Friday, March 31, 2017

No Cure for Dance Phobias

There in no cure for dance phobias except by dancing.  The fear of dancing (chorophobia) has no special pill, no easy therapy, no healing magic wand.  Why?  Because chorophobia is often not even seen as being a problem. How can you cure a problem when it is not even recognized as one?  So, in other words, chorophobia does not even get a chance to be cured.

But there is hope for a restoration of how you were once a dancer as a child.  Let's call it your child within, who freely and openly dances when music plays. It is only later that many people become afraid to dance--especially in public. Many will never get over their fears WITHOUT YOU, someone who loves them. This post is about how to help someone you love overcome their "chorophobia"--the avoidance or phobia of dance.

Phobias--of any type--are best understood as illogical avoidances. The worst phobias are avoidances of the very thing that is good for you and your own survival.

Prepare to say to yourself that I am overstating the importance of dance.


"Dance is connected to your own survival, and what a shame if you are avoiding it."

Overstatement, right?

I truly do not think so from many years of working with movement therapy and speaking with thousands of combat vets, traumatized by war.  The somatic reaction to music (called "dance") helps people resolve the unending parade of tragedies that we see in our lives--whether it is family members who die, losses in our love lives or simply watching world news reports. We need music and dance because we are uniquely aware of the past, present and future like no other animals are. We need to be reminded that there is beauty in the world, and dance helps the mind "resolve" the ever-growing data that leaves many older people bitter and cranky. Do you know bitter and cranky dancers?  If you do, try to imagine how miserable they would be without their dance therapy! Now then . . . do we agree that we, the thinking primates need this unique skill of psycho-trauma mitigation?  If you do agree, here's a new motto for you as one who loves to dance:

Do not let a friend go to their grave with a dance phobia!
Perhaps you cannot help your fear-filled friends or family. So I hope you will try once more.  Here are some talking points when you lovingly attempt to motivate them:
  • Music/dance/communication helps the thinking animal remain stable and well.  Look at the historical evidence:  The slaves and later oppressed generations of the Americas demonstrated the importance of music/dance/communication as a way to survive the psychological trauma they endured.  Would they have endured without music and dance?  Tango, Samba, Mambo, Jazz and Negro Spirituals all came out of the psychological trauma of slavery and oppression. Cumbia in Columbia is still danced with the ankles together--the way slaves danced with their ankles in shackles.
  • Movement (not just "exercise") is the main way animals maintain mental well-being.  Human beings are no different.  Observe a caged animal or person going wild in their cages. Movement and especially dance is more than a nice "mood enhancer"--movement is required to not go mad.
  • Psychological trauma is best treated with a combination of music, movement and higher levels of communication.  Talk therapy by itself is often futile. Trauma is all about fear; don't let the very thing that cures fear be seen as a mere hobby!
  • Somatic reactions to music (spontaneous movements) are natural in human beings (not animals) and are the first developmental indicators of our humanity.  This is why children dance without instruction; animals need instruction, and even then then are not good at dancing.  Returning to your childhood's ease with dance is returning to a primary marker of your humanity.
If you love someone who doesn't dance, help them re-find the child inside of them who once danced spontaneously when music played.  They need this for their own well-being.

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PS:  If you have a partner and you want to motivate them to dance, you might want to take that person to a relationship therapist and phobia specialist.  But if you do, make sure you have the therapist read this. Most therapists will see dance as a hobby; so how could they possibly help you?  Find someone who dances and understands.
Photo credit:  Seek a therapist for social phobias.  Here is an example.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sustainable Tango: The Facets of Well-Being

For many who dance tango--and I am one of them--tango is like visiting heaven.  But is it tango that makes people happy or something else?  I think we can agree on the answer when we really think about it:  Tango does not make us happy.  A life that juggles many different wellness elements will sustain tango (or any other positive behavior) over time.

Many great dancers stop dancing after attaining mastery. Tango ended up not being "sustainable." Why? Perhaps it is because tango is heaven but not a place. If one tries to make tango the center of one's heart, one never arrives.  This center of well-being is indeed our heart, but it must finds us, not we it.  Our heart will find us only if we stay still long enough to be found.

