On tango happiness and belonging, or why and how to connect
We all come into tango for different reasons. But many, if not most of us remain because of connection. Connection is a powerful and truly beautiful thing, and it’s also the driving force for belonging.
Many scientific studies have determined that human’s most basic need is a sense of community. We simply can’t be happy or even function on our own. People who have been deprived of communication for too long experience actual physical suffering, on top of facing complex psychological problems. We all have a certain maximum period of time that we feel ok being alone, beyond which we start feeling the signs of loneliness and deprivation. We need other people to feel happy and be healthy. We need to be a part of a community, we need to belong. While for some “to belong” it might be enough to simply stay close by, for others it means being an active and irreplaceable member of a group. Whatever it is, belonging makes us happy.
Tango provides us with a community with its laws, structure, gossip, groups, the “good and the bad ones” and all of it in different dynamics. That’s why we can’t say that tango is just a dance. Even if we “just dance” without caring for the rest of the tango community members, we are still dancing with another person. We are still communicating, thus satisfying our most basic human need. And of course, there are ways to make this communication more effective, more fulfilling, leading to an increased the sense of belonging and happiness. As they always say, “In tango, connection is everything”.
So how can we in tango achieve the maximum happiness, as ultimately it is our goal? By increasing the level of connection through better communication, as well as being more conscious of what is happening. It’s a topic that I have been occupying myself with for a long time. In my understanding, tango is indeed all about connecting, and achieving a happier, more “belonged” state.
When you dance, what does your partner mean to you?
Is he/she a person who leads or follows you? A person who is excited (or maybe not so) to do those movements with you? A person who gives you an opportunity to express yourself, get lost in music, or get frustrated? Knowing what it means to you, this dancing with another person, is the first step to better connection and therefore, to happiness.
I recommend trying something. Some time when you dance, whether you lead or follow, switch on some extra senses for a little bit, just to see what happens. For a minute or two, or maybe even the whole tanda, try hearing out your partner’s heartbeat. It might sound a little creepy, and I don’t suggest putting two fingers on your partner’s neck or ear to chest. I mean, attuning and trying to feel the heartbeat through hand touch, through physical closeness in close embrace, or maybe even through hearing the pulse. Is the heart beating fast, or slow and relaxed? Can you sense the changes when you move versus when you stand still? Is there any difference dependant on music? Do you think your own heartbeat matches? In what way?
This kind of exercise is not meant to be a constant pursuit. That would indeed be creepy and too difficult. After all, we want to enjoy dancing, not measure heart pumping! But this kind of exercise, done even for just a few seconds, will increase your ability to listen and attune to your partner more. And ultimately, it’s what will make your connection stronger.
When we listen to each other,
we thrive. We experience additional levels of pleasure and joy. Remember those moments when your partner suddenly smiled into your cheek, because of something you did? Such smiles make us enjoy the experience of dancing with this person more. It makes us feel more connected and happier, ourselves. If we can make this other person happy, then surely we must be a pleasant dancer, at least for this particular partner and in this particular moment! The “togetherness” of joined joy is incredibly satisfying!
There is an enormous difference between dancing tango by moving your bodies versus by feeling your bodies moving.
Moving ourselves is very active and requires a fair amount of brainwork, coordination and concentration, which can all be pleasant but won’t get you carried away and forgetting everything around you. Moving ourselves is a bit like going to the gym for the first time: you’re switched on, engaged, but very much in your own self and often self-conscious when some move doesn’t work out or you worry that you might not be keeping up. Or maybe you’re working out because you know you must, so you’re a bit bored with the same routine you’ve done a thousand times before.
When you just move, you feel you can’t really quit (after all, you’ve done so many classes!), but you are also not fully understanding what this whole tango thing is about and why you’re doing it. The “bliss” they all speak about is not quite there, but so many people tell you to “just keep going, you’ll enjoy more and more with time”. So you keep going, and sometimes it’s nice, but mostly you’re not quite sure tango is for you.
When you dance by feeling your bodies moving, it’s a completely different thing.
It’s a bit like getting out of your own body and observing the sensations that dancing brings out in you. Ok, so you’re embracing this person now, is it making you feel happy to be embraced back? Do you feel like you’re actually truly embracing him/her, or just having your arms where they should be? When you move, does it feel like you’re moving in “togetherness”? When there is a misunderstanding, do you feel like smiling about it, or do you get frustrated? In those moments when you feel “connected”, how does it make you feel? Also, do you enjoy how your body responds to music? When your partner expresses some musicality that is different from your own, do you feel yourself enjoying listening to them?
Imagine floating outside your body and looking at yourself dancing, but instead of seeing how you move, you’re observing how you feel. If you try this, you might be surprised by what you experience! We so very often get carried away in sequences, in trying to do as much as we can, as good as we can. We worry about our technique, our lines not being perfect and our vocabulary not being that vast. But if you switch your attention from the action to the feeling (of action or peace), you will access a very different level of appreciation of tango. Give it a try!
One last thing I’d really like to mention is the male and female energies in our dance.
Yes, we lead and follow, and we are men and women. But do we feel that way? When we embrace our partners, do we embrace just a person, or a man/woman, with their masculine and feminine sides?
After years in tango, and different ways of approaching this, I came to a conclusion that the female/male energies is one of the most important sides of tango. Pablo Rodriguez recently told me, he really doesn’t like the “leader and follower” terms. I can agree with him, and he’s not the first person who said so. “Leader and Follower” is very impersonal and dry. “Dance like a leader, dance like a follower!” What does that even mean?
While I agree with Pablo, I also see how it’s difficult to always call those who lead “men” and those who follow – always “women”. Because in most communities, we are flexible, we are often changing, and we should do so. But what we can definitely do is add a new dimension to our dance. You can be a leader who is man with powerful and masculine energy, and you can be a gentle and feminine female follower. Or you can be a female leader with soft energy, leading an active and strong other woman. Or maybe you’re a man with soft and careful personality, who leads another gentle man?
I think it is important to bring out our personalities in the dance, and to enjoy and respect other people’s energies as well. The masculine and the feminine in tango is a separate topic, I will write more about it soon, but I find it so important for the connection and for the rich and deep exchange between us in the dance, that I needed to mention it now.
When you dance, try to give your partner the feeling of being what they want to be, and make sure you don’t forget about yourself! If you want to feel like a lion, like a rock your partner can rely on, put it into your dance! Don’t be afraid of really embracing your partner, of telling her/him through your embrace, “you can trust me”. And if you are a gentle and feminine woman, why not really make your embrace, and your movement feminine and sensual? We all too often forget how to be sensual (don’t mix it up with sexual), and just dance in a robotic way.
Please don’t be scared of who you want to be, of who you are! Express it, it might be just one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever feel in tango! Embrace like a man, like a woman! Embrace and feel a man or a woman in your arms! Don’t be afraid. And you will see how your connection and happiness levels will rise up!
Enjoy tango sensations, express and accept the feminine/masculine sides of it, find the deeper connection, and watch how your joy and the sense of belonging grow and make you a happier person!
With love for tango,