Monday, September 4, 2017

Finding your other half in tango



Find your "other half" in tango!

I do not mean finding someone to accompany you to tonight's milonga.  If you are searching for your "other half" (or even "better half") in another person, you are likely to find another half person!

Your other half is, I believe, your introverted half finding her extroverted half, your integrated yang-self fully accepting his yin-self, your segregated male and female natures finally uniting. Biologically speaking, your other half is a balanced Autonomic Nervous System.

A tango friend, Eric, and I were talking this week, and I was struck by his story of how he once was a bit introverted before he danced tango. In spite of his mild introversion, he somehow became a good public speaker, saying that he had to prepare to speak in public by taking on an extroverted persona, someone unlike himself.  He recounted how he would talk to himself to prepare himself before a speech:

"It's show time!" he'd tell himself, and he'd get up to address the audience with his other persona in charge, and he did a good job.

"But then something interesting happened," he went on to say.

"After I learned tango, I did not have to get up and be someone different. I just got up and was myself.  Eventually, I was a better public speaker than before, although I was fairly balanced between being an introvert and extrovert, public speaking became much easier after I started practicing my tango in my mind and body everywhere I went."

It occurred to me a day after our conversation that to some degree, I too have experienced the same sort of integration or balancing of my own personality after I started learning tango! When I ran, I practiced tango. I danced with my stiff partner (the grocery cart) while shopping. Tango was on my mind, changing me. Eventually,  I was much more introverted than before. For example,  I rarely talk between songs at a milonga. I am speechless. That's a miracle for an extrovert!

I know that some will think that any dance one practices will create this integration of one's personality. As a salsa, swing and blues dancer, I beg to differ. Although social dance may help social skills for introverts and slow down extroverts, Argentine social tango is indeed unique among dances. That's why I prescribe close embrace Argentine tango to create this balancing phenomenon I am describing here. If not Argentine close embrace tango, then I suggest any activity that engages the calming Parasympathetic Nervous System (see graphic below). Practice yoga, learn tai chi, or experience deep meditation! They all activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Performance tango,  as with other open dances I love to dance, in my experience tend to produce the thrill-responsive adrenaline from the Sympathetic Nervous System too much to be called "mindfulness activities."

Your calmer "better half" is on the right side.
The 24/7 Practica
In my experience, teachers I have had who taught activities that engender mindfulness, sometimes do not practice it outside of tai chi, yoga, meditation or tango. Mindfulness practice, the 24/7 practica is what makes tango powerful in ones life. Live tango or any mindfulness discipline outside of the discipline itself. Dance tango or mindful walking while buying groceries. Find your balance while in an elevator. Secretly embody the ubiquitous music around you that seemingly merits little or no attention from those around you.

If for no other reason than your health, get to know and visit your Parasympathetic Nervous System, a part of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  The ANS's two branches help you breathe without thinking, your heart to beat without thinking, and yes, to dance without thinking, as I recommended in Autonomic Dancing. When our cerebral cortex consciously joins our ANS, consciously slowing our breathing, consciously paying attention the tempo of our heart beat, mindfully sensing our environment through our senses (touch, taste, hearing, smell, and balance), we find much more than just our "other half"--we find our "better half."

Let me suggest again not to look for one's other half or better half in another person.  Find this wholeness, these moments of Heaven on Earth, enlightenment, meditative flow and tangasmic Nirvana through discovering what lies within. Enjoy your self's Oneness on a spiritual level and on a biological level, find this balance within the internal dance of a balanced Autonomic Nervous System.

Meet you in Heaven? Bring your other half.


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Notes:
Inspiration for this post comes from a conversation with my friend, Eric Gebhart. Visit his tango blog at http://tangobreath.com/.

Photo credit of sculpted couple.

Further reading:  How music affects the ANS: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011183/


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Autonomic Dancing


Autonomic Dancing is a connection to the music and natural embodiment of music. An example of autonomic dancing is found in Cuba. Dancers of the guaguaco say that they allow the gods to take control of their body, and they begin their ecstatic dance.  Another word for "the gods" is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  It's easier to say "the gods."  On a good night the tango gods take over my body, thanks to the ANS.

The autonomic nervous system is running our body without any thought from the "executive functions" of the brain.  We breathe, our heart pumps and our digestive system all function even when asleep or if knocked unconscious. The ANS also includes bodily movements that follow without thought when music is played.

The antipode of Autonomic Dance is Cerebral Dance.  Cerebral dancing is a series of choreographed moves that keep repeating themselves (if you are lucky) to the pulse.  A remarkable amount of people in non-dancing cultures often complain they have two left feet. In reality they have a disconnected autonomic nervous system from music. It is not a person's fault. Cerebral dancing, I believe, comes from a culture and/or family which has devalued music and dance. My university, and example of cultural devaluation, had no dance department, and the music department had a large increase in funding only when the sports department needed musicians to play at their football half-time.

