We Are Tango

When I interviewed Pablo Veron at an event Emily Ortiz-Gorcie and I produced at Oxygen in 2010 he acknowledged that milongas have a certain "density and complexity;" that Tango as an art form has "a certain irrationality" and yet that with perseverance and a commitment to originality, anybody of any background can become great dancer. "Tango isn't somewhere out there - Tango is the dancers who dance it."

I was reminded of the empowering words of hip hop artist Mos Def in his powerful song Fear Not of Man:

People are asking me all the time, 'Mos, where do you think hip-hop is going?' People talk about hip-hop like it's some giant living in the hillside, coming down to visit the townspeople. 

We ARE hip-hop. Hip-hop is going where we are going. So the next time you ask yourself where hip-hop is going, ask yourself 'Where am I going? How am I doing?' Then you get a clear idea.

Similarly, our own way of engaging with Tango is a window on Tango's future.

The only icky thing is halfheartedness

There is this yucky, icky feeling that starts to pervade things when a person thinks that someone else is in charge. What creeps in is halfheartedness - a sort of sad, weary, fatigued mood of judgement and irritability.

No “one” else is in charge. But sometimes our speech and actions suggest that someone is. When we ask these sad, irritable questions that suggest a weird fringe of passivity. “Why can't I get a dance around here?" “Why is Tango so sexist?” “Why is there so much prejudice against Tango teachers who aren't from Argentina?”

Those strange and hard questions - although they that can distract us with frustration and fury - are so incredibly valuable: they are pointers to our unmet needs, they are guides to inspire us to change our world until our needs can be met.

We are each in our own ways making the tender switch away from being outraged or saddened cogs in a factory wheel - into being the hip and focused awesomesauce programmer of our own lives. We were stuck medieval fiefdoms, assembly lines and later corporations for hundreds of years. We are starting to realize that we were the ones who were making those factory wheels, we can make something different.

Really committing to change means rediscovering we're all connected

When we let go of our fury that things are not they way we want them, we decide we want change and we start working for it, we start to discover that everything is hooked to everything else. We rediscover interdependence.

And interdependence is so deep. It is so deep that it dips into love for all - a daily internal and external way of taking ownership, truly believing in possibility, acting on this belief, and thus expressing love for your whole practice community.

For this to work we can't just work solo, we need to “consciously participate in the creation and evolution of holistic systems that foster general well-being.” I find value in this rubric by the NVC Academy outlining four progressive levels of interdependent being:

  • Unskilled: Rebels against or submits to structures; uses organizational structures to assert one's power or feels helpless in relationship to organizational rules. For example, "I hate cabeceo. Nobody asks me to dance. I hate Tango."
  • Awakening: Limited view, overwhelm, and/or hopelessness about effecting change toward systems that value the needs of those affected. For instance, "I tried to create a really nice milonga where everyone would feel welcome but nobody helped me and not enough people came."
  • Capable: Aware of potential for systems to be organized around universally valued needs; willingness to contribute to general well-being, with growing creativity. "If we could come up with a better system for welcoming beginners and helping them feel more comfortable, maybe Tango would grow in a nicer way."
  • Integrated: Engaging in creating and improving systems with the intention of contributing to general well-being with openness to feedback. "I am excited about the training program you started - it's pretty ambitious! What did you think of the idea I emailed you last week about changing the way we introduce the concept of roles?"

We all affect each other and as we know from Tango following only works when the follower has power and initiative, flow and delight, trust and joy. What structures are you following? What systems are you a member of? To what extent do you see yourself as a victim of your government, school, company or organization...vs. a creator, a contributor? Are you afraid of putting more in? Are you trying to calculate whether you’ll get enough out of it to make it worth the time you’re willing to put in?  What are you saving up for? There’s no places else to go and we’re all in this together here on Spaceship Earth. And every day and every moment works to the extent that we are wholehearted.

Tango is you. Where are you going? 

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Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.

Money can't buy me Tango: Community is a Life-Form that Resists Normal Price Setting

When was the last time you experienced deep human connection?

How much was it worth to you?

You can't buy connection

Our soul resists that question because it knows that love - the love between friends and partners, the love found within a community - is so natural, is our birthright, and should be freely accessible as the air we breathe.

You can't buy a tanda - or a partner - or a friend. All you can do is cultivate a life-circumstance - an intent, an attitude, an energy, a set of habits - that makes it easier for these experiences to be in your life.

