"Once upon a time, old milongueros danced all night and worked all day!" A tango myth? Yes, one I used to believe!
The Early Milonga
I have it from different sources of those who have lived in Buenos Aires, that the old milongueros did their serious dancing at early milongas. Sure they would show up at later milongas, but that was to drink and court women at the late milongas to score or simply socialize. The tango-myth of eschewing good sleep is pure fairy-tale machismo.
How to die early
I have worked with soldiers for all my professional life as a therapist. Soldiers express a similar idiotic machismo--that "sleep is for wimps" and then these same soldiers die young from believing this rampantly popular stupidity. (Ask the Veteran's Administration.) Tango dancers too often choose sleep deprivation--I did for years! But soldiers and others dealing with PTSD would like to sleep, but cannot. If you have a choice, choose health; choose sleep!
But maybe I am wrong
Let's agree hypothetically that the stories are true of the milongueros defying the need for sleep. Some yogis, through meditation, have reduced their need to sleep through meditation. So let's agree that some dance or meditate all night and work all day the next. I think meditation and tango have a health-giving element that helps us get good sleep. But little sleep? Even if tango or meditation helps, what does your body tell you? Can you feel well on less than four hours of sleep? Do you personally know anyone who can?
Is it possible that tango compensates for not sleeping?
I wish it were true. But no. Although tango has a huge salutary effect on anyone who loves to dance, it will not compensate for disregarding the body's need for sleep. In fact sleep deprivation leads to poor dancing, poor balance, and poor memory. Even if these milonguero tales were true, we don't hear the many voices of all of those who died early from the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.
So what is essential for tango? Good music, talented dancers, a good dance floor. And good sleep.
Thursday, December 5, 2019
Saturday, November 16, 2019
|Who is the target?|
A recent article about men avoiding recycling in order not to appear gay (or be "outed") made me wonder if this fear keeps so many men away from dancing. Why are there so few men in many parts of the world who avoid being dancers? By reflection on my own experiences throughout my life, I realized that men--both gay and hetero--have reason to be warry of how men and women "scope them out." As I thought about this subject, many of my own experiences were reawakened--like recovered memories. I became more and more somber, even repulsed, as each memory surfaced:
- I heard in seventh grade from some female classmates that their mothers said that if a man crosses his legs he was gay. I thought that was stupid, even funny, but I took note and tried not to cross my legs so much.
- My private music teacher was scoped out by an ex-sailor's gaydar. He told everyone that my music teacher was gay and said he was nearly ready to beat him up because he saw my teacher touch me in a friendly way. I am horrified that as a young teen, I assumed the ex-sailor's gaydar was accurate. As I learned over time, the veteran sailor's gaydar had malfunctioned.
- When I was in my 20's and a musician in Oakland, California, my church made a threat to ex-communicate a pastor because she and I attended our mutual church and musician friend's gay wedding. My friend was disallowed from being a member of the church.
- A good friend and fellow long-distance cyclist was identified by a salsa partner of mine as being gay. Her gaydar malfunctioned too, sending off warning signals because he shaved his legs. She did not know that the majority of serious cyclists shave their leg hair since if they get in a wreck it is easier to clean wounds without hair in the way. He later married the woman he was dating. (I didn't tell her about my legs. ;-)
- Dancing tango in Washington, DC in 2016, a woman remarked that she loved my cologne. She asked what it was. "Cartier," I said. "I got it in France." That surely set off her gaydar. So she sent out another gaydar signal to be sure. "Who makes it?" she said. "I don't know," I said. "Oh, well I guess that means you're not gay," she assured me. According to her gaydar scope, if I had known who made the cologne, that surely would have confirmed my gayety. As always, I took note.
- A salsa partner years ago taunted me with her gaydar because I was not interested in her. "You are a good dancer, and my theory is that a man has to be gay if he is a good dancer." She was baiting me, jealous of the woman I was dating with whom I had just broken up. She was implicitly trying to have me prove myself and my sexual identity or be labeled in her inner circle of friends. Again, I took note.
- In 2012 I lived in Germany when my female coworkers found out that I like to dance. Their gaydar was set off unwittingly by my Cuban boss who told that them that my girlfriend and I were avid tango dancers. They told me later that they first had assumed I was gay. Again I took note. Another department at the hospital knew I danced, and when I said I was engaged to a French woman, they all checked their gaydar and agreed that it was a decoy--until they met her at an organizational dinner.
- When I was deployed to Egypt in the Army, a staff sergeant said that our Executive Officer was gay (according to his gaydar). "I can see it a mile away," he told a group of us as we sat eating at the chow hall. "Really?" I thought. "I don't see that!" But I took note.