Whether it is money, love, or tango, many of us intellectually know that none of these will bring us happiness, but then we act as if money, love or tango will bring us happiness!  How can we measure where our heart is?  Easy: look at the time and energy and we invest in pursuing certain things we suppose will bring us well-being and happiness.  Many of the notions we have of how one attains happiness and well-being have been proven not to be predictive for bringing us well-being.

Because mental well-being is now being recognized as one of the most important influences of our physical well-being, scientists have set about to measure well-being over 50 years now--looking at the subject throughout the world.  Who has it?  Who doesn't?  Even early writers were obsessed with what makes one happy.  Saint Augustine, for example, was one such writer. He had a cryptic, time-machine message for tango dancers that might surprise you.  He wrote:

Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure;
where your treasure, there your heart;
where your heart, there your happiness.”

It sounds easy enough. But it's not.  Having your heart--time, energy, passion--in the wrong things will not lead to happiness. So dancing is not going to be the one thing that brings everything together to make a person happy. Dance may be where your pleasure is; it comes from an impassioned heart. This post is intended to allow you to apply the following well-researched heart-elements, which I have called "facets of well-being" to your tango, to your life. This list of "facets of well-being" will make it clear why tango is just one of many excellent activities to nurture well-being, but it cannot be your heart.

The 11-Facets of the Well-Being Diamond:

1. Higher Number of Positive emotions (high frequency and intensity of positive moods and emotions): People who bring positive emotions to a milonga are more likely to have a good time.  Plan A is to dance a lot, but social interaction might be their great Plan B.  A non-existent or weak Plan B puts at risk the sustainability to one's enjoyment of tango.

2. Lower Number of Negative Emotions (low frequency and intensity of negative moods and emotions):  Sure nearly everyone might have phases or moments of a negative mood, but the dancers who know how to pull themselves out of these negative moods are going to persist in other dimensions of well-being.

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3. Life satisfaction (a positive subjective evaluation of one's life, using any information the person considers relevant):  Having a variety of life experiences will make a dancer happy.  Having a variety of good tandas is not going to make one's life happy.  Bring a happy life to the milonga, and we'll all want to dance with you to celebrate it.  One cannot always bring a happy life to the milonga so Plan B is to bring a happy milonga to your life.

4. Autonomy (being independent and able to resist social pressures).  Here is my plug for close-embrace tango and not dancing for admiring eyes: The most sustainable dimension for your tango, I believe, is to dance for yourself and the person in front of you.  Often I notice social pressure to dance in a way that is visually appealing.  However, this facade will eventually destroy your autonomy. Psychological research on people influenced by what others see, notice and applaud, shows that people begin to second guess their own vision and abandon it.  Be autonomous; be well.

5. Environmental Mastery (the ability to shape environments to suit one's needs and desires):  Try this at your big town milonga, where people walk past you for years without saying hello--attempt to break into their bubble--but NOT to dance with them.  Master the environment!  Social tango is understanding the etiquette of tango, and the alpha and omega of etiquette is to be sociable with no expectation to dance with those with whom you socialize.  If you get this down, you have mastered the environment.  This is a huge task in communities who do not know how to ask for dances without having to use words.

6. Personal Growth (continuing to develop, rather than achieving a fixed state):  Grow in the Three M's (Music/Movement/eMbrace).  Great musicians never stop getting coaching on musicality, athletes never stop getting coaching on movement, and great lovers and mothers never give up on perfecting their eMbrace. And you?  This is the problem, however.  I see too many people continuing to develop away from the basics, only focusing on Movement (steps and efficiency).  How many new dancers have you met who had a wonderful embrace.  They take lessons and loose what came natural with their embrace, and they too often stop listening to the music in order to perform some movement exactly they way they just learned it.

7. Positive Relations (promoting warm and trusting interpersonal relationships):  Tango is a treasure trove for building great friendships that go way outside of the milonga.  If this is not happening, it would be a sign that dance is your heart.  In other words, your heart is in the wrong place. But when relationships are at the center of your heart, then dancing with friends will grow out of that.

8. Self-Acceptance (positive attitudes toward oneself): Are the classes that you take might pushing you to be someone that you can never be? (The star performer? Save us all and give up that! You're running into us on the dancefloor and walking by us with your nose in the air.) Instead, take classes about musicality, dancing for your partner and having a great, warm embrace.  Find partners and coaches that help you find the dancer who you uniquely are, rather than a clone of what they are. A great coach finds your unique talent and builds on it. Non-cloning teachers are rare but very much worth finding.

