Tango and sex
”Tango is the vertical expression of horizontal desires” – You have frequently heard this phrase from people who don’t dance tango, haven’t you?! And usually with a sarcastic smile meaning: ”These grapes are sour.” I disagree with such a primitive understanding of the phrase – one still DOES like dancing with a person with whom he/she has fulfilled the horizontal desires, right?! I find the other truth in these words: sex can teach you a lot in tango!
To make this idea clearer, a little definition of terminology could be due: we all know what tango is – I’ll define sex: Sex is the highest (not the lowest, as some might think!) expression of spiritual and physical connection between a woman and a man.
Some might argue: tango is not taught in the bedroom, but in the classroom, together with tango instructors. Well, I thought so, too!
I started dancing tango in 90s in Sweden (I was teaching at Lund University at that time). This is the time when a new wave of tango swept over Europe. I was taking all master classes and workshops possible and soon noticed that the words of one teacher could be in total contradiction with the other’s (does it ring the bell for you?). Moreover, each and every teacher would refer to Argentina to prove his/her statements: ”This is the way it works in Buenos Aires”, – they would say. My travel to Argentina didn’t make things easier: yes, in Buenos Aires it worked this way… that way… and absolutely other way as well.
As if all different versions were not enough for my confusion, the words and deeds of one and the same trainer could be in contradiction as well. For example, a teacher would explain that the leader should step with the tip of the foot first and then with the heel, but while dancing himself he would start moving with the heel first.
Surely, there are brilliant trainers in tango (thank God and bless them!), but this is not a frequent matter. The reason is simple:
Let’s compare tango with football. In both of them Argentinians are undoubtedly great masters. Now, let’s a question: How many high-class Argentinian footballers (say, members of the national team) have the talent to become a trainer? ”Very few”, – you will answer; and you will be absolutely right. Being a footballer and being a trainer requires different talents and very rarely one and the same person is blessed with both of them (as in any other field, by the way!). That’s why only some of the great players become great trainers. The situation in tango is different: every good dancer teaches. It’s easy to explain the reason: footballers are paid for the games they play, tango dancers are not paid for dances; mostly, their income depends on the classes they provide. I can’t remember any couple attending the festival only for a performance; they are always supposed to have master classes. This is the common rule. There are some exceptions that only prove the rule. (The same is true about math too: no mathematician is paid for research, but for teaching. That’s why we end up with so many bad teachers in the field.)
Tango is not a monotheistic religion, though most of the maestros think that they are the only preachers of truth and the rest of world is packed with infidels. Unfortunately, this attitude creates tension among different schools of tango and confusion in their students. In the cities I lived or danced in, tango teachers were not even on speaking terms and would not attend each other’s milongas. Fortunately, my permanent maestro in Lund was an exception: he would explain different alternatives and leave us, his students, with free choice.
At the same time, this freedom meant for me that in the bombardment of information at different workshops I had to find my way by myself to a common ratio. So, I started analyzing all the information and found that there really is something common in this chaos – an axiom, a premise so evident that all the representatives of tango sects and directions accept without controversy.
What is it? And why is it so acceptable for everybody?
Tango is a social dance and incorporates true and real connection of a woman and a man in music and movement (as they sometimes say, tango is a love story told in three minutes). That’s why all common rules and principles that exist in real life between a woman and a man are reflected in tango. And this is the common value that all tango schools share.
When I came up with this meaning, it became easier for me to get a good sense of direction in tango jungles. This is the axiom which I teach my students at my classes (I teach these students math as well, so they are not surprised with my axiomatic approach to the issue).
Now let’s separately speak about all common rules in tango and understand that they are general principles of romance and sex (see definition of sex above) between a woman and a man.
How do we meet a beloved person after a long parting? We take him/her to our embrace; take him/her to our heart and put our face into the others. This is a tango posture. And this is what makes tango different from any other dances, like ballroom dances where a couple has their heads tilted backwards as if both of them have eaten a lot of garlic.
A woman has to surrender to a man in tango – this is fundamental. Just like in sex, if a lady (woman) does not relax her body (especially, legs) and totally surrender to her man, she will not enjoy the play. A man needs to be open and relaxed spiritually as well as physically to appreciate this gift from a woman with chivalry and concentrate on pleasing the lady and not himself. I remember my first private class. I was very interested in what I was doing wrong during the dance. ”Breathe!” – was the first advice. ”Relax your shoulders!” – was the second.
Main talent – respect:
You might think this is pathetic but I think the main talent a man should have when dancing tango is respect towards the lady. If a man does not respect his woman, the dance will not work out. Narcissus who’s in love with himself only will not please the woman in tango (as well as in anything else). In tango a man does not force a woman to do anything, he does not drag her and does not push. A man opens his torso and offers a lady to make a step in a certain direction. The woman should be in the center of attention for the man. It’s unpleasant to see a man dancing with a woman and trying to do thousands of different figures around her. I love a phrase of one Argentinian tanguero who told his partner: ”I am here to make you beautiful”. A man should be aware of the woman’s dancing level and not push her into hard steps which she cannot perform.
