A little over 2 years ago I fell victim to a serious addiction: Argentine Tango. Since that time I’ve been studying, teaching, and generally nerding out on everything Tango. The longer I dance the more certain I am of one simple truth: Tango is Life.
Readers who are already members of their city’s seedy Tango underbelly understand where I’m coming from. But for those who have not been bitten by the Tango Bug (which is most people), or even for those who have tried it and turned away from it frustrated, dejected, or simply unimpressed, this concept probably sounds stupid. But allow me to explore the metaphor.
First and foremost: let’s be crystal-teardrop-earrings clear on one thing. Argentine Tango does NOT refer to Dancing With the Stars, competitive ballroom dancing, or Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (though it is a sexy scene). The origins of the dance are skeletal at best, but it is widely accepted that Buenos Aires is the birthplace of Tango.
Buenos Aires is a port-city (natives refer to themselves as Porteños). Like New York around the turn of the century, the city was buzzing with immigrants. The dance developed through a fusion of many different cultures, styles of music, instruments, dances, and ideas all stirred together in the melting pot of Buenos Aires and baked in the Argentinian heat for a few decades.
Pardon the history lesson, but my point is merely to eliminate the stereotype that traditional Argentine Tango carries with it any pomp a-la sequins, false eyelashes and spray-tans. At its heart, Argentine Tango is a very down-to-earth dance that was created by ordinary people who wanted to share and integrate the cultural wealth of their homelands with each other.
So now that we’ve cleared up what Tango is not, we can move on to what it is. Tango is an improvised dance. (WHAAAAAT?) Yes, indeed. Social Tango is meant to be danced, not choreographed and watched by an audience. It’s just like any other social dance; communicated with intention and body language, which brings me to my main point.
In order to express ourselves with the body and dance in synchronization with another human, we must be present. Tango dancers and teachers alike will call this presence “connection,” so for the sake of continuity I will too, but it’s all the same idea.
The three most important connections in tango are: 1) Connection with the floor, 2) Connection with your partner, and 3) Connection with the music. In more universal terms these “connections” can be translated to mean: 1) Centering yourself, 2) Building relationships, and 3) Connecting with the universe. Sound like a formula to live by yet?
Let’s look at connection with the floor. What does that mean? At once it’s easier and infinitely harder than it seems. Most simply it means feeling your feet and your weight on the floor. At it’s most complex it is checking in with yourself physically and mentally: aligning your spine, releasing tension in the body, clearing your mind of doubt and uncertainty. You know the New Testament parable about removing the plank from your own eye before removing the splinter from someone else’s? Similar idea.
How can you openly and honestly connect and communicate with another person if you can’t listen to yourself first? As in everyday life, we can’t connect honestly and truthfully with anyone until we check in with ourselves and remove the planks from our own eyes.
Furthermore, that parable is also about learning not to judge. For me, it is the ultimate foux pas to correct or criticize another tango dancer on the floor. Again, tango is about connection with other people. At its highest perfection, the connection becomes such that you almost cannot tell who is leading and who is following. But mistakes do happen (just like in life!), and when they do, it does no good to stop the dance and say, “Hey! You messed that up. That’s not what I wanted you to do!” This accomplishes nothing but negativity and hurt feelings. It doesn’t take back the mistake or make them a better dancer AND it is ultimately about you—your ego, your insecurities.
Chance are that if you were to check in with yourself before blaming the other person you would find that there was something you could have done to prevent the mistake from happening. Did you hesitate in your lead? Are you holding unnecessary tension in your body? Did you lose connection with your partner? Did you stop paying attention to check out those sexy shoes or that lady’s juicy butt?
Connection with the floor means tuning into yourself. Anyone can accomplish this, dancer or not. Next time you are standing on the train, waiting on the platform, or even watching the barista make your coffee take a second to find that conneciton. Simply turn your attention to the soles of your feet and acknowledge that while gravity sends the weight of your body downward, the floor holds you up. Notice the changes that may occur. Did your core relax? Did your shoulders expand? Could you take a deeper breath than you could before? Maybe you even feel a little taller. Now step forward, look that barista directly in the eye and from the soles of your feet say, “Thank you.” And now you are ready to explore the second type of connection (with your partner).
Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I will address the second type of connection!
By Christina Stone
Featured Art by Leonid Afremov
Christina is a classically trained actress and an avid Tango dancer. She lives in New York with her husband (the crazy guy who created this blog). For more information about taking tango classes with Christina, check out http://learnargentinetango.com