Who Should Choose?

This post is about Finnish social dances called ”lavatanssit”, but I am sure some argentine tango dancers will find it interesting as well.

The traditional custom in these dances is that men invite women to dance, and that women should in general accept the invitation, unless the person is visibly drunk.

There are exceptions, including ”women’s hour” where the invitation roles are reversed.

Before the song starts, women and men arrange into two opposing formations, called ”lines”. In practice they are never lines, but several lines after each other.

The custom is that these lines self-organize in a way that those who consider themselves younger or better dancers stand closer to the orchestra, whereas beginners and older people go towards the other end.

Historically, this is based on custom where there used to be a special place for the daughters of the families with the highest social ranking, i.e. daughters of the wealthiest houses. This was called ”kermapenkki”, literally meaning cream seat.

Nowadays this name is no longer used, but the corner with those who are deemed choosiest with their partners (i.e. closest to the orchestra, sometimes little
seperate from the rest of the line) are sometimes called ”nirppanurkka”. ”Nirppa” is shorthand for ”nirppanokka”, which means sourpuss, whereas ”nurkka” is ”corner”. The expression is not neutral and not used as a compliment, although some people self-identify with it.

While this is the general way the invites are organized, there are many variations on the theme (such as ladies night when the invitations are reversed ), and there are many additional quirks and unwritten rules as well.

Traditionally, the invite is done by going in the front of the person, looking them into eyes, offering your hand, and asking ”may I have the permission?” I don’t know the history of the expression, but I suspect the permission used to be asked from the chaperones, not the invitee. Some modern variations of this.

Never being rejected opens opportunities to various kind of antisocial behavior. For example, some older dancers (typically men) are considered to be preying on young dancers, and this is frowned upon.

While outright rejection on invitation is considered somewhat rude, it still happens. More typical is ”naamapakit” (literally face rejection) where the invitee leaves the line when unwanted inviter is approaching.

Some people are standing outside the line all the time,  either standing or sitting noticeably outside it. This allows the invitee more leeway in deciding whether they want to dance. It is more acceptable to refuse unwanted invitations when you are not standing in line.

The discussions in social media often revolve around the question who should be doing the invitations. Some women, especially those who feel they get less invites than others, complain about the old-fashioned customs and demand equality, so they would also get to dance.

One related peculiarity happens during women’s hours and women’s nights. As women’s line is typically next to the wall, and men are standing closer to the center of the dance hall, the uninvited men need to leave their place when the dance hall starts to be filled by dancers, underlining the fact that nobody invited them. Uninvited women can often just go back one step, and sit down on benches behind them.

Also, there is the undercurrent that these men were so undesirable as dance partners that even those women who complain that they do not get enough invites did not invite them. Often there are several men who do not get invites at all.

The reality is more complex. The social status seems to influence when women choose their dance partners. If somebody is popular, then he is more desirable by everybody, and if nobody wants to dance with somebody, he becomes undesirable, even untouchable. I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. It is mind boggling to some women to hear that I have sometimes been one of the last guys standing. But my experience is not untypical, I suspect all experienced leaders share this experience.

I do not have any actual proof, but I suspect from use of language that while it was a custom not to refuse invites, there was strong social control over who was supposed to invite whom. Hired hands would not invite daughters of wealthy houses and so on.

Some of the undesirable side effects of the current system seem to stem from the lack of social control combined with the increased selfishness. Caricature of this attitude is a person who feels they have the right to dance with anybody they want. Also, extreme choosiness creates a less positive atmosphere.

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Masculinity in leading

I learned some very interesting things during a group class by Sergiy Podbolotnyy and Elena Sergienko on our yearly tango festival, Tango Frostbite.

Their idea is that connection is formed when center of leader is connected with the center of the follower. I assume that by center they mean gravity center of the body, also known as the hara, the point two finger widths down from navel, which is considered very important by various Far East traditions.

This idea is not new for me, I have heard it from other teachers many years ago. I just had forgotten about the idea.

In recent years, I have been trying to lead from chest and create giros from internal rotation, and to relax my arms. I have done this to avoid constricting the follower. This has been a very necessary step for me. But now I have gone too far in relaxation, which has caused my frame to become weak.

