Tango Acceptance

I recently attended a weekend tango workshop given at Tango UK in Bramshaw by the wonderful husband and wife team, Daniela Pucci and Luis Bianchi. I do believe it was the best workshop I have attended in the 4 years of tango training I have been doing, concentrating as it did on the internal aspects of the dance – making explicit the actual muscles that were doing the work – thanks to Luis’ background as a massage therapist.

However the reason for this missive is that I am going to reblog a posting by Daniela that is so very much in line with my own feelings about dance. [Many thanks to Daniela for giving me permission to do so] I believe this alignment of feelings is no accident as Daniela also has a technical background and is one of those few perceptive enough to see its flaws.

Daniela’s story is very interesting and relevant to my interests in issues related to science and art. She was a Mechanical Engineering professor at MIT and gave it up to teach tango full-time! In this post she talks about technique and aesthetics and how such an improvisational dance as tango relates all these as well as including the acceptance of the flawed human beings that we are – something that our culture has tried to forget with its pursuit of certainty and the ‘perfect’.

But I shall let her own words speak for her:

“Connection is one of the wonders of Argentine tango, perhaps its reason for existence. Daily life often presents us with situations where the limitations of verbal language lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings; where we are confronted with suffering that makes us feel completely lonely; where our individual paths at times seem so impossibly narrow that we are forced to go through certain stretches completely alone. In the midst of it all there comes Argentine tango, offering relief from the chasm that separates “me” from “you.” It’s intoxicating, really: unexpectedly, we happen upon an instance when the shared experience of dancing seems to take us as a whole, all problems and existential angst be dammed: all of a sudden the movement of one body seamlessly fits with the movement of another, the musical intuitions and emotions of both dancers so attuned that for the duration of at least that one tango, we seem to become a blissful single entity. I’d venture to say that, for a lot of us, the possibility of stepping into such perfect communion is what keeps bringing us back for another milonga, another festival, another trip to Buenos Aires.

Some seem to equate connection with a certain external form, or aesthetics. A few months ago a relatively new dancer told me he danced exclusively salon because of the connection he found there. In a class once, a student asked me how he could do a certain turn without breaking the connection — I soon realized that, for him, connection meant maintaining his partner’s and his stomachs in permanent contact. Most recently, someone else told me he had objected to the hiring of my partner and me to a certain festival because in past performances we often opened the embrace, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed the connection displayed in our close-embrace performance during that event.

I will not deny that, observed from the outside, different aesthetics definitely inspire different feelings in the spectator. However, my experience is that aesthetics have very little to do with the actual experience of the dancers.

I have danced with milongueros who dug his fingers into my ribs and twisted my right hand. I have danced with milongueros who led me with such gentleness that I could not pinpoint exactly where the lead was coming from other than that it was a pleasurable wave, sending me into tango bliss.

I have danced with salon dancers who had so little sense of timing that they often sent me bouncing against the edges of their stiff embrace. I have danced with salon dancers whose complete control of their body, subtle musicality and yielding, sensitive embrace filled me with awe, sending me into tango bliss.

And probably for the most maligned style of all, I have danced with nuevo dancers who fit all of the bad stereotypes, throwing me around into steps that seemed randomly selected with no relationship to the music and no regard to the constraints of the space, putting me in a permanent alert mode to avoid hitting other dancers. But I have also danced with nuevo dancers who adjusted the amplitude of their movements as dictated by the crowdedness of the milonga so that I never for a moment had to worry, and used the elasticity inherent to that style in open or close embrace to create delightful, dynamic musical interpretations… sending me into tango bliss.

The common point among these delightful dancers across all styles is that they had good technique: good control of their own movement and good understanding of their partner’s movement, so that the lead was gentle and yet clear and precise, consistent with the music and with the space available around us.

Aesthetics is not the same as technique. Good aesthetics will make a dance pleasant to watch. Good technique will make a dance pleasant to dance.

Technique is a wonderful thing: it frees us from concerns of how to do something so that we can fully immerse ourselves in the experience of doing, effortlessly.

And yet, technique is not the same as connection.

I want to elaborate on this but decided to give the sentence above its very own paragraph, hoping to drive this point home: technique is no substitute for connection. Technique is a servant to connection, a means to an end. Technique is a supporting actor, connection is the main actor. I could go on paraphrasing myself and I am sure in some way what I am saying is nothing new, we know this to some degree, but do we — myself included — really know it? And do we act consistently with this knowledge?

Where is our focus as we try to improve as dancers, as we think of a dancing ideal, as we select dancing partners in the milonga, as we go through each tanda?

Several years ago a well-known, top couple was visiting New York. To my surprise, at one of the milongas the leader invited me to dance. It was a fun tanda: he was obviously highly skilled and had a vibrant musicality. But what I remember the most is his dismissive attitude when the tanda ended: he did not even look at me as we thanked each other and parted ways.

Not too long ago I danced with a gentleman who was not as skilled or as musical. He held me with incredible gentleness and made me feel like a treasure. I was overcome by great emotion as we danced in the simplest of ways. That we were dancers dancing Argentine tango was completely irrelevant during those ten minutes: we were two human beings, reaching out from the isolation of our individual paths but for a brief moment, filled with appreciation for the privilege of holding one another.

What do you wish for in your path as a dancer, social or otherwise?

What I wish for is that in each dance — performances included — I may have the courage to present myself with complete authenticity, a flawed human being before another flawed human being, feeling safe in the certainty that I will be fully accepted for who I am. I wish that my partner will allow me to see him in his emotional nakedness, reassured that I will embrace him in his totality. In that moment of exquisite vulnerability when we take each other in the arms, we will make a pact to share our emotions for the next ten minutes. All sincere expression that arises from our encounter will be not only acceptable but, in fact, perfect. We may giggle lightheartedly, inspired by a silly melody and because we are feeling so good to be here right now, all problems left at the entrance of the milonga; we may join each other in a focused physical experience, delighting in the sensory feast of movement and music; we may just be still together, nursing a raw pain that feels too heavy to carry it alone and that doesn’t lend itself to expansive movement, but that feels a bit lighter in the sacred space of the embrace.

This is what I ask from each dance: that you come to me in a spirit of openness and acceptance, and I come to you in the same spirit, and we agree to make the most of our time together. As we share of ourselves generously, we will connect. I won’t require anything more, but won’t accept anything less.”

By Daniela Pucci Original date: 13-Sep-2012
Original found at the Tango Secrets website.

Thank you Daniela – I could not have said it better myself.

I would suggest looking at her interview on youtube:

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