Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pneuma-Tango: Solution Number Five

Pneuma-Tango: Solution Number Five
The third installment on the theme of solutions to rejection. See earlier solutions 1-4.

Solution Five for rejection is a walking embrace. I knew from my own experiences that graceful walking was powerful for helping the brain find solutions. Nearly every human being has experienced finding resolutions on a plain ol’ walk. A graceful, purposeful walk is even stronger (solution 4). Now add the embrace to this, as it is done in traditional Argentine tango and now you have, I believe, the essence of why tango by mistake is something that can have remarkable therapeutic power. The embrace by itself keeps us alive. Without a caring embrace babies die or languish, and old people have higher rates of illnesses--as has been documented extensively in health care literature and research.

Recently, I went to a grave side service for a 21 year-old man who died on his way to spend Easter with his parents. I stood in line to greet them. The way that I and everyone before me expressed themselves was with an embrace. Why is an embrace so powerfully expressive?

Tango is a walking embrace full of uncharted power!  I am convinced bi-lateral stimulation (graceful walking) and a simultaneous embrace enables the brain to find resolution from emotional pain or simply to find answers to difficult questions confronting us.

When I started this series on “solutions,” I focused on rejection as a single psychological obstacle for tangueros/tangueras. The “solutions” now are much bigger than rejection or any one psychological theme (rejection, bereavement, jealousy, hate). And the idea of tango-as-therapy (self-care) is far more powerful than I realized since starting this project. I have given examples before, but now people who have read my reflections are telling me their experiences too.

Let me give an example. At a tango festival recently, I found a tanguera friend from Boston who told me about a recent break-up and rejection. I told her about my training as an EMDR therapist and then my recent discoveries with bi-lateral stimulation in a tango walk. I explained how a graceful tango (contra-body) walk affects the brain just like traditional EMDR techniques. We were at a park some hours before the milonga. I had her bring up the most hurtful moment of her recent break-up. I held her in a traditional tango embrace and right there in the park we only did weight changes because of the bike traffic on the path. In a remarkably short time (under 5 minutes) her hurt was so resolved that when her ex-boy friend unexpectedly ARRIVED at the festival, she felt no jealousy, no hurt, no pain as she had just days before when she saw him at milongas in Boston. If I had not seen this happen, I doubt that I would fully believe such an account of resolution in five minutes.  I cannot expect that emotional hurts can dissolve so easily as hers did, but in some ways I am not surprised either because I have seen EMDR quickly and effectively treat horrific traumas/tragedies that combat vets have experienced.*

A friend recently wrote me after I told her about my reflections on the walking embrace that I was about to write. Her story also confirms Solution Five (although this is about bereavement). She gave me permission to share this:

“Recently I spent my father’s last six weeks by his side in another state. At my first milonga after his death, a fellow dancer asked me why he had not seen me for such a long time. I started to explain, but then teared up and could not go on. His response was to open his arms, envelop me in a tender embrace, and move us into the line of dance. As we circled the room I quieted down and my sadness melted away. By the time we came to a stop I was at peace. I said thank you and we parted. This was the first time I had experienced the power of tango to soothe, and I remain profoundly grateful to my dancing partner for his moving gesture.”

So what shall we call the power of two people in embrace, walking gracefully? I have called it tango therapy, but “therapy” is inadequate. However, I have no better word. I would prefer to call this phenomenon “Pneuma-Tango,” using a Greek term.  The Greeks felt that invisible, powerful wind (pneuma) that moved ships was the same “wind/spirit” that comes in and out of the lungs of a living soul. Wind, spirit, ghost are terms all described by one word in the original Greek of the New Testament, including the Holy Pneuma.

So if we were to think of Pneuma-Tango as a combination of the life-giving essence—breathing as one, moving as one, embracing as one—then we might better estimate the power of this little-understood phenomenon. Pneuma-tango is something that countless tango dancers have experienced. How sad that many tango dancers have tended to mistake the powerful sensations as something less than spiritual, such as fun, sensual, or like falling in love.

Pneuma-Tango has the thrill of anything that is fun, but the joy is deeper than amusement. Tango provides a similar physical joy (eros), but it happens without overt arousal. It feels like love (agape), but without the bonding as one experiences while truly in love. Moreover, I believe it innately helps us to resolve our hurts and find more adaptive solutions to obstacles in our lives.

Let me give one final example of Solution Five: Just a week ago, a tanguera told me the company she worked for had folded. No job. Three children. She was not distressed. However, I told her about Solution Five. We went to an empty studio after a milonga and we breathed as one, and walked as one in embrace. By the third time we walked and stopped for a moment, her mind was so full of ideas that her face turned red with joy, miming that she needed to write, needed to write! (At the time I did not think about it, but losing one’s job is a subset of rejection.)