It was very apparent that when trying out the class structure with the teacher, I had trouble connecting my center to the center of the teacher. This was surprising, because I consider what I have called the emotional connection to be one of my strengths. I saw that connecting this way with the teacher was even somewhat embarrassing.

After the class I observed in a day milonga that it is very common to lack this kind of connection in the dance. It is very rare to see the leader with their center towards their partner.

I suspect this is related to same embarrassment that I experienced. We dancers are accustomed to being extremely close to relative strangers — such extended periods of closeness are not common even in established relationships. But many of us still seem to harbor some kind of emotional block that prevents us from really connecting with the other person.

For the rest of the day milonga, as well as during the night milonga, I focused on starting my movement from the hara, and continuously trying to maintain the connection from the hara to the hara of the partner. Due to meditation practice, I was able to hold my attention in this for extended periods.

Surprisingly, it did not feel as “good” as my dancing before. At some moments, dancing feels very soft, and this has been the quality I have been searching for in tango. It is apparent that many followers also sense this softness when dancing with me. The softness is what I have called the emotional connection. It feels that this emotional connection comes from the chest area.

While the dancing did not feel as soft, it felt much more masculine to lead from the hara. When I have practiced this a little bit more, it will be very interesting to hear how followers experience the difference. At least I did not get any complaints so far.

During the classes I also learned few not so flattering things about my dancing. My practice partner was considerably shorter than me. The height difference caused some problems in my embrace and balance to become more apparent than when dancing with somebody of my own height.

It appears that I have been seeking the stronger emotional connection turning my chest and leaning towards the follower, but keeping the center away. Due to this, I loose balance, and then compensate for it by putting my weight somewhere than under my own body.

There is bittersweet taste when I see that there are still these serious problems in my dance. There was even a short-lived tango crisis about it. But seeing something is the first step in fixing it. Fixing deeply ingrained habitual balance problems is just not going to be very easy.

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On Natural Movement

English word ”aim” does not translate easily to Finnish. Expression ”direction towards a goal” comes close, but if you have processes where the ultimate goal is unattainable, how would you expess it?

The direction towards natural movement is an example of such a process with unattainable goal. Some claim that tango movement can not be natural for women as they walk backwards in high heels. This hides the fact that the movement can be more natural, regardless of conditions.

There is a story about Alexander, the inventor of Alexander technique, and a student of his who later became a master. The student complained about some chair at work, and they spent the next year studying how to naturally sit in that chair.

If tango cannot be natural, then almost nothing can be natural. This is not an useful attitude, because natural movement is an expression for a phenomenon that is very real and can be physically experienced through deliberate practice.

People who claim tango cannot be natural movement might not have experienced it, or might not associate their experiences to it, otherwise they would not express it this way.

The feeling where the movement is more natural is exhilarating. It feels like letting go. I suspect this is why children like slides.

The feeling comes from movement towards freedom and thus does not require one to be a skillful dancer. Actually skillfulness might prevent naturalness of movement. I have experienced this in simple exercises where I just try to fall into the step and catch myself just at the last moment.

It is said that walking is controlled falling, but this appears to be a misnomer. The point is unlearning the control of movement. We don’t control our walking on the street. But often we try to control our movement when we begin to learn to dance. At this point we lose the fluency of movement.

In our mind (or st least somewhere in our body) is something we can conceptualize as something which wants to control movement. The interesting thing is to learn new relationship with this part of our mind, and experience the moments when se can let go of the control.

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On Traditions

Everybody is of course familiar with the excellent Tango Cynic videos. I was reminded of this video when reading about traditions in completely different context. The same two sides repeat in all of such discussions with such accuracy that is becomes a farce.

If we make a caricature, the traditionalists seem to believe there was some magical place in history, in our case Buenos Aires in the 1920’s where they danced the “authentic tango”. And that if you violate the traditions, you are violating this holy authentic tango. Sometimes you see people claiming “this is how they do it in Buenos Aires” which is similar.

