Thursday, November 5, 2009

Part I: Tango is NOT an Addiction

"Oh, yes it is!" many of you may say.  It is NOT.   

If the model for motivation you follow is “addiction," you run a higher risk of eventually being healed. Once you are healed of your addiction, we may never see you again at the milonga. What keeps some tangueros/tangueras motivated and others fall away?  A different model may help you from falling away.  [Tomorrow, I will introduce a motivation model, but for now, let's find a better human behavior model that explains the power of tango.]

I work in a medical world of colleagues, some VERY SMART people.  So I know that I am a minority in my own business of "mental health" to reject the medical model as being helpful in describing human behavior. 

Tango is joy, freedom, movement not an addiction.
Addiction is a very negative medical model, and, sorry to say, you and everyone you know is sick to some degree.  [Read Viktor Frankel for a glass-is-half-full perspective of human psychology.]  So we go to our 12-step meeting.  I stand and say:  "My name is Mark, and I am addicted to the medical model.  I find it hard to think of the world without applying the modern medical model to everything.  My computer is sick because it has a virus.  St. Paul had a 'conversion disorder' being blinded by a light, talking to Jesus (psychosis) and hearing him too.  I feel guilty when I say this, but even Jesus had some sort of delusional disorder.  Everyone I know is sick, sick, sick.  I am addicted to the medical model."  I sit down.  People clap.  I cry.

Now the Voice of Reason:
Tango is a wonderful thing and so is air.  If you say I am addicted to both, then so be it.  I really am fond of air.  Abraham Maslow said that air, food, water, shelter, sleep, movement, touch* (there are more) are the first level in the hierarchy of human needs.  Babies and old people who are not touched die.  The medical term is "failure to thrive."  Just say it!  "They died for lack of a caring touch!"  Our need (especially in touch-resistant America) is fulfilled in tango.
Did you ever realize that you are getting nearly everything you need according to Maslow on the most basic level at a milonga?  Is this addiction?  The "religion" of the medical model has infected the way you think.  Whoops, did I say infected?  Oh, my God,I have contracted a medical model disorder.  And I am not just sad about it, I am clinically depressed.  But after I get off work and you see me dancing all night, you'll know that I am a manic-depressive patient.  I think this is what is called a sarcastic rant.

So please stop telling me you are addicted to tango, okay? It is not the case.  You had a great milonga.  You were breathing.  You got some food and water at the refreshment table.  The studio was great shelter with air conditioning or heat. You were moving, touching, communicating.  And, that meine Damen und Herrn was just the first level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need.  Tango starts at the bottom and goes all the way to the top of his pyramid.

Now, that you are not addicted, you now are less likely to just stop tango when it turns out to be work one day.  Or you have some really bad experiences related to tango.  The honeymoon one day will be over.  Will then the addiction is healed?  And will you (as many before you) never go to a milonga again?  If you are addicted you may just say, "I am over that!"  But I hope you will not give up as others when they convinced themselves they were no longer addicted to air, water, food, touch, movement, and JOY.  Pure joy.  Where is my bandoneón?  I feel a melancholic tango coming on.  I am singing now: 

Esa mujer que bailaba conmigo
Ya no viene desde hace mucho.
Abandonó el tango y sus tradiciones
Así como si fueran malas adicciones.
Abandonó la milonga por su tristeza
Pero el tango todavía ama a su pureza.

That woman who danced with me
No longer visits the milonga
She abandoned tango and its traditions
As if there were merely evil addictions.
She abandoned tango out of sadness
But tango still loves her nevertheless.

Let's make a date to meet in Austin in 30 years at a milonga, okay?


  1. I simply can't express how much I like this post. As another tango dancer immersed in the medical world - and the medical model - I hereby recant my earlier confession of being addicted to tango.

    La vida es una milonga
    y hay que saberla bailar,
    que en la pista está sobrando
    el que pierde su compás.
    La vida es una milonga
    y hay que saberla bailar,
    por que es triste estar sentado
    mientras bailan los demás.

    Life is a milonga—
    you gotta dance to how it goes;
    it'll leave you behind on the floor
    if you're one to lose the beat.
    Life is a milonga—
    you gotta dance to how it goes,
    'cause it's sad to be sitting down
    while the others dance on their feet.

    Pedro Laurenz , Martin Podesta - La Vida Es Una Milonga

    So here goes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Tango.

