The 4M's of Tango: Reflections on the Psychological Effects of Tango.

Guest blog by Mark Ward,

The 4th M of Tango

About four years ago, I came up with a motto for this blog: 

"The 3 M's of Tango: Music / Movement / eMbrace."  

But now, I realize now that I was missing an essential element. The 4th M is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an essential element of what draws people to tango. I have had trouble through the years of knowing the difference between fun and mindful euphoria, and it has become clear as I have a regular meditative practice. Without the meditative, mindful part in tango, we may have a fun time but this fun will go by all too fast.  Mindfulness brings a time-slowing euphoria.

Nearly anyone who has danced tango has experienced the difference of a tanda that haunts you forever rather than one that was over too fast and then forgotten. True, time goes fast when you are having fun.  Meditative, mindful euphoria creates the experiential reality of time slowing or even stopping.

As a trauma/tragedy therapist, I have come to see the Four M's as the natural ways for the human race to get over tragedies. Because life is often tragic, people are prone to a bout of crippling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes the disorder never is fully treated. Tragedies harm animals psychologically but because we human beings are the over-thinking animal, we are more susceptible to enduring psychological disability. As a result, we need all four M's to get over Post Traumatic symptoms--whether mild or disabling--the death of a child or loved one, a career destroyed, violence, crime, abuse and of course war--are all too frequent in the human experience.

Let's review the Powerful Four which give us a way to natural resiliency:

  • Music.  If we lose music, we lose our humanity.  Music allows our minds to be more resilient with all the tragedies and emotional pain we endure on this planet and in a lifetime. Those who have experienced the tragedies of war, whom I have seen as a therapist, are constantly listening to music to calm their troubled memories. Music creates a way to survive after tragedies.

  • Movement. If we don't move, we lose our minds. Even if we are listening to music, our brain is automatically moving our bodies--even in our apparent stillness.  Movement can continue with meditative walking or small motor movements, such as with art and hobbies. My favorite trauma therapy, for that matter, uses movement too (EMDR). A good mindful walk alone has resolved many hurts and tragedies in people's hearts throughout human history.

  • eMbrace.  I once worked as a therapist in Stuttgart, Germany on a multi-disciplinary team for children with developmental delays.  We watched for "failure to thrive" children.  These were children who were not getting enough physical touch or embraces. What I have eventually come to realize is that children and adults need physical touch or we perish. Adults learn how to take care of their touch-needs themselves, such as in hygiene, hair brushing, and sexual self-pleasure. Take away touch and people perish at any age. Embrace is the best balm for the tragedy of neglect.

  • Mindfulness.  The fourth M, "mindfulness," is actually "bodyfulness."** The purpose of mindfulness is paradoxically to not be in your mind but get into your body and to be attentive to your partner and environ.  Mindfulness / Bodyfulness allows us to get into a space of "flow." Without mindfulness life--including tango and relationships--become a whirlwind of events and it seems that life is passing us by. Mindful, attentive awareness brings to human experiences which do not fade but are added to a matrix of theexperiential reality of timelessness. These experiences follow us everywhere, something like a first kiss follows which stays with us for a lifetime. Many of the foremost leaders in mindfulness have come or escaped from countries torn apart from the tragedies of war, such as Vietnam and Tibet.

I am delighted at this new discovery in my tango.  Of course, you and I undoubtedly have been experiencing the fourth M. But now that I am more and more attentive to this final M, I find even a fast milonga tanda full of moments when time slows or stops. These days, I rarely end up saying "that tanda went by too fast." I, instead, when seeking mindfulness, return to the forever now, and that is becoming a familiar place without time. Even if I stop dancing, the Four M's will follow me throughout my life.  I know that I need them if  I wish to continue to find happiness and resiliency in a troubled world.