Psyche Meets Tango: The Need to be Listened to.

Basic Need #2: to be listened to.

(Introduction from previous blog, 25/-8/19.)

“There are four foundational needs of our psyche: to be seen, to be listened to, to connect and to belong.” Reginald A. Ray, PhD, cofounder and spiritual director of Dharma Ocean Foundation.

Dance generally and Tango specifically is a conversation: an opportunity to be listened to, to be attended to, to be held, to feel supported. We are massaged inside and out through the engagement with partner and music. 


It may seem a little peculiar to identify listening as a dance skill, given that dancing is non-verbal. In tango, there are strict rules about not speaking while dancing so that we can pay attention to the non-verbal cues.

So if there are no words spoken, to what are we listening? How do we communicate non-verbally?

Actually we do it all the time. As the well-worn quip goes, “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” In fact, social scientists tell us that 80% of our communication, both expressive and receptive, (sending and receiving) is non-verbal.

However, most of this self-expression is subconscious. The challenge is to be aware of this exchange and to be able to modulate it.

“Dancing tango is like sharing a secret with someone but without words.”  Carlos Gavito.

Tango allows us the opportunity to explore these relational dynamics. In fact that is the essence of the dance. Mastering the art of Tango is not simply learning steps, it is learning how to communicate from within those movements through expression and listening.

Leading is listening, not only to the music but to to the responsiveness of our partner, her style of movement, her inner rhythm, his emotional engagement or detachment. It is learning how to adapt your dance to your partner so that you are dancing as a team, a couple, a unit, a single dancer. 

Although it isn’t visible, the body is always moving, adjusting, calibrating. I need to listen not only to my energetic presence and physical alignment but also to my partner’s. I am aware of my axis, my partner’s axis, sensing, positioning, adjusting my embrace, relaxing, breathing into my back, sending awareness to the tips of my fingers, drawing energy up from the floor, intensifying the energy between us. 

I am continually intrigued by how my dance, my step selection, my timing, changes with each of my dance partners, or how the same sequence has an entirely different feel with another dancer. Not necessarily better or worse, right or wrong, just different, intricately adapted to mood, movement and music. 

“Tango is walking.” Another quote from Gavito, (just to ensure that I am on track!).

When walking is done well it is the most satisfying dance experience. Walking, more than anything else in tango, requires an acute sense of attunement to your partner. Maintaining synchronized timing, shared axis, consistent pressure, core strength, measured steps, all requires intensely focused listening and adaptation.

Reflections on a recent practica: Taking advantage of the extra time and space on the dance music and the repetitive staccato beat of the alternativo music, my partner and I spend the last part of the tanda just walking, exploring different feels to parallel and cross system. 

Over the course of our exploration, our contact and timing evolves from erratic and unstable to regulated and responsive. This is a joint effort. There is no one to blame when the walk gets a little bumpy or when the connection gets interrupted. It is simply a matter of listening to each other and adjusting our movements and positioning accordingly.

Half way through the song my partner mutters, “This is so frustrating. One and a half years of dancing tango and I still haven’t mastered walking.”

“Think how I feel. Fifteen years and I am still stumbling.” I reply. 

I think the point is, that the flow of the walk must be recalibrated with every dance partner. Certainly experience and skill accelerates this process of adaptation but in the end it requires listening to your partner. This is not just the responsibility of the follow. Listening is also leading. 

Next blog, Basic Need #3: to Connect. Stay tuned. Subscribe and click “Like”. Thanks for following.

(photo credit. Let us learn from the example of Nature who spares no energy or imagination in fashioning new expressions of beauty. ADV 13/09/19