Each individual's experience of community is unique

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A community is a life-form that resists traditional business categorization and business practice. In "normal" businesses, it's easy to define exactly what is being offered, and for people to agree on what it's worth in a concrete measurement like money.

But your experience of community last night was probably totally different from the person who walked in right after you. And different from what it was a month ago, and what it will be next year.

The value for you may come from the challenges you experience as much as from the moments of ease and effortlessness. From the moments of delight as from the opportunities to forgive. Or maybe from having, for the first time, a chance to serve, to be helpful, to further something you find beautiful. Your treasure may be the friends you meet who become part of your life even as you both move away from Tango or deeper into it or to another city. Or maybe it was just overhearing a conversation about a book that you go out and buy that changes your life. Or maybe you never find anything of value to you - that can happen too.

How much are those things worth? The question doesn't make sense. It's not the right question.

The question is, do you want it to continue? Do you want it to grow?

Choosing to give your creative energy to what you value

If you do want it to grow, then, what kind of energy do you choose to put into it? Financial energy, emotional energy, intellectual energy, musical energy, delicious snack energy, artistic photographic energy, code monkey energy, teaching energy - what is your choice, your contribution - your gift, your donation? What do you need to receive for that contribution to be sustainable for you? 

These are some of the reasons why Oxygen Tango has become a donation-based Tango community. We hope you will support our schedule of group classes and practicas that provide more than 50 hours per month when people can gather to explore the possibilities of connection.

Ways That Women Help Women In Tango

“Strong women help other women.” - Brigitta Winkler
With Brigitta Winkler, who sets an inspiring standard for me as a strong, powerful, loving woman in tango

With Brigitta Winkler, who sets an inspiring standard for me as a strong, powerful, loving woman in tango

When I started learning Tango I was shy and really scared of everyone. And I didn’t think it was safe to talk with women about my relationships or feelings about men. I felt like I was competing with every other woman for a scarce resource - men.

Where I started learning to Tango, women danced only with men. Women followed, men led. Since I love dancing with men, and since I love following, I was happy and didn’t feel like I was missing anything.  

If I had had more real, true, mutually caring bonds with fellow Tango women earlier I probably would have been safer overall in my early vulnerable years, and made some better decisions. As a community builder today, I want to contribute to a culture that supports safe, strong, creative women and powerful sisterhood.

How my experience of tango sisterhood emerged

Slowly, through socializing and lots of creative projects with other women in the community,  I started to discover how much loving, caring attunement, hilarity and fun there can be in women's friendships. How worthy of trust these women were.

It was probably eight years of obsessive Tangoing before I ever danced with a woman. I remember hours of laughter, perplexity and joy with my first girl practice partner as we both helped each other learn to lead.

I sincerely hope that women in Tango find and support each other, commit to care for each other and to developing and strengthening the deep strong bonds that are the bedrock of connection, on and off the dance floor.

Here are some very supporting forms of women-to-women love we can extend to our tango sisters

  • Plan something together

Planning a little outing is a very wonderful way to begin to explore friendship and share great conversation! There are so many adorable cupcake spots, ice creameries, or happy-hours - all it takes is an idea and an invitation.  

  • Give a little gift

I used to freak out a little every time I'd go to a festival. Mostly it was because I was scared of what would happen with the boys. Once I decided to just focus on the women at the festival, and I actually brought little tiny gifts for each of the women I like who I knew would be there. I had a great time ! 

  • Open up, share and listen

Sharing has to start somewhere. If you want to create a trusting space, you can invite that by sharing about your own personal struggles - and triumphs - in the Tango world. Ask them how their Tango is going. It's very important to be sure your friends know when you want them to "keep it under your hat" - as one of my girlfriends says. 

  • Be there when times are tough

Just having those 1 or 2 or 3 or more friends who you can reach out to - call or text or chat - when things feel really hard...this is an immense gift. Treasure these friends, and be there for them when they need you too, being able to contribute to their lives is part of the gift. 

  • Help your girlfriends find the tandas they seek

This is how we become sisters in crime...by knowing who our Tango sisters looove to dance with and with exquisite subtlety helping those dances to happen. Exquisite. Subtlety. 

  • Practice together, dance together, perform together

It might go without saying but an awesome way to explore/deepen/cement/extend women friendships is through DANCING ! 