There was probably no single place and point in time where all these traditions were followed. Some of the traditions may actually be quite modern. For example, some people think dancing in the darkness is romantic and authentic, but then some believe that laser-sharp cabeceo to the other side of the room is even more authentic. These two “traditions” are in conflict. (Yes, I know, there are solutions to this “conflict”)

The caricature view of the progressives is that they collectively complain about most of the traditions, although each progressive person typically has only few traditions they personally strongly dislike. The justification goes that in our modern age the specific traditions are outdated, or worse. We modern people now know better. (This does not prevent progressives from abusing some traditions for their own benefit.)

There is a problem with both of these views, but in my experience the traditionalists are closer to the truth. However, if you angrily justify anything as “this is how they do it in Buenos Aires” you are actually alienating people from the traditions. Anybody who has been there knows how easy it is to find counterexamples of any tradition. What is worse than alienating others, they are probably preventing themselves from getting the full benefits of the tradition.

My approach to traditions is pragmatic. I don’t believe in traditions just by themselves. But on some level I respect them even more than the traditionalists.

I believe that it is useful to view traditions as a mechanism that transmits understanding to us from previous generations. By repeating some tradition, if we are open to it, we may begin to understand why somebody started the tradition, and we may learn something valuable. (No, I do not mean that they necessarily thought about us when starting the tradition.)

The things you might learn may be be more valuable than mere knowledge, and they are things that typically cannot be explained verbally. The traditions are more robust as a communication mechanism than books or word-of-mouth.

But if you justify the traditions angrily, you are not approaching the tradition from open perspective, and you will not be able to receive what is being communicated. For example, on a very basic level, it appears to me that many traditions have originally been invented to facilitate better emotional connection within couples and between couples. If we are too strict about the traditions, it is no longer fun, and we block this emotional connection in another way.

The progressives are more lost. If they cannot justify the tradition to themselves immediately, or worse, if it goes against something they believe is “modern”, they angrily reject the tradition. The idea is that “we now know better”, meaning of course that they themselves are much wiser than people used to be. But in a way this is a tautology, because the progressives believe in progress, everything is always better than it used to be.

And this attitude makes it almost impossible to learn anything in this way, because learning requires you to be humble and first believe somebody else may know something valuable. The lessons that would be most useful to us are typically the ones we reject the quickest.

Of course these are caricatures of the extreme positions to highlight the differences. There are no such people as such. But the attitudes are similar. And these attitudes are actually very fundamental to us humans. Consider the following quote:

Recall Claude Levi-Strauss’s exemplary analysis, from his Structural Anthropology, of the spatial disposition of buildings in the Winnebago, one of the Great Lake tribes, might be of some help here. The tribe is divided into two sub-groups (“moieties”), “those who are from above” and “those who are from below”; when we ask an individual to draw on a piece of paper, or on sand, the ground-plan of his/her village (the spatial disposition of cottages), we obtain two quite different answers, depending on his/her belonging to one or the other sub-group. Both perceive the village as a circle; but for one sub-group, there is within this circle another circle of central houses, so that we have two concentric circles, while for the other sub-group, the circle is split into two by a clear dividing line. In other words, a member of the first sub-group (let us call it “conservative-corporatist”) perceives the ground-plan of the village as a ring of houses more or less symmetrically disposed around the central temple, whereas a member of the second (“revolutionary-antagonistic”) sub-group perceives his/her village as two distinct heaps of houses separated by an invisible frontier… The point Levi-Strauss wants to make is that this example should in no way entice us into cultural relativism, according to which the perception of social space depends on the observer’s group-belonging: the very splitting into the two “relative” perceptions implies a hidden reference to a constant – not the objective, “actual” disposition of buildings but a traumatic kernel, a fundamental antagonism the inhabitants of the village were unable to symbolize, to account for, to “internalize”, to come to terms with, an imbalance in social relations that prevented the community from stabilizing itself into a harmonious whole. The two perceptions of the ground-plan are simply two mutually exclusive endeavors to cope with this traumatic antagonism, to heal its wound via the imposition of a balanced symbolic structure. It is here that one can see it what precise sense the Real intervenes through anamorphosis. We have first the “actual,” “objective,” arrangement of the houses, and then its two different symbolizations which both distort in an anamorphic way the actual arrangement. However, the “real” is here not the actual arrangement, but the traumatic core of some social antagonism which distorts the tribe members’ view of the actual arrangement of the houses in their village.

— Slavoj Zizek: The Parallax View.

