The other night I made a mistake. At the start of the milonga, with the dancefloor still mostly empty, I went up to a stranger and asked her for a dance. Woman to woman.
She gave me a puzzled look, together with hesitation that lasted a tad bit too long.
I should have dropped it right then, but I’m already used to such reactions, especially in Italy in places where nobody knows me.
“No, I don’t dance with a woman,” or, “No, thank you. That is not natural.”
But that was not what happened that night in Ljubljana. The follower accepted my invitation and we started to dance. We had an ice-cold atmosphere and half-way through the first song, I started feeling deep compassion for her. She was extremely tense and unable to enjoy either the pleasant music or her body moving in sync with mine.
Finally she managed to articulate it: “Dancing with a woman… What shall I do with all the sexual energy then?!”
It shocked me.
Yet I managed to suggest right away to channel it into the dance itself, into getting creative and expressive with it.
Because that is what I tend to do, no matter who I am dancing with.
(Well, to be completely honest, in my early years of dancing tango I did fall in love with certain leaders. But they were rare and far in between. Which all brings us to another very interesting topic, called “Ts-Ts Tango” or “The Art of Tango Seduction”, but that is another story altogether.)
Yet her question prompted me to give the connection between dance partners in tango a second thought.
Is the intense connection sexual in nature? Or is it rather intimate? Could it be just the interplay of the male and the female energy, the aspects of each hiding in each one of us, just to a different degree? Can a dance be even called tango, if there is no sexual energy present?
It all depends on how we look at it.
First of all, yes. A dance can be an amazing tango experience, even if there is no sexual energy involved. At all. It can be about playfulness or intimacy or simple merging into the here and now with another person.
Having said that, sexual energy does get to play its part. Sometimes.
When there is good dancing compatibility between the partners and then, on top of it, there is mutual sexual attraction present, then tango can get very intense and very pleasurable, without a doubt.
But not without a peril. The higher we fly, the lower we fall. It is a real art to learn not to fall in love after such an experience. We’ve all been there as beginners. But with time we learn to tell the difference.
What happens on the dancefloor, stays on the dancefloor. At least for me. Life had a funny way of teaching me that lesson.
But let’s talk about another kind of connection. The one that is more intimate in nature. It can take place between dancers who are otherwise not necessarily physically attracted to each other. It is a much more subtle and gentle kind of connection.
It is like a caress of unconditional acceptance, where you can utterly relax and be yourself. It is like poetry that reaches deeply into your soul. It is a space of being merged with another human being into that elusive wholeness.
But even the intimate connection is just a gift of the moment. It happens for a brief moment, yet after the final embrace or a thank-you kiss on the cheek or simply a barely noticeable hand squeeze, the fireworks of intimacy are gone as the couple walks off the dancefloor.
While the sexual connection described above necessarily takes place between a man and a woman (or the LGBT equivalent of the roles), the intimate connection, on the other hand, is not limited to that.
I’d say it is still extremely rare, but I did experience it with another woman several times. Although it was often nicely combined with colorful joyfulness, playfulness and shared humor.
But how about the interplay of the male and the female energy mentioned above? I am still a firm believer in the yin and yang concept, represented with the white and black taijitu symbol. Male and female energy form the whole, they chase after one another, but they are interdependent and interrelated. There is a drop of white in the black half, and there is a drop of black in the white half. All of us, men and women, possess both kinds of energy within us.
There is a drop of masculine energy in women. That makes them, besides being receptive, nurturing, soft and emotionally swirling, also assertive, focused and efficient.
There is a drop of feminine energy in men. That makes them, besides being strong and rational and decisive, also sensitive, nurturing and creative.
The secret to the most interesting persons I have ever met lies in the inner balance of their masculine and feminine creative forces. Although, to be fair, such a balance can never reach its final destination, as it always moves in relation to one’s doubts about one's self-worth. But that’s OK. We are only human.
How does that display in our tango dancing? I personally enjoy leaders who know exactly what they want and are able to technically precisely communicate their strong intention. Strong masculine force. Yet they must be able to do it in a very sensitive way, where I feel listened to and where my comfort is one of their first priorities. A drop of feminine nurturing. And if, on top of that, they are able to enter a dialogue of give and take and are not afraid of surrendering to our intense connection, they become as close to the ideal as possible - the turning wheel of black and white, chasing one another to attain wholeness.
While being a leader, I appreciate followers who are able to instantly surrender into merging with me. That is the base tone of our connection - this willingness to go along with my lead, with my intention of interpreting the music. Clear feminine force. Only when this basis is firmly established, so that I don’t have to constantly struggle with reclaiming the lead, it is time for the follower to start inserting small doses of her intentions, musical dynamics and everything else that constitutes “active following”. A drop of masculine energy. Because that is indispensable. It is what forces me, the leader, to stay on the edge of my attention and surrender. It is what defines the co-creation - the ultimate goal in tango, at least for me.
So, let me get back to that famous question of my follower in Ljubljana, who was confused about what to do with all the sexual energy. First, I feel you. I’ve been there myself. I wasn’t dancing with women yet back then, simply because there were no female leaders, but I did get overflown with the sexual energy swirling during every exciting dance. It inevitably led to far too many infatuations. So, yes, I get you.
Yet, for your own sake, I hope you will soon discover how easy it is to channel that inner swirling into joyful creativity instead. Open up your possibilities. Dance with the young and the old, the handsome and the average, the skinny and the round, the men and the women, the tall and the short, the local and the foreign. See what unites us despite all the differences, but see it for yourself, don’t just take my word for it.
P.S.: I hope to meet you on a dancefloor in a couple of years’ time. You’ll likely make a magnificent follower.
Photo credit: Tomaž Leskovšek
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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.