  2. Mari, I think that 'renouncing' is a good word -- having theological/political/philosophical models of thinking behind it! You are already on the "sendero verdadero" (true path). :-) The reflection has actually been helpful for me. I realized that the one thing that the milonga doesn't give me is sleep. I sometimes need to leave early on the Thursday milonga -- now I can do it better. I need ALL the basics on Maslow's first level of human need. Amazing how much the milonga gives me, but I have never slept at a milonga -- so it's best to go home to do that! I always love your input and your wonderful ideas on your blog. You inspired me. Maybe we are the Austin Yin and Yang blog-istas? We have to talk about the translation of "Life is a milonga" -- the Spanish is not saying what you have translated. Maybe that can be a blog -- a better translation. :-) M

  3. Thx for letting me know about the translation. I'm at the mercy of other translators since my Spanish still consists of "esta es mi lápiz amarillo." This translation is by Jake Spatz over at

    And I agree - sleep is also very good (coming from an insomniac) and best done away from the milonga. The furniture at home is more comfortable. :)

  4. Maybe tango is a compulsion. Compulsion, an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act or the act itself. Addiction: an obsession or compulsion or excessive psychological dependence,a chronic neurobiologic disorder that has genetic, psychosocial, and environmental dimensions, includes physical dependence and cravings, etc. (see Wikipedia). If a compulsion to tango makes you spend more money on it than you should (because all those lessons burn holes in your wallet),is it an addiction or just a compulsion? If it drives you to go to a milonga or lessons instead of to a family dinner party, making you feel a little guilty, is it an addiction? If it is your total social life and your only hobby, is it an addiction, a compulsion, or does it just mean that you are a focused person? I think if you don't have a life outside tango, either you're a professional tango dancer or you're a tango junkie. It's all words though. I've come to believe that tango is an expression of longing, and it is a sort of fantasy, in which we long to look as good as those fantastic dancers we first saw, when we said, "I want to learn how to do that," so we keep trying even if there is no biological way we will ever look as good or dance as well as the fantasies, but the better we become at it, the more rewarding it is. It is a very difficult dance to learn to do well, so people who like a physical challenge and who love the music are willing to keep working at it. When we reach the point where we have finally learned it well enough that people want to dance with us and people tell us we look good, then maybe the compulsion becomes less of a compulsion, we don't feel like we have to keep paying for lessons, and we can just enjoy it. We've removed "the thorn in the side" as one blogger says about it (link at end of this). Some people quit because they realize they will never be able to fulfill the fantasy. Some people aren't mentally and physically dancer types and they might fantasize for a little while that they can do it but then they find out they just can't. It just like I used to want to be a musician and play fantastic violin, piano,guitar,or sing, but I don't have an ear and I can get only so far and no better. I finally quit because I realized I am not a musician. The best musicians are born with it. I know that I will never be able to dance like the pros. For one thing, I started too old. But it is something I love to do and persistence has paid, whereas I know some people who quit tango because it was too difficult for them. Realizing all this, I resist being a tango junkie because I have a very busy life and many other interests and don't have time to go to all the milongas. But I love the dance, the feeling of connection with a partner and the ah-ha of when it works out well and the fantasy was lived. Yet the longing that is tango will never be filled because that is the nature of the music and the dance. It's all about nostalgia and longing. Here's a blog on the subject: http/

  5. Tango offers me the opportunity to keep challenging myself. I find satisfaction in incorporation the essence of all the things that thrill me in one dance (music, movement, touch).

    Realizing you have a lifetime to improve calms you and replaces your addiction mentality with real perspective on what Tango really means to you. If you can't see yourself doing it in the long run, perhaps it is just an addiction to kill time, or avoid something, in the present.

    Way to think outside the box.
    Great article!

  6. Señor Anonymous... I loved the link you sent me. You didn't say it was your link. Perhaps? Wonderful photograpy and writing. However, I still insist that tango is not an addiction nor is it a compulsion. "Compulsion" as we best know the term in the modern world is defined in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. Compulsion is part of a disorder called OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But, Señor Anonymous, tango is air/water/shelter/touch/communication and joy. It is true that we can over-do anything, but it is still just that and not a medical disorder. Cocaine is not on the Maslow's list, making it an addictive element. How unscientific of psychiatrist researchers to be so loose with their language! Which great leader, artist, theologian, philosopher, musician was not "compulsed" by what they did? The world is what it is because of these great people. Please don't pathologize greatness! Great people may use the medical model to talk about their greatness, but "the words just get in the way." I just read the link you sent, and unwittingly I have further addressed the writer's struggling with nostalgia and longing in the article "The 2% Solution."

  7. I think that tango can be one of the joys in life, the search for joy when you don't have a solid foundation would be an addiction or attempting to force those moments beyond their time. It doesn't have to take huge investments of $ (although the costs are higher for those who are geographically challenged) to improve but it does take a great of time and emotional investment. If it was not possible to tango I would survive but I would be searching for something that would provide the same elements of joy (I was unknowingly searching when I found tango).

  8. Another thought is that if you don't have a solid foundation in life then the highs and lows of tango, the good nights and the other nights when it stinks would leave you on an emotional roller coaster much like an addiciton. Having a bad night is not a big deal in the overall scheme of things although it certainly is unpleasant at the time.

  9. I happened upon this post by accident and I loved it. I am totally addicted, I can think of a lot worse things to be addicted to, so I am sticking to Tango. You are now on my blog roll


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