Saturday, May 11, 2024

The power of superficial relationships

This photo, taken in 2016, embodies an interesting insight from social research.  I would again meet her and become close friends. Social scientists discovered that multiple “superficial” polite relationships sometimes make people happier than those who have only a few but profound friendships.  We know that a few rude people in our day can feel terrible; so the opposite is also true:  Nice and polite people can add a glow to our day.  Some can be neighbors, people at stores we frequent, at the gym, and perhaps a regular place to dance.  Added to this phenomenon, isn't it clear that without meeting people at a superficial level, there would be no chance to add friendships that would grow closer?

The beauty and power of many small but satisfying social interactions was the opposite of what the researchers thought they would find.  There is an overall bias against informal relationships. They are called "superficial."  An informal relationship may include the person who pulls you out of a burning car.  It may be the person who was kind to you, and because of that multiple good things came of it in your day or even life. If you are in an intimate relationship now, how did it start?  Superficially?  

All relationships start out superficially.  Informal relationships give a sense of a polite and kind world. “Superficial” kindness allays fears of losing profound friendships and not being able to replace them in a cold world. Some social scientists call the coming and going of friends a "friendship caravan."  Is the caravan getting smaller and smaller as we age?  Are you building some deeper connections along the way?

If a person seeks out kind and polite relationships at any gathering, then the likelihood increases that one will build and maintain a "Caravan of Friends."  Can people join your caravan through life?  If not, that is a problem because friends will fall off one's caravan for many different reasons on the trail of life.

In tango social events, something happens that is amazing. They are different from religious gatherings, bowling clubs, and many kinds of associations.  At a milonga, one doesn't say much, but the warm embrace of tango is a powerful connection--more powerful than short, polite superficial kind interactions. Some one-time dances stick in one’s memory forever. That is not superficial. It's not a verbal connection but a physical connection through music. 

At each milonga a person has joined my caravan. The dancer may fall off or become a close friend years later. Who knows? The important thing is that the caravan keeps going.  My caravan is rolling along. If you are reading this post, you have joined me and many others. Welcome aboard.

Photo credit:  Sarah Dick, Austin, Texas

Cf. Research and observations:
Friendship Caravan:
The Friendship Dip:

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Maybe tango is not Changing. You Are.


Is tango changing in ways you don't like? 

In my practice as a therapist, I have a new way to help people be "resilient."  The easy way to say this word is simply, "willing to change."  And the motto is, "Change more than the world around you changes."  The person who does this adapts and is resilient. 

How does this apply to maintaining your love for tango?  Simply "change more than the world around you changes."

So many people give up something because their loved activity changes.  "I don't dance anymore because __________.  Does tango need to change, or is it more about us?  Or does one really think that that the world won't change?  Either way, tango and dance are so precious, being able to adapt becomes a very important skill for any growing and vibrant human soul.

Here's an example. 

Outward change (or perception):  Let's say I say, "DJ's just don't know what they are doing anymore."
Reality:  I have gotten better at knowing the orchestras, and have danced at milongas that have had great DJ's.  I have developed and changed; not tango. But more knowledge is the easy change. My attitude and grumpiness are growing toxic, perhaps?  If so, change is needed.
Needed change in oneself:  Leaning tolerance. People are learning to be better.  Avoid being a snob.  Find the best in the music. Connect better to your partner. Be kind. Be social.  Being more of a connoisseur is the easier change. 

I can identify many things that I can change.  Why not work on them instead of worrying about the things I cannot change?

Let me introduce to you a powerful change theory that many therapists use: It's called Motivational Interviewing (MI).  MI helps change harmful behaviors, whereas advice, education, and knowledge are mostly ineffective. That is the paradox of being human:  We know something is not good for us, but cannot find it in us to stop this self-harm. We often find it worthless to castigate ourselves.  When others nag us to change our self-harm behavior may become worse.  MI helps people stop alcohol, drugs, tobacco, toxic relationships, and of course, harmful habits that are paired with dance.

Here are a few things that I need to change or in the past needed to change in my tango life:

  • Complaining mentally about others whom I perceive as being rude on the dance floor.
  • Mentally complaining about DJs who are not skilled.
  • Dancing without drinking enough water or resting enough.

    Two things have changed completely:  
  • Staying out late to dance during the week and suffering sleep deprivation the next day. 
  • Eating unhealthy things at the milonga or drinking alcohol.
I am NOT suggesting you change anything.  :-)  Asking someone to change generally does not work for therapists, parents, teachers, and between spouses!  But nearly all of us can work on something that we want to change. Think of what you would like to change.  In my next post, I will add more info about Motivational Interviewing and how effective parents, teachers, and spouses help others to change.   You will be able to apply it to all aspects of your life.

Add comments, if you like, to identify how you changed in a way that helped you stay active as a dancing being.


Monday, May 29, 2023

The Timeless Tanda and Dopamine

 Reading time: 3 minutes

Tango helps me understand "flow."  With the help of advances in neurology, scientists are starting to map what is going on when people get into a sense of flow, also called "living in the now." Wouldn't it be interesting if scientists danced tango? I think they would better understand what it means from experience what the flow state truly feels like.

Flow, as I experience it, is the ongoing sense of well-being and joy.  Flow has us performing well and for long periods of time in such things as playing sports, playing music, dancing, or whatever brings us pleasure.  From experiencing flow in tango, being a musician and also meditating, I try to find flow even in my work, which has a lot of unnecessary paperwork. I tell myself, "Just be present!" When I do, it often leads to enhanced performance and joy--a flow state--even in things that I had been avoiding.

So what is the opposite of flow?

Addiction. It has peaks of highs followed by widened valleys of lows.

According to the neurologist and blogger Dr. Huberman, addiction is the progressive narrowing of things that give one pleasure. If he is right, I then would say that the "extreme opposite" of addiction is flow:  The progressive ability to widen the spectrum of things that give pleasure.  It is when the simple things of life give pleasure.

Unfortunately, we can pursue tango in such a way that ruins this potential of being in the flow by making our dance pleasure more and more narrowed and focused on only the highs of tango--shifting the focus of the dance to mostly external stimuli.  This makes tango take on the traits of addictive behavior.

Whatever the activity is, including yoga, sports, music, art, and dance, flow is the state in which we do not have lows and highs of dopamine in our blood. Instead, there is a higher yet moderate sine wave of dopamine release that does not go too high or too low. 