- My ex-wife and mother of my two children took some of my personal letters to court from my gay musician and church friend (mentioned above). She argued to the court that I should be limited in my ability to see my two children because I had a gay friend. The female judge had asked my children if they wanted to stay with me until Monday mornings every other week. The judge allowed and then disallowed my request because of this damning "evidence." At that time I wasn't even living in the homophobic US, I was living in a country that made homosexual people wear pink triangles on their clothes in 1938 before eventually killing many of them. Gaydar. Toxic laser rays.
- Lastly on this abbreviated list: Long ago, my ex-brother-in-law (divorced for a very good reason), was imprisoned for having killed a man whom he had thought was trying to seduce him. Gaydar is not funny for any man, especially a gay man.
The casualties of gaydar are mostly the men who never show up to dance. If men are even afraid for their lives--and they have every right to be--I hope that I have influenced a few people to put away their gaydar, especially in our non-violent, non-judgemental tango community. I have promised myself to keep my own gaydar scope to myself and to ask others to keep theirs as a "concealed weapon"(before someone gets hurt)! Another positive step, too, is to think of ways to inspire men to join our dance community. It's about time we start reversing the damage already done. Replace it with finding guys who have warm embraces and move their bodies as if controlled by the music. This is Tangdar--the ability to spot future tangueros and nurture them that they may find their dancing self.
Before you buy your very own gaydar mug (yes, they are for sale), you should know that the definition is not accurate. The real definition is: "The stupidly proud, usually erroneous and sometimes dangerous belief that one has the ability to correctly label people as gay."
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Tango itself is a wonderful activity that has no dark properties that are any different than other wonderful things in life, such as holding a child, surfing a wave, watching a sunset, listening to an inspiring live concert, or simply "dancing for joy." Tango is not an addiction. If you agree then there is no reason to read farther! However, if you are not so sure, then read on.
Why your tango may seem like an addiction
When tango is paired with behaviors that color it in the dark, smokey hues of a private cigar and brandy club, then it may seem like an addiction. Late-night venues with alcohol are the last vestige of tango-as-an-addiction. There used to be more unhealthy things tied to tango, such as fights, knives, prostitutes, thick clouds of secondary smoke filling your lungs, fierce competition for competition's sake, men and women looking for love or a night of pleasure. These things are still possible; however, tango itself is slowly distilling down to its primal essence as a healthy avocation that focuses on the dance and the music.
So if you feel that you are "addicted" to tango, then look at the things you have paired it with. Is your tango community toxic or your dance partner or tango teacher? Are you obsessed with buying tango clothes? Are you spending impulsively on endless lessons that have made tango the most expensive hobby in your life? Is there an obsessive drive to be acclaimed in your tango performance skills that cannot be quenched, leading to a very dark dead-end street of getting older and unable to keep up? Even then, these are obsessions and compulsions, not "addictions."
The dark side of tango is not the dance called tango. Even the dark side (obsessions and compulsions) are not usually addictions unless you are snorting coke or drinking excessively with your tango. Yet to have the full joy of tango, these must be "surgically removed," which means to stop pairing stimuli (tango and smoking or tango and drinking or tango and sleep deprivation, or tango and toxic relationships). Dissect your tango and leave the good part and eschew that which is not good for you.
And what is left?
Musicality, a great embrace, the joy of movement, and mindful-flow. This is not an addiction. This is the pure joy of tango.
Photo credit and article on addiction
Sunday, September 15, 2019
He danced great as a baby, but now says he can't dance.
Homo sapiens are hardwired as the dancing animal.
How is it that many of my friends, family, and colleagues say, "I cannot dance," or "I have two left feet"? Even if you have some friends who can dance, how is it that there's a good chance that they bemoan that their life-partner cannot dance? How is it that the dancing animal believes that it is not hardwired into the human psyche? Growing up as a white, heterosexual male in a country that sees dance as unimportant, I have a few theories and anecdotes to tell. But not today. I would like to focus on why homo sapiens dance when they hear music even if they had never seen anyone dance. It's fascinating! And dance is not a random trait. It's all about survival from psychological trauma.
Survival of the Fittest [Dancers]
Dance has long been associated in human history to survival. Dance is continuously and ubiquitously supporting psychological wellbeing:
- Dances of birth, new beginnings
- Dances for courting a mate
- Wedding dances
- Dances of celebration, like coming of age
- War dances
- Dances telling the story after war and other human tragedies
- Dance for rain during droughts; dances of celebration after it rains
- Dances to express each and every human emotion.
These dances often have their focus on the survival of the person, or perhaps the group, even the race. Nerdy scientists (who often don't dance or see dance as superficial or even primitive) don't seem to even wonder why humans dance. Certainly, evolutionists seem particularly inept at seeing this link, even when it is under their noses: If dance is hardwired into our brains, then survival is behind it. Those who dance (along with musicians) know the answer in their gut: We dance to survive. In a world experiencing an international epidemics of suicide, this should be clear: Wellbeing = survival.
