Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Foundation of Pleasure

The why of the embrace, the music, the movement: Dance survival

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” 
Viktor E. Frankl,  Auschwitz survivor and psychotherapist

Dance and pleasure.  The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of dance is pure pleasure.  

However the foundation of pleasure in dance is Meaning. This thesis is highly influenced by Viktor Frankl. He was an medical doctor, neurologist and psychiatrist. As an MD for his fellow Auschwitz prisoners, he later went on to continue the great traditions of two other Viennese psychotherapy thinkers right before him, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Other important thinkers who have laid the basis of modern psychological theory still remain in their theories far more accepted.  (And that is why many dancers will immediately, say "bullshit!" to the idea that meaning is the foundation of dance passion and pleasure, of self-actualization and empowerment.)  But Victor Frankl's view was tested in the death camps on what survival is all about, including the survival of pleasure and happiness.  We ought to listen to his insights!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do you dance to compete?

When someone finds out that I love to dance, they nearly always ask, "Do you compete?" I am sure that I am not alone.  How about you? My answer is an overly passionate "No! I dance out of pure joy. I've already won." Isn't it a shame that dance--one of the few biological markers of our essential humanity--is perceived as being a spectator sport?  A dancing-with-the-elite-stars spectacle? Something to sit down and watch? Something to be judged by experts?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tango and Cardiac Coherence

Is your tango "coherent"?
"Cardiac Coherence" is a term you will start hearing regularly. From this new area of study, we will start hearing more about activities that bring one's nervous system into alignment with one's breathing and heart rhythms.  Types of meditation and any mindfulness practice will be studied for the positive effects they achieve.  Not all mindfulness practices are equal, and now we can measure them.  Close embrace, mindful tango is not even being studied.  But it will be.  Trust me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Tango Etiquette

Beginners need to know a few things that hopefully are already clear to others, but if you are a beginner, just as in life, the "grown ups" may not follow a culture's etiquette out of ignorance or their belief that the customs of the general population do not apply to them.  Argentine tango culture has a lot of wisdom to it, and helps you to have more fun.  So please learn some basics.  I have danced for many years in Europe, and I can say that tango etiquette not only works but is required in much of Europe and of course in Argentina.  Let's start with the an essential element which is NOT in the ballroom or Latin dance community . . . .

The Cabeceo literally means "a nod of the head" (head = cabeza) which in tango means "let's dance."  It is erroneously believed that only men initiate the cabeceo to get a dance.  Smart women have been getting what they want with their eyes, a smile and a nod from the beginning of time.  Nothing changed in Argentina or in tango.  Attempt to avoid asking for a dance with words; the cabeceo will keep you out of trouble.  I don't expect you to believe me, but now I have told you so.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tango and Developmental Psychology

Whatever behavior or cognitive skill developmental psychologists study, only one human behavior does not quite fit into their model.  That one thing is dance.

Developmental psychology started out as the science of understanding how infants and the very young develop.  Now, however, developmental psychology has expanded to study how we keep growing, developing over the course of our entire lifetime.  I think that tango dancers would benefit with a scientific look of the developmental course of dancers. For example, I would like to know why one tango dancer's passion goes on for a lifetime and another dancer's intense passion fizzles out in just a few months or years. But whatever developmental psychologists might find, they would have to grapple with the unique nature of dance.

Dance, unlike other behaviors for the majority of adults, requires a retrograde step back into our childhood. Wouldn't it be wonderful for a person who says they cannot dance to see a film of themselves as they respond spontaneously to music for the very first time as a child? Today's parents are recording these moments on the smart phones, but the majority of the planet have not seen this moment. Wouldn't it be great if we could see our unabashed joy or a sudden level of body/mind skill appear? Other constantly developing skills, such as speaking, skills in logic, social skills, gross and fine motor skills--any other life skills--do not required a return to childhood to go on with the development of that skill.  Dance often does. Unfortunately this return to childhood is required because in many cultures dance is abandoned as children grow up and adults lose all belief in themselves as dancers.  But so what?  What is lost if we give up dance in our later childhood?  The majority of development psychologists will ask this question with the assumption that dance is not an essential skill, like speaking, walking and logical reasoning. So . . .  is this a fair question?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Science of the Embrace

Social tango is a dance of touch. Social tango dancers need no visual cues. A recent research article on touch has made me rethink tango. There are a few things that I now realize. First, I realize (the obvious) that the tango embrace communicates emotion far more than most of us realize. And secondly, I am intrigued with how the researchers called the person touched the "decoder" and the one who touches, "the encoder."

Many dances seem clearly dance-dyads of "encoders" and "decoders" (leaders and followers), but if social tango is truly a dance of touch, lacking visual clues, then perhaps tango is NOT a dance of encoders and decoders. In tango we touch and are touched. Much research has been dedicated to voices and facial expressions to convey emotion. The "voice" of emotion is the music in music-centric improvisational dances like tango and west coast swing. There is no speaker/listener, leader/follower or encoder/decoder in touch. Touch is egalitarian. So perhaps I overstate that tango is a dance of touch, but if I am right, then we should pay more attention to how we truly communicate (both encode and decode) through touch.

I have the summary of the research below.  The scientists found that strangers merely touching a person on the arm can accurately convey complex emotions--even with no visual clues.*

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Endogenous or Exogenous Tango?

Chicho Frumboli and Roxana Suarez
Sybille, my wife, and I had this discussion at dinner on our balcony about a Parisian film maker, Roberto, whom we know.  Roberto has worked meticulously to put together the feeling of tango in  many short films of dancers at European encuentros.  He also films at some tango festivals, which unlike the smaller events, includes star performances and visually appealing moves of many of people which attend these events. Films of stars dancing may take only a few hours of editing to produce.  Roberto's preferred theme is filming about endogenous tango--the internal feeling of tango, his passion. He has a talent for showing how people share​ those hard-to-catch elements that surround tango beyond just the dance, beyond the flashy moves. He captures the embrace, smiles, requests to dance without words.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The 4 Ways of Saying "I love tango"

This is part II on the four distinct ways of saying "I love you" in Ancient Greek.

If the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning had danced tango, this perhaps would be the way she would have started off her famous poem:

Tango partners ...
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

The poem, given in full below, tells of a love that is deeply diverse.  Had Elizabeth Barrett Browning written her poem in Ancient Greek, surely she would have used four different words for "to love." 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tango and Platonic Eros

Do you have enough Éros in your tango?

How about ágápē, philía, and storgē-love?

The Ancient Greeks,
 who had more distinct ways of speaking about "love," would find it incomprehensible if they had to learn English, French or Spanish.  They surely would be perplexed how we use "to love" or "aimer" or "querer" as verbs for many different things:  "to like," "to bond to," "to lust for," "to want," or "to love."  I think the inhabitants of ancient Greece would demand more exactitude for language.  "I love you," "je t'aime" and "te quiero" all need a big dose of context.  In what context do you love tango?  Let's use the language of some of the greatest philosophers of all time to talk about our Philosophy of Dance (PhD)!  In Ancient Greek we can experience four distinct ways for loving our tango and the people with whom we dance by using the words: éros, ágápē, philía, and storgē.  What is your strongest expression for the love of and your love in tango?