Try this: Focus on your dance in a similar way you might focus on your breathing in meditation. Alter both your breathing and dancing now by slowing them down, paying attention to phrasing and melody.  If you allow the body to breathe or dance as it does naturally, you may find that if you are present within your own body. Once you begin being in yourself, observing and joining your ANS (the gods), you will find it easier to connect and be present with the person in front of you.

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Further reading:  How music effects the ANS:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011183/

Photo credit of ecstatic dance:  https://wildlyfreewoman.net/tag/tonya-k-freeman/




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Life Expectancy through Expectancy in Life


Let's say that one day I can no longer dance Argentine tango. I feel strongly that the skills I have learned from social tango would increase the likelihood that I will live longer, and if not longer, then at least happy years. Longevity is not my goal. Increasing my "life expectancy" also is not a my goal. But, yes, Expectancy in Life, is my past and present which has a good chance of being my happy future.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Getting beyond Zero


"Getting to Zero" is a goal theory with a big hole in the center of it.

Getting to Zero and then beyond, however, is the very best that tango can give you.  In the area of the arts and the human psyche, Zero is not enough. Something I have been doing with patients diagnosed with PTSD lately has been to measure distress differently. My goal for those I help is going beyond. Tango is my inspiration for challenging the "getting to Zero" medical model.

Friday, March 31, 2017

No Cure for Dance Phobias



There in no cure for dance phobias except by dancing.  The fear of dancing (chorophobia) has no special pill, no easy therapy, no healing magic wand.  Why?  Because chorophobia is often not even seen as being a problem. How can you cure a problem when it is not even recognized as one?  So, in other words, chorophobia does not even get a chance to be cured.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sustainable Tango: The Facets of Well-Being


For many who dance tango--and I am one of them--tango is like visiting heaven.  But is it tango that makes people happy or something else?  I think we can agree on the answer when we really think about it:  Tango does not make us happy.  A life that juggles many different wellness elements will sustain tango (or any other positive behavior) over time.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mood Regulation and Tango



This post may save someone's life.  No matter who you are in life, you will be touched by others for whom you care who will kill themselves. I work with a population of men and women who kill themselves in the US nearly every hour of every day:  Military veterans.  Sadly, you and those you know are at risk for suicide.  I am not going to suggest helping a suicidal friend or family member with tango; however, I hope you can see why the most effective therapy for mood regulation is very similar to tango (as practised in a caring, warm community of dancers). In other words, I hope you will value what you have through tango a bit more, and are a little less inclined to subscribe to how tango is the opposite of healing as a mere "addiction."  Is it possible?  You may be regulating your mood through tango and increasing your well-being!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Last Chance Tango



Preface: Below is a curriculum for small cities.  Gender balance is a good place to start.  So do it!  I hope this curriculum helps to grow your community.  It will probably not work when tango stars have already come to your city to show people how to dance. Too often such teachers forget the personal and social value of dance.  So you must find a teacher or a group of people who will guide this curriculum, who are dedicated to quality social dancing, not just dancing.  The first class should happen over a beer with no dancing.  You will see why . . .

Last Chance Tango may be your offer to your partner, but he doesn't even know it! So make it known with a true curriculum and a real chance at success. Last Chance Tango is a way of teaching tango that has nothing to do with the torturous dance classes that your partner either avoids or tried and refuses ever to try again. I am asking for a bold step:  Ask the person you love for one last attempt at a dance class--Last Chance Tango. Tell your partner, "I'll never ask again, baby!"  That will take courage, but the next part is harder, and you have little power in how the next step will go--actually going to take the class. So let's think this through before you dare trying what might be your "last tango."

What is at stake here. Not being willing to dance may be a signal that one's relationship will sooner or later fail. Many people start dancing at the end of a relationship to start going out and to re-enter the world after a relationship break-up. But why wait for the end?

Friday, November 11, 2016

How WMD can save the world


WMD:  Weapons of Peace



WMD is not "Weapons of Mass Destruction" as used here!

Tango uses WMD. Words. Music. Dance. These powerfully combine can effectively change your world, challenge depression and to help us rediscover our psychological center. Dance combined with music and lyrics, in my opinion, contain the markers of what it means to be human. In the fourteen lines of a sonnet, the meaning of life may become clear. By the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony some men may understand what women want when they cry from being happy.* Dance explains the meaning of the universe in an excellent tanda. If honey bees can dance to find the exact coordinates of pollinating flowers, then perhaps words, music and dance can help humanity find the coordinates away from our apparent path of self-destruction. Words. Music. Dance: The weapons of peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Seven Year Itch


After seven years many people give up, or reassess what the future should be.  That's the seven year itch. 

