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‘Step into the Dark side’

Smooth moves ezine, September 2008

The tango dream, one of passion, amor (love), and the embrace. Often blurs through taboos such as sensuality, lust, sexuality and politics. Painting a smudged flowery picture that is perceived to include clearly all of the above.

Another image is one of the Holy Grail that entraps every dancer into an ever-lasting fanatical search of  the ‘One moment’ within which we will find a deep-seated feeling of unity with our partner and the space. Forever goaded on by the multifaceted mysterious awe of the elixir de tango that is the music. On occasions when we find such a connection it feeds the addicts need to find more of the same sustenance. So we are doomed or enlightened (depending on ones outlook), in the search for the Holy Grail, that is the oneness of two. But what about a step into the dark side.

The drama, passion and fire of tango are often what attract people to start dancing in the first place. But this is only surface tension seen and exposed in stage tango (tango fantasia). My interest is in the emotional and physical fuel that feeds the fire. Not the fire itself. As a dancer and teacher of tango I am intrigued by the processes people go through in order to learn and through this enjoy the dance. The way they deal with often-intense situations. The expectations and desires that come into play when confronted with oneself in relation to a partner or social jostling of a group of dancers. The desire to know oneself, to be sensually in ones own body. Or to explore the boundaries of sexuality within the dance. Sexuality and sensuality are often mixed up with desire or lust and amor (love). 

Sensuality can be seen as ‘a preoccupation with the gratification via the physical senses. It’s about arousing the senses or appetites. Internally its about embodying yourself, externally exciting the senses of another person’. But this is too mechanical. As a dancer I don’t always seek to sensualise the dance for the other person. I am in the search to become sensual in my own body and to find a containment that allows me to know and feel myself better. Through this my feeling of sensuality is made stronger because it’s more intensely concentrated. Other people can enjoy the sensuality they feel in me, and even become sensual through this. But the important thing is that I am sensual for myself. Many people take this as a sexual come on within the dance. One is not allowed the hedonistic feeling of being in touch with ones own body. Instead it’s often taken into new realms of lust, love and sexuality. 

I have seen many short stories of love/lust grow and diminish around me. Sometimes lasting only a few hours, days and long ones weeks. These stories are the culmination of two people dancing in the right circumstances to allow two to become one in movement, embrace and thought. What I mean by stories is basically taking this connected and sexual dance feeling to bed. WE, in our present culture don’t understand how to be in our bodies, so when we experience such a connection with someone that’s so strong, be it sensual sexual or otherwise. We mistake it for love in many cases. In others where there is more experience of this phenomenon, it’s more about a necessity in the fulfilment of desire, closeness and often wanting to be in RELATIONSHIP but have many fears around this in everyday life. Tango attracts many people who are unable to be in relationships in the outside world and so instead search for the hedonistic instant gratification found in tango. Often being disappointed (after a while), in what they find. But for me one thing seems clear. We all want to feel secure and be LOVED. Not all will agree, but if you look closely I think that you will at least see in others that what motivates us is to find security in what we need to live, one aspect of this is intimacy with others. We will go through many profound emotions, experiences the unfathomable histories of hurt and pain that are deeply held in our body memory. Also remember the joy and laughter, the happiness of good times and what it was to be accepted in a group or by an individual. The embrace once more allows us to experience this acceptance.

Permission is given, one dancer to another. The embrace is unhurriedly made. The dance begins, and the connection is made. The exploration of what is comfortable starts and then the tuning in fades. The individual ceases to exist in the sluicing movements of tango, endlessly moving around each other, sometimes for hours on end. All senses are unified in the sole purpose of staying present NOW. Attention focused somewhere in the centre of the embrace. Oblivion to the outside world in a cocooned sphere of energy and desire. Again the need for containment is present which intensifies all. The more restrained one is in not acting on desire, the more one is able to experience the nature of the desired. It’s like standing still when the music is building higher and with more energy, higher and higher again elevated into a climax of notes that ecstatically entwine themselves in the bodies of the two dancers. 

The other alternative is to take all the energy of this epiphany and to spend it in movement, thus diluting and loosing the moment. Often seen in show tango because it’s more interesting for the audience to see movement and speed rather than a seeming closed off unemotional dance. The image of an animal with four legs comes to mind. Words hardly do this justice but if you have felt it you will know what I am talking about. If you haven’t then you have an idea of what could come. 