After years of being a musician, then a dancer and now a trauma therapist, it seems pretty clear to me. As we have evolved, music and dance help us survive terrible things like slavery, sexual assault, and war. No wonder that the great dances of the Americas were started by slaves! Have troubles in your life? Then the music and dance will come to you in the form of the blues, or melancholy country or tango. And of course, music and dance are there to celebrate life too, which, in turn, also helps us survive. Dance meets us as infants and follows us through life.
I am not sure about you, but I need to deal with the many psychologically difficult events in my life through music and dance. Movement--like walking and running or biking or swimming is great--I know, my "therapy" was once completing an Ironman Triathlon while I was living in a little a town without dance. But what movement has the most psychological benefits over all other movements? Dance. Please don't repeat the shoe company ad, "Just Do It!" No.
Just dance. Survive.
Sunday, August 25, 2019
A common experience I hear from followers is that during their earlier tango days, they experienced the most wonderful magical moments.
I wonder if this comes from giving all the praise--especially as a beginner--to a great leader. And leaders, being human, can easily and gladly accept the "blame" for the magical moment. My experience is that equally wonderful moments happen in the arms of a non-judgemental woman who opens doors I didn't know even existed.
A few women especially come to mind. As a relatively new dancer, I once met a beginner who co-created magical moments with me. Now as a veteran dancer, she still does it. The problem that I see, is that she still "blames me" entirely for all the cool ideas that come out of our dance--things I have never done before. If anyone is to blame, she is. Another woman in the same community does the same thing for me, and just recently after years of not seeing her, we danced again. It's true that I feel I have far passed her ability, but the same magical moments happen with doors opening that I never knew existed. I do not "blame her" for these moments. We share the "blame" for our mindful moments and magic.
It's no wonder that people call tango "addictive." Tango that has it's best highs early on sounds a bit like cocaine. The best cocaine highs are reported by addicts when they first snort this drug, and then after this early experience, one is simply chasing that earlier high. So get over the addiction model, and start taking at least half of the "blame" for your highs in tango. This will snuff out the addiction model, which eventually will lead you to be "cured" one day from lack of working on your responsibility and your need to grow as a dancer, both psychologically and spiritually. No one is perfect in this regard, but magical moments will increase and not diminish on this path of shared responsibility.
Tango is not a drug that is responsible for our highs. But this perception happens when another person's great dancing is perceived as responsible for our magical moments. It's hard not to blame others who are either judged as good or bad dancers. But it is all about shared responsibility. Generally speaking, I think it easy to practice tango "blaming"--both positive and negative. These are two sides of the same coin.
Share responsibility! Even if the dance did not go right, many other things are amazing about the night when I look mindfully. The person who isn't dancing well may have just recovered from cancer treatment or is finally getting on with their life after a dark period. Who knows? The magical moment is to be present, and when I do this, I have lots of magical moments in all aspects of my life, not just tango.
I need to remind myself of this over and over.
Saturday, July 6, 2019
>It takes saying "too tired to tango" before we realize that doing something great for one's health at the wrong time will harm our health and levels of energy.
>It takes "too tired to tango" until exhaustion or multiple health issues stop us in our tracks.
>It takes "too tired to tango" before a person finally tries to find balance.
That's my story: Just call me Mr. Sleep Deprived. I fully participated in the worst health risk of tango. No longer, but I was too tired to tango. That doesn't mean I stopped tango! I tried to stop in 2017. But instead, I just started dancing at earlier events. Presently, I go to a practica in my town that has great dancers and starts and ends early. I started a Facebook group called Early Milonga Enthusiasts in my town (please copy the idea in your town). I now go to encuentros where the timing is always an early milonga and an evening milonga that does not go so late. I sleep in as much as I can on these weekend encuentros. But I'm not "too tired to tango"--during an encuentro! I dance for as much as 8 hours of tango. My Fitbit, worn on my ankle, indicates I walk for over 5+ miles (8-10 kilometers). The point of good sleep is that we are NOT too tired to tango! Sleep and tango are buen amigos!
Saturday, June 22, 2019
|Catch to 8am milonga at La Confitería Ideal* in Buenos Aires. |
But how about your town's own early milongas?
When I wrote about the health risks that tango dancers have because of sleep deprivation caused by late-evening start times, I got hundreds of emails, messages, and comments in agreement. (See Tango's Worst Heath Risk.) I made the point that sleep deprivation is unnecessary if we just had earlier milongas.
Monday, June 17, 2019
|Is tango harming your physical health? Probably.|
Is late-night tango harming your long-term health more than helping it?
