Tango is not just a dance form
It is a language and a way of life for very many people. You can go to any major city in the world and find a tango joint and, without being able to speak a word of the local language, join in fully with the activities and dance all night. I am not just speaking about good, experienced dancers. This applies to all levels of competence, since the challenge and rewards of dancing with someone entirely new to you are not about the techniques of the dance so much as the communication between the two of you. Naturally, the more skilled we are in a shared language, the more interesting and involved the conversation we can have. I feel sure, however, that all of us have enjoyed chatting to a child about this and that, avoiding using words we don’t expect they know and staying on subjects that we judge would be likely to amuse them. So it is with tango and tango trust. Higher skills are not for showing off; that would be odious. Higher skills are for the avoidance of embarrassment and the greater ability to pitch the ‘conversation’ at an appropriate level.
Tango trust, main secrets
We ask someone to dance (and in the modern world it is as likely for a woman to approach a man as vice versa) and, should they accept our invitation, we enter an unspoken agreement of ‘tango trust’. Both participants have given their consent to body bodily contact that might, and probably will, be well inside the usual socially accepted boundary that we all acknowledge when we meet a stranger. You know how it is. Usually, when people are first introduced, they talk standing about a meter apart and often at an angle to each other. They usually accept touch in the shape of the briefest handshake and often prefer limited, occasional eye contact (one of the main aspects of tango trust) for a while. Good friends may hug and kiss on meeting and stand closer. They may also touch each other from time to time, briefly and on the arm or back, but rarely on the front of the body. Men in more familiar relationships sometimes ruffle each other’s hair and play-wrestle while women seem, in general, much more comfortable with a closer stance, gentler forms of touch and more intimacy.
Tango trust, main secrets. Obviously, we go to a tango venue to dance and we expect and look for close contact, but it is still quite a departure for most people to take a stranger closely into their arms within moments of first meeting. It takes a big element of trust; the tango trust. Why do I bother to mention it? What is the relevance of this to tango and to connection? Well, let us consider the nature of the dance at its most basic. The man leads and improvises the movements of the couple and the woman follows. This is potentially a very unbalanced situation. It is not like a man and a woman playing chess or tennis together. Furthermore, the music and the lyrics speak of passion, anger, sadness, yearning and unrequited love. These feelings are communicated between the dancers, sometimes by very close contact indeed. It works only by mutual consent, tango trust. At the safest level, dancing a tango is a harmless flirtation, but for some people it can be uncomfortably arousing. Like all powerful things it must be handled with care. I am sorry to say that not all tango dancers understand this. Remember that, just because you like the look of someone, it does not mean that they are a good or pleasant person to be with. Being a good dancer does not make you a nice person either. Just supposing both people are good people and wonderful dancers, it still does not mean that they will click on the dance floor. What makes that happen is usually a big helping of tango trust.
Tango trust, main secrets. The tango world tends to attract people – men and women – who are seeking close contact with others in a safe environment. I suppose that a milonga would have something in common with a gay bar or a singles club. Human nature is such, however, that some people need others to lean on and others seek partners to dominate or control. Both these normal extremes of behavior represent an abuse of tango trust. Sadly, it is possible to encounter tango dancers who use their skill to impose themselves on others. Included in this group are those leaders who see their follower as an instrument that they can play as a drum to the music. There are those who need to believe in the caricatured macho image of historical tango for their own delight, quite forgetting the art of ‘conversation’. These are the deaf who shout at you! I maintain that the essence of real macho is the self-confidence that allows a man to be sensitive as well as strong, skilled in the art of conversation and full of respect for the woman’s strengths. Thankfully, there are usually many available partners to dance with, and most of us find that we can easily avoid those who deny us our rights in the dance. There are several ways you might amend unacceptable behavior on the dance floor, however.
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