I am not giving up, but on my way to important life goals. November first marks important dates for me--seven years to the day of maintaining this tango blog, ten years of a passion for dancing tango, and a coincidence of having written 365 posts with this one. Has it been worth it? That is a question to myself. The answer is "absolutely!" Writing so often has lead me to do my life's work:  Writing a book that must be written for veterans.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Foundation of Pleasure


The why of the embrace, the music, the movement: Dance survival

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” 
Viktor E. Frankl,  Auschwitz survivor and psychotherapist

Dance and pleasure.  The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of dance is pure pleasure.  

However the foundation of pleasure in dance is Meaning. This thesis is highly influenced by Viktor Frankl. He was an medical doctor, neurologist and psychiatrist. As an MD for his fellow Auschwitz prisoners, he later went on to continue the great traditions of two other Viennese psychotherapy thinkers right before him, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Other important thinkers who have laid the basis of modern psychological theory still remain in their theories far more accepted.  (And that is why many dancers will immediately, say "bullshit!" to the idea that meaning is the foundation of dance passion and pleasure, of self-actualization and empowerment.)  But Victor Frankl's view was tested in the death camps on what survival is all about, including the survival of pleasure and happiness.  We ought to listen to his insights!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do you dance to compete?



When someone finds out that I love to dance, they nearly always ask, "Do you compete?" I am sure that I am not alone.  How about you? My answer is an overly passionate "No! I dance out of pure joy. I've already won." Isn't it a shame that dance--one of the few biological markers of our essential humanity--is perceived as being a spectator sport?  A dancing-with-the-elite-stars spectacle? Something to sit down and watch? Something to be judged by experts?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tango and Cardiac Coherence

Is your tango "coherent"?
"Cardiac Coherence" is a term you will start hearing regularly. From this new area of study, we will start hearing more about activities that bring one's nervous system into alignment with one's breathing and heart rhythms.  Types of meditation and any mindfulness practice will be studied for the positive effects they achieve.  Not all mindfulness practices are equal, and now we can measure them.  Close embrace, mindful tango is not even being studied.  But it will be.  Trust me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Tango Etiquette



Beginners need to know a few things that hopefully are already clear to others, but if you are a beginner, just as in life, the "grown ups" may not follow a culture's etiquette out of ignorance or their belief that the customs of the general population do not apply to them.  Argentine tango culture has a lot of wisdom to it, and helps you to have more fun.  So please learn some basics.  I have danced for many years in Europe, and I can say that tango etiquette not only works but is required in much of Europe and of course in Argentina.  Let's start with the an essential element which is NOT in the ballroom or Latin dance community . . . .

The Cabeceo literally means "a nod of the head" (head = cabeza) which in tango means "let's dance."  It is erroneously believed that only men initiate the cabeceo to get a dance.  Smart women have been getting what they want with their eyes, a smile and a nod from the beginning of time.  Nothing changed in Argentina or in tango.  Attempt to avoid asking for a dance with words; the cabeceo will keep you out of trouble.  I don't expect you to believe me, but now I have told you so.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tango and Developmental Psychology



Whatever behavior or cognitive skill developmental psychologists study, only one human behavior does not quite fit into their model.  That one thing is dance.

Developmental psychology started out as the science of understanding how infants and the very young develop.  Now, however, developmental psychology has expanded to study how we keep growing, developing over the course of our entire lifetime.  I think that tango dancers would benefit with a scientific look of the developmental course of dancers. For example, I would like to know why one tango dancer's passion goes on for a lifetime and another dancer's intense passion fizzles out in just a few months or years. But whatever developmental psychologists might find, they would have to grapple with the unique nature of dance.

Dance, unlike other behaviors for the majority of adults, requires a retrograde step back into our childhood. Wouldn't it be wonderful for a person who says they cannot dance to see a film of themselves as they respond spontaneously to music for the very first time as a child? Today's parents are recording these moments on the smart phones, but the majority of the planet have not seen this moment. Wouldn't it be great if we could see our unabashed joy or a sudden level of body/mind skill appear? Other constantly developing skills, such as speaking, skills in logic, social skills, gross and fine motor skills--any other life skills--do not required a return to childhood to go on with the development of that skill.  Dance often does. Unfortunately this return to childhood is required because in many cultures dance is abandoned as children grow up and adults lose all belief in themselves as dancers.  But so what?  What is lost if we give up dance in our later childhood?  The majority of development psychologists will ask this question with the assumption that dance is not an essential skill, like speaking, walking and logical reasoning. So . . .  is this a fair question?