Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Competition-Free Zone

I had a dream about going to a village in which cooperation and teamwork are the only value.  The chief of the village showed me a race track in which the participants had many obstacles to overcome.  Each needed teamwork to overcome, and at the end the finish line was wide enough to have the whole team go over the line at the same time.  All things I experienced, including eating, were about ending together.  No one would get up after eating and clean up as the others ate.  They finished eating together by watching the pace of others.  They even drank the same way.

Then at night I was invited to see a village dance.  When I went into their dance arena I was amazed to see a group of musicians come out and one had a bandonión.  Could it be?  My jaw dropped down as they played a di Sarli tango.  My paralyzed shock made my body freeze as I heard the chief of the villiage explain tango.

"This is a dance that has a race track, but there is no beginning or end," he explained.  "It appears that everyone is dancing in couples, but in reality this is a dance of the whole community.  No one is trying to be better than another person.  Sure, there are talented dancers, but we all try to value the dance first between two people.  That means, that the man holds her as if she was the only woman in the world.  If she is old and sick, he holds and steadies her as if she were his beloved grandmother.  However he sees her at that moment, she is the only woman in the world."

I wanted to respond but I was still paralysed.

He knew that I was from the outside world of competition; so he explained more:  "The women learn also to be the same way.  She embraces the man as if he were the only man on earth.  Once they have done this, the dancer can also appreciate the others around them.  The dancers dance with the whole community with  playfulness on the dance floor that makes it a dance of the community.  If it were not this way, people could just stay home or dance alone in their kitchen."

Finally, I could speak, and said, "I see that they dance tango in a way I have not seen before.  Where did they learn those steps?"

"They didn't learn steps," says the chief.  "We found that once a teacher taught steps that competition took over.  We found that people horded steps and some were rich and other poor.  Other teachers competed to have more visually appealing steps, and soon the most visually appealing steps caused even more competition on the dance floor.  So now our teachers focus on how to embrace each other and how to follow exactly what the music is telling them.  We emphasize dancing together and dancing for your partner.  Since then, we have noticed a new level of original dancing and a new appreciation of how the music informs us where to put our feet.  It may not look as pretty as in the world of competition, but are people happy there?"

I shook my head to indicate a sad "no."  Then I woke up.  My newspaper was at my front door.  The Wall Street Journal, I read with my coffee, has an article about a legal case in Buenos Aires.  I am not surprised that the journalist would not understand the essence of tango.  He must be thinking "ballroom" or "Dancing with the Stars."  He reports on how xenophobic the Argentines are about wanting to have their own national championship.  This is tantamount to complaining that the English have a national marathon competition and they are being sued by Kenyans for not allowing them to run.  The article makes me wonder who will "win."  I am sure someone will.  Then will people be happy?  No!  So I hope to return to the village and have a talk with the Chief about this. Will you join me?

I said it was a dream.  But it is not a dream in the night.  It is my dream for tango.  The village is your community!  You are the chief.  Tango is your dance to help understand the rules and values of a world without competition -- if you will allow it to do that.  Be aware that once you establish this village and it grows with others that soon the world will find out about this great place.  The visitors will go home and maybe create competition-free zones or another little village.  Some reporter then, might visit each of these competition-free areas and write a traveler's guide.  Of course, everyone will want to go to the place that earned five stars on being the "best competition-free zone."  The world will certainly find out, and now the competition-free zones will need to compete for first place to keep the tourists coming.

There may not be a way preserve this state of mind of non-competitiveness.  Maybe we are doomed to make everything into a competition!  So I am comitted to living with the paradox of tango being antithetical to competitiveness but strangely well suited to competition.

Tango, like life, is a paradox.  But I hope that you and I will embrace this paradox.  One day we will meet and dance together.  If you are a man, I will dance near you/with you on this race track with no finishing line.  If you are a woman, please hold me as if I were the only man for that moment, and I will hold you as if you were the only woman.

Maybe this is not a really a dream; perhaps it is a delusion.  I like my delusions.  Will you join me, Chief?

Photo credit for village chief:


  1. I'd like to say just one thing about the Metropolitano rules, at the risk of seeming pedantic. A number of the plaintiffs and of those affected by the rules were Argentines who wished to compete with their girlfriends/boyfriends as a couple. But their partners are not Argentine-born. So it is a little more complicated than your Kenyan running example.

  2. Terpsichóre... good point. I have seen your clarifications and I appreciate them. I forgot about this detail. Yet, if I were to run as in male-female team for a US National marathon and my partner was Kenyan wouldn't that still be the same? The more important part of this post was the chronicling of my delusions of a world that eschewed competition. :-)

  3. Of course. Sorry I was pedantic. I think tango competitions can be useful. Competing can give you a focus, so that, as a couple, you have something to aim for when you are practising, encouraging more practice and more focused practice and that can help you improve your tango (even if you *don't* do well in the competition). Also, dealing with the pressures of dancing in front of the judges can be useful training for dancers who wish to perform (performance is a doddle by comparison). And it can be fun to watch the finals. So I think competition can have its uses too. And it's kind of inevitable that there should be at least informal competition in most forms of human endeavour. Some people find competition motivating and helpful; others don't. I think both personality types are valid and can coexist.


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