  • Commit to non-disposable friendships

Change is always happening, and Tango cycles of popularity are constantly cycling around. For me what feels great is to commit to non-disposable friendships. Friendships you keep investing positive energy and thought and time into, that you intend to cultivate and nourish through both of your lives. How many friendships do you have room for ?

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Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.

Tango, Sunlight, and American Culture! And 3 myths about late-night Tango

Photo by Patricia Bijvoet

Photo by Patricia Bijvoet

I have danced many beautiful hours of Tango between midnight and 3am.

Actually, the local who gave me the address of La Viruta, where I went for my first-ever Tango experience in Buenos Aires, said conspiratorially as he passed the slip of paper, “Don’t go before midnight.”

On my second visit, and my third visit, I remember weeks of getting dressed at midnight, showing up to the evening’s first milonga at 1am, and then walking with everyone to the next milonga around 3:30am. It was a very special and unusual kind of experience!

Hm, but, I also remember freezing on my way home, and getting so sick that the rest of my trip was spent in bed. I remember a few creepy characters from those late nights at Tango. I remember being robbed.

I also remember the charming Estudio Dinzel, where there was daytime practice from 10am til 10pm. I think I felt the most connected there. There was a courtyard, a little garden, where people would sit and chat between bouts of dancing. One time a couple of dancers went out and bought a big jar of dulce de leche and warmed up some crepes, we all snacked and passed mate. I learned so much in those long, light, sensual days.

The Tango movement is taking flight in the U.S. and it will be interesting to see how its power becomes fully integrated into American culture - American culture with its daytime work ethic and bright early mornings. It would be natural if the early-evening and daytime dancing that are part of the Tango scene in Argentina become a bigger anchor of Tango socializing here in the States.

Dancing in daylight is beautiful and natural and relaxed and sexy. And as we as a culture transition to a healthier and more sustainable way of integrating Argentine Tango into our lives, we can be aware of the voices inside our heads that are holding on to a paradigm that may not fit our lives:

Tango dancers, do you find yourself believing any of these myths about late-night dancing?

Myth #1: “Being at milongas late at night is the only way to achieve coolness, status and influence.”

I guess I used to think this because of how mysterious and impenetrable the late-night milonga scene was to me. Over time it's just become like any other party scene, though. 

What I've learned is that in Tango, status is accrued over time, through sustained and committed practice, study and exploration; through caring devotion to the people in the community; through an unflagging impulse to connect and stay connected on many levels. All of this can be and has been achieved without being a night-owl.

Myth #2: “The good dancers are the ones who stay up all night."

Hmmmm. Sounds a bit black and white to me. Let's examine.  

Sometimes the most dedicated and experienced dancers do stay or arrive late - like, to La Viruta - because it can be more fun when the floor clears out a bit. But dancers who love Tango are generally pretty free and excited to dance, well, ALL the time, and that includes during the daytime, too.

Actually, probably they are practicing at home right NOW, and if they found out there was a rockin' milonga going on, they'd probably pick up and go out to it.  

I’ve definitely noticed that highly experienced and delightful dancers, whose dance is enchanting and has deepened over years of committed growth (combined with a set of stable life-practices that promote balance and creativity), also often really love to get a full night of sleep. 

Myth #3: "Dancing til 4 or 5am is the only way to be ‘authentically Argentine.’”

That’s not true. People dance at all hours of the day in Argentina.

Now, is there something romantic and mysterious about dancing deep into the night? Yeah! Is there something gorgeous about being awake when most other people aren’t, participating in something inexpressibly beautiful and enchanted? Totally! Does it need to be something you kill yourself to do several times a week to keep up and be part of things? I don’t think so.

There are some wonderful fun late-night events in Tango! Lovely to do them occasionally and really let it rip. But there’s no need to go around sleep deprived, drowsy as you speed alone down highways at 5am. No need to exhaust ourselves, get sick, get grumpy, end up doing worse quality work and stressing our relationships. Instead, we can find (or create!) beautiful daytime alternatives for weaving amazing tango experiences into our lives. (Ladies, check out Ariana Huffington’s wonderful Sleep Challenge, a worthy, transformative, and deeply sane idea!)

Let’s all be creative and unafraid, and seek to discover a truly healthy and even authentically American way of enjoying the gorgeousness of social Tango dancing that includes enough sleep, and more sunshine.  Dancers, let's demand/create/support/organize awesome daytime events! And let's all embrace the many different lifestyles that want to participate passionately in Tango, including those who sleep at night.