Hamilton's Tango: Creative Duos are the Real Genius

Geniuses, lower your voices. Because you are part of a myth that is about to be exploded. The fact is that you're a fiction.

Yes, that's right, you don't exist. And Joshua Wolf Shenk will prove it to you if you read his epic book, "Powers of Two," wherein he calmly, methodically, poetically decimates the “the myth of the lone genius" and replaces it with the world of the duet. “The pair is the primary creative unit,” he says, and goes on to give a million beautiful and scary examples of how creativity is a game that flows between two minds and never just one. Even if we thought it was just one. It was actually two.

Genius is a dance: Hamilton and Washington, Miranda and Kail

You've heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda, perhaps? See, he's a certified genius, as I’ve told plenty of people quite emphatically. (“He’s a...a...a... genius” I told my sister. “Mitra, are you blushing?” she asked.)

But see, you can tell he's already so onto the revolution. If you open the internet and watch an interview, peek around Twitter or poke around the Hamiltome, you can't miss that actually the genius is, at least in part, Lin-And-Tommy -- Tommy Kail, his longtime creative partner, who directed Hamilton and In The Heights. As Lin's Tony Award acceptance poem points out: "This envelope says Lin, but it's not entirely Lin's / Cause when you work with Tommy Kail, the best idea wins..."

And as I was pondering this, and reading Ron Chernow's epic Hamilton biography, and seeing the big golden star Hamilton logo everywhere I looked when I opened my laptop (a fan will just never be #satisfied) I started to also realize that, for all his genius, the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R wasn't the genius either. It was, in a big way, Alexander-And-Washington. And a lot of the awesomesauce that happened circa 1776 came out of how the personality of their partnership pulled the best of each of them into its genius.

See, people like Alexander, like Lin, are maybe extraordinarily creative not because they are geniuses but because they are willing to dive in and tango with another person, many different kinds of other people and let something emerge.

For sure, stumbling into a genius-grade partnership is probably way more likely when you're a person who's just always, relentlessly, omnidirectionally, lovingly, loyally, pairing up to create. That's how you earn those hyphens -- by finding them, making them, everywhere. Alexander-And-Laurens. Alexander-And-Madison -- for awhile. Alexander-And-Angelica. Alexander-And-Eliza. Lin-And-Vanessa. Lin-And-Alex. Lin-And-Andy. Lin-And-Chris. Today, Lin-And-JLo. 

And maybe we could all tap our genius potential by stopping trying to be geniuses all by ourselves and actually daring to duet, to dance a tango or two. 

Daring to dance a Tango...for real?

Tango? Huh? Yes. Literally. To dance a tango. Since starting a tango school (well, I didn't really start it, it was Mitra-And-Stefan), I have definitely noticed that people who are up for dancing social, improvised Argentine tango are really opening up to the powers of two:

  • They are willing to dare to be partners. This takes such guts, whether it's with a friend or a spouse or a stranger.

  • They are willing to stay calm and persist through the long and awkward stages of risking and failing to connect...

  • And most importantly they are willing to keep on practicing and improving their skills to become better and better at partnering.

In school, most of us never learn even the basics of connecting and creating with a partner. I definitely didn't, and I got what some might consider one of the best educations that could be bought here on planet Earth! With the exception of occasional moments doing extracurricular theater, my creativity mostly was stuck inside of my journal, which was a very stultifying place for it to be.

Enter tango, which suddenly involved me in a whole mess of beautiful pairings that have blossomed in all kinds of creations - dance-creations, yes, but also events of all kinds, inventions, games, all kinds of writing, courses I offer, even a business that supports me! And the skills of improvised partnering I have learned and continue learning from tango have infused how I interact with every single person in my life, even my relationships within my family. Like, right now my mom and I are working on a children's book together. 

I've seen tango unlock people's creativity completely, and the whole community benefits. But underlying all the new performances, events, businesses, career-changes, and, yes, babies that spring up in the creative wake of tango pairings, is the gradual acquisition of a deep set of partnering skills that allows more creativity to flow everywhere - at home, at work, all the time.

The Hamiltango Genius Award

How about Tony awards for creative duos? MacArthur Genius grants to pairs? TED, how about creative pairs of people speaking together, how about that red bubble carpet being a double-bubble? True, creative pairs usually have one front man - maybe the non-front man could still be up there, just in the non-front.

Improvising with a partner can definitely be hard, irritating, confusing. Is it worth it? No doubt. Absolutely none. I bet that if you want to be more creative or more of a genius, to revolutionize government or Broadway or even your own life, learning how to improvise with a vast huge range of partners would help.

Maybe YOU (AND your partner) will be the one receiving the first MacArthur Genius-Duo Award. And you could dance a tango to celebrate.

P.S. Just for Hamilton Fans: Ten tango things you need to know...

Where do you learn to tango? The answer is: in a million partners' arms. But you can't just wait for it. You have to write your own deliverance. Here are a few things that you might want to know as you get started...

  1. A Tango lasts 2 minutes, maybe three minutes - three minutes in total agreement
  2. It’s improvised, a very vivid sort of freestyle love supreme
  3. It's like comma flirting but even cooler. It’s cool to never know if they actually got it or not. But it’s even cooler to dance it all out in a really good tango. 
  4. The music, it’s inexplicable, soul-tattering, a freight train of love, made at a time when the world was mostly manufacturing hate. In the heights of the tradition there's a tango called "Carnaval De Mi Barrio," recorded by Orquesta Típica Edgardo Donato in 1939 
  5. Tango definitely resists being captured in the fullness of its glory, its story on a stage, but I can think of someone who might could do it
  6. There is a lot of it going on, nonstop, all the time right there in the greatest city in the world (and all the other ones too)
  7. Tomorrow there'll be more of us...

Tomorrow is for the story of tango. The story of how you, Lin, and all the others showed me who I needed to embrace for the next stanza of my shot. How my shot was really your shot too. It's the story of, say, tweeting to someone for the first time -- pardon me, sir -- how strange it felt but also how right, how good it was to get used to that, to learn how such little words can move much big hearts. We went with the strangeness and realized it was beautiful. We improvised. That's the core of all this, the story of our times.  

In the meantime, tonight, how many hyphens can we earn, and what is in store for our audiences, our countries, yea, the multiverse itself if every single human here becomes happily hyphenated? Raise a glass - may every orphan immigrant, every alone person find the thing we all only need: Love.


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.

A child asks us to remember

My nephew turned one this summer and his parents threw a powerful luau to celebrate. I was entranced by the hula dancers - the mood, the intricacy of their innocence.

Remembering a healing hula danced by Sughanda Ferro Black at the end of a Tango teacher training program on Maui some years ago, I asked her for Hawaiian music suggestions. Among the sweet parcel of songs she recommended was Blaine Kamalani Kia’s gorgeous chant Kamali’i O Ka Po.

A Tango improvisation to this Hawaiian chant: 

Photo by Ahmed Tlamid. Presented at the 10th San Diego Tango Festival on Friday, January 1st, 2016. Video by Scott Haller.

In this chant, a child asks her brother if he remembers how he fits into the bigger picture. “You are holding the fish’s belly - but where is its head? Where is its tail? Where do you come from? Where will you go?” 

Those questions spoke to the dark child within me. It is so easy to dissect away that bigger picture, when we find ourselves in a hard or hungry place. With effort we did make it through our darkness: a dark year, and we even struggled through a dark moment right before dancing this hymn. “Where will you go?” No place but here, just deeper. 

I share this with the hope that we each might feel joyfully connected to the deep intelligence of the larger, longer cycles of life - that we feel ourselves peacefully at home within the vastest of views.

May we all shine together
May all needs be met

Improvising to Pugliese on a windy night

If you've been following this blog you might be aware that our opinion is that we've sucked for many years. In this performance, though, we both agree that we don't suck. :) We felt present with each other and with the music and able to let unexpected things come through. We didn't even know exactly which song we'd dance to - we gave DJ Varo five Pugliese pieces to choose from, and he selected...Emancipacion! 

This performance happened because our friend Ilona Glinarsky of Living Tango invited us to perform at a milonga held in honor of the wedding of our friend Naomi Hotta to Sergio Higashiyoshihama. She invited us just a couple days before the event, saying that we represent a beautiful union whose partnership would be in keeping with the spirit of the event. We were so happy to be able to make this gift to the couple. 

I am finally wearing the dress created by Rina Gelderman of Atelier Vertex! Thanks Rina! With many thanks also to Robert Le for taking this video. 

How To Create A Partner: Ten Ideas

Sixth Article in It Takes One to Tango Series

“I’d like to, but I don’t have a partner.”

I have heard this sentence so many times and I would like to tell everyone the following:

“If you don’t have a partner, create a partner.” 

Here are some things you can do in Tango to create a partner:

  1. Learn the other role. Now you have twice as many potential partners.
  2. Buy some sticks and practice with them, at home or at practica. Imagining a partner is the first step to creating them.
  3. Help a beginner- or anyone you think is “not as good as you” in Tango. Practice with them. Put some real good quality energy into it - try to understand them, help them, visualize them improving. Now you have a partner.
  4. Invent a project that requires two people for it to be accomplished. For instance, let’s say you want to reconstruct 30 seconds of a performance you like on YouTube. Or, you want to take a particular workshop with someone. It is far easier to find a partner when you have a specific thing you want that partner to do with you.
  5. Talk to people who have partners and ask them how they established their partnership and what specific things they do to sustain its creative momentum.  
  6. Whose dancing do you admire? Ask them what kind of music they like, and which videos they watch. Then listen to that music, and watch those videos. Studying Tango in detail gets you closer to the wavelength of people who work regularly with partners.
  7. Practice on your own! This creates a powerful intention.
  8. Try to find TWO or three partners instead of just one partner. Paradoxically, this might make it easier to find a partner.
  9. Spend time socially in groups eating and drinking before or after Tango events. It is easier to find out who will be a synchronous partner, when you know them in a variety of contexts. Stick around til the end of the Practica, and join the group of people going out to eat, or say, “Hey, anyone want to go grab a bite with me?”
  10. Be around as much as possible. Just being around allows people to learn about each other, and ideas for creative partnership to develop.  

There is so much love and creativity out there, and so many people who want to be part of exploring it together with you. Let's get over our little shynesses and get into the real problems and adventures of creating together. Love, Mitra