Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Tango Anthropologist

Perhaps you started as an anthropologist and now have joined the tribe?

We are all in some degree tango-anthropologists.  The beginner comes into Argentine tango with much of the same questions that any anthropologist does as she or he goes out on a field trip.  But after we join a group, it is easy to forget our most basic skills.  However, the questions still need answering that you had at the outset!  Don't forget your skills as an anthropologist!
How are your observation skills as tango evolves before you?

Tango Anthropology Self-Test:
Gauge your own skills.  Below I list some basic anthropologist skills.  How are you doing at getting better and more observant?

Origins.  Are you curious about the origins of tango in the group that you are in and tango itself?  Do you accept the myths of tango as a brothel-born dance or do you know about the readily available historical context?  Do you know the other tribes outside of the studio-tribe from whence you came?

Language:  Tango has its own languages.  The language of the music, the language of how it is taught, the analogies of how we explain complex social behaviors or movements.  Do you know these languages? Can you communicate it when new blood enters the group?  Is the language used to help people enter the group or used to keep them out?

 This is the science of how we come to know and understand our state of being.  What draws you and those around you to tango.  Is it negative, addiction language that you use?
Is it eros, philos or agape language that best describes our personal or the group's "way of knowing and understanding" our state of being within ourselves or with the group?  Are there limited foci or compartments rather than a broader based understanding of tango as fulfillment of human need on many levels?

Ontology: This is the science our being within time, space.  It starts with what happens within us when we dance or interact in the community, but grows to include others' experiences in our growing tango tribe (group).

Ecology: Tangueros in their "environment" is the ambiance of their classes and social gatherings.  Are they sustainable?  Does the group allow beginners to grow and adjust to the group?  An advanced tango-anthropologist may reject outright or even like a teacher from out of town perhaps emotionally abuses people -- as long as the information is highly valued. Either way, they are aware of the toxic or harmonious ambiances each tango group.  If it is toxic, is it worth it?  If not, the group is doomed.  An advanced tango-anthropologist will differentiate between praticas and milongas.  Are people are talking, teaching and working on things in both venues?  Here is where beginners usually are not aware, and ask for instruction on the milonga dance floor.  They do not yet know (as some "advanced" tangueros should) that talking on the dance floor is tantamount to talking loudly in a theater about the movie that you are watching:  It is not only bothersome to the recipient of your observations but to all those in earshot of your pontifications.

Religion:  Unknown to tango atheists, anthropologists of all kinds do not wonder if there is religion.  They find it, if they are good at their craft.  So the question in tango is:  What is spiritual, magically inexplicable or divine for you and for the group?   Many find the epicenter of the magic of tango in the embrace.  But for me there is a "Trinity":  Music, Embrace and Movement.  Religion also includes definitions of ethical behavior.  In tango there are the códigos (tango etiquette rules) which can have some of the feel that the Ten Commandments have.  Not knowing or respecting rules of a community can lead to ostracism, and having no rules at all creates chaos.  Of course, there are always "Protestants" and "iconoclasts" who by their very nature do not like social norms (mostly without even knowing if they are indeed practical or helpful for the group).  After the iconoclasts break all the rules, they tend to realize later how necessary they are in perhaps some other form.

Traditions and Ritual:  Some things are very traditional in tango.  In Buenos Aires, no one is going to dance to "Adiós Muchachos," but if a tango tribe did not know it was linked to the death of a tango icon (Gardel), that group would be easily able to decide to use it as the last-song "benediction" at the end of each milonga in which we say goodbye instead of the Cumparsita (which means "parade of sorrows").  A song of "adiós would seem appropriate as a last son on the surface, while a a song about a parade of sorrows does not seem very much like a way to say goodbye.  Not playing Adiós Muchachos at a milonga is a way of standing in awe of the unknown -- tragic and sudden death of "a prophet" of tango.

Love and Hate:  A good tango-anthropologist can easily become a director/producer of the tango play going on in town.  Good tango-anthropologists start slipping over into the practical applications of tango-sociology.  They (as producer/directors) may enable a community to unite because they have a larger view of love and hate, and are not mere participants in the play.  The tango-anthropologist, as any anthropologist, needs to look at the question of love and hate:  Why are we compassionate toward some humans while capable of hating (even killing) others.   "I love this teacher; I hate that one."  "I love tango nuevo and hate traditional tango."  These antipodes are not in some communities; it is a part of each community.  But there are civil ways of dealing with differences. Why does this group never dance with the group which meets across town?  Why does that teacher mention the teacher at the other studio with contempt at every chance?  Certain communities are so bogged down in love and hate, that even little towns nearby have better and more diverse tango scenes than the much larger city.

There are other basic questions, such as self-determination and power.  But you get the picture.