Maybe you experience the same things I do while in the "tango flow."  Tango flow happens when...

  • I am dancing totally conscious of the music, totally immersed--time stands still or seems to disappear.
  • I am focused on my partner and my own body's response to the music, not "performing" for those watching.
  • As a part of the flow, I prepared for the event by learning and growing my ability to dance well.
  • I have slept well as my desire to have my enjoyment of tango tied to well-being.
  • I have enjoyed eating in a healthy way.
  • I develop wonderful friendships from the world of tango.
  • I avoid all activities that might take away from my health (and tango skills), such as tobacco use, too much alcohol, and drug use.
  • I search for the eyes of those who enjoy dancing and truly want to dance with me and not for the purpose of showing off to the crowd.
  • I participate in the larger part of dancing tango--being with friends and socializing.
  • Pure joy. The timeless tanda.
Luckily, flow for most people dancing tango is not at all rare!  Generally, I think that the majority of people love tango because it easily gets them into a state of flow.  We are a large proportion of tango dancers. We try to dance and time stops, or at least, our orientation to time is radically altered.  And when it is all over, we feel a glow that keeps going and going. We experience the ever-widening things that lead us to a life filled with joy.

For a scientific view of flow, read the following scientific article on the subject:

Photo credit and more on flow states:

Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Year's Resolution for Self-Esteem in Tango


On New Year's Eve, the woman at the cash register asked if I would be doing something special for New Year's Eve.   

I said, "My wife and I are dancers. I will dance in my living room, and then go to bed at about 10pm. Vertical tango is for the day; horizontal tango is for the night." 

She laughed.  "I will tell my husband that!"  I gathered my receipt and started to leave. She called out with a big smile. "Happy New Year!"  

"Thanks, happy New Year!" I said with a wave.

I rarely go to late tango events. Especially on New Year's Eve.  I don't have to drive on the most dangerous night of the year.  It's good to take care of myself in this way. 

Also, I am working on my self-esteem.

Let me explain that.  As a therapist, I gain so much when I have an idea for a patient because I apply the idea to my own life. In my practice as a therapist, I truly practice.  Since 2018, I have noticed an epidemic of low self-esteem. It's actually a pandemic. Worldwide, suicide rates are up and low self-esteem is driving that car off the cliff.  Therapists use different techniques to help people with low self-esteem. Most interventions don't work very fast or at all. Talk, talk, talk. Something that works, I have found is really quite simple, and explains the title, "New Year's Eve and Self-Esteem":  

Operationalize self-esteem
What do people with healthy* self-esteem do?  A person who takes care of themselves more than anyone else can take better care of others.  This is the proof of self-esteem.   On the other hand, the person with low self-esteem often takes care of others, but not themselves. In my experience with patient with low self-esteem, I notice that women and girls tend to take care of others, but not themselves.  Men and boys tend to show a lack of self-esteem by acting out -- drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, driving fast, staying out late, and partying a lot.   Both men and women can do these acting-out behaviors, of course, but the one thing they really have in common is poor eating habits and not sleeping enough.  

So this is the way I show self-care as a dancer.  I prefer to go to milongas that start early.  I most often go to wonderful events all over Europe, but in order to get the most out of the weekend, I dance for hours during all the early milongas, sleep, and get up to enjoy the town I am visiting.  I may go to a later milonga, but often leave before it gets too late. Those who dance all milongas until the end will be the first to say that their feet are abused, their bodies are abused, and they are exhausted.  My dear friends tend to look exhausted too.  Why didn't I figure this out earlier?  It's ingenious!  I'm not so smart. I just learned it from a moment of inspiration to help a struggling patient.  It has changed my life. I take care of myself.  In taking care of yourself, you will be better at taking care of those under your care at work or those you love.  Dress well; eat well; sleep well; make yourself safe (driving habits for example); exercise well; be kind to yourself and others; express yourself in a kind but honest way; be present and enjoy your senses; seek wisdom; connect with your world. 

That is why vertical tango is for the day; horizontal tango is for the night.

Happy New Year.  Maybe we have here a simple but powerful resolution for next year?  Let's take even better care of ourselves? 

*Healthy self-esteem:  The anti-social person, the narcissist, the psychopath (etcetera) take care of themselves, but harm or neglect others.  

Photo credit:  Houston KPRC


More about self-esteem if you are interested. 
Go ahead and look up low self-esteem from Dr. Google.  Most guides and ideas are overly intellectual.  Simplify to one question:  Are you taking care of yourself?  Most self-esteem treatments are all about self-talk and belief. Go ahead and talk to yourself and build yourself up. I'm afraid that your mind will not believe all the nice things you tell yourself.  Take care of yourself first, and watch the inner dialogue change.  Would you believe others when you don''t feel taken care of but hear others say "I love you.  You are wonderful"? Talk is cheap. So why would your inner dialogue convince you to have more self-esteem? 

Here's something Dr. Google suggested to me in a graph that makes gaining self-esteem nearly impossible to the one who is struggling:

I found this at  

The diagram here is all about how wrong and bad you are to yourself.  There is no solution here.  This list is mostly untouchable things and these elements are overly focused on inner beliefs.  Again, the one simple solution is "take better care of yourself better han anyone else." Those around you will learn from you (like your children).   The Golden Rule is not enough ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.")  For self-esteem it is reversed in what I call the Platinum Rule:  "Love and take care of yourself that you may better love and take care of others." 

A wonderful guilt trip (to get you going)**
Are you a father or a mother with low self-esteem?  Your children will inherit this stinky stuff.  So, the buck stops with us.  It's our work.  We do the work.  We take care of ourselves.  Our children then can go on with their lives without being suicidal and depressed from low self-esteem.

**Sorry about the guilt trip for now.  It's better to have guilt now than for a lifetime.   Take care of yourself!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Who is the King of the Milonga?

If you know a bit about chess, you might have noticed that the chess piece pictured above is not really the king but a pawn.  The cliché that customers are kings is simply not the best business model for many endeavors, and certainly not good for tango events.  Customers sometimes at times need to be thrown out of the store!

Tango organizers have many important social relationships, and many people to please--not just dance customers who may see themselves as all-important.  Organizers have to have good relationships with volunteers, paid staff, DJs, the building owner, neighbors, and perhaps even the city.