The same can be said about the lady: the man should be the center of attention for her. She shouldn’t slide away or drop back from him. She should be attentive towards the man’s skill level and shouldn’t dance in a rough-and-ready manner even if the leader is not experienced.
Connection and leading:
Everyone will tell you that connection is the most important thing in tango. Everything else (steps, technique) is just a tool. Physical connection in tango is on the level of torso (close to heart). In ballroom dances this contact is lower (I will not specify how low exactly). In Argentinian tango a man leads a woman with the torso and not hands, so the emotion that is born during the dance is drawn straight from heart to heart (pardon my high-flown words, but this is even biologically so). In our daily lives, in spite of (or maybe, because of) all the modern technology (internet, cell phones) the feeling of loneliness and lack of physical contact is huge. Tango somehow compensates this lack. But there is another side to the coin: due to the close spiritual and physical connection dancers chose their partners more scrupulously than in other dances. As a result, refusals, heartbreaks and disappointments are more frequent in tango than in any other dance (just like in real life).
The couple dances for each other:
Argentine tango is a social dance and its philosophy differs from the one of the ballroom dances. The latter is performed for the audience and jury – the moment the couple finishes to dance, both of them look at the jury to see the scores they were given. Argentine tango is solely for the partner. I remember the words of my first maestro: ”When you start to dance everything vanishes around you but the music and your partner”. The same can be said about sex (only, music is optional in this case). That’s why holding competitions in Argentine tango is unnatural. It’s the same as having competitions in sex. Can any spectator assume how well a man performed the act? (It could be interesting though, what a man should do to make the jury give him a high score!) The only one who can rate (or maybe, appreciate would be a more pleasant word for a man) the skills of the partner is the woman. Though competitions are still held in Argentine tango (where technique is rated and not the amount of pleasure the partners give each other). But this is another side of the medal: a lot of people at the beginning are drawn to tango because of show elements and it takes some time till they discover real tango.
Those who attend a tango night for the first time are surprised at seeing ”sad” faces of the dancers and ask one and the same question: ”Why don’t they smile like in sport dances?” (Say, cheese!) Tango is a spiritual dialogue of two people, very deep and intimate. Have you ever seen a couple smiling sweetly while love-making? (You don’t watch porn, of course, but sometimes, these kinds of intercourses are shown in ordinary movies as well). That’s the same in tango: tango is the act of reflecting and sharing of feelings, hopes and pain in music and movement.
Beginner tangueras stand out from the experienced ones with the wide steps like sailors’. In tango feet and knees should be together. I believe in this: in tango, like in real life, a woman should keep legs together unless the man brings on a very strong argument for her to act otherwise. I am sorry for the rude parallel, but it expresses the idea precisely and makes it easy to remember.
Feet together (for women as well as men) is important not only for tango aesthetics, but because of technical reasons as well, as it makes easier to shift from one leg to another, especially if the rhythm is fast.
Constant contact with the partner:
If one has a life-partner, he/she knows that constant spiritual and physical contact is absolutely compulsory for maintaining strong and healthy relations. We should think of ”us” and not ”me”. Same in tango: does not matter what you are doing at the certain moment (boleo, giro, adorno, etc.) your mind and body should stay with the partner, maintaining the primary contact; your torso should be directed towards the torso of your partner. ”Wait a sec, I’ll finish with adorno and be back to you”, – your partner will not like it in tango or in real life.
Wait for the partner:
When a woman dances well in Argentina instead of saying how beautifully she dances they often say how beautifully she waits. Good dance and good waiting are almost synonymous for them. I have often danced with the beginners who rush and make several steps instead of one (probably, hoping that at least one of them will be correct ). If a woman does not intercept the signal from a man, it’s better not to make any steps and wait for the man to initiate yet another movement.
It’s a totally different feeling to dance with an experienced lady. She is not in a hurry to rush and fulfill the first whim of a man like a good waiter. On the contrary, an experienced woman dances as if she is just doing you a favor. – Of course! She’s a lady. Same in real relations of a man and a woman: a woman does not harry to meet a man, she does not go to the date first and does not rush to strip off clothes if the evening brings the couple to this particular moment. (And then she does not also hurry to go home – this is just between us, guys!)
Not only woman should wait and listen to the partner. The man should do the same, too. A high class leader should listen to the lady, understand her perception of music, build up to it and create harmony.
