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Sunday, 1 April 2018

Creative contradictions

Life seems to be full of interesting contradictions and paradoxes. Have you noticed that tango is no exception?

Music and lyrics
The music suggests one thing, and the lyrics often say another

Looking into the music and lyrics of tango, you might be rather surprised by the apparently contradictory elements. The lyrics of tango are highly emotive, frequently melancholy and sometimes simply tragic. On the other hand, the accompanying music is physically engaging, often surprisingly upbeat - thus beckoning us onto the dance-floor (at least with a good DJ at the helm).

Originally, of course, these lyrics were written to tell human stories that the everyday person could relate to. Perhaps the music's contribution is there to enable us to experience universal human emotions through dance - also allowing us to dance away our cares for a while?

Expressing of emotions and personal space
Publicly we experience and express emotions in the arms of another person - possibly not our life partner

It comes as no surprise that social tango brings with it seemingly conflicting demands. At the root of this, perhaps is the expression of emotion in a public place. There is also the intimate physical contact with, at times, a stranger.  When two people connect through the feeling in the music, their passing, shared intimate experience may be exposed to observation and to potential comment.

So, it makes sense that the following codes (etiquette) evolved, and still have merit:
  • Despite the intense and emotive nature of some tango music, the expression of it through dance is contained. Dancers are led by the music, so the couple may experience  a powerful response. But this is not overtly demonstrated for all to see.
  • When a tango comes to an end, the couple does not maintain the embrace in any way. It is no more than a three minute romance, with no further implications. At the end of even the most romantic tanda, the lady is escorted back to her table, the man returns to his - and that is that.
Some might reject the codigos as having no place in our modern tango world, far the Buenos Aires of old. But I find that these elegant strategies allow us to enjoy the dynamics of the milonga. We are not hampered by any expectation that the three minute romance will continue beyond the dance-floor. Nor are we concerned with any speculation by onlookers about actual or imagined romantic liaisons.

The couple and the others in the ronda
A couple dance together, but they also dance with the other couples

Social tango allows each dancer to surrender to their partner and to the music. The dance is not primarily for the benefit of onlookers, but rather for the couple's enjoyment. Abandoning oneself like this can lead to a profound sense of satisfaction and joy.

Yet, a dance-floor full of couples giving unbridled expression to the music sounds downright dangerous! To avoid chaos, a couple dances with other couples in the ronda. They enter the ronda with care, the leader navigates, they move in harmony with the music, and both dancers contain their movements out of consideration for those around them. How else would it be possible for everyone on the dance-floor to enjoy themselves - without distraction and without fear of injury? When these competing demands are managed well, the ronda is blissfully harmonious. And being a part of that can feel almost magical.

Other 'contradictions' come to mind, such as:
  • the benefits of disciplined technique, in order to improvise spontaneously 
  • how a good 'leader' actually follows the 'follower'
Perhaps you can think of others ...

It seems to me that the resolution of these competing demands has actually created (rather than limited) the possibility of rich experiences for dancers. Perhaps, this could in part, explain the deep attraction of social tango.


By the way, I've been reading Jordan Peterson's thoughts on Life, and reckon that what he has to say about finding a balance between chaos and order is relevant to these ' Creative contradictions' in tango. I particularly like his example of surfing in Hawaiian culture: "When a surfer mastered a wave, he was physically embodying the balance between order and chaos".
Does the relevance to social tango seem a bit far-fetched? I'm not so sure.

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