Sunday, May 4, 2014

Violet tango, or just the blues?

Is tango just a little too depressive?  Too blue?  

I have heard people say this, but I do not think so at all.  It's best to be a little bit more careful with the colors on your palette than to paint tango all blue.   Try violet, for example.  Let me explain:

Tango music can sound upbeat and happy, but then if you learn the meaning of the Spanish lyrics, you can be surprised by how sad they are at times.  Sometime even the music and the lyrics both seem like just a Spanish version of the blues.   Maybe learning Spanish can be hazardous to your emotional well-being?  Well, not really.

I am going suggest a different frame of this picture of sadness or melancholy that may be helpful, but first a story:

A tango dancer from New Zealand answered a question I posed to him about why he came or at least stayed as a dancer.  He said,

"What brought me to tango was curiosity and the thought of a new challenge. What keeps me here was something I've been thinking about since I read your question [on Facebook]. I've only just figured it out: Tango allows me to be sad. Or at least, not happy. For three minutes at a time, I don't have to smile for the world. I can be myself (which while at times is happy, need not always be). And 12 minutes of that is cathartic. . . ."

Upon reading his answer, at first I thought this was weird, but he is EXACTLY right.  These deep emotions are what it feels like to play the blues for me as a musician.  However, "sadness" is a little too vague.  Different instruments create a different shades of the "blues feeling."  Even different instruments or singing the blues brings on a different shade of the same song.  I like the feeling best on bass, but piano, guitar or drums bring out a similar intense, deep emotions which go beyond a depressive or melancholic feeling.  The better way to discribe this is a paradoxical euphoric melancholy.  I call it "violet"--the highest frequency of light before it goes into unseen light to the human eye.

Violet tells me I am alive.  I have felt violet also with Chopin and many other great composers too. But dancing tango is best!  Dancing tango is even better than being a musician because I am holding a woman who is there with me, deeply immersed into the music, sharing these powerful emotions, and even perhaps protecting me from them so that they do not pull me into the abyss of melancholy or even depression. We are there together, holding each other.  We have joined the orchestra, and the long-dead musicians are thereby immortalized.  We are alive!  Have you felt this in tango?

Violet is the color of the chakra that expresses spirituality.  I think that my New Zealand, friend has found something more than just not having to smile, something more than being allowed to be sad, moody, melancholic or depressive.  Our emotion vocabulary is rather limited, don't you think? "The blues" or "sadness" as an expression just isn't enough.

In men's therapy groups we explore what being "angry" feels like.  Anger seems like red, a primary color.  But it is never the primary emotion-color:  How about "embarrassed," "disappointed," "jealous," "justifiably righteous," or "feelings of great loss"?  Then from these feelings comes out the secondary-emotional-color of anger.   The expression "anger" is actually hiding the multiple levels of emotion-colors we express.  Anger is simplified into "red hot."  So it is with melancholy and "the blues."  Violet tells you that life is worth living and it is wonderfully profound and mysterious.

So try experiencing violet, and different shades of deep emotions that really are more than sadness, melancholy or depression.  Pull out your palette of colors, and my guess is that tango will often be more violet than simply blue.  I am not saying that violet is the color of tango.  It is one of tango's colors.  There are many more, even off the spectrum of visible light.  Find what color expresses it best for you.  Ultraviolet is cool too. :-)

Photo credit:


  1. well, what is more comforting to the soul than the feeling of being understood? We have communal gatherings to celebrate happy events, but very little to share the melancholy. Melancholy has, for some reason, always been seen as something bad, taboo, unhealthy, needing to be treated. But, truth is, we all carry it; and tango dancers have recognised the melancholy as something that can be celebrated and shared. Furthermore, it is even more comforting to express the melancholy in this way because we don't have to deal with personal details and specifics.... we are all in the milonga for (similar?) reasons, and we are dancing to lamentations from generations past, timeless melancholy.
    Also, being aware of the sad sets up a counterpoint which helps one to recognise the value in the happy things one has.

  2. 'The times are not yet cheerful enough to let the people be naturally sad'

    [Wislawa Szymborska, Smiles]

    Thank you for the post.

  3. Sadness? Tango can be boastful and playful and funny and ironic. And just happy. There are milonga and vals. There are Donato and D'Arienzo, but then their supposed antithesis Di Sarli gives us Nobleza de Arrabal and Cara Sucia and Chau Pinela. No, I don't dance tango to be sad - I have enough of tragedy and suffering in my daily work already. One profound, blue tanda out of a few, sure, but don't give me two tandas of sadness and drama in a row, please. Although I don't thing one can even mix two successful tandas to be "sin aurora". Most dramatic pieces have enough light there amid all the darkness.


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