Politics is also rife in tango as with any place where strong emotions exist and there are high personal stakes to be gained and lost. I am not talking about the politics of tango schools or those that exist between two teachers. But of the politics of hierarchy. One rises or falls on the grounds of dance ability and social ability. Being a performer, a teacher and/or organisers also has a big effect. The status is not so important as what it means. SECURITY in ones social group. More dances giving more chance of INTIMACY and possibly LOVE. Along with Stability and acceptance. We are happy in these states but what about taking a step to the dark side?

The alternatives are infinitely more interesting. Feelings of exclusion, not being loved, loneliness in a room full of people. Not feeling good enough, young enough or beautiful enough to be danced with. Age-old insecurities held in mind and body, suddenly exposed by rejections, the intimacy of an embrace or even a teacher working with a specific body part. 

For example the jostling that can give a feeling of being with the in crowd is often due to past angst with groups. Someone who has experienced being a nerd or social outcast in school might feel the need to be ‘cool’ surrounded by those people who represent this. But if one is not accepted and in some way feels excluded deep emotions arise. I have the experience of one particular person being distraught, crying and intensely angry at not being asked to dance. She saw it as her right to have a set number of dances in one evening. The anger was directed at me because I am a host and teacher. For three days this woman let go of all her frustration at the situation, her anger and later the tears and sadness she felt at once again feeling like an outcast. I simply held the space, open for her to feel and to experience the process she needed to go through. On the fourth day she came and apologised. She owned her feelings and we talked of a time at school where she felt insecure and lonely. It was due to a lot of things happening in her family life at the time, but the loneliness and insecurity were created by a group of people at school. She had unknowingly transferred this past situation into this new group of people, and strangely they were reacting in the way she expected because she was projecting past pain onto new people. Of course they wouldn’t want to dance. On the 5th day she had the most dances she had ever had and said goodbye to be smiling and happy. She had been able to find a way of releasing old histories and found security and even a possibility for intimacy in someone else.

Another example is of a businessman who is used to working for himself. Having full autonomy and power to do, as he will in his working life. In other words an alpha person. He is used to being associated with the top, and will find it difficult firstly to start at the bottom in learning to dance. But also in not necessarily being seen as alpha in the tango world. The number of times I have been surprised to discover how many men and women there are, with high powered jobs and who are confident at what they do. When it comes to tango they become shy and seemingly needy of attention. Like a fish out of water, they try to find their way back to what they know. The top of the hierarchy. Either through obsessive learning of the dance or by association with the top. Anger is something often felt if they aren’t able to find water, i.e. to become alpha. I have another experience of an aggressive man in classes who is incredibly intelligent. He has the need to be recognised. He knows all the terminology and tries to bully teachers into giving more information than he is ready for. He gets angry if he thinks someone is denying him and passive when he is receiving a lot of personal attention from the teacher. When things don’t go his way or he can’t find a movement he is ‘supposed’ to know he will often take it out on his partner. A while ago we had a private lesson that I was secretly dreading, but agreed to. We had 2 dances in the whole lesson. One to start and one to finish. We ended up working with aggression and anger, what these meant for him. He wanted to explore these topics with me, and we made a good start. He realised that by being anxious about where he was in the social world of tango and as a dancer he was becoming a monster. Someone who everyone avoided and refused to dance with. His story is a little longer and took a lot more lessons but over the months he has become calmer and softer with his partners. Again through being aware of feeling insecure and out of water he was able to start to find more favourable place for himself.

Whether we are aware of tango as love and passion, or a simmering cauldron of sexual energy and sensuality is based on point of view. Backed by personal experience both in life and how much experience of tango one has. I am not intending to make you mind up for you, but to simply bring a little more light to the sexuality, sensuality, lust, love and politics that are seemingly inherent in tango. 

Alongside this our own personal quests for the ‘Holy Grail’, each of will have a completely different story to tell, but there will be similarities in experience. Many people I have talked to at one moment or another, have felt some disillusionment about these deeply unfathomable moments of connection that at times surpass anything they have ever felt with a lover or partner. One has no idea its possible until it happens, it’s rarely talked about in any depth and one automatically assumes you have felt it when it is talked about. Without knowing for sure, with no context of what it is and what it means. It’s often misunderstood to be love instead or lust. There is no black and white here only a grey area for every individual is different, every experience of the ‘Holy Grail’ is different and is for the dancers to place.

If we take one step into the dark side we can become more aware of ourselves, we can open up possibilities in creating the security and intimacy we want and need to be happy. But this road is more difficult as you will find many things about yourself you don’t like and will want to change. And many others aspects of yourself which are truly beautiful and should never be exchanged for simple acceptance in a group. 

The journey through darkness is more profound than the light at the end.