These days I’m working on revising, correcting and translating my book (in case you didn’t know, yes, I’ve written a book and I’m hoping to publish the Spanish edition soon, the English edition is a little behind). In the middle of that I found a video that’s not about tango, but since I was “on topic” I thought it was a great excuse to talk about tango and its complexities. Stick around to watch the video and to find out how it can help you in your tango dancing.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a long time fan of the TED initiative. TED is a conference that’s held annually in the USA, and that focuses on Technology, Education and Design with short talks of up to 18 minutes each with “ideas worth spreading” (this is their motto). You probably know all this, just checking.
Here’s a video recorded at TEDxHouston, let’s watch it first and then discuss how it relates to tango.
If you like this talk, I highly recommend you give www.ted.com a look. Just be aware you can spend days and days just watching amazing conferences…
Unraveling some tango mysteries
With some luck just by seeing the video you found some connections with tango dancing. Let’s slowly review what Brené Brown, the speaker, discusses.
After some minutes of introduction to the talk, Brown says that she decided she’d study the connection between people. This is interesting, and at this point you probably began to pay more attention: everyone related to tango dancing has heard time and againg that connection is the most important thing for good tango dancing. Which is curious, because nobody seems to take the time and effort to work on this systematically and to try to understand it better (I do, in case you were wondering 🙂 ). All this talk about connection while no work is being done seems like an unexplainable paradox, but Brown also gives us some clues about this.
I think the first thing that should be made clear is that this is not a paradox, but just lack of pedagogy. A lack of pedagogy from every teacher that cannot explain this, sure, but most importantly a pedagogical and methodological failure of the way we describe tango dancing in itself. This is something to explore more in detail (it’s in the book…) but let’s just say that the scientistic approach of describing the movements from the outside is really harmful because connection is not something too visible or measurable, and as Brown quotes in the video “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist“.
The second reason why this is not really a paradox but something really easy to explain is that the video teaches us that the factor associated with lack of connection is shame, which is nothing more than a type of fear: fear that who I really am is not worthy of connection from others. And discussing fear, ridicule and shame isn’t easy, so we just never do and the problem is left alone. I usually don’t discuss fear and shame either, but only because I skip ahead to the next step.
Brené Brown says that according to her research the common trait, the requisite for connection, to not be afraid and feel worth of it, is to accept our own vulnerability. What all the subjects display is the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to be gentle with themselves and others, and the connection appears as a result of this. This connection is the result of authenticity, of accepting ourselves as we are and of letting go of what we think we should be.
And how do we do this with our tango dancing? I’ve been a strong proponent for many years of the idea that the basis of tango is not its movements but its sensations. This is not some pseudopoetic twist, in my case it’s a concrete and organized work methodology. And if we begin to work from our sensations, we necessarily start to value who we are and what we want, over who we should be or what we should want to do (in our tango context, this should be is represented by tango steps).
Approaching our sensations also necessarily confronts us with our own limitations and imperfections, but at the same time it shows us how to work through them. This means that not only sensations are able to show us where we truly are on the path, they also orient us and they shine the way forward.
Finally, working with our physical, emotional and spiritual sensations in a more permanent and systematic way puts us in a better position to be able to observe, listen, understand, accept and welcome our partner… physically, emotionally and spiritually. As you can see, these ideas put us on the path of connection and total improvisation with our couple.
The illusion of control
At this point Brené Brown mentions that she felt these findings as a deep betrayal: her life was dedicated to controlling and predicting, and her own research was telling her that this is a really bad idea. For tango, the idea of dismantling the need for control also destroys one of the most pervasive aspects of tango dancing as it is taught everywhere on the planet. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a hint, it’s in the title of this post…
Speaking of roles in tango is a big enough task, and I dedicate a whole chapter to them (I’m so looking forward to publishing my book, does it show?). Let me summarize some of that for you. To talk about roles is not to talk about gender. It has nothing to do with sexuality or with the advances (or lack of advances) of the rights of women, homosexuals, or any other group of our society. And the big problem of roles is not that there’s one that’s supposedly more passive than the other, but actually quite the opposite: the problem comes with thinking that there’s someone that leads.
When I mention that there are no roles in tango the first thing I get asked is always “but what if I want to go somewhere and my partner wants to go somewhere else?“. There’s an aftertaste with hints of aggression in thinking of the couple as a conflict and in looking for a winner inside of it. When one of the two members of the couple is set on doing something in particular the problem is already present.
The real process is much more flexible: my sensations include the person I dance with. If my partner is not ready I won’t suggest to move, if it’s easy for her to move to the right I won’t ask her to go to the left. Am I not following her, then? If I dance differently with every partner, how can I insist in thinking that I’m really in charge of the thing? And if nothing changes even if I switch couples, am I really connecting?
Beginning to change this toxic way of thinking and feeling in roles lets us embrace even more the path to connection, courage, the imperfections in us and others, compassion and shared improvisation. To create is nothing more than allowing ourselves to be transported by who we are and what happens to us, and in tango this can never be done alone.
Lastly, as Brown says in the final minutes of her talk, it’s not possible to block only negative feelings, we numb them all at the same time. This is why if you dare to think and live your tango this way the rewards will be huge moments of enjoyment, of interrelating, of intimacy, and of irreplaceable emotional, spiritual (and physical!) finesse. That’s why sensations should always be the fundamental core in the study of technique.
What do you think? Are you interested in exploring this way of thinking about tango? Are there any thinkers, philosophers, researchers, that made you rethink something related to your tango? Or that said something that made it easier to express your own long-held thoughts, like this conference did for me? Leave a comment and tell me all about it, I’d love to know! 😀 And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter with the miniform on the sidebar so I can update you on future activities and posts…
Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish