Monday, May 29, 2023

The Timeless Tanda and Dopamine

 Reading time: 3 minutes

Tango helps me understand "flow."  With the help of advances in neurology, scientists are starting to map what is going on when people get into a sense of flow, also called "living in the now." Wouldn't it be interesting if scientists danced tango? I think they would better understand what it means from experience what the flow state truly feels like.

Flow, as I experience it, is the ongoing sense of well-being and joy.  Flow has us performing well and for long periods of time in such things as playing sports, playing music, dancing, or whatever brings us pleasure.  From experiencing flow in tango, being a musician and also meditating, I try to find flow even in my work, which has a lot of unnecessary paperwork. I tell myself, "Just be present!" When I do, it often leads to enhanced performance and joy--a flow state--even in things that I had been avoiding.

So what is the opposite of flow?

Addiction. It has peaks of highs followed by widened valleys of lows.

According to the neurologist and blogger Dr. Huberman, addiction is the progressive narrowing of things that give one pleasure. If he is right, I then would say that the "extreme opposite" of addiction is flow:  The progressive ability to widen the spectrum of things that give pleasure.  It is when the simple things of life give pleasure.

Unfortunately, we can pursue tango in such a way that ruins this potential of being in the flow by making our dance pleasure more and more narrowed and focused on only the highs of tango--shifting the focus of the dance to mostly external stimuli.  This makes tango take on the traits of addictive behavior.

Whatever the activity is, including yoga, sports, music, art, and dance, flow is the state in which we do not have lows and highs of dopamine in our blood. Instead, there is a higher yet moderate sine wave of dopamine release that does not go too high or too low. 

Maybe you experience the same things I do while in the "tango flow."  Tango flow happens when...

  • I am dancing totally conscious of the music, totally immersed--time stands still or seems to disappear.
  • I am focused on my partner and my own body's response to the music, not "performing" for those watching.
  • As a part of the flow, I prepared for the event by learning and growing my ability to dance well.
  • I have slept well as my desire to have my enjoyment of tango tied to well-being.
  • I have enjoyed eating in a healthy way.
  • I develop wonderful friendships from the world of tango.
  • I avoid all activities that might take away from my health (and tango skills), such as tobacco use, too much alcohol, and drug use.
  • I search for the eyes of those who enjoy dancing and truly want to dance with me and not for the purpose of showing off to the crowd.
  • I participate in the larger part of dancing tango--being with friends and socializing.
  • Pure joy. The timeless tanda.
Luckily, flow for most people dancing tango is not at all rare!  Generally, I think that the majority of people love tango because it easily gets them into a state of flow.  We are a large proportion of tango dancers. We try to dance and time stops, or at least, our orientation to time is radically altered.  And when it is all over, we feel a glow that keeps going and going. We experience the ever-widening things that lead us to a life filled with joy.

For a scientific view of flow, read the following scientific article on the subject:

Photo credit and more on flow states:

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