Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sustainable Tango: The Facets of Well-Being

For many who dance tango--and I am one of them--tango is like visiting heaven.  But is it tango that makes people happy or something else?  I think we can agree on the answer when we really think about it:  Tango does not make us happy.  A life that juggles many different wellness elements will sustain tango (or any other positive behavior) over time.

Many great dancers stop dancing after attaining mastery. Tango ended up not being "sustainable." Why? Perhaps it is because tango is heaven but not a place. If one tries to make tango the center of one's heart, one never arrives.  This center of well-being is indeed our heart, but it must finds us, not we it.  Our heart will find us only if we stay still long enough to be found.

Whether it is money, love, or tango, many of us intellectually know that none of these will bring us happiness, but then we act as if money, love or tango will bring us happiness!  How can we measure where our heart is?  Easy: look at the time and energy and we invest in pursuing certain things we suppose will bring us well-being and happiness.  Many of the notions we have of how one attains happiness and well-being have been proven not to be predictive for bringing us well-being.

Because mental well-being is now being recognized as one of the most important influences of our physical well-being, scientists have set about to measure well-being over 50 years now--looking at the subject throughout the world.  Who has it?  Who doesn't?  Even early writers were obsessed with what makes one happy.  Saint Augustine, for example, was one such writer. He had a cryptic, time-machine message for tango dancers that might surprise you.  He wrote:

Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure;
where your treasure, there your heart;
where your heart, there your happiness.”

It sounds easy enough. But it's not.  Having your heart--time, energy, passion--in the wrong things will not lead to happiness. So dancing is not going to be the one thing that brings everything together to make a person happy. Dance may be where your pleasure is; it comes from an impassioned heart. This post is intended to allow you to apply the following well-researched heart-elements, which I have called "facets of well-being" to your tango, to your life. This list of "facets of well-being" will make it clear why tango is just one of many excellent activities to nurture well-being, but it cannot be your heart.

The 11-Facets of the Well-Being Diamond:

1. Higher Number of Positive emotions (high frequency and intensity of positive moods and emotions): People who bring positive emotions to a milonga are more likely to have a good time.  Plan A is to dance a lot, but social interaction might be their great Plan B.  A non-existent or weak Plan B puts at risk the sustainability to one's enjoyment of tango.

2. Lower Number of Negative Emotions (low frequency and intensity of negative moods and emotions):  Sure nearly everyone might have phases or moments of a negative mood, but the dancers who know how to pull themselves out of these negative moods are going to persist in other dimensions of well-being.

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3. Life satisfaction (a positive subjective evaluation of one's life, using any information the person considers relevant):  Having a variety of life experiences will make a dancer happy.  Having a variety of good tandas is not going to make one's life happy.  Bring a happy life to the milonga, and we'll all want to dance with you to celebrate it.  One cannot always bring a happy life to the milonga so Plan B is to bring a happy milonga to your life.

4. Autonomy (being independent and able to resist social pressures).  Here is my plug for close-embrace tango and not dancing for admiring eyes: The most sustainable dimension for your tango, I believe, is to dance for yourself and the person in front of you.  Often I notice social pressure to dance in a way that is visually appealing.  However, this facade will eventually destroy your autonomy. Psychological research on people influenced by what others see, notice and applaud, shows that people begin to second guess their own vision and abandon it.  Be autonomous; be well.

5. Environmental Mastery (the ability to shape environments to suit one's needs and desires):  Try this at your big town milonga, where people walk past you for years without saying hello--attempt to break into their bubble--but NOT to dance with them.  Master the environment!  Social tango is understanding the etiquette of tango, and the alpha and omega of etiquette is to be sociable with no expectation to dance with those with whom you socialize.  If you get this down, you have mastered the environment.  This is a huge task in communities who do not know how to ask for dances without having to use words.

6. Personal Growth (continuing to develop, rather than achieving a fixed state):  Grow in the Three M's (Music/Movement/eMbrace).  Great musicians never stop getting coaching on musicality, athletes never stop getting coaching on movement, and great lovers and mothers never give up on perfecting their eMbrace. And you?  This is the problem, however.  I see too many people continuing to develop away from the basics, only focusing on Movement (steps and efficiency).  How many new dancers have you met who had a wonderful embrace.  They take lessons and loose what came natural with their embrace, and they too often stop listening to the music in order to perform some movement exactly they way they just learned it.

7. Positive Relations (promoting warm and trusting interpersonal relationships):  Tango is a treasure trove for building great friendships that go way outside of the milonga.  If this is not happening, it would be a sign that dance is your heart.  In other words, your heart is in the wrong place. But when relationships are at the center of your heart, then dancing with friends will grow out of that.

8. Self-Acceptance (positive attitudes toward oneself): Are the classes that you take might pushing you to be someone that you can never be? (The star performer? Save us all and give up that! You're running into us on the dancefloor and walking by us with your nose in the air.) Instead, take classes about musicality, dancing for your partner and having a great, warm embrace.  Find partners and coaches that help you find the dancer who you uniquely are, rather than a clone of what they are. A great coach finds your unique talent and builds on it. Non-cloning teachers are rare but very much worth finding.

9. Purpose and Meaning in Life (a clear sense of direction and meaning in one's efforts, or a connection to something greater than oneself):  Tango is my purpose in life.  Just kidding.  It's not really tango, but being a therapist, using my discoveries of the healing elements of tango (the Three M's) to help others suffering from childhood, adulthood psychological trauma, especially combat and sexual trauma. It should never be one's purpose just to dance, or have children, or read, or have some sport. Specific things can be totally blocked, destroying one's "meaning in life." Outside of dance, find your purpose, and maybe the tango community will be a part of shaping that purpose!

10.  Engagement in Life (being absorbed, interested, and involved in activities and life):  Be engaged in various things in life besides tango!  But tango should be one of things that is more than just a hobby or a pastime activity.  Engagement takes you beyond mere hobbies.

11. Accomplishment (goal progress and attainment, and feelings of mastery, efficacy, and competence):  Do not spend money on tango classes to become better at tango!  Rather spend time, energy, money on all your passions to find mastery.  Doing that will make you three-dimensional in tango and many other things in life.

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Photo credit.


  1. Just a little remark on clause 4. Thre appears to be a little short-circuit here. Close embrace OR dancing for other's eyes is actually not the whole spectrum. Thebimplicit suggestion sounds like the "exhibitionism" mantra of TVofA. The missing dimension is to enjoy and celebrate the full body experience by varying the embrace acording to what the music tells us.

  2. Love your blogs. I have plagiarized your three M,s but changed the eMbrace to Mutuality. Not as catchy, I know, but said what I wanted. I FB your posts.

  3. Excellent piece with lots of resonance for tangueros.

  4. A friend said once recently that "tango can't fix your problems." Have you encountered many people who do think that it can fix their life for them?

    1. Renatango, the paradox of dance-as-therapy is that your friend is absolutely right and wrong. I have seen dance therapy fix the unfixable or for people using dance to fix things only to make bigger problems.


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