The organizer, just like us pawns with crowns, can only move one space at a time.  However, in chess, the king must move only one space at a time but in all directions.  Those eight directions for the king are the relationships surrounding the organizer. 

What kind of king do you have at the event you go to?  An autocrat?  Won't listen?  Or are your favorite events run by someone who listens to sound counsel all, as all good leaders do?  Are they active or passive?  

There's a"dance" of organizers with customers
My hat is off to tango event organizers.  They most often are doing what they do because they have certain organizational skills, love people, and love the dance.  How do we, as customers/dancer follow their lead?  Well, not very well if they are not good leaders.  In Buenos Aires and any well-organized milonga, organizers are checking on customers, DJs, volunteers/staff with active oversight and supervision of how things are going.  They are navigating how things should go--especially on the dance floor--and keeping things on course.  Customers want to feel safe and at home, and that takes good leadership.  Are we following a good lead?  Do we stop going to an event without even seeing if the organizer will listen to our concerns when things are not going well?

This is what I notice of events that are truly well organized--

Organizers create a sense of the feeling of home, taking care of these six basic needs: 

  • Temperature:  Is it too hot or cold?  As simple as this may seem, every customer has a different "need."  But men can take on jackets if they are too cold. Women should not have to look like Eskimos so that men can wear T-shirts.  I suggest temperature changes only when I see women who are obviously too cold (usually at overly airconditioned US milongas).
  • Water:  I immediately look for hydration.  I get cramps if I don't drink a lot. Can I hydrate easily and at a reasonable price (or for free)? My favorite ongoing milonga is Flores in Mannheim, Germany.  They have free water, and a nice bar if you want other drinks.
  • Food:  The best milongas have either some basic goodies out or a bar that serves food for a reasonable price.  That's what hosts do. An early milonga after work, perhaps on Friday, needs something to eat.  A wise organizer charges extra if people will be coming hungry, which is better than not being aware of basic needs as a host.  Christian in Regensburg is especially keen on hosting a milonga with finger food.
  • Safety (Traffic control):  Wise organizers know dance etiquette (los codigos) and redirect rouge and dangerous dancers. Also, wise organizers create a good traffic flow by having at least four entry points to the dance floor. Milonga traffic control causes less frustration and is where organizers can shine.  Customers who think of themselves as kings of the dance floor are usually the very people who need to be sent home, as is done in Buenos Aires.
  • Sleep:  Paying attention to sleep is a wise business decision.  Starting earlier allows people to travel to your milonga from farther away without reserving a hotel. Organizers who advertise well in advance that the milonga starts earlier and ends earlier are astonished by how their attendance goes up. Also, more organizers are paying attention to a general public understanding of good sleep discipline and the circadian rhythm. Presently, I simply do not go to late events.  I state my preference and have helped enact huge changes in some cities. I believe if organizers would only attempt earlier times, they would see an increase in business. But change is hard for some, or even impossible because of the building contract.
  • The need to communicate:  This basic need is a bit more complicated than one might think.  It has three parts:  The ability to hear at a milonga, the ability to listen by being silent, and the ability to speak. 
      > Hearing:  Could you imagine if the organizer had a single small speaker at an event and you couldn't hear well? Now, imagine being deaf as a permanent condition because of going deaf early from micro-damage from multiple events with loud music? Unfortunately, nearly every organizer I know is not taking charge of protecting the hearing of his or her customers.  A good organizer has an app that monitors decibels and requires that DJs do the same.  Constantly being over 100 decibels is harmful to hearing.  Because of passive organizers, I often wear earplugs made for DJs, but of course, I wear them because of DJs!  We shouldn't have to.
      > Listening/being silent:  Communicating social etiquette throughout life sometimes means remaining silent more than 50% of the time in order to listen before responding. The listening/silence percentage could be as much as 95% at a milonga because we are mostly listening to the orchestra--or so one would think.
      > Speaking:  In tango, we request and accept dances without talking; we don't talk while dancing; empathetic guests don't talk while standing next to the dance floor (and organizers watch for this and redirect people conversing while standing next to the dancefloor).  Is your favorite organizer actively taking care of this part of a milonga's ambiance?

Organizers are amazing people. They need your support by being fair and diplomatic about what would make their milonga or even better.   But if you do not speak up and give good counsel to your organizers, then their precious event may slowly die out.  They need our help.

Please add other ideas in the comments or email me at if you have trouble making a comment. 

Photo credit: Great photo of chess board.  Please read the excellent article, challenging "the customer is king" myth."

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Buy Some Tango Burnout Insurance


Burnout Insurance.  I suggest buying some tango burnout insurance. There are only two steps. First, assess how much you value tango. Step two, figure out at least the most likely risks of giving up because of tango burnout.

1.  Assessing the value of dance:  Even if tango-burnout insurance would cost a lot (it doesn't), it would be worth every bit of money and energy needed to buy it. The valuation I give dance is "PRICELESS." Dancing contains my humanity as a dancing, social animal. That is what all humans are. I feel fully alive when I dance. As babies, music made you and me dance even in our cribs without instruction before we could speak, before we could do math or make tools, and all other uniquely human things. The assessment for me is now over.  I need insurance for something invaluable. Now, step two. . . .

2. The main risks of dance burnout:  Make your own list.  The below risk list are the things that would burn me out. 

  • Over-use:  Dancing too much causes bodily problems, and looks like an obsession (some call it an addiction). I learned this as an iron-distance triathlete. I saw too many burned-out and broken athletes from an accumulation of undetected "micro-injuries." Athletes and dancers burn out when they become obsessed with events and over-training. Obsessions and addictions too often end badly.

  • Not getting enough sleep:  Burnout is sometimes 100% somatic, not psychological! In the past, I even felt burned out at work from tango-induced sleep deprivation. Even our beloved passion can follow if we aren't careful. The body's immune system is degraded as much as 50% after not getting enough sleep after just one night at a 3-day event. The second and third days of a weekend event create a health risk for those who are not sleeping enough. I continue dancing in a post-pandemic world because social contact makes our immune system stronger--but only when we sleep enough.
  • Being a complainer:  I am working on not being a complainer.  The best way to practice this is in two parts.  Accept the things which I cannot change (most everything), and change those things that I can.
      > I used to complain about the DJ playing too much D'Arienzo (for example); now we make a list of DJ's to avoid.
      > Or I would complain that the music was constantly over 100 decibels; so I now wear expensive earplugs.
      >Or I would complain about crazy-ass floorcraft, or too many women sitting, or people at all levels of experience who don't know basic tango etiquette. So now I go to encuentros mostly.
      >Or complain that I didn't get accepted into an encuentro. (And I have done this.) Go to a milonga and dance with all those who are not being invited. I have found some of my favorite dancers this way. It's humbling. Secondly, go register for another encuentro.
    So don't burn yourself out.  There will always be something to complain about, even the weather in heaven.  Everyone has a very different list. But I realize that incessant complaining leads to burnout too. This is the main burn-out risk for me--being a complainer. So I have made this my spiritual path that I be more tolerant when I must live with things just the way they are.

  • Getting too old ("I am getting too old for this shit"):  The body gets old and death is the ultimate burnout. Some people, however, dance until they die.  This is what I am planning to do; so I dance alone every day. Let's say it is too hard for me to drive a long way to a milonga. Let's say one day I decide not to go to milonga anymore because the tangueras are now 213 centimeters tall on average (7 feet), or whatever the excuse. Dance is dance--alone or with others. I used to get up and walk at least a little every hour.  Now instead, I get up regularly from my desk and dance instead of merely walking around. This is my very best Tango Burnout Insurance.  So I highly recommend, for example, playing a Canaro milonga* (given below) and dancing in your office or kitchen. I am already getting lots of practice and ideas while dancing alone just for the pure joy of it.

So many before me have burned out and disappeared from the tango scene. I run into them at the grocery store, and they tell me, "There is more to life than tango." I want to say,  "You don't miss pure, ecstatic childlike joy?"  I am pretty certain they did not think they needed Tango Burnout Insurance.  Look around.  People die burned out, unhappy, and without any passion because of this failure to assess what is important in life. I remember as a teen, my parents would say every once in a while that their wish was to die with their boots on. My parents stayed active until they died "with their boots on." But I do not wish to follow in their boots.  I hope to be wearing dance shoes.

Photo credit:  Peter Neumeier.  Sybille and Mark in heaven without dying.
Esmeraldas Encuentro, Austria Germany 2022.

*Grab a broom and dance.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Dancer who was Raised as a Dog

In the book, "The Boy who was Raised as a Dog,"
I learned more about the neurological effects of neglect on children's brains as seen by MRI's.  I think it has an underlying message for dancers.

The author found that one of the ways to help neglected and abused children was through rhythm and music therapy.  I wonder how many of us are finding tango as a way to help us better live in the world.  Could it be?  Read on.

The book made me wonder how many of us were raised as a dog--if not by parents then perhaps years of often neglectful and abusive education.  We learn to sit in rows and raise our paw before barking out what we hope is the right answer.  In some countries now or in earlier times, many of us "dogs" have been beaten for getting answers wrong or misbehaving.  We often are unsafe at school or in our dangerous neighborhoods.  Also, certain cultures wean us from dancing and touching and playing.  Howling (singing) is often forbidden or shamed for those of us raised as a dog.  

Dr. Bruce Perry dedicated his life to helping neglected and abused children. He took MRI pictures of their brains.  Areas of their limbic brain, the emotional center of the brain, were missing or underdeveloped.  Spinal fluid filled in the space where brain matter should have been.  As a result, some children grow up to have no feelings of remorse and can be very dangerous sociopaths as teens or adults.  As a dancer and therapist, I was fascinated by therapies that work for neglected children.  Dr. Bruce Perry, came up with several techniques, or treatment modalities to help these neglected children develop their brains to have a more fulfilling life.   Behavioralists and psychotherapists were against his ideas at first. Their therapies, however, don't work.  Perry's do.

Some of these may speak to your experience.  How has tango changed your life, and why are you drawn to tango?

Is tango your "therapy" to deal with the past and present in your life?

I can say "yes" to these questions for myself.   Perhaps I was not truly neglected, but I really love the nearness of tango, the social interaction, the music, and touch.  As a baby I was the last of six children.  Especially when my siblings were off to school, perhaps I was a bit lonely and neglected with a very busy mother and a distant father who was often on the road as a bus driver. I remember being three years only and discovering parts of the neighborhood that were around 300 meters away.  That was just too far for an urban neighborhood.  Being so far away from home as a three-year-old child would have been a case of neglect with today's standards.  I was alone when I went out and discovered the world like this.  So perhaps I have been drawn to a few things that Dr. Perry uses for neglected and stimuli-seeking children, 

Let me present some of the treatment modalities that make huge differences for children who may have grown up in an orphanage, for example:

  • Connection with other peers in spite of serious by parents or caregivers. 
    Do we seek social interaction around tango to help fill that gap we feel?  Children who had this connection with siblings who even lived in cages with other children have the best chance to lead a normal life compared to children who were raised absolutely alone.  Dr. Perry watched how some of these little patients developed their own language to communicate with other children.  That helped, but he had a lot to do to help them.

  • Quality time and touch.  
    Perhaps you have heard of "failure to thrive."  I once worked with a child and her parents right now.  The mother would binge on alcohol and have blackouts.  The child would cry and cry during mom's inebriated "vacations."  Failure to thrive is a term that pediatricians and therapists use to describe a child who is neglected can even die.  My little patient had a skull size that was larger than her peers at birth, but at around the 9-month mark, her cranial size was alarmingly under her peers.  She eventually gained weight.  Her father was allowed to stay home from work to make sure that his wife was not drinking and to give the baby a lot more stimuli. Babies need skin on skin, and need to be rocked.  They need the rhythm of language and music even if they don't understand.    Dr. Perry writes:  "Preemies who received ... gentle massage went home from the hospital almost a week earlier on average.  In older children and adults massage has also been found to lower blood pressure, fight depression, and cut stress by reducing the number of stress hormones released by the brain." We all have a little child inside of us who needs the same things babies need.
  • Rhythm therapy. 
    Are you taking a musicality class?   Consider that therapy.  Even elephants, seals, monkeys, and birds can learn to walk on the beat.  Musicality shows you to choose different lines to dance--the "compass" (basic beat), the bass line, the strings, or the melody. Perry says, "It may seem odd, but rhythm is extraordinarily important.  If our bodies cannot keep the most fundamental rhythm of life--the heartbeat--we cannot survive. . . . Numerous hormones are rhythmically regulated as well. . . . The brain doesn't just keep one beat: it has many drums, which must all synchronize not only with the patters of the day and night. . . . Disturbances of the brain's rhythm-keeping regions are often causes of depression and other psychiatric disorders."  Dr. Perry noted that the awkward gait of a child disappears.  They have a better rhythm in conversation--although they can have really good intellectual and cognitive skills, they learn to be less odd, less nerdy.  

