“There are heroes in the seaweed.” Suzanne, Leonard Cohen.
Not sure why this quote is stuck in my mind, (except perhaps because Susanna Miller is coming to Edmonton this week.) But it does also relate to a duality or contradiction in dancing, particularly with tango, that we struggle with, although not always aware.
Those of us who have the courage to walk the gauntlet out onto the dance floor, in the face of our fears and fragile egos and legs wrapped in seaweed, truly are heroes of sorts.
Dance and Culture
Dance plays a formative role in most cultures around the world, (Northern Europe - and by default, North America - being a rare exception). It is foundational to socializing, celebration, ceremony, healing and religion. Unfortunately, in our culture, with the advent of the age of enlightenment and our worship of all things rational and technical, dance has been robbed of its authority and transformative power in society.
Of course, there are the independently-minded few who chose the road less travelled and commit themselves rigorously to mining the depths of wisdom, pleasure and joy that come from can be found in moving our bodies in harmony with the music and another person.
Dancing in seaweed.
So why does it feel like I am dancing in seaweed? Why does tango have to be so damn difficult?
Before you are about to give up on tango because it is difficult, really difficult, let me share a few proverbs and then a spiritual perspective.
First the platitudes:
Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.
Those things that are most worth doing are most difficult to do.
Tango is both difficult and worth it.
This is our life journey: To ascend to the stars while we remain anchored/ grounded in our bodies.
Many religious traditions drive a wedge between body and spirit and deny the importance of remaining rooted in our humanity and physicality. They want to exit for the stars as quickly as possibly.
Materialistic cultures, on the other hand, do not acknowledge the essential spiritual task of reaching for the stars and instead want to submerged themselves in indulging the insatiable appetites of the flesh and ego.
There are some exceptions; religious and cultural practices that balance both our longing for ascendance as well as our commitment to life on this plane. Sex, yoga, ceremonial dance, some sports, music as examples.
However, the learning curve is the same for all. Initially at least it feels like we are swimming in seaweed. It is difficult, very difficult. (Time to reference the three platitudes).
This challenge goes beyond just teaching our feet to find the right positioning on the dance floor. It is also about integrating our body awareness with the spiritual.
The Gift of Tango
This is why I think tango is such a magnificent vehicle for integrating the celestial and the earthbound, the spiritual and the elemental, the creative and technical.
It is difficult. The demands for precision learning and skill-development are never ending. ( Hence there is a greater chance that it will be worth the effort. See above).
Creativity and spontaneity are balanced with the requirements precision and tradition.
The cultural setting of Tango, steeped in the pathos of the immigrant social milieu, richly expresses the deep human need for belonging and artistic expression.
The Tango melds the energetic polarities and strengths of male and female body and spirit into a ladder of ascension.
The last point is my favourite. Strangely, this acknowledging and honouring of the divergent, complementary strengths of the sexes (the foundation of life!), is seldom incorporated into any practice - cultural or religious.
This unique characteristic of tango is why it has the power to be transformational in a society that often looks to philanderers and bombastards (my daughter’s term) for leadership.
Tango as a spiritual discipline has the power to teach us to appreciate beauty, create with our bodies, reverence physical connection and intimacy, respect boundaries, and be attuned to our partner, (in addition to squeezing some getting some good, old-fashioned pleasure into our day).
And yes, it feels like dancing in seaweed at times. But remember, that is what makes us HEROES.