This traumatic kernel is what currently interests me most in the tango world.

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On Roles

This is a third part of three part series. Previous parts were Love Languages of Dancing and Egoless Dancing.

The traditional view of dancing is that the leader (typically man) should control everything in the dance. The progressive view is that the follower should have equal say, in other words, they should be also controlling the dance. I am not saying either of these views is wrong or my view is better. It all depends on your preferred love language of dancing, in other words, what you are aiming for in your dance.

But if our aim is deeper emotional connection, the wish to control is not so interesting. It appears to me the wish to control is often related with fixed mindset (also called mindset of scarcity).

In fixed mindset, we focus on some valuable resource (in this case control or power) resource, and as we feel this resource is limited, it becomes zero-sum game. If the leader decides how we dance, the follower cannot decide, so the follower needs to convince the leader to give some control to the follower and so on.

My aim is to actually opposite, to have as little control as possible. I don’t even like to show off my “personality” or “artistic expression”. I think the “personality” is my ego, boring repetition of patterns seen in some video or taught by some teacher. However, when engulfed in flow, the dance is never boring, there is endless creative power. The dance is never the same. But this creativity is not “my” dancing. I am just witnessing it happening. I can only prevent it from happening.

On the surface, it may appear that my view of roles is very traditional. But while it may appear similar, it is very different. Actually, my view of roles is very pragmatic.

It appears that it is easier for me to let go of wish to control if there is already some level of emotional connection within the dance. If the leader initially takes the responsibilites related to what happens outside the couple, such as other couples, the basic movement to music etc. this frees the follower to concentrate on the emotional connection. This helps me more in releasing the control than anything else.

Thus, I see the leader and follower roles more in terms of responsibilities than rights. This is consistent with leadership literature. Leaders are foremost the servants of the people they are leading.

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Egoless Dancing

In the previous post I wrote about different love languages of dancing, and how they relate to two views of tango, which I called traditional and progressive. This post is continuation on that theme, and you should read that post before this one.

My preferred love language is the deep emotional connection. This does not mean that this is the only thing I care about. On certain nights, I seem to look for something else, such as the joy of movement. Also, the enjoyment of the follower is even more important than the deep emotional connection, so I will go towards the love language that I feel the follower is looking for. And while the deep emotional connection is important for me, once it is there, I will look for other qualities, such as musicality, dynamics in movement etc.

However, for simplicity, for the remainder of this post, I will assume we are talking dancing where the goal is to have as deep emotional connection as possible.

How can we make the emotional connection more deep? This formulation of the question already contains an underlying assumption, barely perceptible, that depth of the emotional connection is within my control. I think this assumption is not very useful. In fact it may be even be harmful.

For me, the emotional connection is somewhat magical. I like to compare it to how a fun party comes together. We can facilitate a party in multiple ways, by having a great place, inviting an interesting mix of people, preparing nice food etc. However, we cannot make party fun. We can remove any single one (or even multiple) of these conditions, and still have a great party. On the other hand, the conditions may be perfect, but for some reason or the other, the party just isn’t that great. It is more useful to think of the conditions as something that might prevent the party being fun, not as something that makes it fun.

Likewise, I cannot force a deep emotional connection with my partner. In my experience, one of the biggest hurdles preventing emotional connection are various tensions in the body. But occasionally emotional connection may be very deep even when there is lots of tension.

So, to experience deeper emotional connection more often, I need to prepare in advance, so that the conditions would be as good as possible, and as few as possible things will prevent the emotional connection. And then, while dancing, I need to let go of my expectation of experiencing something. This is not easy, and it is constant struggle for me.

What prevents the emotional connection? In my experience, we can say that they are mostly related to tensions. But even the tensions are beyond my control. I cannot force myself to relax. In fact, controlling muscles by my mind is actually the opposite of relaxation.

Often, I am not even aware of the tensions. So the first step is to become more aware of them, by increasing body awareness. Even this does not come in one step. The tensions are actually the result of habits.

Alexander technique has the idea that these habits have an underlying cause. For example, I have dislocated my shoulder twice. At that time, the muscles around the shoulder were helping the shoulder to heal by becoming more tense. However, these tensions then became habits. I still have these habits, although they are no longer serving the original purpose.

So in order to free myself of the tensions, I need to break these habits. The only way to do that is by struggling against the habit, by reminding ourselves of the tensions again and again. Old habits die hard, so this will take way more time and effort than most people realize.

Likewise, it seems we feel emotional pain also physically, and we create tensions to protect us around the area where we experience the emotional pain. It seems that often the underlying emotional pain is still there, so we need to work through that too.

Where does the need to control come from? In my experience it has a very close relationship with my ego. While the ego has a quite bad reputation, in my view it serves a very specific purpose in humans.

The purpose of the ego is to keep our world view stable. If you think about it for a while, you come to realize that it is very necessary to have a stable world view. For example, if I had to relearn every moment what purpose all the objects around me serve, it would be impossible for me to operate at all, even to lift a fork to eat.

Some religious and spiritual traditions talk about “destroying the ego”. I think this is nonsense. The ego is absolutely necessary.

However, similar to the tensions, some thought or emotional patterns are no longer useful, even if they served some purpose at some point in our life. So the question becomes: how can I change thoughts or emotions that are part of my world view? The process appears to be similar as how to learn to release some tensions. It is less about change, and more about letting go.

Of course this does not apply to everything, but only to things that are in the direction of releasing, relaxing, letting go. However, it appears to me that everything that are useful for deepening emotional connection are in this direction.

If the traditional view of tango is that the leader decides everything, and the progressive view is that we are both are equal partners and both decide, then egoless dancing is when neither of us decides unless it is necessary either to prevent accidents on the dance floor. While this is the “ideal” I am aiming for, it is not possible to attain it in every dance and expecting it to happen may prevent it from happening it.

Unless you have experienced it, this may sound impossible or even crazy. But this kind of language is typical when people are describing flow experiences (see this and this).

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Love Languages of Dancing

Most discussions about leader and follower roles are mostly views from these two camps:

Firstly, there are the traditionalists. There is a Finnish saying which can be roughly translated as “men lead and women whimper” which describes this mentality quite well. In this view, men should be active, the followers passive, and the best way to become passive is to “not think”.

Secondly, there are the progressives. They think the traditionalist view is outdated in the modern world, and that women should be equal participants in the co-creation of the dance. They are typically proponents of various forms of “active following”.

The reason why these discussions become so fierce is that both groups have the view that theirs is the only one true way to dance. But it appears that these two groups may actually have different love languages of dancing. And sometimes they might not even clearly understand what they are looking for, or if they do, how they could increase the probability of experiencing it.

The typical reaction from progressives is that they believe they are seeking all (or most) of those things. It is true that we all are seeking all of them to some degree, but in my experience it is difficult to honestly see what you are really looking for. So it is better not to jump to premature conclusions. Even if you are looking for the same thing, the means you are using may be complete opposites.

I usually try to accomodate the follower, so I will try to adjust to the love language of dancing I believe the follower is looking for. But when I invite dancers, I typically look for followers that have the same love language I feel I need at the moment. The love language I feel I need may actually even switch from day to day, but it is more apparent only in Finnish social dances where there is variety of swing and closed embrace dancing.

I typically seek what the linked article calls deep connection (I just call it emotional connection). Often, the best way for me to to seek deeper connection is to move more slowly. But, if the follower values movement over deeper connection for example, they will not move together with me (even if they are very advanced dancers), but instead will become increasing anxious if they feel we are moving too slowly.

I believe that the traditionalists are often seeking deeper emotional connection. However, they may use what Marshall Rosenberg calls “tragic expressions of unmet needs”. This means trying to fulfill needs using means that actually prevents them from getting what they need.

For example, the leader may try to control the follower to be closer to keep the emotional connection, even to the point of physically hurting the, (e.g. holding them too tightly to constrain their movement) (How do I know this? Because I had this tendency.) Or, the follower may “try to follow too hard”, moving prematurely out of anxiousness, starting to actually (unconsciously) back-lead, and thus killing the connection.

So what is to be done? The progressive view is understandable, both from social point of view, as well as from personal-physical point of view. But the starting point cannot be changing the preferred love language of dancing.  The starting point for the traditionalist should be to understand what they are looking for, and that they cannot force the emotional connection.

