What creates connection in tango?
This might sound like a silly question: tango dancers are quite literally connected by their bodies. But anyone who has stepped out on the dance floor knows that not all dances are created equal. Why is it that some dances feel so perfectly connected, while others feel mechanical, disconnected, almost danced by rote? Inspired by the use of quotes in the text Tango Nuevo, I set out to investigate this question by interviewing members of the tango community. I chose people at a variety of levels, from seasoned instructors to students taking their very first tango class. Here is what I found.
Some people feel connected because of physical contact:
“Feeling my partner bring me closer, as though our close embrace just isn’t enough.”
“Feeling my partner smiling in close embrace.”
“Feeling my partner laugh or smile against me.”
“Breathing together with my partner.”
“That moment when my partner clasps my hand so gently but so powerfully, when i feel each of their fingers close slowly around mine as though they cherish every tiny point of contact.”
“When my partner takes their time entering the embrace, and we have a moment to breathe together before we start moving.”
“I like what some people refer to as “closer” embrace. I don’t like feeling like my partner doesn’t really want to be that close to me, or like they might let go of me at any moment. I like to feel like they want to keep me close, and that includes not opening up for steps that really do not require any more room.”
“It does all come back to the embrace in the end. It’s what makes those “ooh” moments possible. I like a flexible embrace, when I can be really close and completely at ease, but with moments when my partner opens the embrace, if only to close it again. I do love that moment when after dancing in open embrace for a second I slide back into a close embrace with my partner. I like that play between the two types of embraces.”
Some people feel connected because of the music and movement:
“As a leader, it’s when I feel the music and know that I am dancing musically.”
“I like when there’s a variation in tempo, particularly when something fast and constant gets sloooooowww.”
“When I feel that my partner and I are both connecting with the music in the same way. It adds an energy to our dancing.”
”When leading, it’s when I’m on point with the rhythm of the music (lyrical or rhythmic) and I can feel that my follower is totally with me on it because I’m translating my connection with the music into a solid lead.”
“There are…times when stillness is golden; a pause amidst the swirl of movement can reveal a subtle beauty.”
“When my partner utilizes the rhythm or a little moment of countermelody in a way that I did not expect, showing that we are both hearing the same moments in the music. It feels like proof that we are thinking the same way.”
“Certain musical passages can…be inspirational: such as the moments when the key changes, when the rhythm shifts gears, or when a note is held dramatically.”
“[I] love…contrast in tango, contrast that we hear all through the music.”
However, everyone I interviewed mentioned at least one mental or emotional quality that makes them feel connected:
“Getting to know someone by dancing with them. You feel like you’re learning little secrets about them from every movement and reaction.”
“I like to feel like only I could give my partner the experience that we are having in that moment. I like to feel special.”
“I love being surprised by my partner’s use of rhythm or embellishment to deepen our dance! It feels like we are creating something together.”
“I like feeling like I gave my partner something special. It doesn’t matter if I’m leading or following. I want them to have such a good time that they can’t help but smile.”
“I have felt most connected while dancing with someone for the first time and realizing their style, preferences, and abilities.“
“Feeling like you are sharing a secret with your partner, something really juicy that nobody else around you knows.”
“I like to feel beautiful. I like to feel like the person I’m dancing with is having an experience that they could only ever have with me, in that particular moment. I don’t like to feel like someone is just making the rotation, or just doing their job. I like to feel like the experience we are creating is special. That’s why I like to see my partner smiling or laughing. It means they are having fun with me and are dancing specifically with me. “
“When I’m getting what my partner is doing without having to think. They’re not making me work no matter how simple or complicated the movements are.”
“I like being given the time to do things. It means my leader is thinking of me and what I would like to do, rather than about his or her own steps!”
“Feeling accepted, not judged in anyway, feeling as though I could do steps or just walk and my partner is just happy to be in my arms…Not being judged, not having to perform…being accepted.”
“The most significant factor which brings about ecstasy on the dance floor is my partner. The best experience is the instant I realize that I’m creating a beautiful work of art (a dance) with a beautiful work of art (a person).”
So, how can we all bring a greater sense of connection to our dance?
Our fellow dancers have spoken, and they agree on a lot of things. Notably absent from these responses is the idea that a dancer has to have a certain level of technical skill. The people I interviewed agreed that while dancing with a technically skilled partner can be fun, it has nothing to do with feeling connected, with achieving that tango moment variously described by my interviewees as “the ooh,” “the swoon moment,” “delicious,” “gooey,” “transcendent,” and “meditative.”
Ultimately, it seems that what we are seeking as dancers is simply to feel that our dance is special. We want to feel that our partners are focused on us, are dancing for us, are leading or following to facilitate our needs. We want to feel that we are doing the same for them. We want our partners to be both physically and mentally engaged with us, and to let us know that they are doing so. A number of people also mentioned not knowing whether their partner feels as connected as they do, and expressed a wish that people would tell their partners when they have done something good.
So, there you have it. Get out on that dance floor and make your partner feel special. Take your time with the embrace, think of them before yourself, and after the tanda, tell them exactly how great it was to dance with them!