Luckily, that can be changed easily enough. Tango is healthy for us in many ways as this blog has pointed out for over ten years. In the last ten years, scientists have only started realizing just how bad sleep deprivation is. And the problem with tango? Mostly we do it at the wrong time of our sleep cycle! Our present enjoyment of tango too often leaves us sleep-deprived and with a messed up circadian rhythm.
Saturday, June 1, 2019
Most people I know have great skills with avoiding cults, religious zealots, and hell-and-brimstone pastors who claim to have "all the truth." Politicians too. But with tango? All those skills of being leary of zealots seem to be thrown out the window sometimes when a tango organizer or teacher claims they have the whole truth, the only way to tango heaven. Why?
Monday, May 27, 2019
Yin is the unsung hero of tango's magic.
What people often watch and praise, however, is the Yang-action in tango.
Even in life, Yin is the unnoticed hero, in my opinion. I wrote the majority of this post about six months ago. When rediscovering the draft, I took away about half of it and now, I'll add something my wife told me about one of her favorite dance partners: She said he had a way of building a feeling of preparation for the next move. Isn't this an example of Yin? That night the added description changed the way I dance. (Yes, I listen to her descriptions of tango magic.) My wife noticed my change right away.
It is worth a moment or two to consider what this Yin energy is. Instead of thinking in male/female terms, here are two analogies of the Yin energy which promotes balancing these energies in oneself:
- Breathing: Each person needs to breathe in (the action of Yin) in order that a person can breathe out or talk (the action of Yang). Yin is powerful! One cannot just breath in or just breath out. But for those who are singers, swimmers or practice breathing meditation, balanced breathing takes effort to fully breath out and then fully breathe in.
- Throwing a ball: Yin as behavior is winding up gracefully. Yang is throwing with grace and also with power. The often unrecognized power, however, is in the graceful, relaxed winding up before throwing the ball!
People notice movement, not stillness.
But stillness is the power that brings effective movement.
At tango performances watch how people tend to notice leading or ornamentos, but then fail to see stillness (which precedes, not "follows"). Women who so wonderfully embody Yin Power, which precedes everything I do, too often deny their important role. They say, "I was just following what you led" after I say how wonderfully she empowered the dance. How can Yang do anything without Yin? Yes, and so in remains: Yin is the unsung hero of tango's magic.
Photo Credit: Alan Thornton --Getty Photos
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
If you love a subject and you are ready, the teacher will appear-- or so goes the saying. But it's just not that easy. Most find that there is more to it. So...
As a student, you will find teachers who will demotivate you or attempt to distract you from the good path you were on. Maybe you had a wonderful embrace or amazing walk that a new teacher has now "disassembled." Now your latent talent must be recovered. So the "get set"phase may slow your greatest desires. It's just the fact in any human endeavor of learning that teachers can be a student's biggest obstacle. On the other hand, if you have a lot to give as a teacher, many students will appear who will not be able to hear or find what you have to give. It will all be worth it when the right student or the right teacher appears.
If you stick with it, the student will find the teacher and the teacher will find the student. Then one thing remains. When will it be time to disappear from one another, the student from the teacher and teacher from the student?
Lao Tzu answers this question in his wisdom for both teacher and disciple:
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
|He's talking and she's looking for an escape.|
A tango community where I once lived had a problem. When I arrived there, I was astounded by conversations going on while dancing. The garrulous dancers were entirely veteran men and women dancers!
The word "conversation" should not need to be defined, but let me clarify: Walkie-Talkie Dancing is not occasional sighs, or a few chuckles, a once-in-a-while "wow" or an occasional blurted "that was fun." Walkie-Talkie Dancing is an ongoing conversations while dancing.
Walkie-Talkie Dancing usually stops when a person learns a bit of tango etiquette. But seasoned dancers? No excuse.
This post is for new dancers who have to decide for themselves if their local veteran dancers (role models) are modeling the best habits or not.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
This is what she says each time she goes dancing:
"Tonight will be my last ever milonga."
But she says it with a smile. She makes the most of each "last time" she has in a joyous way.
She practices for the true last time that surely will come sooner or later--not as a sad reminder that there is in all things always the very last time, but that she may be aware and simply to show up fully. She's not on her phone. She's not just chattering loudly next to the dancers. She is present, catching the eyes of others who want to dance too. She's aware. She's there.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
|A moment of stillness before the International Dance Concourse in Vienna|
Many want to know which path to take in life. Well, perhaps that is the wrong question. Ask instead: "What is my internal concourse for life?" Tango has helped me see this very clearly. If you have a passion for tango, I think that we probably have very similar places that converge.
The following are some of the many paths leading to the open space of my external concourse, and although they are mine, I think that many reading this post might have similar experiences:
Thursday, January 17, 2019
|Fifteen minutes of commitment is harder than you might think.|
Then I realized that was a really big lie. It's not easy at all.