Why tango changes your life
Tango changes your life, whether you notice it or not. Those changes are not necessarily dramatic, actually most of these changes are so small and gradual that they go unnoticed. However, I don't know anyone in tango whose life this dance did not change in some way or another, some way that goes beyond tango itself.
Of course, what I am writing here is inevitably a generalization and every case is unique. Nevertheless, I see certain trends in many lives around me that allow me to make these generalizations. In my daily life I am surrounded by people touched by tango in various degrees. I know people who, like me, fell into it completely and forever from the very first moment they heard this music and embraced a partner. People who, like me, thought "This is what I have been looking for my whole life so far." I also know people who are not necessarily this passionate or involved, but who still devote quite some time to tango among other things they do. We can safely say, I think, that no matter the degree of your dedication, tango has a way of affecting your life quite profoundly.
First, it is the time you start devoting to learning and dancing it. And in this you can go as far as you allow yourself. But even if you don't go dancing every day, or take classes every week or travel to events, tango has a way of occupying your life that is special. You listen to its music when doing other things. You start a new "tango" category in your wardrobe. You now look at wooden floors in a different way. You pack your tango shoes with you on business trips, and instead of going to dinner with colleagues you go looking for some obscure place you have seen on the internet, where it said there would be a milonga. And when you enter this place in some unknown city, in some unknown country, and you hear that familiar music, you immediately feel as if you have finally arrived where you needed to be.
Tango, no matter your involvement in it, becomes a kind of a world separate from the rest, with its own particular joys, sorrows, difficulties, rules, goals and pleasures. And it is never a solitary world: in tango you will always find someone who loves it in exactly the same way you do, whichever way that is.
Tango is often compared to a drug. And indeed it seems highly addictive: the more you do it, the more you want to continue doing it. You often miss it when you stop (although not always) and you are usually happy to do it again after a break. Like a drug, tango seems to give you an opportunity to escape your life. If you truly want to escape it, tango will provide ample possibilities to occupy yourself with something that has nothing to do with your life, your work or your relationships. Yet, a drug usually ruins your health and ends up also ruining your relationships with other people. Tango, on the contrary, often helps you to become healthier, physically and mentally, and it actually helps to improve your relationships with other people. A drug makes you turn away from yourself while tango makes you turn toward yourself. This is because tango is about your love for it and love always changes your life in some way. You cannot love a drug, not really, you can only crave it. Yet, you would not dance tango if you did not love it at least a bit.
Of course, by itself tango does not do anything to change your life, it is you who changes your life if you choose to do so. Tango is only a catalyst for change. Turning toward yourself, in most cases, is not an immediately pleasant experience. It means understanding what you like and dislike, but also what internal conflicts you are carrying inside. As I wrote in my article on tango and love relationships, you most probably found tango because it is a productive environment to resolve some of your internal conflicts: conflicts that are specifically yours. If in your life you are in some way imbalanced, this imbalance will be exposed also in tango. Sometimes tango is exactly what you need to expose this imbalance and therefore to find a way of dealing with it. Tango will allow you both to play out your imbalances and to heal those imbalances if you so wish. To give you a simple example: if you are someone who needs a lot of powerful positive emotions in order to forget your fears and insecurities, then in tango you will find what you need: a festive, busy environment oriented towards pleasure and pleasant human interaction. Yet, at the same time, you will feel your imbalance even stronger when leaving the tango world, and go into a depression after a particularly happy tango event. The moment you learn not to “sway” so strongly from the positive into negative feelings you find more balance in yourself. You still enjoy tango, but you don’t crave it like a drug.
However, tango as a catalyst for change is not only about unearthing painful emotions. It is an even stronger catalyst for something else: namely, finding your JOY.
