldo and Coca.  When Osvaldo was alive, they performed almost every night and everywhere they went.  They were beloved, and they always brought down the house.

Would there be a day when everyone will become tired of Tango turning itself into Ballroom dancing?  Would they re-discover the Milongueros and want to dance in the old way?


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Practicing [Mar. 3rd, 2019|04:24 pm]
syn_ireneyman
As a follower, I hate it when a leader "practices" on me in a social dance (that means "milonga") setting.

Recently, I danced with a relatively new local leader.  He was a eager lesson taker and had improved quite quickly.  He could dance all evening non-stop and he had quite a lot of the "good followers" on his dance card.

He was also quite aggressive (and clever) in befriending Man Yung and I in order to ask me to dance.* Can't really say "no" to a "friend", can you?

* Has someone used this tactic on you?  Do you use this tactic yourself sometimes to get dances with people who aren't cabeceoing you?  This can be a subject of a whole post by itself.

The first couple of times I danced with him it was "ok".  Sometimes it is easier to just go ahead and dance with someone who is a "friend" even though it isn't "great", rather than rejecting them and risk being seen as "unfriendly", not "nice" or maybe even "an asshole".

Unfortunately (or maybe Fortunately) he had just taken a slew of private and group classes with some visiting teachers and he couldn't restrain himself from unleashing his newly acquired steps and adornments on me, even if it meant tripping over his own feet and almost falling on his face. Obviously he didn't know how to do any of those new steps well yet but what a fantastic opportunity to PRACTICE on an experienced follower!

That was wonderful because it turned me completely, utterly, WTF off and I didn't care about being rude or unfriendly the next time he asked me to dance.  I could turn him down guilt-free!

In my opinion, when social dancing, it is inappropriate to practice stuff you don't know well on your partner UNLESS they have consented to it beforehand.  It is also inappropriate to practice in a milonga if it will be disruptive to others on the dance floor.

Ideally, practice on people who are not your regular dance partner (or any practice at all) should only be done in a class, or in a practica where it is understood that people are there to practice.

When I lead I like to err on the side of caution.  When introducing a step (that I actually know I can lead) to a follower, I stop immediately at the slightest sign that either of us are stumbling.  I am not going to try, try, try again until we both get it.*

* Yeah Man Yung, stop heckling me on the sidelines when I am dancing with some of the best milonguera followers in Toronto - I am NOT going to practice NOTHING on them so there!

I don't think being able to lead or making (or forcing) followers do a gazillion trillion steps enhances the dance experience.  Rather, I think there is more merit and enjoyment in being able to connect with a follower on a level that is comfortable for the follower, and being able to express and communicate the music and feeling in Tango simply, WITH LIMITS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO.

To quote W. Somerset Maugham "To write simply is as difficult as to be good."  Applies to writing, applies to dancing too.

I was joking to a woman leader in ballroom/latin dance a few weeks ago about how NONE of the followers I was dancing with wanted me to throw some back sacadas and enganches at them to spice things up.

She laughed and said, "Yeah, me too - I ask my followers whether they wanted me to do a triple axle double salchow and they all said no too!"

So, if you want to practice, find your OWN partner and go torture them with the complete step repertoire of Forever Tango at your leisure.  If you are lucky your partner will be a super adornista and she will have a great time toe tapping and foot flicking all over you too!




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Where do all your passions meet? [Feb. 5th, 2019|12:54 pm]
syn_tangotherap
A moment of stillness before the International Dance Concourse in Vienna
A concourse is an open space where people or paths converge. Yet, a more significant place is the converging paths inside of me and you: A psychological internal convergence of paths, which you feel throughout your body when you arrive there.

Many want to know which path to take in life. Well, perhaps that is the wrong question. Ask instead: "What is my internal concourse for life?" Tango has helped me see this very clearly. If you have a passion for tango, I think that we probably have very similar places that converge.

The following are some of the many paths leading to the open space of my external concourse, and although they are mine, I think that many reading this post might have similar experiences:
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