Monday, November 28, 2022

Who is the King of the Milonga?

If you know a bit about chess, you might have noticed that the chess piece pictured above is not really the king but a pawn.  The cliché that customers are kings is simply not the best business model for many endeavors, and certainly not good for tango events.  

Tango organizers have many important social relationships, and many people to please--not just dance customers who may see themselves as all-important.  Organizers have to have good relationships with volunteers, paid staff, DJs, the building owner, neighbors, and perhaps even the city.

The organizer, just like us pawns with crowns, can only move one space at a time.  However in chess, the king must move only one space at a time but in all directions.  Those eight directions for the king are the relationships surrounding the organizer. 

What kind of king do you have at the event you go to?  An autocrat?  Won't listen?  Or are your favorite events run by someone who listens to sound counsel, as all good leaders do?  Are they active or passive?  

There's a"dance" of organizers with customers
My hat is off to tango event organizers.  They most often are doing what they do because they have certain organizational skills, love people, and love the dance.  How do we, as customers/dancer follow their lead?  Well, not very well if they are not good leaders.  In Buenos Aires and any well-organized milonga, organizers are checking on customers, DJs, volunteers/staff with an active oversight and supervision of how things are going.  They are navigating how things should go--especially on the dance floor--and keeping things on course.  Customers want to feel safe and at home, and that takes good leadership.  Are we following a good lead?  Do we stop going to an event without even seeing if the organizer will listen to our concerns when things are not going well?

This is what I notice of events that are truly well organized--

Organizers create a sense of the feeling of home, taking care of these six basic needs: 

  • Temperature:  Is it too hot or cold?  As simple as this may seem, every customer has a different "need."  But men can take on jackets if they are too cold. Women should not have to look like Eskimos so that men can wear T-shirts.  I suggest temperature changes only when I see women who are obviously too cold (usually at overly airconditioned US milongas).
  • Water:  I immediately look for hydration.  I get cramps if I don't drink a lot. Can I hydrate easily and at a reasonable price (or for free)? My favorite ongoing milonga is Flores in Mannheim, Germany.  They have free water, and a nice bar if you want other drinks.
  • Food:  The best milongas have either some basic goodies out or a bar that serves food for a reasonable price.  That's what hosts do. An early milonga after work, perhaps on Friday, needs something to eat.  A wise organizer charges extra if people will be coming hungry, which is better than not being aware of basic needs as a host.  Christian in Regensburg is especially keen on having hosting a milonga with finger food.
  • Safety (Traffic control):  Wise organizers know dance etiquette (los codigos) and redirect rouge and dangerous dancers. Also, wise organizers create a good traffic flow by having at least four entry points to the dance floor. Milonga traffic control causes less frustration and is where organizers can shine.  Customers who think of themselves as king of the dance floor are usually the very people who need to be sent home, as is done in Buenos Aires.
  • Sleep:  Paying attention to sleep is a wise business decision.  Starting earlier allows people to travel to your milonga from farther away without reserving a hotel. Organizers who advertise well in advance that the milonga starts earlier and ends earlier are astonished by how their attendance goes up. Also, more organizers are paying attention to a general public understanding of good sleep discipline and the circadian rhythm. Presently, I simply do not go to late events.  I state my preference and have helped enact huge changes in some cities. I believe if organizers would only attempt earlier times, they would see an increase in business. But change is hard for some, or even impossible because of the building contract.
  • The need to communicate:  This basic need is a bit more complicated than one might think.  It has three parts:  The ability to hear at a milonga, the ability to listen by being silent, and the ability to speak. 
      > Hearing:  Could you imagine if the organizer had a single small speaker at an event and you couldn't hear well? Now, imagine being deaf as a permanent condition because of going deaf early from micro-damage from multiple events with loud music? Unfortunately, nearly every organizer I know is not taking charge of protecting the hearing of his or her customers.  A good organizer has an app that monitors decibels and requires that DJs do the same.  Constantly being over 100 decibels is harmful to hearing.  Because of passive organizers, I often wear earplugs made for DJs, but of course, I wear them because of DJs!  We shouldn't have to.
      > Listening/being silent:  Communicating social etiquette throughout life sometimes means remaining silent more than 50% of the time in order to listen before responding. The listening/silence percentage could be as much as 95% at a milonga because we are mostly listening to the orchestra--or so one would think.
      > Speaking:  In tango, we request and accept dances without talking; we don't talk while dancing; empathetic guests don't talk while standing next to the dance floor (and organizers watch for this and redirect people conversing while standing next to the dancefloor).  Is your favorite organizer actively taking care of this part of a milonga's ambiance?

Organizers are amazing people. They need your support by being fair and diplomatic about what would make their milonga or event better.   But if you do not speak up and give good counsel to your organizers, then their precious event may slowly die out.  They need our help.

Please add other ideas in the comments or email me at if you have trouble making a comment. 

Photo credit: Great photo of chess board.  Please read the excellent article, challenging "the customer is king" myth."

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Buy Some Tango Burnout Insurance


Burnout Insurance.  I suggest buying some tango burnout insurance. There are only two steps. First, assess how much you value tango. Step two, figure out at least the most likely risks of giving up because of tango burnout.

1.  Assessing the value of dance:  Even if tango-burnout insurance would cost a lot (it doesn't), it would be worth every bit of money and energy needed to buy it. The valuation I give dance is "PRICELESS." Dancing contains my humanity as a dancing, social animal. That is what all humans are. I feel fully alive when I dance. As babies, music made you and me dance even in our cribs without instruction before we could speak, before we could do math or make tools, and all other uniquely human things. The assessment for me is now over.  I need insurance for something invaluable. Now, step two. . . .

2. The main risks of dance burnout:  Make your own list.  The below risk list are the things that would burn me out. 

  • Over-use:  Dancing too much causes bodily problems, and looks like an obsession (some call it an addiction). I learned this as an iron-distance triathlete. I saw too many burned-out and broken athletes from an accumulation of undetected "micro-injuries." Athletes and dancers burn out when they become obsessed with events and over-training. Obsessions and addictions too often end badly.

  • Not getting enough sleep:  Burnout is sometimes 100% somatic, not psychological! In the past, I even felt burned out at work from tango-induced sleep deprivation. Even our beloved passion can follow if we aren't careful. The body's immune system is degraded as much as 50% after not getting enough sleep after just one night at a 3-day event. The second and third days of a weekend event create a health risk for those who are not sleeping enough. I continue dancing in a post-pandemic world because social contact makes our immune system stronger--but only when we sleep enough.
  • Being a complainer:  I am working on not being a complainer.  The best way to practice this is in two parts.  Accept the things which I cannot change (most everything), and change those things that I can.
      > I used to complain about the DJ playing too much D'Arienzo (for example); now we make a list of DJ's to avoid.
      > Or I would complain that the music was constantly over 100 decibels; so I now wear expensive earplugs.
      >Or I would complain about crazy-ass floorcraft, or too many women sitting, or people at all levels of experience who don't know basic tango etiquette. So now I go to encuentros mostly.
      >Or complain that I didn't get accepted into an encuentro. (And I have done this.) Go to a milonga and dance with all those who are not being invited. I have found some of my favorite dancers this way. It's humbling. Secondly, go register for another encuentro.
    So don't burn yourself out.  There will always be something to complain about, even the weather in heaven.  Everyone has a very different list. But I realize that incessant complaining leads to burnout too. This is the main burn-out risk for me--being a complainer. So I have made this my spiritual path that I be more tolerant when I must live with things just the way they are.

  • Getting too old ("I am getting too old for this shit"):  The body gets old and death is the ultimate burnout. Some people, however, dance until they die.  This is what I am planning to do; so I dance alone every day. Let's say it is too hard for me to drive a long way to a milonga. Let's say one day I decide not to go to milonga anymore because the tangueras are now 213 centimeters tall on average (7 feet), or whatever the excuse. Dance is dance--alone or with others. I used to get up and walk at least a little every hour.  Now instead, I get up regularly from my desk and dance instead of merely walking around. This is my very best Tango Burnout Insurance.  So I highly recommend, for example, playing a Canaro milonga* (given below) and dancing in your office or kitchen. I am already getting lots of practice and ideas while dancing alone just for the pure joy of it.

So many before me have burned out and disappeared from the tango scene. I run into them at the grocery store, and they tell me, "There is more to life than tango." I want to say,  "You don't miss pure, ecstatic childlike joy?"  I am pretty certain they did not think they needed Tango Burnout Insurance.  Look around.  People die burned out, unhappy, and without any passion because of this failure to assess what is important in life. I remember as a teen, my parents would say every once in a while that their wish was to die with their boots on. My parents stayed active until they died "with their boots on." But I do not wish to follow in their boots.  I hope to be wearing dance shoes.

Photo credit:  Peter Neumeier.  Sybille and Mark in heaven without dying.
Esmeraldas Encuentro, Austria Germany 2022.

*Grab a broom and dance.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Dancer who was Raised as a Dog

In the book, "The Boy who was Raised as a Dog,"
I learned more about the neurological effects of neglect on children's brains as seen by MRI's.  I think it has an underlying message for dancers.

The author found that one of the ways to help neglected and abused children was through rhythm and music therapy.  I wonder how many of us are finding tango as a way to help us better live in the world.  Could it be?  Read on.

The book made me wonder how many of us were raised as a dog--if not by parents then perhaps years of often neglectful and abusive education.  We learn to sit in rows and raise our paw before barking out what we hope is the right answer.  In some countries now or in earlier times, many of us "dogs" have been beaten for getting answers wrong or misbehaving.  We often are unsafe at school or in our dangerous neighborhoods.  Also, certain cultures wean us from dancing and touching and playing.  Howling (singing) is often forbidden or shamed for those of us raised as a dog.  

Dr. Bruce Perry dedicated his life to helping neglected and abused children. He took MRI pictures of their brains.  Areas of their limbic brain, the emotional center of the brain, were missing or underdeveloped.  Spinal fluid filled in the space where brain matter should have been.  As a result, some children grow up to have no feelings of remorse and can be very dangerous sociopaths as teens or adults.  As a dancer and therapist, I was fascinated by therapies that work for neglected children.  Dr. Bruce Perry, came up with several techniques, or treatment modalities to help these neglected children develop their brains to have a more fulfilling life.   Behavioralists and psychotherapists were against his ideas at first. Their therapies, however, don't work.  Perry's do.

Some of these may speak to your experience.  How has tango changed your life, and why are you drawn to tango?

Is tango your "therapy" to deal with the past and present in your life?

I can say "yes" to these questions for myself.   Perhaps I was not truly neglected, but I really love the nearness of tango, the social interaction, the music, and touch.  As a baby I was the last of six children.  Especially when my siblings were off to school, perhaps I was a bit lonely and neglected with a very busy mother and a distant father who was often on the road as a bus driver. I remember being three years only and discovering parts of the neighborhood that were around 300 meters away.  That was just too far for an urban neighborhood.  Being so far away from home as a three-year-old child would have been a case of neglect with today's standards.  I was alone when I went out and discovered the world like this.  So perhaps I have been drawn to a few things that Dr. Perry uses for neglected and stimuli-seeking children, 

Let me present some of the treatment modalities that make huge differences for children who may have grown up in an orphanage, for example:

  • Connection with other peers in spite of serious by parents or caregivers. 
    Do we seek social interaction around tango to help fill that gap we feel?  Children who had this connection with siblings who even lived in cages with other children have the best chance to lead a normal life compared to children who were raised absolutely alone.  Dr. Perry watched how some of these little patients developed their own language to communicate with other children.  That helped, but he had a lot to do to help them.

  • Quality time and touch.  
    Perhaps you have heard of "failure to thrive."  I once worked with a child and her parents right now.  The mother would binge on alcohol and have blackouts.  The child would cry and cry during mom's inebriated "vacations."  Failure to thrive is a term that pediatricians and therapists use to describe a child who is neglected can even die.  My little patient had a skull size that was larger than her peers at birth, but at around the 9-month mark, her cranial size was alarmingly under her peers.  She eventually gained weight.  Her father was allowed to stay home from work to make sure that his wife was not drinking and to give the baby a lot more stimuli. Babies need skin on skin, and need to be rocked.  They need the rhythm of language and music even if they don't understand.    Dr. Perry writes:  "Preemies who received ... gentle massage went home from the hospital almost a week earlier on average.  In older children and adults massage has also been found to lower blood pressure, fight depression, and cut stress by reducing the number of stress hormones released by the brain." We all have a little child inside of us who needs the same things babies need.
  • Rhythm therapy. 
    Are you taking a musicality class?   Consider that therapy.  Even elephants, seals, monkeys, and birds can learn to walk on the beat.  Musicality shows you to choose different lines to dance--the "compass" (basic beat), the bass line, the strings, or the melody. Perry says, "It may seem odd, but rhythm is extraordinarily important.  If our bodies cannot keep the most fundamental rhythm of life--the heartbeat--we cannot survive. . . . Numerous hormones are rhythmically regulated as well. . . . The brain doesn't just keep one beat: it has many drums, which must all synchronize not only with the patters of the day and night. . . . Disturbances of the brain's rhythm-keeping regions are often causes of depression and other psychiatric disorders."  Dr. Perry noted that the awkward gait of a child disappears.  They have a better rhythm in conversation--although they can have really good intellectual and cognitive skills, they learn to be less odd, less nerdy.  

I wonder if we are all a bit neglected in some way--maybe it was by our parents, or by the lack of siblings or friends, or the cold culture we grew up in with its fear of human touch, or more recently, the phobia of illness via touch,   But now as adults, we should make up for any neglect by taking care of ourselves in safe ways.  What I am suggesting here is what works for the neglected child within: Human touch and rhythm.

If you have been reading my blog, you may have often wondered if I overstate the importance of therapeutic dance in your life.  After reading Perry's book, "The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog," I think that on the contrary:  I have greatly underestimated the importance of therapeutic dance for 14 years of writing this blog. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tango Intercourse?

Tango is more than a "conversation."
The majority of those who read my blog are not native English speakers.  Because of this, many may have looked up the word "intercourse," not knowing what it could mean. 

For native speakers, this word often does not mean "conversation."  "Intercourse" means in your dictionary, dear native speakers, "conversation."  In the middle of the 1800's, someone coined the term "sexual intercourse."  Cute. It took a century, but by the 1950s, "intercourse" without "sexual" being added started to mean "sex."  Why?  Because most people probably knew that the analogy was a poor choice of words to express sexual intimacy. Sure, sex may be like a conversation to some folks--even a great conversation.  But I feel sorry for these people.

Tango can seem like a conversation to some (tango intercourse)--even a great conversation.  I feel sorry for those people too.

I'm not going to say anything more about sex here.  

I just want to say that tango is in no way a conversation for anybody--in spite of what your tango teacher says. Tango is an ecstatic dance between people that is so complex, that it is diminished greatly by calling it a conversation.  As complex as a conversation can be, tango is far more complex.

Words often limit how we understand our experience. This is what has happened by likening tango to being a "conversation" or even, let's say, "intercourse."

Wouldn't you agree that a good conversation happens when one or more people actively listen while a single person other actively talks/expresses her or himself? Taking turns is key for good conversationalists. That doesn't describe tango.  Tango is not trading off roles of listening and expressing. Moreover, this description of tango as "conversation" mostly by tango teachers confuses their students.

However, if you still say tango is a conversation between two people . . . . . . Ask yourself about the last time you sat down and conversed with someone during which you felt ecstatically united and connected with their feelings. It does happen in conversations, but I am afraid it is all too rare. Yet, an ecstatic connection happens all the time in tango.

. . . Ask yourself about the last time you had progressive conversations at a party that seemed to build on each other. But at milongas, progressive interactions build on each other. One tanda after another can be magical at events that balance the genders or roles.

. . . Finally, ask yourself the last time you turned up the music so you could converse better. And this last question brings us to the most salient reason why tango is not a "conversation":

We dance while music is playing. Music is never "distracting" the dancers simply because it's La Musica who is the one talking. We respond in silence. My partner and I are both listening to the one talking--the music. All the diads on the dancefloor are doing the same. Our bodies are reacting mostly without any thought. To me, it feels like the music is making us all dance.

Indeed, I do "listen" to how my partner hears the music, and there is a type of millisecond back-and-forth. However, unlike conversations, one is never in a special role of listening for one moment and expressing the next moment. These are concurrent energies. If you still insist that tango is a conversation or even like a conversation, please write a book about your ecstatic conversations and how to regularly have them! We are all waiting for your best-seller book!

My connection in tango is a tandem experience of the music overcoming me and my partner for the most sustained ecstatic moments in my life. Even being a musician in ecstasy on stage, a windsurfer in ecstasy on the water, a snowboarder in ecstasy on the slope, a meditator in ecstasy before the divine, or a lover in ecstasy with my partner--these were never "conversations"; so why would tango be? If tango is a conversation or even like a conversation for others, I can accept that. 

That's just not my experience.

Photo credit: Christian Beyreuther, photographer and organizer, at his encuentro near Regensburg, Germany, May 2022.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Day After the Milonga at Work

Sleeping is a primal need. Dancing is a primal need.  We don't need to choose between them.  We need both.

Some will say sleep is more important, and it is.  But dance is also is a human need and a major marker that we are human and not apes (who don't dance spontaneously as humans do).  Dancing is a subcategory of the need to move, but a very important and unique need.

But here is the thing--one primal need, sleep, is too often being canceled out for the lesser need and desire of tango.    

So here are a few questions for you:  Are you still are going to late milongas? Ever heard of the circadian rhythm?  Sleep deprivation causing depression?  Poor memory?  Higher risks for multiple diseases?  Lower functioning of the immune system?  You probably have.  So if you said yes to all these questions, then no doubt you are gently influencing your favorite organizer to make their milonga earlier.  Right?  

My love of tango has brought great passion and joy to my life. But my late-night tango practice had me sleep-deprived for years.  I regret not seeing this earlier.  Poor sleep led to poor judgment in nearly all areas of my life.  I can see that now.  For example, when I started sleeping sensibly again, I noticed that I remembered tasks at work better.  I had better performance.  I remembered people's names.  I would remember passwords easily.  I had fewer colds.

So here are some things to consider for basic needs:  Air, water, food, sleep, and the need to move.  Don't hold your breath for days before the milonga or after dancing. Don't go without water before, during or after a milonga.  Eat to nourish your dancing body.  And finally: wake up about the need for sleep.  If you need to move, then dance!

Putting knowledge into practice is the next step.  Support the organizers who think early milongas are what dancers want and need.  But they need to hear your voice; so please speak up.  Or at least vote with your feet by going to any milonga that is earlier when there is a choice.  Your request for an early start, however, is not enough.  If the milonga starts at 7:30 pm goes until 2 in the morning, then no one will show up until 10.  7pm to 11pm provides a four-hour milonga.  Make it 5 hours max.  Your body will dance better for the rest of your life.  Yes, I know that some milongas go all day or maybe 7 hours in Buenos Aires.  Old traditions are responsible for good things and bad things.  It once was a tradition to smoke at milongas too. Someday and even now, milongas are happily early and well attended because unwise traditions are giving way to wisdom.  Help your favorite organizer make the switch.  It's time.

