Sunday, April 24, 2016

What makes tango anti-social

Rejection, unlike fear, sadness and anger look
like physical pain in brain scans

Translations:  Romanian / German [pending]

lthough tango is called a social dance, too often certain community milongas are poor examples of social behavior. The solution requires an easy change in behavior for those dancers new to tango or those who have been dancing for years. When I hear people complaining about the asocial or even arguably anti-social milongas, they mention the character of people.  Character problems rarely are the problem.  The problem is shunning (acting as if certain people do not exist, as if they are invisible). The perpetrator usually does not know how damaging it is.  First, let's look at some modern research and see why it is so important not to shun for both those who do it and those who are being shunned:

This is your brain on rejection (or pain)

Social neurologists have recently discovered that brain scans indicate that a brain in physical pain looks the same as the brain of a person who has been rejected.  

Other uncomfortable emotions, such as fear, anger, anxiety or sadness do not look like physical pain.  Tango lyrics themselves dwell on the pain of rejection and loss.  Social rejection looks like pain in the brain, and it becomes unbearable when the rejection comes from an important person, and is "amplified" by being shunned by a group, although no one in that group is really close.  If unnecessary shunning can decrease in your community, there will be two outcomes:  Less "pain" and more pleasure.  What is your own assessment of pain and pleasure at your local milonga?

Shunning works well to establish power in toxic governments or cultures.  Torture works too, but now that we know, who would want to inflict pain on anyone?  Shunning has no place is social dance, and it harms the person who shuns others in the long run.   The solution takes a bit of psychological sophistication and understanding the traditions of tango. 

This is your brain on rejection (or pain).
The problem is not those who shun!  Nor is it those who ask and then feel shunned later.  The problem is ignorance or simply a misunderstanding of tango etiquette.  There are only three times in tango etiquette that we ought to be silent:
  • Never asking for a dance
  • Never teaching moves to a partner at the milonga, and
  • Never talking while dancing at a milonga.  
Of course, if someone uses their voice to ask for a dance, you don't have to be silent!  If someone is physically hurting you, you don't have to be silent.  You can tell someone that you only dance with a silent agreement (cabeceo/mirada).  You can also tell someone that you would like to greet them even if you do not dance.  This is not "teaching moves" but expressing how you understand tango etiquette.  The belief that we cannot talk about our preferences leaves us with a very poor choice-- to shun others and pretend the person asking/teaching/dance-talking doesn't exist at all. Shunning is bad for your emotional well being, and now especially because you should now know clearly that shunning is like inflicting pain as a punishment for their ignorance.  Collectively, you and others who shun this person may be creating (although unwittingly) painful emotional distress.  There are rare reasons when shunning is appropriate.*

Here are four examples of misunderstandings of Tango Etiquette and their solutions:

I.  "I asked him to dance, and I really enjoyed it.  Now he won't even look at me."  Mostly out of ignorance, people ask for dances.  If they are told yes, the 15 minutes invested may be very uncomfortable for the person who assented to the dance.  The more experienced dancer now believes that he or she is forced to shun the asker because any smile might lead them to have to say no. This misunderstanding of the three examples of silence (above) suggested in los códigos de tango leads the experienced dancer to falsely believe that shunning is "easier."  It is not!  I recommend memorizing this short script:  "Thanks for asking, but I prefer not to dance with someone when they ask." You can add later.  "We may eventually dance, but we have to agree to dance with our eyes." Now, the person who once was ignorant is no longer ignorant!  And experienced dancer is no longer afraid to smile.  Tango etiquette tango culture is seen to be old fashioned by some, but not heading the wisdom of our elders, in this case, leads to shunning.  Is your tango a kind of tango or simply kind tango, social tango?

II.  "I've been dancing for ten years now, and I really don't want to dance with beginners and people who ask.  So I don't even look at them."   Not dancing with someone does not require shunning. Use your ability to be socially sophisticated to talk to them about it.  Let's say that someone with whom you don't like dancing is clearly trying to get your eyes.  SMILE AT THEM!  And then look away!  It's that easy!  The milonga is a social event.  It takes a lot more emotional energy not to smile.  You may eventually have to speak with them about the cabeceo/mirada.  Enlighten them to what you want.

III.  "We are friends.  When I am talking to her,  often I eventually just ask for a dance."  This one is difficult, but the solution is the same. Avoid asking or even trying to get a cabeceo/mirada close range even if you are absolutely certain they want to dance with you.  Does your potential partner really want to dance with you?   A partner that once loved to dance with you may no longer wish to dance, or doesn't like the way you dance to Pugliese, for example.  Maybe later.  Maybe never.  So don't ask especially in conjunction with a nice conversation.  If you combine conversation and dance requests, you may eventually be shunned.  If a friend asks say, "Beginners are watching; let's make this a very clear cabeceo/mirada and then dance."  Exceptions to the rule will eventually go bad on you."

IV.  "She used to dance with me, and now why doesn't she even look at me?"  Or worse:  "What is wrong with him?  He has never, ever looked at me or smiled at me?"  The funny thing is that if you run into the same people outside of the milonga they might be very sociable to you.  The reason this happens is that in the street you probably won't ask them to dance on the street! :-)  The solution: Go to the person and say, "I want you to know that I will never ask you to dance.  Ever.  But when I see you, it is nice to smile at each other, don't you think?"  This really works.  I have said this to some women who do not dance with me, and they have told me or my wife how much they appreciate having friendly connections with me even though we do not dance. It's good for them.  It's good for me.

No shunning means more pleasure, less pain.  Social tango is pure pleasure.

omment or follow this blog on: 

Tango Therapist on Facebook

*If you shun a psychopath it is for your own safety.  Every woman should read about the dangers of psychopaths.
Photo credits Shutterstock//Chepko Danil Vitalevich; Tor Wager.

Notes for more thinking on this subject:
You may disagree with this blog post. Perhaps, you will enjoy hearing why tango is not very social and why shunning is okay because tango is all about one's own enjoyment.  We disagree on this subject, but I can add that usually the author is a spot-on thinker and tango essayist.  She works as a tango teacher in Paris.  I have danced in Paris, and yes, she's right. Tango is not very social in Paris--in as much as I have experienced the public milongas there. Surely in some places a tango community can be outright toxic, but I still maintain that tango itself is indeed social.

More about research on the brain regarding pain and rejection:
And what does the Church teach about shunning?
I remember a vivid description in a Boston University seminary graduate class on the history of the American Church. In a lecture, the professor told of a member of the congregation who had fallen asleep in church, and for this offense was shunned.  Shunning, in this case, is that the whole community (often an entire small town) and even one's own family would not speak or acknowledge the person shunned.  If you refused not to shun even your own child, you too would be shunned.  The history professor, went on to tell the story. The punished person, a young woman, died of emotional distress.  It was too painful. I have often said that people I know in the tango community are more spiritual than at many churches. (I was speaking of social milongas.) If you want to shun, go find the "right" church for this!  It doesn't belong at a milonga!   More on the ecclesiastical references to shunning: