What really happens when Tango inspires you?

When Tango works it’s magic it produces a very special sensation.

Not for the first time I am trying to work out why it is actually so special – and exactly what that sensation is. I am very aware that people with a whole lot more experience than me have already written extensively about this. But I am still thoughtful about what is happening to me, and why. I will probably look back on this blog in another two years and realise I just had absolutely no understanding at all – but that learning and step changes of understanding is one of the things that makes everything so exciting.

So what actually happens?

To me something takes place, if it is going to happen at all – in the very first seconds of embracing someone. I think we always enter the embrace – if we don’t know someone of course – with the hope that this might be special. Within those first few moments that hope is either completely denied or carried forwards as a possibility.

When the first embrace feels positive – that we hold each other in an appreciative, meaningful and respectful way – I think the most important thing is that as a leader I wait for a few moments. I am unclear exactly what happens – but I get the sense that quietness invites both of us to concentrate on complex feelings – on the emotions between us and the possibility that we can express the musical landscape in our dance. That this dance together need not be another mindless rush through a meaningless series of patterns.

I also think that with that initial delay the embrace adjusts yet again – to something that a teacher of mine recently described as a high resolution embrace. There is a tangible awareness that something is possible – that we both have enough structure in our Tango. Now there is a presence of a physical tension and of excitement.

But for anything to build from this that initial expectation it still needs a validation – which for me happens in the first few steps – simple and timely movements that follow the most basic and familiar structures of Tango. As a leader I must be so aware that the follower is still anxious – that she perhaps feels the promise – but is worried that I am going to blow it with poor musicality, or arrogance, or that we just won’t get on, that I will hold her too tightly or not give her enough time – or any other basic fault that cause her to lapse back into that mindset of worrying what comes next – or even worse what comes now – rather than losing herself to the structure of an embrace and expressing her femininity within a code that she can fully trust.

But why is this happening to me recently?

The answer I have is that because after over two years of trying so hard to learn – I can at last dance Tango as a dance. Of course only at a very basic level – but I am convinced I am now dancing – starting to be creative – listening to the music, understanding more – and above all listening to the follower and being responsive to her.

Tango is a huge journey – and one of the milestones we pass at some stage is that we can actually dance – and not have to plan, panic and analyse, we  can instead offer ourselves to a complete stranger confident in the structure of Tango itself, the music and what we have learned. We can dance together.

Before that moment in our journey nothing truly special is likely to happen – what we feel instead is a great and justifiable sense of achievement at having got through 10 minutes without making a complete idiot of ourselves. This in itself is a huge ask – Tango for the first couple of years is a scary place – in my opinion especially for leaders who tend to be less natural dancers – and it is not surprising that we focus so hard on assembling enough steps and confidence to get us through.

So the embrace feels positive. The first few steps work. What then builds on this opportunity to make the kind of Tanda where you don’t even want to break the embrace between songs? Where at the end you each acknowledge that was something special. I can of course only speak as a leader still at the very beginning of my own journey.

One thing is pauses – I really care that within the first song the follower realises that I am going to give her time to express herself. Because it is a wonderful feeling to give her time, and also because I want to know how she will use it.

I often feel the follower – within the first song – change her embrace. This I think is an expression of her trust – that I have earned her respect – that she feels safe and now wants give herself to our dance and to the music more than she was prepared to do a few moments ago. I find that change of embrace incredibly exciting – it is a direct physical sensation of someone ultimately taking a risk and giving herself to me – for us to dance as one person she more than me has to take risks — in essence to depend on me –  what a privilege when she looks for this and expresses it so directly. She changes her weight distribution that creates a single axis which needs both of us to work – and that decision is a risk for her. When she makes that change she needs me to dance with her.

So this is the the way it seems to happen…

  • First of all our initial embrace told us both that a connection exists.
  • An initial stillness focusses ourselves on each other and the possibilities of our Tango
  • Then the first steps reassure us of our mutual structures, learning and experience. There are going to be no tricks.
  • Our musicality is validated – we are comfortable in the movements we make and the way they fit to the music.
  • Pauses – she can relax knowing that she is going to be given time to express herself.
  • The follower feels that she can truly relax into this Tanda and changes her embrace to commit to us as a couple

The result of all of this is that for me the partner disappears as an individual. This is perhaps a strange thing to say, but after all in close embrace Tango we are practically invisible to each other in terms of sight.

I think this is so important, and yet another area where I have been so slow on the uptake. It seems to me that this is nothing about us as individuals instead for both of us the other exists as an archetype – an idealisation of the perfect woman or man, or emotion, or perhaps more simply they become the perfect shared experience for this moment, and this music. We have committed to each other and really do move as if we were one living thing, one shared emotional experience within which we can be completely lost as individuals.

It is precisely when this special feeling is not present – when we just socially dance together, and talk between songs about where we are from or how long we have been dancing or anything else to fill a silence – that we do still exist as individuals, we have failed to become whatever it is that two people dancing close embrace Tango beautifully together do become.

So now I want to improve – I want to get this Tango feeling more often. What should I focus on?

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