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What Dancing Tango Teaches Us About the Loneliness Epidemic

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to spend significant time in Argentina. A writing retreat originally took me to Northern Argentina and I magically made my way to Buenos Aires to dance tango. It would take me some time to find the right people to spend time with but I left Argentina with a profound lesson in what truly intimate (not sexual) connection is supposed to FEEL like.

Most women return to the US after a brief stint in Buenos Aires in a state of psuedo depression. There is real, authentic, transparent and intimate connection abroad. We miss it deeply. When we finally decide to return to the dance floor, we are often confronted with complete emptiness. It often feels like our hearts have been ripped out of chest and left in a foreign country. So many of us have to step away from dancing just to regain our emotional balance. We so often believe that we are doing something wrong!

Fortunately, there is one milonga in New York that is quite different. It takes place in someone’s home where the energy feels warm and inviting. There are fewer rules and there is more authenticity. The milonga is not led by ego but by the openness of everyone who wishes to seek connection. It epitomizes the reason why people fall in love with tango — it is supposed to be about feeling a real connection with another human being.

Following this monthly happiness tune up, I walked outside with a leader friend of mine who asked about someone I danced with. I said that the dance was just “okay” as I didn’t sense that he felt the music or was able to really connect with me (which is hard NOT to do when my favorite song is playing!) My friend told me that this was the same feedback that most of his follower friends give about this particular person (who is also a tango instructor). It has caused many of his female friends to leave dancing and he wanted to know why.

It was an interesting conversation. I shared why I loved the connection with the right tango partner. He shared that many leaders approach him to ask why he is able to dance with new dancers with ease.

That’s when we discovered the problem. Everyone wants to connect but most people do not know how to do it.

We are a disconnected society for a reason. We tend to blame social media and smart phones. But they are only the symptom not the full problem. The problem is that we truly lack experience in connecting our own mind-body-soul together to act as a coherent agent of connection with someone else. We are a victim of a culture that works to death and lives in the head at the expense of the body and the soul. The result leads us to a complete inability to read non-verbal cues and an over reliance on verbal information. Nothing screams of broken intimacy than having to use just words to connect with another human being!

A Health Crisis in the Making

This disconnect in our own mind-body-soul really should be seen as a health crises. It is not a luxury as our culture would like you to believe. Embodying our true nature is what we are meant to do during our short time on this planet. The tango milonga, has therefore, become a microcosm of a larger issue in our society. There are a handful of us really great at intimacy and the rest of us just think we are or are perplexed looking for an education.

Our hearts are broken. We live in fear of being rejected. We are lonely for no reason.

The good news is that this CAN all be fixed and we would probably be a heck of a lot happier. How do we learn connection?

Connection with the Self

Most social dancers (as an example) simply do not understand that it is inappropriate to just show up on the dance floor. Most of us do this in other areas of our life too (like rolling into the office 5 minutes after we wake up). We all need to take more care in preparing our minds and our bodies to connect with another human being. On the tango dance floor, this likely means engaging in a yoga or meditation practice, working out, or in someone way getting out of heards prior to stepping on the dancefloor. There is no possible way you can expect to connect with another human when your anxiety and energy is imbalanced.

It is not necessarily our fault, however. We have been trained to stay in our heads all day long. Our education system values thinking over feeling and individual effort over collaboration. Those days will slowly begin to change and those of us who can manage this transition and value collaboration, will begin to thrive.

In dancing, if you, as a leader, spend the entire dance thinking about your steps, your partner is going to feel horrible. They showed up to feel your heart, not your mind. Calculation of your steps translates through the body as coldness and disconnection. Similarly, an unrelaxed body as a follower translates to the leader as resistance and lack of interest.

It personally took me focusing on yoga and meditation to realign my mind-body-soul before I could go back to tango. This work has significantly improved my connection in tango and has reverberating positively in other aspects of my life. I now know how to clear my energy, relax my body, deal with anxiety, and shift my mood. These are invaluable life tools.

Connection with the Environment

Many of us are far more influenced by the energy of others and our surroundings on a daily basis than we recongnize. It is important to pay attention to the feel of the environment and open up your senses so you can stay in the present moment. Being in your head is only one sense. You have five other senses that rarely get used.

I recently took a mediation class by an instructor trained in Zen Buddism. The meditation was conducted with our eyes opened and focused on working with our other senses and observing our surroundings. Learning how to be present with distraction is a hugely helpful skill on and off the dance floor.

Connection with your Partner

Connection happens in the pauses is what my first tango instructor told me. We all have to slow down and stop rushing. We also don’t have to try so hard. Our biology is build to physiologically sync with others if we can get a hold of our breathing. Most followers and people in general do not need you to TRY to impress them. They need you to simplify, BREATHE, and sync with their energy. As a leader, you simply do not hold the key to creativity — you are supposed to provide the container of safety so your follower opens up the sensuality AND creativity. Leaders need to lead from their higher selves and followers need to be grounded and feel safe. This is how magic happens.

Connection is in the merging of balanced energy so that each party feels supported.

Connection is about the other person and not about you.

Hope Beyond the Ego

Tango is supposed to teach us how to move past our ego into real intimacy. Unfortunately, very few instructors actually know how to teach this and devalue the connection. Which is understandable. Argentines who dance tango often have a more natural ability to emotionally connect due to cultural differences that make it okay to explore emotions. Those instructors, therefore, would not need to focus on teaching this skill set. But in the west, we really do need be taught how to get out of our head and into our heart. Many of us have been raised by highly emotionally avoidant people who are simply trying to survive the game of life. The teaching style of tango, therefore, needs to be culturally dependent. What works in Buenos Aires is likely not going to work in other cultures if you want to translate the FEELING of connection not the mechanics of a dance.

It is hard to drop the need to be the best dancer in the community but just like the real world, “the best” and “most revered” are often not the same person. Choose wisely and if you go foward into learning about connection, be ready to break down and surrender your ego. Your heart simply won’t show up until you do and your dance partners will not enjoy their dances with you if you don’t figure this out for yourself. It’s like life — we seek to connect with authenticity not simply with “the best.”

As for the rest of us, inderstanding the dynamics of tango ultimately demonstrates the importance of honoring our relationships by focusing on the emotions and needs of others. Tango provides the practice but connection is something we must live in real life. Always

. . .

Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.

This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.


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