I wonder if we are all a bit neglected in some way--maybe it was by our parents, or by the lack of siblings or friends, or the cold culture we grew up in with its fear of human touch, or more recently, the phobia of illness via touch,   But now as adults, we should make up for any neglect by taking care of ourselves in safe ways.  What I am suggesting here is what works for the neglected child within: Human touch and rhythm.

If you have been reading my blog, you may have often wondered if I overstate the importance of therapeutic dance in your life.  After reading Perry's book, "The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog," I think that on the contrary:  I have greatly underestimated the importance of therapeutic dance for 14 years of writing this blog. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tango Intercourse?

Tango is more than a "conversation."
The majority of those who read my blog are not native English speakers.  Because of this, many may have looked up the word "intercourse," not knowing what it could mean. 

For native speakers, this word often does not mean "conversation."  "Intercourse" means in your dictionary, dear native speakers, "conversation."  In the middle of the 1800's, someone coined the term "sexual intercourse."  Cute. It took a century, but by the 1950s, "intercourse" without "sexual" being added started to mean "sex."  Why?  Because most people probably knew that the analogy was a poor choice of words to express sexual intimacy. Sure, sex may be like a conversation to some folks--even a great conversation.  But I feel sorry for these people.

Tango can seem like a conversation to some (tango intercourse)--even a great conversation.  I feel sorry for those people too.

I'm not going to say anything more about sex here.  

I just want to say that tango is in no way a conversation for anybody--in spite of what your tango teacher says. Tango is an ecstatic dance between people that is so complex, that it is diminished greatly by calling it a conversation.  As complex as a conversation can be, tango is far more complex.

Words often limit how we understand our experience. This is what has happened by likening tango to being a "conversation" or even, let's say, "intercourse."

Wouldn't you agree that a good conversation happens when one or more people actively listen while a single person other actively talks/expresses her or himself? Taking turns is key for good conversationalists. That doesn't describe tango.  Tango is not trading off roles of listening and expressing. Moreover, this description of tango as "conversation" mostly by tango teachers confuses their students.

However, if you still say tango is a conversation between two people . . . . . . Ask yourself about the last time you sat down and conversed with someone during which you felt ecstatically united and connected with their feelings. It does happen in conversations, but I am afraid it is all too rare. Yet, an ecstatic connection happens all the time in tango.

. . . Ask yourself about the last time you had progressive conversations at a party that seemed to build on each other. But at milongas, progressive interactions build on each other. One tanda after another can be magical at events that balance the genders or roles.

. . . Finally, ask yourself the last time you turned up the music so you could converse better. And this last question brings us to the most salient reason why tango is not a "conversation":

We dance while music is playing. Music is never "distracting" the dancers simply because it's La Musica who is the one talking. We respond in silence. My partner and I are both listening to the one talking--the music. All the diads on the dancefloor are doing the same. Our bodies are reacting mostly without any thought. To me, it feels like the music is making us all dance.

Indeed, I do "listen" to how my partner hears the music, and there is a type of millisecond back-and-forth. However, unlike conversations, one is never in a special role of listening for one moment and expressing the next moment. These are concurrent energies. If you still insist that tango is a conversation or even like a conversation, please write a book about your ecstatic conversations and how to regularly have them! We are all waiting for your best-seller book!

My connection in tango is a tandem experience of the music overcoming me and my partner for the most sustained ecstatic moments in my life. Even being a musician in ecstasy on stage, a windsurfer in ecstasy on the water, a snowboarder in ecstasy on the slope, a meditator in ecstasy before the divine, or a lover in ecstasy with my partner--these were never "conversations"; so why would tango be? If tango is a conversation or even like a conversation for others, I can accept that. 

That's just not my experience.

Photo credit: Christian Beyreuther, photographer and organizer, at his encuentro near Regensburg, Germany, May 2022.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Day After the Milonga at Work

Sleeping is a primal need. Dancing is a primal need.  We don't need to choose between them.  We need both.

Some will say sleep is more important, and it is.  But dance is also is a human need and a major marker that we are human and not apes (who don't dance spontaneously as humans do).  Dancing is a subcategory of the need to move, but a very important and unique need.

But here is the thing--one primal need, sleep, is too often being canceled out for the lesser need and desire of tango.    

So here are a few questions for you:  Are you still are going to late milongas? Ever heard of the circadian rhythm?  Sleep deprivation causing depression?  Poor memory?  Higher risks for multiple diseases?  Lower functioning of the immune system?  You probably have.  So if you said yes to all these questions, then no doubt you are gently influencing your favorite organizer to make their milonga earlier.  Right?  

My love of tango has brought great passion and joy to my life. But my late-night tango practice had me sleep-deprived for years.  I regret not seeing this earlier.  Poor sleep led to poor judgment in nearly all areas of my life.  I can see that now.  For example, when I started sleeping sensibly again, I noticed that I remembered tasks at work better.  I had better performance.  I remembered people's names.  I would remember passwords easily.  I had fewer colds.

So here are some things to consider for basic needs:  Air, water, food, sleep, and the need to move.  Don't hold your breath for days before the milonga or after dancing. Don't go without water before, during or after a milonga.  Eat to nourish your dancing body.  And finally: wake up about the need for sleep.  If you need to move, then dance!

Putting knowledge into practice is the next step.  Support the organizers who think early milongas are what dancers want and need.  But they need to hear your voice; so please speak up.  Or at least vote with your feet by going to any milonga that is earlier when there is a choice.  Your request for an early start, however, is not enough.  If the milonga starts at 7:30 pm goes until 2 in the morning, then no one will show up until 10.  7pm to 11pm provides a four-hour milonga.  Make it 5 hours max.  Your body will dance better for the rest of your life.  Yes, I know that some milongas go all day or maybe 7 hours in Buenos Aires.  Old traditions are responsible for good things and bad things.  It once was a tradition to smoke at milongas too. Someday and even now, milongas are happily early and well attended because unwise traditions are giving way to wisdom.  Help your favorite organizer make the switch.  It's time.

Photo Credit:

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Opening Arms versus Owning Arms

We the People ... ... should put our freedoms in the right order.  Ameican freedoms, as prioritized in the Constitutional Amendments, got it wrong. This post is not against or for guns; it's about prioritizing freedoms. 

I propose that people keep their guns if they think they need them, but as far as priorities, the Second Amendment should be changed from the freedom to own arms to the Freedom of Movement, and that includes dance: To open one's arms and dance.

Now, this sounds cute and simple, doesn't it?  But I am serious. Do oppressive governments FIRST fear the freedom of dance or of speech? If the world was paying attention, swing dance and jazz were the first to feel the stranglehold of Nazism before larger "freedoms of speech " felt it. Tango was forbidden for a time in a repressive regime in Argentina.  Coincidence?  Here is another example: The Taliban were prohibiting dance far before the general public in the West had ever heard of them.  Could it be that dance is not only the pulse of the human spirit; maybe dance is the pulse of freedom of expression? In the history of humanity, many governments and religious leaders have and still are prohibiting dance. 

As Jefferson looks on...
With Jefferson looking on at
his memorial, a dancer is
subdued by police.
In light of a country out of control with gun violence, let me point out a little-known document, written by Thomas Jefferson.  Two groups of youth wanted to use public property in Washington, D.C. in September 1825.  It was a rotunda, and the two groups requested space to practice.  One group wanted to dance and the other wanted to practice with small weaponry.*

When I first came to the Washington, DC area, police aggressively subdued people who demonstrated against restrictions to dance at the Thomas Jefferson memorial. 

Thomas Jefferson specifically speaks well of dance and even gives permission to dance at that public rotunda and at the same time denied a request to practice the use of weapons at the same public place.  Ironically DC police, wielding weapons aggressively made dancers stop, fighting them to the floor.  Thomas Jefferson watched, standing in frozen disbelief in his own Memorial building. And since that time, more and more bloody massacres have happened while people were dancing.  What would Thomas Jefferson have to say on this subject?  Well, this is what he did say:

"...[The] use of a room for instructing [students] in the art of dancing, stands on more favorable ground [than for weapons training]. [Dance's] object is the embellishment, and not the destruction, of the lives of our young citizens . . . . Dancing is generally, and justly I think, considered among innocent accomplishments; while we cannot so consider the art of stabbing and pistoling our friends, or dexterity in the practice of an instrument exclusively used for killing our fellow-citizens . . . ."

Watch carefully when your freedom to dance is taken. You laugh.  Watch. When your culture values bearing arms more than open arms you have already have lost the value of dance in your culture. Freedom of speech may be next.

*Extra thought:
The whole text is transcribed below from the manuscript to Jefferson to Louis Xaupe, dated September 1825:  "An application from young gentlemen of the University for the appropriation of a room wherein they might receive instruction in the use of the small sword having led me to the consideration of that subject previously to the receipt of your letter of yesterday, I inclose you my answer to them, which I pray you to receive as equally an answer to yourself.

The other part of your request, for the use of a room for instructing them in the art of dancing, stands on more favorable ground [than for weapons training]. [Dance's] object is the embellishment, and not the destruction, of the lives of our young citizens, and the Visitors seem to have provided for it in the statute which enacts that one of the elliptical rooms on the middle floor of the Rotunda shall be used for 'schools of instruction in drawing, music, or any other of the innocent and ornamental accomplishments of life.' Dancing is generally, and justly I think, considered among innocent accomplishments; while we cannot so consider the art of stabbing and pistolling our friends, or dexterity in the practice of an instrument exclusively used for killing our fellow-citizens . . . ."

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Are Early Milongas a Bad Business Decision?


No. The early milonga eventually will be seen as the best business decision of the century for tango lovers. The COVID-19 pandemic was mostly bad news for tango communities.  However, one thing that was good is that the pandemic has taught many people that they need more sleep. A strong immune system requires it.

Why are early milongas a good business decision for those who are organizing them?
 I was not sure that that would be the case, but it made good sense "on paper."  In early 2019, I gave my rationale to local organizers, and many were skeptical.  However, people who had to drive an hour loved the idea.  Others liked hiking or some other activity on the next morning.  During the week, many need to wake up early for work. The late-night milonga made them cancel one, and often it was tango.  On the other hand, there were those who were night owls, worked late regularly or were retired who hated the idea of an early milonga.  Organizers wondered if people would come.  So what happened? Dancers came in record numbers once the milongas started at 7pm. 

For the nay-sayers, below is a footnote of the myths of why early milongas are a bad business decision.*

The best business decision always has an eye on the bottom line: Money.
An organizer in my community gave the early milonga concept a try on her longest-running monthly Saturday milonga.  The result was stunning.  Never had there been so many people come to that milonga since its inception, some 12 years ago.   She said, "This is great for me too. I have to get up with my children the next day.  I love it."  

So what was a feasibility issue for early milongas eventually became a good business decision for her and other organizers who jumped on the bandwagon in the same city.  But beyond the money issue, having early milongas (before 7:30 pm start),   In summary: 
  • More people came.  The main reason was that people out of town came.
  • Dancers had better personal balance and danced better.
  • Customers drove home before the drowsy-and-drunk drivers were on the road.
  • People with multiple interests awoke to enjoy a full Saturday or Sunday.
  • People who work for a living woke the next workday with uncompromised sleep rhythm.
  • Everyone had a better chance to have their memory and mood doing better.
One can ask, how is it feasible (or a good business decision) to continue late-night milongas in a time when people are more knowledgeable about the direct correlation of being more susceptibility to infections and viruses?  

Are late-night milongas feasible or even thinkable in a post-pandemic world? 


Photo Credit:
The worst business decisions ever made [article]. 

*Here is that false or at least questionable list of reasons early milongas won't work in your town:
  • Early milongas have lots of kids running around your feet. This is not true. Early milongas billed as kid-friendly can create this problem.  The tango community understands etiquette. So a simple rule of no children on the dance floor fixes that problem.

