First, a disclaimer: these are not my words, because, honestly, I’ve not been dancing abroad nearly enough in the past few years. These are the words of a friend who’s been dancing for at least 20 years. She was one of those El Corte regulars back in the old days who never missed a single Chained Salon. She lived in various parts of Europe and has been to countless festivals, encuentros, marathons and what-nots in these two decades.
But today, she says, she no longer experiences the long-lasting tango highs.
"And what do you mean by a long-lasting tango high?", I ask her while we relax with a cup of tea in the post-milonga late hours of the night, keeping our tired feet up.
“Oh, you know,” she says, “the kind that makes your face glow and your heart hoover for days or even weeks after a special dance weekend. It was what made it worthy to travel 1000km for a weekend of dancing, spend Sunday night on an overnight train and head from the train station straight to the office on Monday morning. It didn’t matter. I felt awake and alive. And I stayed like that for days, sometimes even a couple of weeks, you know.”
Yes. I do know. I’ve been there myself. My life was measured in opportunities to experience such tango highs.
It didn’t matter how much time it took. It didn’t matter how much it cost. All it mattered was a possibility to get my dosis of tango bliss. If I experienced at least one tango high that weekend, I was happy. Sometimes the heavens were generous and showered me with two or three or even five tango high experiences in a single weekend. That made me so happy and alive.
Heaven…. I’m in heaven…. And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak… (Cheek to Cheek, Irving Berling, 1935)
Or at least I thought I was happy and alive.
Today I know we dance tango for a variety of reasons, and that those reasons change with time and adapt to the rest of our life experiences. Having a family has put finding happiness through tango in a completely different perspective.
I don’t need to define what a tango high even means - because anyone who’s been dancing tango for a while, knows what I am talking about. But I would like to figure out what conditions have to be met for the likelihood of a tango high to happen.
We probably need different things for a tango high to happen, according to who we are and what matters to us in life.
For me, and I am speaking from a strictly personal position here, there are five necessary conditions - and they all have to be present at the same time:
Sense of utter relaxation is a pre-condition. I need to be able to disconnect from my rational mind that keeps thinking random thoughts, evaluating experiences, comparing them to memories, having expectations and judging certain experiences as positive surprises or negative disappointments. In other words, I need to quiet the mind.
Only then can I allow my senses to feel fully, my emotions to come and go and my body to move as it pleases. Of course it takes years of practice to experience a functional kind of relaxation, where movements are performed effortlessly and gracefully, but it is a gorgeous feeling to be able to take mental distance and simply experience the flow of the body.
Yet this described state of inner quietness or mindfulness does not just happen by divine grace. The location, the host and the DJ of the milonga play a crucial role in creating the necessary external conditions for the relaxation to happen.
Sense of intimacy in the couple is essential. I don’t think that one-sided tango high is even possible. A lot has to match for a dance to become highly intimate.
Besides the surprise of initial discovery, mutual respect and admiration are necessary.
Often dancers need to be at a similar dance level. It is not necessary in all cases, I agree, but at least for a follower, it is very difficult to be kept on the edge of attention and in the here and now if she’s dancing with someone very predictable.
The embrace must of course feel very comfortable and natural.
Both sides need to be lost in the music, so both of us need to appreciate and enjoy interpreting the music playing at the moment.
Finally, we must both be mutually sensitive and willing to look for joint movements. In other words, only if we both open our hearts, can we co-create the dance.
Inner thrill is another necessary condition for a tango high. If I am bored dancing with someone completely predictable, I am very far away from being swept off my feet.
Sometimes the surprise of initial discovery happens completely unexpectedly. I love those gifts from above. They keep reinforcing my belief in miracles. It is so beautiful and humbling to experience that I am not able to control the mystery of life.
But sometimes that inner thrill grows out of a certain amount of pre-flow. One notices a person in a room who seems particularly attractive - be it because of their dance style, their looks, their self-confidence, their gracefulness or the signs of utter delight on the faces of their dance partners. I notice that a lot of people are attracted to teachers or people with a lot of tango social capital.. In any case, if then in the course of the evening or a weekend the person that you have been admiring grants you a dance, you are starting off on a completely different level of respect for them. Butterflies can keep us on the edge of attention and that is always a good thing - as it keeps us in the moment.
Joyful playfulness is for me a most enjoyable and lovely ingredient of a tango high. Sure, sometimes I am in a gloomy mood, where all I need is a safe space where I can meet my sadness and deep pain. But that is just sometimes. The more natural state of my inner being is to feel the joy and to playfully meet another soul in a shared game of give and take, tease and chase, invite and block and make them laugh to laugh together. And this is important: if it is only me who is feeling the inner thrill, but the feeling is not mutual, then there can be no playfulness, and the likelihood of a tango high severely drops.
Yet if all of the above happens - me being relaxed, in a playful mode, feeling safe in the shared intimacy and feeling the inner thrill of something special happening - it is very likely that I will reach that final stage of daring to express myself fully. That is one of the most liberating feelings in the world. To just be myself and to say what I have to say without holding back, also gives permission to the other one to be his or her full self, to feel accepted just as he or she is and to simply shine. We all long for that. We were born to shine our inner light. Perhaps that is why we all long for repeated experiences of a tango high.
Because, seriously, the mystery of it cannot be reduced to some simple bio-chemistry of the body, can it?
Photo credit: Axel Grewe (2016)
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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.