Are you getting better with time as a tango-anthropologist?  My guess is that you are, otherwise you would not be reading this.  You may have noticed if you read this blog that we are both on a path of observing from outside all the while we are drawn into the epicenter of the group at times.  Is isn't it amazing?  Thanks for joining me with your great curiosity for this most amazing thing called "tango."


If you like the evolving tanguero, you can get this graphic on a t-shirt at:

Acknowledgements:  For more on the essential elements of anthropological study, I suggest doing a search of anthropology.  I liked Dr Rodney Frey, Professor of Ethnography's course syllabus for Anthropology:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dancing in your safe place, part II

The spectrum of vision probably does not include seeing your soul
Pablo Casals, considered by many the greatest cellist to  have ever lived, was known for playing soulfully.  At times he would play and weep.  I think he got into his inner safe place.  That was his "zone."  Can you dance like that?  Find your zone and walk there with another person?  This is your safe place, the epicenter of soulful expression.

This post is part II of a meditation about dancing in your safe place.  As any meditation of value, it has changed my opinion about this subject of being observed as a dancer.  Many of my reflections in the past have eschewed "dancing for the crowds."  Although that is generally a good idea, there is in fact a spectrum of being observed.  However, on both ends of the spectrum one must remain centered on one's very intimate safe place.  For example, whether Pablo Casals was playing alone, in a duet, or before thousands of people, I believe this great artist could quickly find his safe place.  He was confident in all settings.  There are some performers who do not start from their soul but from their need to be watched.  I believe that one cannot find one's soul from starting with the joy of being confident in front of the crowds, but one can start from one's soul and feel comfortable in front of crowds.

I have used the word soul, which is very problematic, because the modern mind is ignorant about the soul.  I have learned (late in life) that "soul" is a very concrete part of being human.  The Greeks knew this, but we modern people find it hard to define.   I would have never thought of one's inner safe place as being our sense of "soul" until I started working with combat veterans as a therapist.  Veterans of war often say "I lost my soul" and it means to them:  "I no longer feel safe, anywhere or anytime."  Feeling safe inside is what puts you in touch with your soul.  Without it, you have a soul, but you are unaware of its presence.  A person who does not feel safe lives like a wild animal, not knowing whom to trust and having no recollection of the tender care of others who helped you survive before going off to war or being traumatized in some tragic event in your life.

Psyche (of psychology) is "soul" in Greek.  So if you want to say that finding, maintaining, and knowing about the epicenter of knowing and feeling is "psychology" instead of "the science of the soul," that is okay with me, but why hide behind big words?   It seems natural to me that the study of the soul is often required course work by higher learning institutions all over the world.

Why do tangueros keep coming back to hold another person, to move to the music, to find our "zone" in which we are safe to laugh or cry?  I believe it is because we want to study our soul, to know more about it.  What a terrible misunderstanding it is to say, as many do, that we are "addicted" to tango.  Are we addicted to the thirst to find joy?  To seek the "water" of touch in a modern world which fears touch is addiction?  Or is it our deprived "addictive" self that hungers after another moment in which our soul finds a moment of safety?

Feed your soul.  You do not have an addiction.  You have a hunger, a thirst, a basic need at the center of your psychological well being.

Photo credits:
Spectrum from eye:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dancing in your Safe Place, Part I

Dance in your psychological safe place.  This is good for your soul.  Taking care of one's soul requires courage because one must take off one's persona (mask) and know oneself.

I love the following commercial clip of a British drugstore chain.  It's the stuff of which common stress dreams are created:  Everyone is watching.  Click on the video below:

Here's the description if your Internet is slow:
A woman shows up at a very crowded beach, and as she is about to take off her shirt to tan herself in her bikini.  Everyone stops to watch -- babies, mothers, fathers, the young, the old.  Everyone in the world, it seems, is watching.  After she faces the awkwardness of this moment and takes off her shirt, everyone goes back to what they were doing.

I like how the woman faces her fears.

Although it may be a human tendency to imagine that everyone is watching, it is just not the case no matter how good or bad you are at dancing, or how attractive or unattractive you are.

