Why write about tango? Words cannot come close to describing the experience of dancing. The main reason I started this project was that I felt a lack of common vision of practice and improvement among even the most serious tango dancers. I wanted to articulate some general principles for myself, my students, and for some fellow dancers who were also interested in the topic. I have written and rewritten it all many times, and eventually I felt reasonably comfortable exposing the present state of it. This website is the result, though it is bound to keep changing as I learn and understand more.
Tango is a relatively young art form. Potentially, it can have as much depth and cultural significance as music, painting, or the best of martial arts. But, so far, there has not been sufficient clarity among the dancers or among the general public on how to explore this potential. I am not a tango "master" - I still have a long way to what can be called mastery of this dance. I am just a serious student who over the years has been piecing together a working vision of how to approach tango as a progressive artistic practice, and of possible ways to develop it into the fine art that it can be. This vision did not come easy. It took many errors and frustrating periods during which I was stuck and confused, losing my enjoyment of this dance, in spite of studying with many reputable teachers. I have seen a number of dancers who were initially in love with tango become likewise frustrated and even abandon it altogether. Quitting was not an option for me, as I had become a serious tango “addict”, so I spent a lot of time and energy learning how to get “unstuck” and how to continuously improve my experience of dancing. Many key insights came from outside of tango circles – as a result of my explorations of Eastern martial arts and philosophy, studies of various systems of bodywork, and a psychological self-examination. One of my main objectives in sharing the information and producing this website is to help a potentially serious tango student who, like myself when I started, intuitively perceives the possible depth of this art but does not find clear ways to pursue it. Especially since I decided to stop teaching for the time being (for reasons I explain in the Personal Background and Tango and Conscious Evolution sections), I feel like giving tango students and fellow dancers an easy access to the information I have accumulated over the years. My other main objective is to help foster a dialogue between existing tango dancers, to help develop more of a common vision of how to take tango to higher levels. Everything here is subject to dispute and frequent revision, as I intend to continue learning.
Most tango “addicts” do not ask themselves such a question – they know they love it, and that is why they do it. I myself have had an urge to keep dancing tango for close to 13 years now, and it is not getting any weaker. But, such irrational sentiments aside, I am also interested in understanding the underlying qualities which make this dance so appealing. In my experience, tango has been a positive force in the following three ways:
- as pleasurable recreation and a comfortable social scene;
- as a therapeutic activity;
- as a culturally significant art form, an instrument of conscious evolution of a human being.
Taken in the lightest manner, tango, as any other social dance, is a great alternative to leisure activities which center around food and drink. I personally had always been somewhat socially uncomfortable, and did not enjoy spending long hours in bars, restaurants or cocktail parties. The tango scene instantly felt to me like a more natural way to come together with others. It was easier for me to dance with people for hours than to talk with them for 5 minutes. But even talking became easier, for tango also provided an inexhaustible topic of meaningful conversation. To me it also seems more natural to meet people in an environment that involved dancing – one often expresses oneself more eloquently and more inevitably through a dance than through hours of small talk. Before I even began to consciously realize the cultural significance of tango, I felt like I belonged in the milonga, though I was born and grew up in Russia. It made much more sense to me to come together with people on the basis of music and dance which we loved, rather than on the basis of more circumstantial workplace or school acquaintances. Another unique feature of tango is that it is a sensual, yet non-sexual interaction with the opposite sex. It allows one to viscerally experience the other person’s psycho-physical being without getting too personal. It is a great way for people to express themselves as men and women without entering into a sexual relationship.
Another reason to dance tango is that it can function as a therapeutic activity on many levels. First of all, it is a light aerobic activity, relatively safe and accessible to any age. As such, it can already make one feel better, and it is more fun than many other workouts. Tango is also automatically therapeutic due to the physical connection with another human being that it involves. In modern culture, more and more people feel isolated and lack physical contact, especially if they are single. Being hugged by another person for the duration of a dance can make a big difference in one’s mood. But a much greater therapeutic power of tango lies in how metaphorical it is of all our relationships, and especially of the ways we relate to the opposite sex. Tango has been justly called a three-minute love affair. Because the tango embrace is so close and because the dance is improvised, one inevitably expresses one’s character and relationship patterns through one’s dancing. Such things are not always easy to see from the outside, but they are perceived very clearly by one’s partner. With a little effort, one can also begin to notice one’s own habitual attitudes and how they affect the experience of both partners. Just becoming more aware of that can teach one a lot about one’s relationship patterns in general, and can thus be greatly therapeutic (it has been for me). But even more can be gained by learning how to transform one’s patterns creatively. Tango is a model relationship in which one can experiment and learn more safely, for failing to dance a good tango is not as terrifying as failing in a real-life love affair. Another therapeutic value of tango is that it is inevitably a creative act – every dance is a spontaneous, unpremeditated interaction. As such, it develops our creative potential, puts us more in touch with our instincts and intuition. In today’s world, where many people do not find enough room for creativity in the workplace, having a more creative hobby, where one expresses oneself more freely, can make a big difference in one’s well-being.
The greatest reason to dance tango, in my opinion, is that it can be practiced as an evolutionary art form – the concept that I discuss in detail in the Tango and Conscious Evolution section. Tango is an interaction that involves our senses, our motor skills, our instincts, our feelings, our intuition – our whole psycho-physical totality – to such a degree that it can be used as a tool for a general development of a human being (especially if “being” is used as a verb). Tango is a creative interaction which can teach us deeper principles of interacting in general. In this way, like the best of Eastern martial arts, tango can act as an instrument of positive transformation of an individual’s mind, body and spirit. When practiced with this goal in mind, tango becomes a culturally significant art form of a rare kind, improving the well-being of individuals and of culture as a whole. But in order for this potential of tango to manifest fully, a correct approach to it is necessary. It started for me with the realization that the biggest key to progress in this dance was improving such fundamental abilities as standing, walking and controlling one’s mind. After that I started trying to understand how to practice this art form in such a way that it most directly connected to a general self-improvement. This is, in my opinion, what it means to purify an artistic practice. It is through this approach that I ended up experiencing the biggest improvement in both my dancing and my general well-being. Developing such an approach is the main motivation behind this website.