Tango is an inner experience of two dancers. It is what happens on the inside that matters the most. We can all agree on that.
Yet, for dancers to reach a certain emotional state on the dance floor, there are certain external conditions that have to be met. All experienced milonga hosts and DJs know that very well.
For me, the best tango dances happen when my partner and I can feel utterly relaxed. We are intimately connected while experiencing an inner thrill, and we are both in a playful mode and feel free to express ourselves.
Sure, sometimes gorgeous dancing can happen in a very improvised setting. I remember some splendid street tangos while wearing regular outdoors clothing and a backpack and dancing for a few minutes to live music by a street musician. Or laughing through a thrilling pyjamas tango at sunrise in a living room, with just a square meter of space not covered by sleeping bags of fellow tango nomads.
But most of the time we dance in proper dance locations where external conditions such as the floor, lighting, sound, music, setting, ambience and the atmosphere all contribute to the appropriate set of mind - and heart.
So what exactly are the external factors that help dancers feel relaxed on the dance floor?
The space of the milonga location matter. Dance floor size allows for an ideal number of people - make that either too much or too little and it will or it won’t feel conducive to relaxation. Hectic dance floor can be a major source of frustration for leaders. But be careful, hectic and crowded are not synonyms: a floor can be very full, but if the vast majority of leaders have good navigational skills, crowdedness is not a problem. Hectics usually happens when a fistful of leaders choose to ignore the floorcraft rules.
Lack of seating, improper lighting of the sitting area or poor distribution of seats in the space can all frustrate dancers during the mirada and cabeceo stage. Does the location offer clear spatial division between places where one can chill out in solitude, others where one can socialize and still others where one can express one’s eagerness to dance? These are all important invisible factors that contribute to the overall atmosphere.
The exactly right kind of floor allows for effortless spinning and stepping - or makes it dangerously slippery or hurting for our joints. That is why good, springing wood floor is so highly esteemed and why certain outdoor milongas with a stopping stone floor can never really measure up in terms of relaxation potential, despite all the romantics of gentle breezes, garden smells, starlit nights and fresh air.
Speaking of air, the temperature and humidity of air in the room affect our wellbeing, even if we are not always conscious about it. Is the air fresh or stuffy? That will affect the levels of oxygen reaching our brain and muscles and have a positive or negative effect on them.
Is the lighting system helpful at creating an atmosphere - be it either joyful, playful, relaxed, dark, melancholic or intimate? There is no right or wrong; certain kind of orchestras and certain kind of energy in the air require certain atmosphere. As long as lighting is intentional and contributing to the objective, all is good.
Needless to say, the quality of the sound is of a very high importance for dancers. We’ve all been to events where the base line was out of place, or where all of a sudden statics or disproportionally loud music jolted us. It is also very common to have to strain our ears to even hear anything, especially at the beginning of a tanda when the dancing crowd is very busy chatting. Wherever the sound system draws attention to itself, something is terribly wrong. It is like with central banks: they are doing their job properly only when nobody notices that they are doing anything at all.
This point is kind of obvious, but for the sake of comprehensiveness - the DJ matters. His or her choice of music is directly related to the emotional state of the dancers on the dancefloor.
The competitiveness of the crowd attending the milonga matters. In a setting where it is important how one looks and with what VIPs one dances, it is very hard to let go and relax. There’s always the air of showing off present on the one hand, and the air of judging and comparing others present on the other hand. Not nice. And definitely not conducive to a state of utter relaxation.
The timing in the overall schedule of the event matters. Usually it helps to have reached a certain level of tiredness to let go of expectations and rationality around dancing. That makes it much easier to fall into the flow of utter relaxation. But we are also different human beings with different biorhythms. Some can more easily fall into an alpha state of mind in the very late hours of the night, while others feel their best during an afternoon tango cafe.
So, to wrap it up, these are some of the external factors (and I by no means pretend to have captured them all) that help dancers achieve the inner state of emptiness. It is that emptiness that then allows us to experience moments of connection and creativity of the moment that we all long for. It is what we all need for tango to get as good as it gets.
Photo credit: Cris Tina (Tita Tango)
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I'm Hannah A. Tomšič from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I'm in love with both leading and following in tango. It is wonderful to explore tango indefinitely and to help others learn. Please, join my quest. Ask a question, tell me your story, make me see another perspective. We are all here to learn from each other.