In part two of "Dancing in your Safe Place," I will suggest more on the psychology (study of the soul), but for now, here is the advice I give myself:

Dance and being yourself is soul-work
  • First:  Being present with whom you are dancing is something your partner will feel at some level.   It is bizarre to dance with someone who is skilled, but not present: Watching the mirror, who came in, who is leaving, who is sitting down, who is drinking a glass of wine.
  • Second:  Dance who you are as best as you can, no matter your skill level.  The greatest lesson I have learned is that when I dance who I am, then I are truly doing my authentic best.  My partner will feel and appreciate me best when I am comfortable with my own center.  Skill can help me to eliminate worries, but not guarantee that I are present in our dance, that I am soul-centered.  Skill can also allow any artist (and dance is art) to hide from themselves.
  • Third:  Probably no one really truly is watching, though you may feel they are.  If you are sure they are watching (going by their eyes), what do they see of your soul?  Isn't it nice that your soul is outside the spectrum of visible light?
  • Fourth: So what if people watch out of awe or disdain?  You have a right to be in your psychological space for two.  Dancing as if no one is watching is an act of courage and discipline.  Psychological shelter (your safe place) is where you can dance and create in a way that your soul applauds.  The crowd just doesn't know you outside your mask.
Querido Tanguero, querida Tanguera:   Nourish your safe inner space as often as you can.  I cannot think of a better place than a milonga to practice finding and staying in one's psychological safe place in spite of a public setting. 

Trailer for Dancing in your Safe Place, Part II:
An excerpt:
"Tango, for many people, is a place to build psychological safe-place experiences.  Many of my posts are about creating a safe place by using tango etiquette to create a safe place to dance in the community.  However, there is something that no one but you can do to create a safe place:
Are you nourishing your soul and allowing it to develop?
Are you entering and developing you center of safety in your inner world, the center of who your are?"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

SUPER-ficial Tango Relationships

I knew she was an angel
because she left a few feathers behind.
Superficial moments -- whether we like it or not -- shape our personal destiny and even world destiny.

But humans don't like this fact. So we bring order to the world with our well-groomed gardens and well-organized kitchens. And we define our meaningful relationships as having real depth to them, which takes time to teach others what we want from them and learn what they want from us.

But that is not the way of world or even the cosmos.

Face the fact: Tandas may give you better clues to the nature of the universe than the friend you have known for 30 years. You see, just like "superficial" tango relationships, angels also often do not dwell long in our lives.

Angels dance on surface of time, and then leave, changing our entire lives, introducing us to our life partner, leading us to an article or book that changes the direction of our professional lives.

No one will argue that "real" relationships -- family, friends and colleagues at work are far deeper than "superficial" tango relationships. After all, the connection you feel is ephemeral, superficial, and maybe delusional.  At best, you must be naive, especially to people who do not know.  But if you decide to argue that these superficial relationships are somehow magical, I will join you as one of the few who seem to know that superficial is not necessarily ... superficial.

Let's dare together to be naive.  The world will laugh at us.  I recommend you not even try to explain to others what you feel in a tango connection.  It's ridiculous!  It doesn't make sense!  But you and I know something that others do not.

You know -- or perhaps better said -- you feel something is more than superficial when you have danced and felt a connection to someone.  Maybe you find it hard to find any words for it.  "Real" relationships are healthy, and your feelings must therefore be "unhealthy."  Maybe you even should be properly ashamed that tango connections have more power than you should allow.  So you call your experiences unhealthy by laughing at your tango "addiction" -- just as the cigarette smoker laughs as she takes a deep drag from her cigarette, all the while telling you she is enjoying yet another nail in her coffin.

Your tango relationships can indeed be superficial, but are probably not:
  • You may feel the natural attraction of Yin and Yang (male and female) again, even after having been hurt to the core from an unfaithful spouse. 
  • You may feel that the embraces are more genuine than they are at your place of worship.  
  • You may feel you communicated more of your essence to someone without words than you ever have with words. And received more of their essence as well.  
  • You may feel that the mastery of music is more satisfying than playing in the community band.
  • You may even feel that after watching the news and having a sense that the world is a terrible place that the milonga's order and culture brings back a hope that perhaps the Universe is not such a bad place to be after all.
This thing, called tango, is an addiction?  Superficial?

Each person you meet has a message.  Because of this I define a true friend as an ἄγγελος, an angel.  Angel in Greek is not a theological term but simply means a "messenger."  The way I am using the word is for relationships, however brief or long, that influence us in positive directions.

Tango friends have a good chance of being angels.

So if we go by influence -- the influence to be better people -- those who save your life in a brief encounter, and even those whom your rarely see and who try to harm you may influence you to be a better person.  These are the deep relationships of life -- superficial only in the face of time.  Spotting angels takes patience, like the bird watching.  But after one Angel comes and goes, others will surely come.

When I am 90 years old and I have outlived all my friends, and perhaps even my family, will I still have the ability to recognize the deeply important relationships that briefly pass through my life?  If I am dancing tango, I will.  Or will I feel abandoned in life because all my "deep" friendships have come and gone?

Cherish your SUPER-ficial relationships.  The next angel you meet may be someone you are holding for just one tanda.  So listen.

Photo Credit:  Maurio Moreno from Argentina.  Please visit this artist's on-line studio at this link.