  • Dancing is a late-night event.  "Some wine and a darkened room are part of the tango allure.  Think about it. Some of the best dancing you probably have done was early in the day at festivals or encuentros.  Early milongas or practicas are doing well in large cities too, including Buenos Aires.

  • The excuse is often this:  "We have a class before the milonga and that is why the milonga has to be later."  This is the best and worst reason to have later milongas.  First the best reasons:  Classes and following a milonga help raise enough money for organizers. Classes, it is argued, help grow the community with new dancers.  The worst reason for combining classes to a milonga:  If you are going to have a quality milonga, don't have people learning and then practicing what they learned at your milonga!  Also, do you really want to frustrate and demotivate beginners with trying to dance after a class?  Seeing advanced dancers dancing so well may be frustrating for many beginners. 

  • No one will come.  The smart organizer merely must try an early milonga that is well advertised. Early milongas in traffic-ridden cities during the week may be hard.  But in some cities, an early milonga could allow dancers to come right after work and then go home early.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Be Your Best, Not Hers


My goal is to be my best.

For those who do not dance, let me share a fact:  It is a rare thing to have your own partner as your favorite dancer. But let’s say that you marry your favorite dancer. What happens when another great dancer replaces you?  So it was never my goal to be my wife's best dance partner. It still isn’t. 

After years of dancing together, however, Sybille has become my favorite. We have great dances with others, and then when we reunite, we both rediscover how wonderful we are together.  It’s always a wonderful surprise. After dancing with others we return to each other as better dancers and interestingly renewed in our appreciation of each other.  

If one day Mr. Perfect Dancer comes along, I will be so glad!  She’ll tell me why he was so good. I will learn. And eventually, all my partners will notice that I have improved.

My goal is just to be my best, not her best.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A New Tango Start

At the end of the pandemic, maybe a new start?  Look around, if you have been around and experienced tango communities come and go, you will see the effects of the Dark Side, the negative elements of tango. Slowly tango can become extinct here and there in the tango world.  Maybe a new start can help tango to better thrive?

 Tango communities--communities that hug--will certainly lose some dancers forever and have a smaller pool of prospective dancers.

The Dark Side, then, is a true threat to tango communities as it is so vulnerable for viability now. It is true that a certain kind of tango may continue; I call it "Wax Museum Tango."  You already are aware of the Wax Museum of Dance museum piece, taught with other ballroom dances which live in the Wax Museum of Dance, or the so-called ballroom dance.  Although I have enjoyed ballroom dance, it really is not so much a social dance but for the show--expensive gowns and lessons which only the rich can afford.

You also have seen Wax Museum Tango exists already in the ballroom repertoire.  It's a generalized rhythm taken from a few authentic but not beloved tangos.  The ballroom tango tempo is prescribed in a narrow spectrum between 120-128 beats per minute.  (I am not kidding.) Men and women often look in opposite directions as they march machine-like across the floor. He is passionate and tough on his woman and she is a bordello-like temptress.  Great fun. Argentine tango is different, but also easily could join the other museum pieces if the "Dark Elements" of AT continue to eat away and this and that tango community in the world.  Surely you know of some communities--sometimes large cities whose tango communities wither and die.  That's how it happens.  One or more of the below elements sealed the coffin of that community.  For a large city near where I live, it was #5 as the major factor, but all were there.

Elements of the Dark Side: 

1. Dark Side Element: Over-defining what dance is.
Source: Teachers and students who focus on multiple standardized moves and perfect presentation.  In a few words:  Cookbook dance.
Solution: Dance always was and will continue to be as unique as each person is. People who are motivated to dance out of a need to show off to others, or even worse, to compete to see who is best will ruin any dance genre as a social dance.  The dance will land in the Wax Museum of Dance.

Competition brings with it choreography (literally "written out dance") that requires mostly group-think. Sure ballet is beautiful but does it have people dancing out of joy for the music?  Maybe in the streets?  Or dance halls?  It is an elitist dance that damages the body. How many old ballet dancers do you find out there?  Communities that have teachers who focus on social dance and being unique in one's body create communities that will last. 

2. Dark Side Element:  Lack of shared etiquette among social dancers.  
Source:  An over-emphasis on how to move the body gracefully but not how to move gracefully in the community.  The source tends to be from ballroom and salsa dancers using rules from a one-dance (not tanda) community.  Tango teachers and veteran dancers are the only ones who can fix this. But often they are too passive or don't know or want to follow etiquette.
Solution:  Well, you cannot easily fix what I have seen in a now-dead community--a teacher who comes over to a potential partner, puts out both of his hands with his feet inches from her feet, expecting that she is delighted to dance with him.  Then he breaks a very important etiquette rule:  He teaches her at the milonga. Since he has many women who he thinks need his services, he drops her off at her seat after a few dances and repeats this behavior.  Etiquette worked very well in the tango community to make the community grow and remain lively.  Don't try to fix etiquette.  It is not broken, only misunderstood or trivialized by some.

3. Dark Side Element:  Creation of unisex sanitized dance.  
Source:  This element is pernicious because it hides under the important social changes of our times.  But in reality, it is the cultural appropriation of social dance from Argentina.  Do you really want to kill tango?  Forget that we are passionate human beings that love to be held.  
Solution:  Learn to appreciate yin and yang, male and female energies--in yourself and others. Erasing these ancient ways of understanding life does not come from making female into male.  If you do not like being uniquely feminine or masculine and kind of wish that everyone were the same, then Argentine tango is not your dance.  I recommend the fusion or blues community, where that works well.  One thing that I see that differs between Hispanic culture and Europeanized culture is that the former women love being women and men love being men.  (Yes machismo and machisma come from this too, but is it any better in "Gringolandia"?) If you want to participate in the cultural appropriation of tango, make it a unisex dance! My wife and I lead and follow.  When there are too few men in Gringolandia, as is often the case, my wife leads.  Unisex communities will see fewer and fewer beginner men maturing in this environment.  Look around!  In the rare case that there are too many men, I want the chance to follow.  By dancing both parts we are not making the dance neuter.  Knowing both parts is a part of learning the dance better, not some sort of social statement for masculinists or feminists.  The bottom line is that communities with their cultural appropriation of tango via unisex sanitized dance will fizzle out, and then come back and argue with me.)

