Why would a person choose to dance tango rather than one of the other great partner dances? Tango is different from all other dances in that tango is a dance of Musicality, Improvisation and Connection. While other dances are done to be seen, and thus have beautiful figures and postures, tango is done for the feeling of connection between partners; as a viewer you don’t see much, but your partner feels much more than in other dances. Of the many partner dances, Tango seems to have become a favorite of many dancers, ever since it spread worldwide a century ago. Tango is danced “everywhere” but its home is Buenos Aires, where it is danced every day in hundreds of milongas. Although we see ballroom tango, and DWTS Argentine tango, and many other types of tango, I am talking here only of this Buenos Aires version (we who dance this version may just call it “tango” because we try to ignore other versions of tango).
Tango, in its original form, is an improvisational dance, based on the complex rhythms of tango music. Improvisation requires a connection between partners not available in other dances. To be sure, there are many variations of tango, which often don’t have the qualities of this original, but I’m referring to this original, as danced by people who grew up in Buenos Aires, and have danced tango every day for many years. These same dancers often dance performance versions or legacy versions of tango, but when they dance their best, with their favorite partner, they do the real tango.
Both the tango moves, and the rhythms, are improvised step by step. Rather than memorize figures or sequences, as in other partner dances, the partners create the dance in the moment; each partner follows the other, and choreographs the next step based on where they are. Both partners choreograph both the moves and rhythms, to fit their interpretation of the moods, accents, notes and rhythmic nuances of the music; in doing this together, they establish a most intimate connection. This connection is subtle – not often visible to watchers, but felt by partners.
Tango is sometimes thought to be erotic, or sexual, but it is only the intense connection of jointly creating of a work of art which makes it seem that way. Tango dancers in Buenos Aires generally do not think of sex while dancing, unlike American dancers.
Ballroom dancers may have difficulty learning tango. Memorizing figures is quite different from learning to hear the rhythms in the music and improvising to them. One must release their dependence on knowing what is coming next, on knowing a pattern that will work for sure, and on knowing that their partner will do what is expected. Ultimately, tango dancers learn to release thinking and planning, and even questioning whether they just made a mistake – tango is danced best with no thinking.
Our left hemisphere of our brain does the thinking, planning, memorizing, criticizing, evaluating – all the “thinking” processes. Our right hemisphere handles “being with” and “being one with” processes – our intimate connection with the people and world around us. Tango is danced best in the right brain. It may access the subconscious being part of us that Buddhist monks and mystics seek for a lifetime.
Learning tango is more about learning to hear the music and to release inhibitions to improvising than it is about learning sequences or figures. Tango taps into the “Dance Like no one is Watching” urges we may get. It goes against the grain of the “Looking Good While Dancing” urges we also sometimes get.