Thursday, November 26, 2020

Post-Pandemic Body and Tango

Will tango survive the pandemic?  

What helps the body survive is exactly what will help tango survive. But surviving is not the same as thriving.  If you ask a pediatrician or geriatric physician about what "failure to thrive" means in medicine, they will tell stories of vulnerable children and mature adults who died from a lack of touch.  A "failure to thrive" tango community has a problem with touch too.  Death looms.

The need for human touch is correlated to human longevity itself.  That is what "thriving" is!  However, once the risk of a dangerous virus is gone, fear can remain for a lifetime.  World Wars and the Great Depression are examples of tragedies replayed in the psyches of many for their entire lives. People go to their graves with this fear of losing everything again. Even so with the Pandemic of 2020, unfortunately, we will have those who will never get over this experience.  Being traumatized will halt what needs to happen.  We will continue needing touch on two levels. First, on the biological level, the microbiome needs social interaction because of the biological need for diversity of the bacteria in our bodies. Scientists have been ignorant about this until more recently, and the general public and many physicians do not know it. Post-pandemic, some dancers sequestering themselves for a lifetime will unwittingly create the likelihood of a weakened immune system.  That's where a short lifespan comes into play.  Second, on the psychological level without touch, failure to thrive starts--all the food and comforts do not keep children, the elderly, and yes, the forlorn dancer alive, who are all dying of a lack of touch and interaction--it's more than just the dance.  The body and/or tango die out if the population is now avoidant of one thing: Touch. But that won't happen, at least to you, if you know how important touch is.

What are some of the foreseeable challenges for the Tango community?
  • Some milonga venues will be lost, never to return.
  • Some organizers were truly harmed financially by the pandemic and will not want to face the risk again.
  • Many teachers will have gone on to some other way to make their living.  Being a teacher was already hard, but the pandemic had them take their talents elsewhere. 
  • Some dancers just cannot afford to go dance as they did before.
  • New blood, that is, the new dancers who would have come to tango has stopped flowing for nearly a year.  What does that do to a village when reproduction stops and the toddlers also died out? (Tango "toddlers" are the dancer who were one- and two-year-olds tanguer@s when the pandemic started.) 
  • And my biggest concern as a therapist mentioned above:  Some dancers have been traumatized by this pandemic.  The tragedy is abundant: Friends and family have died, even dancers you knew. Many dancers will be forever changed in the way they understand a hug from a stranger.  The pool of people who will continue to hug may shrink.  That, I fear will shrink a dance whose foundation is a musical hug.
How was the pre-pandemic embrace in your community?
Something else adds to my concern: A warm tango embrace was already rare in many communities. That should send off an alarm bell if you love tango.  If indeed touch is the epicenter of tango's survival, then many communities may have already been in decline before the pandemic even started.  Does the "close embrace" make many in your community uncomfortable?  I have a frank suggestion for touch-avoidant dancers: Consider learning how to dance ballroom which is mostly a museum of dead dances.  Do you have any friends going out to dance the Viennese Waltz, the Quick-Step lately? No? How about the Paso Doble? Museums have signs everywhere: "Don't Touch!

Once it is safe again, just as it was after the 1918 pandemic, tango will live again as long as the embrace is warm and gladly given.

Note:  This post completes 12 years of Tango-Therapist and the 418th post.  Many have stayed with me that long. Thank you for your kind words and support.  The research I have put into many posts has been a great education for me, and I hope for my readers.
      --Mark Word,  Thanksgiving Day 2020.

Photo credit: This photo is about the importance of children pointing, but I like the image of God as a child giving life to Adam (humanity).  God knows that touch gives life.  Children know.  Adults have to think about it, or discover it late in life when going to a milonga.


  1. Thank you again for your insightfulness Mark and your diligence in research. I am only concerned for the truth, and I rely on reading good quality material.
    In answer to your main question in the header, I think it will entirely depend on the motivation of organisers of Tango classes and events. If they are completely honest with themselves they might decide they do the work for themselves, I think few will do it for the community. Their age will also be a factor because the older organiser will likely be more concerned about their health - they might even have significant poor health which will make them even more susceptible to catching germs, so they won't take the risk.
    I think the most important issue you mention is people's lack of understanding of the immune system - not surprising, especially when even our GPs lack a clear understanding of how it works. I know how it works because I have studied as much as possible how it works so that I can manage my health (long term Autoimmune Disease), and I appreciate that the mix of microbes is very important indeed. Our mother's knew too, they took us along to the households of friends who had developed childhood diseases so that we too could catch the disease and build immunity. So much sanitising happens in households today that there is no wonder children develop allergies.
    Some of your posts have attempted to address this lack of knowledge in our Tango communities by sharing your professional knowledge, and this is why I have shared them as widely as possible. Unfortunately 'you can take a horse to water.....'. But I will continue to do so.
    Good enumerated points in the post, and from my perspective: point 5 and 6 being most applicable in my Tango community.
    I definitely feel deprived of human touch and a means of bolstering my well-being, as a result of the closure of my local group. Fortunately, though I live as a single person, I have beloved animals in my life and interaction with them has never been so valid.
    I wait optimistically for signs of sanity returning in our world, for fear to subside and instincts to get back on track.

  2. Thank you for an insightful article. I miss dancing so much, and your points are so real and so valid. These past six months I have been taking tango technique with several teachers who I greatly admire. But there’s no touch, and everyone is a little square on a screen. I look forward to the day when it is safe to dance in close embrace, to hug my partner and the music, and feel the life return.


Please leave a comment with four options:
(1) Here on the blog.
(2 & 3) On the links given above for Facebook/Google+ links.
(4) Comment via email at, which with your permission, I can paste into comments.