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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Inspiration for this post comes from a conversation with my friend, Eric Gebhart. Visit his tango blog at

Photo credit of sculpted couple.

Further reading:  How music affects the ANS:

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.

Comment or "like" Tango Therapist's Facebook page at this link

Further reading:  How music effects the ANS:

Photo credit of ecstatic dance:

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!