You do not have to be a therapist or have a therapist to experience Pneuma-tango. But it will help if you allow a different paradigm to inform yourself about what tango really creates in your heart and mind. Is it really just fun? Just another sensual pattern dance like rumba? Is it just a nice hobby? Maybe it’s just plain addicting? I would posit that tango is a much more powerful thing than any of us ever realized. My hope is to do research on these discoveries that we all are making at every milonga we go to. I would love to hear your stories.
I wish you lots of Pnuematic-Tango, mis compañeros de tango!

*Note about therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (
EMDR) therapy is separate from what I have called here Pneuma-Tango. Tango is a type of self-care and a natural way to find solutions and not “therapy” in the medical sense but in the spiritual sense. I fully endorse having a skilled therapist for serious distress. I especially endorse EMDR as a therapy modality with a qualified EMDR therapist—because it works like tango! If you find yourself sobbing at a milonga and do not know why, I think I do: You need a guide because you are “flooding” from the bi-lateral stimulation of the tango walk. Seek an EMDR therapist to guide you out of your stuck part. Not resolving the problem with emotional “flooding” could have you avoiding tango after a while.

Coming soon: Solution 7 (music); Solution 8 (the tango community). The theme is still rejection.


  1. I'm so glad you wrote this post, I've been so excited, waiting for installment #5. I think what you wrote is absolutely true, and has so much potential. So many of us have a hard time giving up the idea that we are separate, isolated creatures responsible for "fixing ourselves" all on our own (read any self-help books lately? Many of those books do more harm than good) and then presenting ourselves back to society when we're "healed". But we need each other to heal. We need to connect - and more and more the research shows that the physical connection matters. Hugging in particular - just look at this video about Amma, the hugging saint: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tysCHF57uYc.

    These ideas may be hard for some to swallow. It's too big, too much of an unknown, too much out of the comfort zone. Again, I'm so excited by this post - about the possibilities that lie ahead. ---mari

  2. I so agree with what you wrote about the power of the embrace under every circumstance.

    But walking in the embrace to music has even more spiritual and emotional power. It can connect one to the Universe!

  3. Actually, I think these are the easiest solutions to the rejection (not just tango) I have ever heard. And they work!
    I recently noticed that I was getting bored at the milongas. I think I reached that point where I was no longer a beginner and was “proud” of it. So I only dance with my partner, my teacher and another experienced leader. I was happy. Until my partner started going out of town a lot, my teacher was busy and the last guy was busy as well.
    I sat at the milongas full of myself and could not enjoy dancing with anyone else. I was at the point where I was actually considering quitting dancing.
    When I shared my “flat” experience with Mark, he was so kind to let me into his more advanced solutions before he published them. Anyway, I decide to give it a try and went to a milonga holding to the solution 3 (get out and dance), 6 (dance with the community), and 7 (dance to the music). Also, Mark told me that most of the leaders don’t make it because of the feeling of rejection. That’s completely opened my eyes and I realized how selfish I was when I refused to dance with the beginners.
    Anyway, I went to dance keeping in mind 367 and I was amazed how well it worked. I reconnected with the leaders that I used to ignore, I put my soul and heart into the dance to make their experience with me the best and I listened to the music phrase figuring out what it is trying to tell us. Of course, occasionally the connection was not just there but I would not give up by using solution 6 – dance with the community. I told myself how lucky I am by being surrounded with such wonderful and intelligent people that became my family.
    My tango experience completely changed. I no longer sit at the milongas waiting for a “good” leader to ask me to dance. In fact, even on a slow nights when most people are out of town, I still get a lot of dances. And I feel blessed when I reach my goal to fully give myself to my partner at this particular moment and hope that I get the same back. I also discovered, that most of the time I don’t remember “fancy” steps that guys throw into a dance, but what I do remember is every single beautiful connection and embrace I experienced.

  4. I totally agree with the power of the embrace. Nothing soothes me more than just walking in a good embrace either as a leader or a follower.

    I experienced the awakening of the power of the embrace when I took a class in Buenos Aires last year. The teacher asked us to close our eyes, start walking, and embrace the first person we came in contact with while still keeping our eyes closed. It was a big step in trust for me, but I did it. I felt a hand on mine and went into a regular Tango close embrace. Then the instructor told us to hug the person and to keep on gently adjusting the position in order to increase the comfort. I was lucky to be in the arms of someone with such a tender and caring embrace that at one point all my defenses and guards were shattered. I felt all of them fall to the floor. It was such an incredibly freeing feeling. I walked out of that room a difference person. When I got back to the US, people asked me what happened in BsAs because I seemed so different - but they couldn't define the difference. I was told, "You're... glowing!"

  5. Thanks for all your comments, mis tangueras! The depth of the comments are perhaps better than the article! Regarding the music -- Solution 7, that has just been "published" so check that out. Also, another article is in draft that address why music is also a problem for men (socialization that moving to music is a target for public ridicule). For me, music is therapeutic, but it has it's problems for many in the area of rejection too.


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