Music and rhythm:
In real life in addition to inner (even physical) harmony, a couple needs to have the same perception of outer world; the same things should make them happy or sad; they should share the same rhythm! This outer world in tango is music. English Phrase ”It takes two to tango”, in fact should sound like ”It takes three to tango”. The third is surely music. I’ve frequently heard: why should a woman listen to the rhythm of music, she should follow a man’s lead. No! No! No! A woman makes her steps by her own, according to the general perception created by the couple in music. ”We don’t dance to the music, we dance in the music”, – I have frequently heard from my teachers. We are talking here about the feeling of rhythm by a woman, though, it’s even more important for a man.
One practical note on the matter: in the beginners’ groups perception of rhythm is frequently a challenging thing, so if the music is difficult, students learn to ignore it. To avoid this a teacher should select melodies with simple rhythm – it takes time to get used to anything in life!
Before I started dancing tango I thought I could stand steadily on both feet. At the very first tango lesson we were told that a tango dancer (almost) never stands on both feet: the weight is usually on one or another leg. After several lessons we were told that a dancer shouldn’t stand on one foot but on the front part of it. Soon afterwards, though, yet another instruction came up: standing on the front part of the foot is a luxury and the weight should be on its inner part! Those, who are good at math, will easily calculate that this is only the eighth part of the initial balance. Now! If you tend to dig in your heels into tango rules, answer this: Can a man with only eighth of his balance keep a roly-poly lady steady? Same can be said about the balance of a leader! So, here’s an advice for all of you, people: You can have your head in the clouds while dancing tango, but keep your feet firm on the ground. At least, the eighth part of them!
A woman resists a man, but still allows him to get where he intended to get to. This is true in life as well as in tango. The notion can be perfectly seen in a barrida (where a man sweeps the foot of the woman). Resistance creating the spring effect is beautiful aesthetically and also has a practical meaning: the dancer knows exactly where he or his partner are.
Hold your bottom:
In tango the right hand embraces the back of a woman and holds her from another side (if size of the woman allows it, of course!). A man has the full control here and the torsos of a man and a lady create one whole (almost) solid frame. A lady has much more freedom in the area where ”a back” loses its honorable name. But when someone moves the ”area” too much I hardy keep myself from saying: ”Whoa! Hold your bottom, lady!” As in real life, in tango it’s never good to think the sun shines out of the backside.
Hold your adornos:
I, personally, think that the most undesirable partner in tango is the one who does not know the basics of the dance and frequently uses (or abuses) adornos (embellishments). These cases remind me of my daughter. When she was little she loved making up, but hated washing her face first and would start putting paint straight on the unwashed skin. Same in tango: a woman should know the basics to start using embellishments. Frequently, these adornos cause in losing the balance and rhythm. So, I don’t understand trainers who start teaching with adornos (though, I do see that this desire can be coming from the students who think embellishments are the most important thing in tango). All in all, no matter what the level of a tanguera is she should avoid too many adornos. Each jewel should be right on its place in the crown and not in an area where it has nothing to do. As for men’s adornos: well, just like in real life: we should be modest in using the jewelry.
Few but good
”How many steps do you know in Tango?” – I have been asked from time to time. I find this question totally incorrect. Real tanguero will never ask it. ”How many positions do you know in sex?” Good analogy, right? Just like in sex, in tango it’s not important how many moves you know, it’s important to do well whatever you do.
Frequently just the walk (caminada) performed well is very pleasant in tango. And, learning proper walking in tango takes a lot of practice.
Tango is the only dance where pause exists – the couple can totally freeze during the dance. By the way, this was one of the reasons for banning tango in the past – If this is a dance, why doesn’t a couple move? There is truth in it: the maximum of spiritual connection is reached during this pause; this is the moment, when the partners listen to the heartbeat of each other; and later this exact heartbeat will be performed in the movement (I’ll let you make a parallel with sex by yourself). Ignoring the pause is the direct sign of inexperience. So: dance the pause!
At last but not least, improvisation:
Choreography is almost a swear word in Argentine tango. At the beginning of the performance argentine milongueros often underline that their dance is not staged but a sheer improvisation. Tango is a conversation between two people. When I was young and did not know how to talk to a girl I would plan each and every word in advance: I will say this, she will answer that, I will make this comment and she will go crazy with my intellect . . . They never did! The conversation would never meet my scenario and in frustration I did not know what to say next. Just like in any kind of relationship or conversation improvisation is a crucial thing in tango, too.
Sequence of steps should be split into smaller parts which will give you the ability to improvise. Music, level of your partner, free space around you, etc. determines the ”needs” of the dance. There are none of the above-said limitations in the stage dances.
I will try not to disappoint those who, judging by the title, thought this post would be a step-by-step tutorial on how to go from tango to sex. So, I will share one insight: the better you dance the better chances of having sex!
But at the same time, I will share one more experience: in life it’s easier to find a good partner for sex than for tango. So, tango is an absolutely independent value for me.
Love tango for tango!