by Holly Darling
Eric Lindgren spent a few days with us in January after teaching workshops at the San Diego Tango Festival and at Caltech, and generously offered his perspective on the topic of Love and Tango. He compares Tango to the Dalai Lama, and says that just like the Dalai Lama knows how to make everyone around him feel good, we can all learn to do this through Tango. This is what Tango has taught him about taking responsibility for the good feelings of those around us, and for the physical and emotional balance of ourselves and those we dance with. Sounds like quite the lesson on love.
Before we get into the topic of love and tango, tell me what drew you to Tango initially?
I had a sense of liking it before I understood what it was. There's so much structural complexity, emotional depth, and opportunity for creativity and expression but I don't think most people understand that in an intellectual way when they begin; I certainly didn't. It's like how many relationships begin. You don't go down this list of pros and cons; instead you think, "I like how this feels and I want more of it in my life.” Only after we're more familiar do we understand why we were so captivated. That's how it was for me with tango.
What challenges do you face in Tango and what is it about Tango that keeps you here?
Tango is very greedy. It will challenge you to want to challenge yourself; it will take whatever you offer. If you just want to dance a couple hours every night, or if you want to do some sit-ups or take yoga or ballet classes, if you meditate, if you read a good book… It can all go into your dance. I have found that Tango is nuanced enough that I can relate almost anything to my understanding of it. That makes it hard to get bored.
When you have a connected Tango with someone, is that love ? How is it similar/different ?
My answer to the first part is “maybe.” Maybe I have a permissive definition of love. Love doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to marry the person or even sleep together. It has to do with your own state; you could just be feeling lonely and want to touch someone. I think love is a very flexible emotion. I think the bigger question is how you choose to act on whatever emotions you experience; if you both decide to rule it out as superficial, it becomes insignificant. It’s the same thing as having a great conversation on a bus, or a plane, and you think, “This feels great.” The real question is whether you pursue that experience or choose to let it go.
As a teacher of Tango, how do you suggest beginners/newcomers to Tango navigate the confusion they may experience -- feelings of love toward people they dance with?
I don’t know. I still get confused sometimes. I don’t think those feelings are false. I think a lot of what I found with Rebecca dancing was a valid representation of how we respond in the world and things that we have in common. Is it superficial to date someone just because you love talking to them? And just like when you talk to somebody, and you feel like you have a great connection, they may or may not feel the same. I guess I would say, “Navigate carefully.” When you connect with someone outside of tango you don’t just assume they want to date you; you go slowly; you feel out the situation. But it's really important to let yourself get emotionally carried away with the people you’re dancing with. I’m much more interested in dancing with a beginner who's emotionally accessible than with a technically strong dancer who's very guarded. I think it’s a shame to run away from the emotions we encounter in the dance. Explore. Investigate what you’re feeling. Otherwise, what's the point?
In Tango, we talk a lot about technique. Is technique part of love?
I think so. Whether we're aware of it or not we're constantly exhibiting behaviors and reacting in ways that shape how it feels to be around us. Learning how to maintain your axis or learning how to not get angry when somebody spills something on you, they're both kinds of technique. It's certainly not the whole story, but insofar as it shapes who we are, the techniques we learn about how to be in the world are definitely a part of love.
Is it possible to have a Tango partnership without love?
The question should be: “Is it possible to have a good Tango partnership without love?” I don't think so. You need to feel something strongly. Depending on how you want to define love – love can encompass a lot of states as lovers, close friends, family, but I don’t think you’ll have anything really interesting without some strong emotion between you.
What are the different kinds of relationships you can have with Tango friends and partners?
I think you can have all the relationships you normally have. I don’t think it’s so different. There’s a bias towards physical involvement because you’re mostly engaging with the opposite sex and there’s a lot of touch involved. I think there’s a lack of male camaraderie but I think that's largely due to gender imbalance. In the rare milongas where there've been extra men, I've gotten to sit around and talk to these guys that I never get a chance to talk to, and it turned into a much more social experience.
What comes to your mind when you hear the words love and tango together?
For me, what comes to mind first isn’t something so personal, but the Tango epic, nostalgic sadness, this poetic ideal of love, which is different from the real experience of waking up and eating breakfast together. Love in the music of tango is usually either the memory of love or the expectation of love, which is this sort of fantasy. Tango, or maybe art in general, doesn’t often deal with mundane love, like what it’s like to feed your cat every day, or watch the same TV show every Thursday with your wife of fifteen years. The lyrics usually celebrate an immature sort of love, like you saw a beautiful girl somewhere, and maybe your eyes met, and you're so heartbroken about the life you'll never have together, silliness. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of love and Tango, like love for the stage, the fantasy of love (like the word fantasia in Spanish which describes stage tango - Tango Fantasia).
When I first mentioned the idea of an interview on love and tango, the general response was… whoa… that’s quite a subject… opening a can of worms!!! Why does this the topic of love and tango engender this type of response?
You know, love in tango is sort of one of the central cliches of the genre. I can see how that would elicit groans. So many songs are odes to tortured love. That said, most people I know are really happy about the romantic experiences they’ve had in tango.
What are the challenges that you face as a teacher of tango who is expected to create community and be a role model? (i.e. be compassionate and loving toward all)?
Those are definitely challenges. I lean towards thinking that instructors should be treated more like everybody else. It's a good rule whether you teach or not to be kind and sociable to the people in your community. It's also really important that instructors feel they can go out and enjoy the dancing and the milonga for themselves. Often in communities that put a lot of pressure on their instructors to constantly dance with all of their students, the teachers get burnt out and are not excited to go out social dancing. That's a loss for the whole community in my opinion. Being an instructor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a community builder, and being a community builder doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a teacher.
How can tango teach us about love? Or what does tango teach us about love?
Tango has given me a very physical paradigm to experience and learn about the ways we all interact and affect each other. As subjective creatures we have our experience and it's easy to look no further. Your partner's right arm is heavy. That's that, you wish it weren't but it's her problem. That's where I think a lot of us start when we begin dancing. The more you learn in the dance the more you realize it's always more complex than that. Maybe you were leaning a little forward which made her lean back. She then felt unstable and had to grab with her arm to keep from falling. Even that's an over-simplification. Tango has helped me to see how this complex symbiosis exists in every personal interaction I have and to take responsibility for my role in that exchange (or at least try). The physical context of the dance has also given me a deeper respect a lot of new-agey truisms that I didn't appreciate much before. Like, "Be the change you want,” or “embrace positivity over negativity.” You really see how judgments and attitudes play out as you’re dancing with someone. If your partner is feeling critical towards you or frustrated or bored, you can feel that, and it never makes you dance better. You know, no one says, “I hung out with the Dalai Lama and now I feel like shit. He's just so much more enlightened than I am.” Being great is not about being better. If you're coming into a dance physically and emotionally balanced, it makes the people around you great, and it doesn’t trigger any of their crap. If you can manifest that in yourself even your least experienced partners can dance beautifully once you stop aggravating all of their potential problems. That's a process I've really grown to respect, inside and outside of the dance.
Anything else you want to add?
Just make me sound handsome.