Photo Credit:

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Opening Arms versus Owning Arms

We the People ... ... should put our freedoms in the right order.  Ameican freedoms, as prioritized in the Constitutional Amendments, got it wrong. This post is not against or for guns; it's about prioritizing freedoms. 

I propose that people keep their guns if they think they need them, but as far as priorities, the Second Amendment should be changed from the freedom to own arms to the Freedom of Movement, and that includes dance: To open one's arms and dance.

Now, this sounds cute and simple, doesn't it?  But I am serious. Do oppressive governments FIRST fear the freedom of dance or of speech? If the world was paying attention, swing dance and jazz were the first to feel the stranglehold of Nazism before larger "freedoms of speech " felt it. Tango was forbidden for a time in a repressive regime in Argentina.  Coincidence?  Here is another example: The Taliban were prohibiting dance far before the general public in the West had ever heard of them.  Could it be that dance is not only the pulse of the human spirit; maybe dance is the pulse of freedom of expression? In the history of humanity, many governments and religious leaders have and still are prohibiting dance. 

As Jefferson looks on...
With Jefferson looking on at
his memorial, a dancer is
subdued by police.
In light of a country out of control with gun violence, let me point out a little-known document, written by Thomas Jefferson.  Two groups of youth wanted to use public property in Washington, D.C. in September 1825.  It was a rotunda, and the two groups requested space to practice.  One group wanted to dance and the other wanted to practice with small weaponry.*

When I first came to the Washington, DC area, police aggressively subdued people who demonstrated against restrictions to dance at the Thomas Jefferson memorial. 

Thomas Jefferson specifically speaks well of dance and even gives permission to dance at that public rotunda and at the same time denied a request to practice the use of weapons at the same public place.  Ironically DC police, wielding weapons aggressively made dancers stop, fighting them to the floor.  Thomas Jefferson watched, standing in frozen disbelief in his own Memorial building. And since that time, more and more bloody massacres have happened while people were dancing.  What would Thomas Jefferson have to say on this subject?  Well, this is what he did say:

"...[The] use of a room for instructing [students] in the art of dancing, stands on more favorable ground [than for weapons training]. [Dance's] object is the embellishment, and not the destruction, of the lives of our young citizens . . . . Dancing is generally, and justly I think, considered among innocent accomplishments; while we cannot so consider the art of stabbing and pistoling our friends, or dexterity in the practice of an instrument exclusively used for killing our fellow-citizens . . . ."

Watch carefully when your freedom to dance is taken. You laugh.  Watch. When your culture values bearing arms more than open arms you have already have lost the value of dance in your culture. Freedom of speech may be next.

*Extra thought:
The whole text is transcribed below from the manuscript to Jefferson to Louis Xaupe, dated September 1825:  "An application from young gentlemen of the University for the appropriation of a room wherein they might receive instruction in the use of the small sword having led me to the consideration of that subject previously to the receipt of your letter of yesterday, I inclose you my answer to them, which I pray you to receive as equally an answer to yourself.

The other part of your request, for the use of a room for instructing them in the art of dancing, stands on more favorable ground [than for weapons training]. [Dance's] object is the embellishment, and not the destruction, of the lives of our young citizens, and the Visitors seem to have provided for it in the statute which enacts that one of the elliptical rooms on the middle floor of the Rotunda shall be used for 'schools of instruction in drawing, music, or any other of the innocent and ornamental accomplishments of life.' Dancing is generally, and justly I think, considered among innocent accomplishments; while we cannot so consider the art of stabbing and pistolling our friends, or dexterity in the practice of an instrument exclusively used for killing our fellow-citizens . . . ."