9. Purpose and Meaning in Life (a clear sense of direction and meaning in one's efforts, or a connection to something greater than oneself):  Tango is my purpose in life.  Just kidding.  It's not really tango, but being a therapist, using my discoveries of the healing elements of tango (the Three M's) to help others suffering from childhood, adulthood psychological trauma, especially combat and sexual trauma. It should never be one's purpose just to dance, or have children, or read, or have some sport. Specific things can be totally blocked, destroying one's "meaning in life." Outside of dance, find your purpose, and maybe the tango community will be a part of shaping that purpose!

10.  Engagement in Life (being absorbed, interested, and involved in activities and life):  Be engaged in various things in life besides tango!  But tango should be one of things that is more than just a hobby or a pastime activity.  Engagement takes you beyond mere hobbies.

11. Accomplishment (goal progress and attainment, and feelings of mastery, efficacy, and competence):  Do not spend money on tango classes to become better at tango!  Rather spend time, energy, money on all your passions to find mastery.  Doing that will make you three-dimensional in tango and many other things in life.

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Photo credit.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mood Regulation and Tango

This post may save someone's life.  No matter who you are in life, you will be touched by others for whom you care who will kill themselves. I work with a population of men and women who kill themselves in the US nearly every hour of every day:  Military veterans.  Sadly, you and those you know are at risk for suicide.  I am not going to suggest helping a suicidal friend or family member with tango; however, I hope you can see why the most effective therapy for mood regulation is very similar to tango (as practised in a caring, warm community of dancers). In other words, I hope you will value what you have through tango a bit more, and are a little less inclined to subscribe to how tango is the opposite of healing as a mere "addiction."  Is it possible?  You may be regulating your mood through tango and increasing your well-being!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Last Chance Tango

Preface: Below is a curriculum for small cities.  Gender balance is a good place to start.  So do it!  I hope this curriculum helps to grow your community.  It will probably not work when tango stars have already come to your city to show people how to dance. Too often such teachers forget the personal and social value of dance.  So you must find a teacher or a group of people who will guide this curriculum, who are dedicated to quality social dancing, not just dancing.  The first class should happen over a beer with no dancing.  You will see why . . .

Last Chance Tango may be your offer to your partner, but he doesn't even know it! So make it known with a true curriculum and a real chance at success. Last Chance Tango is a way of teaching tango that has nothing to do with the torturous dance classes that your partner either avoids or tried and refuses ever to try again. I am asking for a bold step:  Ask the person you love for one last attempt at a dance class--Last Chance Tango. Tell your partner, "I'll never ask again, baby!"  That will take courage, but the next part is harder, and you have little power in how the next step will go--actually going to take the class. So let's think this through before you dare trying what might be your "last tango."

What is at stake here. Not being willing to dance may be a signal that one's relationship will sooner or later fail. Many people start dancing at the end of a relationship to start going out and to re-enter the world after a relationship break-up. But why wait for the end?

Friday, November 11, 2016

How WMD can save the world

WMD:  Weapons of Peace

WMD is not "Weapons of Mass Destruction" as used here!

Tango uses WMD. Words. Music. Dance. These powerfully combine can effectively change your world, challenge depression and to help us rediscover our psychological center. Dance combined with music and lyrics, in my opinion, contain the markers of what it means to be human. In the fourteen lines of a sonnet, the meaning of life may become clear. By the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony some men may understand what women want when they cry from being happy.* Dance explains the meaning of the universe in an excellent tanda. If honey bees can dance to find the exact coordinates of pollinating flowers, then perhaps words, music and dance can help humanity find the coordinates away from our apparent path of self-destruction. Words. Music. Dance: The weapons of peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Seven Year Itch

After seven years many people give up, or reassess what the future should be.  That's the seven year itch. 

I am not giving up, but on my way to important life goals. November first marks important dates for me--seven years to the day of maintaining this tango blog, ten years of a passion for dancing tango, and a coincidence of having written 365 posts with this one. Has it been worth it? That is a question to myself. The answer is "absolutely!" Writing so often has lead me to do my life's work:  Writing a book that must be written for veterans.

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?