“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” Kahlil Gibran
What does tango have in common with other Latin dances?
Consider the most highly charged energetic dances, e.g., jive, salsa, blues, swing. What do they have in common? They feed off the to and fro motion, coming together with close body contact and moving apart. This is true of tango as well, although in a less intense and dramatic fashion.
In Tango* one never completely loses contact with one’s partner but maintains a fairly consistent level of contact and intimacy. Nonetheless there is still the fluctuation of timing, the movement in and out of close embrace, the alternation between routinized and improvisational elements, the infusion of emotion with technique, all of which generates that energizing dynamic common to both dance and relationships.
* I referring to Salon style tango (with which most of us are most familiar) which includes a variation of styles and steps, alternating between walking and turning, moving in and out of close embrace and flexible timing (in contrast to milonga). Relational dynamics are predicated by those same qualities: flexibility, adaptability, variety, change, fluctuation between intimacy and separation, oscillation between the habitual and novel.
My personal interest in tango, as opposed to the other dances mentioned above (including milonga and close-embrace tango), is that the energy in tango is softer and more subtle. This allows for a gentler movement in and out of the engagement styles of intimacy and distance, contact and separation, shared and solitary axis, routinized and novel/ creative behaviours, adjustment of timing and mood. This affords a deeper exploration of relational dynamics which is predicated on gentleness and mindfulness.
OK. Who the @!%$!! cares?
Let’s take a step back. Why am I blithering on about this psychobabble when all that anyone wants to do is get up on the dance floor and have a good time? My hunch is there are very few dancers who give any thought to relational dynamics.
Nonetheless, I believe these elements are present in the dance whether or not we tend to them and I also suspect that this is what draws most of us to tango. (It certainly isn't the hundreds of hours of labourious lessons that are required to dance skillfully.) We just don’t have the vocabulary or insight to identify what is going on at an inner or energetic level. Most of the discussion around tango, if we ever risk straying beyond a masochistic preoccupation with technique and musicality, is about wardrobe selection or sexual attraction or masculine and feminine qualities in the dance.
There is the potential for the exploration to go much deeper and for us to glean much more from the dance. It of course requires all the qualities and attitudes that are evoked in other relational contexts, such as vulnerability, openness, trust, sensitivity, attunement, timing, effort and affection, which we tend to shy away from. But these are the qualities that enrich us, energize our life as well as our dance, and make us more fully human.
This is especially true if we are dancing with a life partner or beloved. Certainly Patricia’s and my shared experience of dancing tango was intimate in a way that never enters into any of my social dancing. Nonetheless, there is a place, and a need, for all men and women to learn attitudes of respect, mutuality, attentiveness and affection. Tango provides a unique opportunity to develop these relational skills in a safe and supportive playground.
I will explore how we can bring this element to our dancing and show how it will not only change our dancing but make it more enjoyable and easier!