The minute I first encountered tango I knew it was going to change my life. Since then I have followed its path which has led me to this precise moment in time where I sit here writing to you from Buenos Aires. Many people who discover tango follow a similar path, some become addicted to the dance as a movement puzzle, others fall in love with the music, and some like me, see tango as a path of spiritual transformation.
As a dance therapist I understand the body as the place where the mind and spirit meet. Our bodies are physical expressions of our mental and spiritual selves. Thus, transformation of how we live in our bodies and move in our bodies, is a transformation of how we experience ourselves in the world.
Why is tango especially powerful? I believe that tango requires a high level of conscious embodiment and a profound sense of presence in order to function as it should (and be as sublime as it in fact can be). It’s beyond the scope of this blog posting to go into all the reasons of why the mechanics of tango are so profound (I’ll save that for a book), but all you need to know is why it is profound for me at this moment in time.
Back to topic of my tango journey, the pivotal moment that brought me 6,000 miles to the southern hemisphere was when I encountered Dana Frigoli and Pablo Villaraza at the Chicago Tango Week festival. Their teaching, dancing, and mere presence touched me deeply and I knew that I had met my teachers. When I watched them perform at the festival I was brought to tears for the first time during a tango performance. Dana is one of those people who shines, who’s love radiates as she kisses everyone she meets, and who’s spirit visibly expands through her entire body as she dances. Pablo has a quiet power. In almost a whisper, he told us at the Chicago festival that “the arms are an extension of the heart,” a statement that moved me deeply in a way I could not comprehend. The day after the festival I booked my flight to Buenos Aires.
So here I am now in Buenos Aires, the end of my second week quickly approaching. It’s hard to summarize my week because it was in fact a huge mix of experiences and emotions. I went from thinking Buenos Aires was polluted and slightly uncivilized, to falling in love with the warmth of the Argentineans and thinking this was a place I would like to call home. At times during the week I asked myself what the hell I was doing in Buenos Aires and in other moments I felt such a profound sense of the rightness of being here. I went from being sick with a bad cold, drenched and cold from days of rain and no heating systems in buildings, to enjoying the adventure of walking through the twilight rain from milonga to milonga with my French, Argentinean, and American tango friends. I experienced tango boredom, tango saturation, and tango transformation. Often running a schedule of 8-12 hours of private lessons, classes, and milongas, I felt exhausted, overwhelmed, incredibly untalented and uncoordinated, completely exposed, humble, and disconnected. I also felt powerful, beautiful, exhilarated, incredibly fortunate, deeply thankful, very skilled, and knowing.
While the milongas have been a wonderful cultural experience, the most fundamental element of my time here has been my private lessons at Pablo and Dana’s DNI studio. Although I do not work with them directly, they have hired a staff of teachers who are highly skilled in the dynamics of movement. Aside from their dance expertise, they all happen to have hearts and smiles as wide, loving, patient, and compassionate as Dana. Although all of the teachers are excellent, there is one teacher who just blows me away. He is incredibly gifted in knowing exactly where my energy is flowing or not flowing and how to get me to understand somatically how to restructure my movement. Every time I work with him I just feel so in awe of how powerful the work is. I feel incredibly exposed because he sees all my tension, all my instability, all my flaws. I also feel incredibly thankful because he is compassionate and knows how to skillfully guide me. And I am making great progress as a dancer. However, I am not doing this just to dance better. I am doing this to evolve. And growth hurts.
My spiritual journey has been the opening of my heart chakra, which probably formed a protective shell at an early age. It is fitting that I chose tango, the dance of love, as the vehicle for transformation. Nevertheless in Argentina, this land of warm and open hearts, that speak the Spanish language in which my heart was initially broken.
Everything in my dance illuminates the state of my heart, and for this reason it is both so terrifying and also so important. When the teacher tells me that my chest is collapsed, or that I either completely release the hand connection with my partner or I push away, I understand this as a protective mechanism in connecting with my partner, in the dance and in life. When my teacher tells me I have a habit of “copying” or anticipating movements instead of sensing the communication of the lead in my body, I understand that this applies to my tendency to perceive the world as I see it in my mind, not as I sense it in by body, where truth resides. When my teacher tells me to use the ground as support for all of my movement as opposed to using force in my upper body, I understand that this speaks to my need to do everything myself, because I don’t trust that there is solid ground beneath me to support me.
Tango is beckoning me to open my heart. To relax, and find comfort in connection. It is beckoning me to show myself to my partner. To trust the ground beneath me. To be both powerful AND connected to another at the same time. It is beckoning me, I hear it calling, but there is still much work to be done.