We’ve all been there – a marathon, a festival, a local milonga. You meet someone on the dance floor after the cabeceo, greet them with an open smile, enter their arms, and immediately feel as though their embrace – in that moment – isn’t quite tailored to you, but to someone else, maybe their favorite dance partner, perhaps their spouse, or even the last person they danced with, but certainly not for you. Then the next 9 to 12 minutes are sort of weird and mildly uncoordinated like a prom dance. You both get through the tanda without major incident or even fireworks, you nod, smile faintly, meander back to your seats, and maybe ponder the lack of chemistry.
Yeah, what the hell just happened?
I regularly get flack for admitting that one of my primary drives for dancing tango is co-creating and realizing a transcendent movement experience. Usually pushback is framed as, “That’s setting an unnecessarily high bar” or “Isn’t that expecting too much?” or “You shouldn’t expect every tanda to be mind-blowing” – and well, I don’t but I can’t help but feel a little perturbed by what sounds like a denial of our search for pleasure. I’ve started to wonder why we devote so much time, money and attention to tango if we’re convinced that only 1% to 7% of our dance lives should result in bliss. (Hell, if we felt that way about a restaurant, we wouldn’t dare go back.)
Maybe it’s because we believe that bliss is an accident, that pleasure requires no effort, that our tango fates are pre-determined, like finding true love or landing a dream job or having delicious cherries magically appear in the grocery store in July – but bliss is by design. It emerges from respect and understanding of the process of creation inside and outside of us. Pleasure is cultivated, tended and brought to harvest. My garden won’t yield squash, kale or sweet potatoes unless I plant, fertilize and water them. I give in order to receive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. (In fact, many plants tailor the color and flavor of their fruit so that we desire them, unwittingly disperse their seeds and ensure their survival.)
When dancing or gardening, I abide by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” Daylilies, mums, and lilacs have different needs, and so do your dance partners. And there’s nothing wrong with that. By acknowledging those differences and adapting to them, I achieve a better – and often transcendent – dance experience. Using this framework, good technique then, becomes like sun, water and nutrients tailored to specific plants with their unique needs. Just as we do not deny our grapevines water, sun and healthy soil, we mindfully employ the embrace, posture, grounding and step length adjusted to the individual in our arms, not the person we’re hoping to snag later for a waltz. Our intention while dancing is toward mutual comfort and ease rooted in equality of the partnership. So if you don’t know what someone wants, just ask and find out.
Whether you lead, follow or dance both roles, first aim to create the conditions for cohesive movement dialogue with another human being. Make it your first duty to defer to a shared experience of giving and receiving. In practice, this attitude means entering every embrace with equanimity – completely anew, with neutrality and freshness, prepared to meld your intention to your partner’s, discarding any preconceived notion about how we might sing or sculpt or paint the music together. Remain in the nowness of each moment with your leader or follower.
I challenge you to regard your partner as an equal; to avail yourself of their movement sensibilities, to the ebb and flow of their energy, to the myriad possibilities of pleasure. Remember, you’re always half responsible for the tanda and for the bliss that ensues.