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Why do I dance?

I have not felt like writing to this blog for a long time. My latest writings were rather cryptic, because I tried to write about subjects that I felt were taboos. I was not happy about the results, so I came to a conclusion that it was impossible to talk about the important things.

But today I felt like writing. I have had some break from tango for quite some time, and I feel like the distance has given me some new insight.

For any serious person on the quest of learning tango the same question arises now and then. Why do I dance?

Of course there are the outer reasons. To socialize, to fill up free time, have fun, to feed the addiction. But there are easier ways to reach all these. Tango can be very frustrating. So why tango? Why not for example golf which I already tried? Or some of the other dozen hobbies?

I have come to see that I am seeking for those rare moments in the dance when I can sense something out of this world. It is something I had never felt before I started dancing tango. This means these are experiences that some people may never have a chance to experience in their whole lifetime. This thought makes me sad.

When this magical moment happens, movement becomes light, we are creating interesting improvisation to the music with my partner, being playful. I feel like it is no longer me who is dancing — rather there is some kind of creative force outside of us which is going through as and creating the dance.

This special magical moment I have called “the connection”. I have come to a conclusion that maybe this name is not so appropriate, as the name has been appropriated by some people who use this word to talk about an quite different kind of experience.

All this above sounds either mystical — or if you are more scientifically inclined —  bullshit. But I can assure that it is really neither. I have been blessed and these magic experiences have become more common. Actually they now have happened during most nights when I have danced. I take the prevalence of these experiences as a sign that the path I am on is going towards the right direction, and this gives me motivation to talk about them.

So now that I have had time to gather plenty of these magical experiences, maybe some reflection in form of this blog entry is now appropriate. At least I have observed there seem to be certain circumstance that make these magical moments more probable. Perhaps I can also elaborate a little bit of the glimpses of some of the underlying mechanisms under these magic experiences.

What I am describing here is a sensation, and it is impossible to express sensations to somebody who does not have the same experience. How do you explain the taste of strawberry to somebody who has never tasted it?

The first problem when discussing these experiences is that you will be reading this blog entry with your rational mind, which likes to analyze and categorize things based on things it already knows. When the rational mind meets things it does not know, it bends the story as much as is necessary so it can be understood in terms of experiences the person already has. This is called cognitive dissonance and it is Psychology 101.

For example, when there are some tough disagreements, we can see if some of the confusion is created by people using a same word to describe very different experiences. If this is so, then the easiest explanation is that maybe one party has felt the need to use the word to describe an experience they have, perhaps hide from themselves that there exists an experience they have never had. But as a consequence they create all kinds of trouble, not least to themselves. Actually by these rationalizations they make it almost impossible for themselves to have this kind of experience.

Like I said above, it seems that people are using the word “connection” to describe two very different kind of experiences. I call these kinesthetic connection and emotional connection.

I used to think that kinesthetic connection is a prerequisite for the emotional connection. As the same kind of experiences can be felt outside of embrace too, I no longer think so. However, it also seems that not everybody in tango has experienced these magical moments, because there seem to be a need to use the word connection in kinesthetic sense when people are talking about it in the emotional sense.

What authority do I have to talk about these experiences? I have had plenty of experience of festivals, marathons, encuentros, Buenos Aires etc. But anybody who knows me in real life knows I am not a tango superstar, and not even an argentinian. I actually think that any authority I have on the subject comes from my weaknesses. I have started with so little ability to dance, so I have had to learn everything the hard way, to really understand things.

So, don’t take my word. I don’t want to convince anybody. I just ask you to keep an open mind. You will meet lots of people saying what I write is bullshit. However, if you are later blessed with the experiences I describe here, then you will know for yourself what is true.

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Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, ou la Mort

According to Wikipedia, the title is the original formulation of the motto of the French revolution, which later became the motto of France. I believe understanding it actually helps us to overcome some common disagreements about tango!

This motto does not contain just some random three terms. The relationship of the terms to each other is as important as the terms themselves.

Liberté was probably used in the sense that political right uses it now, meaning that one has the right to the fruits of their own work — low taxation. And égalité was probably used in the sense of equality of outcome (rather than equality of rights as we understand it now) — high taxation. If we understand liberty and equality this way, they are actually opposing each other. Why would one use opposing terms in one motto?