4. Dark Side Element:  Poorly trained DJs. 
Source:  Milonga organizers who do not give clear guidance to all DJs.  (In other words, it is your party, not theirs!
Solution:  Whenever I played professionally as a musician, someone in charge wanted to know our repertoire, and make it clear that he or she wanted people to dance.  If the band was too loud, the organizer would be the first to complain.  Organizers wanted the dance floor not to get too rowdy.  I remember one rowdy crowd in which there was a guy who threatened to get his gun in his car. The organizer ordered us to play "a bunch of slow songs." And so we did.  It was like a tranquilizer for the crowd.  

But what do tango organizers often do?  They often allow the ignorance or egos of the DJ's rule.  One DJ is dancing and not in control of the volume.  Another is not paying attention to the floor but talking loudly off to the side.  Another plays an expressive Pugliese on a crowded floor instead of waiting for later in the evening. Yet another DJ plays a super long and loud reggaetón to which some in the audience are holding their ears and no one (thank God) is dancing.  The DJ is not the queen or king of your milonga.  If you love tango and do not know what you need for a successful dance party, then get a room manager.  A poor DJ ruins the party and has harmed ever so slightly the whole community.  Some may decide to give up tango at your poorly managed milonga.

5. Dark Side Element:  Lack of coordination and civility among organizers.   
Problem: If the community does not have a central calendar, like one finds in Washington DC or Austin, Texas, organizers cannot even begin to be civil to one another.
Solution:  Well, try getting a group of volunteers.  Start with a milongas-only calendar, as I did in 2008 in Austin.  Large cities around where I live have this problem of a lack of coordination, too much competition, and straight-out incivility.  Meanwhile, my smaller town has avoided this pretty successfully.  This Dark Element has destroyed tango in spite of huge populations.

Photo credit: Ballroom tango

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Literally dying from a lack of touch

Encuentro in Newport News, Virginia by Ivy Garrenton
Sybille, my wife, and I were talking about the five languages of tango, and I think she formulated what allows people to stay a long time in tango:

"People start dancing tango for different reasons, but those who stay with tango, stay because their dominant love language is the Language of Touch," she quipped.

I think she is has a good point.

Dying to dance tango? No.
At least, I don't think it is dancing that we are so missing. It is probably more that you are dying to have human touch.  A desire to have socially acceptable human touch with many people may add years to your life, according to the research.  This is especially true of certain people. Although research indicates that human touch increases in its pleasantness the older we get, the lack of touch especially as infants and older adults can lead to "the failure to thrive" conditions, leading to an "unexplainable" death.  This idea of having a dominant Language of Touch is another way of understanding how people literally die from a lack of touch, which I mentioned back in November.

If human touch with friends, family, and one's partner is important in a general sense, and you personally especially crave human touch, then tango will be your long-lived friend. Having the luxury of touch adds
 years to your life on the planet.  

Some prefer the other 4 languages.  
Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, suggests other languages that I believe are complementary to tango-- the languages of Quality Time and Words of Affirmation.  Coupled with the Language of Touch, tango will be pleasant for a long time.  When I wrote the post The Five Languages of Tango, the first draft had problems with the so-called languages of "receiving gifts" and "acts of service."  But it became clear. The freedom of movement and expression is the greatest gift you can give to many people.  In the realm of dances, there are simply some better dances for this than tango.  Seeking a "freedom of movement" high? You might be in the wrong dance studio, and you might be a menace on the dancefloor!

Longevity in life and tango may be correlated, but the dance is so much more enjoyable when we give each other a warm embrace. Is touch your dominant language, your most fluent language? Tango itself needs to stay with this foundational strength; otherwise, I fear that tango itself will once again die out as so many dances have over history. I love other dances for movement, but if tango stays with its own foundation, it will come back strong after the pandemic once again allows a warm embrace.

Photo credit:
The line of dancers in the ronda was taken by Ivy Garrenton at the Newport News, VA (USA) encuentro.  March 2018.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Musicians who make us get up

Worldwide 17 December 2020 we celebrate Bethoven's 250th birday.  This is a good time to ask what great tango musicians have in common with Ludwig van Beethoven?  It is simply this: They all keep people on their feet. If you have never been brought to your feet by Beethoven, read this story:
Only the best keep people on their feet.
The year, 1824, and the place is Wien, Österreich. An absolutely deaf man is conducting his newly composed 9th symphony for the public. Although it is a tradition not even to clap after a movement and wait until the end, you have already stood with others four times, driven to stand and cheer.

Police in the auditorium try to stop the fourth ovation because only royalty are supposed to get three ovations, and now you have disrespected the Viennese royals by putting a lowly musician ahead of them. The fifth standing ovation is yet to come. You have never seen a chorus used for a symphony. You may have wondered if they would ever sing since they have sat in silence through every movement of the symphony. Finally, the chorus dramatically stands.

The music is so powerful tears are in your eyes. You stand for your fifth ovation in spite of the police.  At the glorius end, one of the lead vocalists, a woman, turns the composer/director around to face the audience, and he realizes that everyone is on their feet. Certainly you will want to go home and listen to it again.  But that is not possible. Sorry. The radio doesn't exist. You cannot buy the CD or even get the vynil. None of these exist. Unlike modern audiences, you now go home, knowing that you porbably will never get the chance to hear Beethoven's 9th ever again.  

What precious moments!  There will be no record of this momenteous night beyond impressions on paper--the music manuscript and impressions from the audience in the newspapers and streets.  

Tango Audiences: The lack of being present
This brings us to the great difference of great tango music and Bethoven's music:  Beethoven's listeners were attentive and quiet and then boasterous in their praise between movements. On the other hand, rarely have I seen concert goers so loud and unattentive as in a live tango concert.  We are all used to tango musicans being dead, and then seem to forget that some are young and alive, playing for us in the flesh!  Dead or alive we disrespect them.

In the 1800's generally the audiences were absolutely quiet and listening. If you did not listen at the concert you may not ever hear it again!  It was a rare person who heard any of Beethoven's symphonies twice.

Interestingly, the pandemic has us back to listening attentively and not just talking as tango music is in the background.  Does it take a tragedy for us to return to mindful attention?  Maybe we have learned something.

Note for music lovers:
If you have never been brought to your feet, please read this wonderful introduction that appeared in the New York Times: "Five Minutes that wil make you love Beethoven."