Your growth in tango, in a broader sense, is about learning what you like, what makes you happy, what gives you pleasure but also a sense of becoming more you - or a better you. Tango is not only about learning how to dance and how to successfully interact with other people, it is also about giving priority to what you personally like. Tango is an extremely free environment that does not oblige you to anything, not even to follow its own loosely defined rules. It is not an institution. It is not a religion. It is not an organisation. And therefore everything about tango is only about your own choice: from teachers and dance partners to the way you look, where you go to dance, which music you dance to and so on. This freedom is also what makes tango so attractive and so rich in its various expressions. For me, all attempts to limit tango to one specific style or one particular type of movement go against the very spirit of tango.
Tango is life-changing exactly because of that: it makes you give priority to what you personally prefer. Once you start making what you like your priority in tango, there inevitably comes a point that you start giving priority to what you like in other areas of life. You see, when you allow yourself to follow what you enjoy in tango, it becomes more and more difficult to accept what you don't enjoy in the rest of your life. And so you end up leaving that unsatisfying job or that dead-end relationship. You start detaching yourself from the expectations of others and instead decide for yourself in what to invest your energy.
To the "outside world" tango people often seem strangely deranged and immature. For someone who does not share your passion it is difficult to understand why you start arranging the rest of your life around something so futile as a dance. Why you stop going to their parties and go to milongas instead. Why you start planning so many short trips to strange places. Why you stop watching tv, become disinterested in discussing all that is wrong with the world and instead practice or take classes. Why you no longer accept to have your life be only about work, or only about having children, or only about financial security. Why you go to a dangerous third-world city and spend months there doing exactly the same thing you do back home: dancing. Why you sometimes move to another city or another country altogether, just because the tango there is better.
It may seem at the first glance that being passionate about tango is about turning away from other things, about non-participating in many "normal" activities, about becoming, in a sense, very immature and “irresponsible”. Yet, this is only the visible result. The often invisible result is how people change their attitude toward the activities they still do, their work but also relationships they still have. Giving priority to your joy extrapolated to other activities means doing things differently. It is about doing things with more love. It is about looking for joy even in simple and insignificant daily matters. It is about taking responsibility for your life in a constructive way. This change might not be visible to the outside world but it changes everything in how you feel about yourself. Following your joy means coming into harmony with yourself and by consequence with the outside world.
Your passion for tango is difficult to convey to the outsiders, but not impossible. It can be quite easily understood by comparing it to other activities that involve passion, such as surfing, flying, sports, other dances etc. But because tango has a strong social component, it is much more than just about DOING it. It is also about BEING a certain kind of person.
A student recently said to me: "The good thing about tango is that it serves as a metaphor for other things in life. When I discover that I can get better in tango, it gives me confidence that I can get better in other things. That if I can change my dancing, I can also change my relationship, my work, my life." Tango is exactly that: a small life inside your bigger life, in which you learn that many more things are possible than you thought. You learn to give yourself permission to put your fulfilment first. Ultimately, tango helps you become a freer person. Someone who has learnt to follow his joy will not be easily pressured into doing something against his heart. Such a person will never blindly follow what others tell him. This is why dance and other joyful, pleasure giving activities are prohibited or strictly controlled by most fundamentalist religions and dictatorships. A joyful and happy person is by definition a free person.
Is tango the only activity that helps you grow in this way? Of course it is not. But tango, in a sense, is a very “complete” activity that allows you to grow not only in what you do but also in how you relate to yourself and other people. To me personally, the courage to give priority in life to what you love is one of the fundamental signs of maturity. The love you feel for something or someone does not come from the outside world, it comes from your soul and your soul always has a good reason for loving something. The closer you stand to your soul, the more you are yourself, a unique being with unique preferences and a unique purpose. It does not matter in the end what you love and how "important" that seems on a larger scale. It only matters how you express this love and how happy and wholesome you allow yourself to be. This is your only true responsibility in life: to always be in touch with who you really are, which simply means following what you love, enjoy and value, in things both big and small. Tango in itself is just another way to come closer to yourself. One of many, but a very effective one.
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