There is another peculiarity about the terms:

The third term, Fraternité, was the most problematic to insert in the triad, as it belonged to another sphere, that of moral obligations rather than rights, links rather than statutes, harmony rather than contract, and community rather than individuality.

But if we consider the historical context, we can see that these features of the motto are not so strange after all. The triad follows structurally the model of thesis – antithesis – synthesis which was very much in vogue at that time. Synthesis is something “higher” that brings the two opposing “forces” together, creating harmony.

Liberty and equality were chosen as the first two terms exactly because they oppose each other. Their order is also significant: one cannot talk about taxation before there are some gains to be taxed. And as the third term, fraternity was chosen because only through community based on relationships, the inherent conflict between liberty and equality of outcome can be overcome, and harmony reached.

This original formulation also tells us what happens if we do not follow the motto: we will turn away from life, which is harmony, and create disharmony, death.

Perhaps it is also useful to remind ourselves that the triad contains all three terms, not only the last term. The struggle between the two first ones creates the potency of the last term. The last one would not exist by itself.

In Richness of Tango I described some discussions regarding tango in the internet. Behind each one of the discussions one can find an argument about equality of the roles in tango, the second term in the motto. This is natural reaction and “progress” in relation to the first term.

But, to help overcome these disagreements about the roles in tango and perhaps learn to understand the issues more deeply, one can apply some structural analysis to these discussions. What are the two missing terms, the first one, and the third one? What is the consequence if “harmony” is not reached?

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Richness of Tango

These are some often recurring tango discussions.

One recurring discussion is about “active following” versus “passive following”. What people typically mean by these expressions is that in “active following” the leader gives an impulse to the follower, who then decides how to interpret the lead, for example by changing timing, or increasing or decreasing the energy of the lead. The leader follows her through the movement, and then receives the follower, and gives a new impulse for the next direction. This creates a kind of kinetic exchange, where gravity (and turn in “leading”) changes back and forth between the leader and the follower.

Some other people use expression “active following” or something similar to mean that the follower may do decorations, or take even extra steps which fit the music, but this is done within (without interpreting or changing the timing or the kinetic energy) the original impulse of the lead. (This is not incompatible with the first version, so some people may use both.)

There is also third interpretation, adopted by some contact improvisation style dancers as well as some others, mostly beginners, where “active following” means that for example extra weight shifts and extra steps can be taken to any direction at any time, even when they are not connected to lead. Here there are actually in practice two leaders.

Sadly, people very rarely clarify how they use the terms.

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Another discussion is about “becoming one in tango”. From recent Facebook discussion:

“There is this myth, in tango”, X said, “that it’s about becoming one. But there isn’t one of you dancing. There are two. And you both have to dance. Leaders, it’s not about controlling *her* body; it’s about controlling your own body. It’s not about managing her movement; it’s about managing your own movement. When we dance, it’s not that Y [X’s partner] feels me moving her with changes in my embrace. I move *myself* and she feels my movement and responds with her own movement. It’s not about doing something to her, out *there* [demonstrating an outwardly-projected movement]; it’s about something that happens *here* [brushing his hand over his torso, showing his own body in motion].”

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Sometimes one talks about the “control” separately. There are leaders who might be accurately called Puppet Masters, who completely control the movement of the follower, having the follower in an iron grip. Their idea is that the leader moves the follower. The other idea is that the leader moves himself, which signals to the follower of the direction. Sometimes these controlling leaders may even say that the follower should not do decorations because they may disturb the leader etc.

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Many other discussions are about “connection”. When some people who talk about connection they are really talking about the “kinetic connection” what I described in the “active leading” and “passive following” above.

Others, when talking about connections, seem to talk about more blissful mystical experiences, referring to “energy fields” etc. These same people may be talking about “becoming one” And there are those people who say that they “do not believe connection exists”, meaning such experiences.

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There is richness and variety in these descriptions and opinions. The only natural explanation I have come up with is these disagreements are a sign that people experience tango quite differently. To me, this richness is positive life force. Unfortunately, many seem to think there is only one right way to dance.

While all these discussions seem different on the surface, they seem to revolve around two major themes. More about these two themes in a later post.

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