In this post we will cover: the benefits of Tango; the studies that show how Tango is similar to meditation; how it reduces stress and depression; and can even bring our hearts to beat in sync and help us live longer, which would expalin all the divine grandparents rocking it out on the dance floor :) We will also look at: the definition of Tango Medicine; what aspects of the dance benefit us culturally; how we can learn from the metaphors that Tango presents to us, such as the roles of leader & follower; and how Milongas in Buenos Aires are conducted to welcome connection of all ages, to enable consent, and even level the playing field for those struggling economically.
What is the definition of Tango Medicine?
Tango Medicine is a term. It is the practice of Tango as a medicine, prioritising the aspects of Tango & Milongas (where people meet to dance Tango) that benefit our health & culture.
For example: inclusive 'Prácticas' ('Practices' - Tango gatherings); a focus on connection; and physically kinder ways to practice Tango, where the emphasis is not on how good you look, but how good you feel - moves & steps are taught, but the priority is your process. If you feel empowered you can practise this in any form of Tango. However, not all worlds of Tango make it easy to practise feeling the above. This is where Tango 'movements' play a part in where one can find Tango Medicine. By Tango 'movement', I mean it in the same way we can talk about civil rights movements, with the same level of sacrifice, milestones & empowerment for vunerable sectors of society.
Tango as part of civil rights movements
So let me explain, Tango is so enjoyable that it has been adopted by the world. During its migration it has taken on many influences, and that is the nature of Tango and how it came to be in the first place - it's a melting pot, divine and diverse. This is remarkable considering it was once illegal and punishible by death. Today there is a form of Tango for every taste: Tango Salon, Tango Queer, Tango Contact, Tango escenario, and many more. They are all wonderfully epic in thier own way. Within some of those forms of Tango are entire human rights movements that in some cases endorse & put into practise pivotal rights in the act of living life free of condemnation... For example: Tango Queer, where exists the right to dance with same sex partners.
When Juampy Ramirez & Daniel Arroyo competed and became the first same gender finalists at the Mundial de Tango, Buenos Aires, it was a landmark for all who wished to have freedom of roles in Tango. This is important as in many parts of the world it is still condemned to be anything but cisgender. And this extends into Tango. Even to this day I know Milongueros (Tango Salon dancers) who, by starting or attending a Queer Milonga in their country, had to flee for thier lives finding refuge in the Tango communities in coutries where they were safe to be themsleves.
The MFT (Movimiento Femenista de Tango) is about women being able to practise Tango in envirnoments where they feel safe from a femocide so devastating that it birthed a movement called 'Ni Una Menos' (Not One Fewer). You can imagine how important bringing that reality to light is, enabling women's empowerment on the dancefloor is an education we all need to understand, to then understand what is happening on the streets.
So although Tango Medicine is simply a term we use for healthy Tango dancing, entire human rights movements have brought its practice into fruition.
So how is Tango particularly medicinal?
It quite literally takes two to dance Tango. To improvise a single step you must be physically & mentally connected to your partner. To do this, your mind must be silent, and your body relaxed, dynamic & grounded. Then, you can begin the journey to move together in unison, and through all that this brings up emotionally & physically.
Photograph by the magical Hernán Blanco at the marvelous Muy Lunes in Buenos Aires
Tango is such an appreciated dance that it was declared human heritage by UNESCO. It is a thearpy in itself, a form of moving meditation. But this medicine can be misconstrued by showing it simply as an aestheic dance, such as in the TV show 'Strictly Come Dancing'. It is much more than a beautiful dance. It is pure connection, and to achieve this connection, it requires patience, practice and focus.
'Tanguernica' by Drew Walker
3m x 1m, Charcoal and mixed media on paper
Tango's proximity has health benefits
Portrait of Juanpy by Drew Walker
Heart to heart, that is how you dance Tango. It is also how we live longer :) A beautiful study of heart tissues showed how each heart cell has its own beat, and if you put a heart close to another heart cell, the heart cells beat in sync. Not only that, but they also live longer. So what does this mean? It means that our hearts are transmittors, and that we live longer when we are close to each other. Here is a link to a wonderful article about how we live longer with happy hearts in proximity. Further more, positive skin contact has been shown to be connected to our immune system. Tango is a language of the body, and where and how the skin touches are the words.
Tango embraces all ages & abilities
This is by far my favourite aspect of Tango. When you attend a Milonga there are all ages and abilites dancing. It brings together generations, cultures & strata. In a Milonga 'del barrio' (of the neighbourhood) families bring thier kids, newcomers are welcomed. It's a friendly environment. In these milongas its not about how good you look, it's about connection, meeting your community, sharing a moment in each other's arms; young or old you have something unique and wonderful in your soul which you transmit in your dance. The elders are revered for their wise life texture. Just a walk with a veteran dancer is a great honour and pleasure. And the young are energetic & dynamic, appreciated as the ones that keep the legacy going. At its core, Tango is a walk, which is why all can dance it, and all are appreciated. This brings people of different ages together, which is always a good thing, especially in an age where life experiences are so different between generations.
Milonga traditions that build bonds & create communities
You hear it all the time: 'Tango saved my life'. I could write story after story about the friendships founded by that embrace that then went on to change a life, save it, protect it. I literally wouldn't exist if it weren't for Tango. My Great-grandfather danced when it was illegal, when it was so looked down upon that when he asked for my Great-grandmother's hand in marriage her parents threw a chair over his head as a clear 'don't come near our daughter'. Luckily she didn't obide by thier rules. My granny told me stories about how her Dad would take her to the Milongas; how it took her years to realise the priviledge of the freedom there was there. It was the only place a woman could just be, and not have to be chaperoned. People could touch, talk, laugh, even recite poetry that critised the president without it incurring a death sentence. She also told me how the Milongueros of that Milonga all had to pay this guy bribes because he threatend to report them. And when they ran out of money, they apparently killed him. They had feared for the lives of some of the people that attended, for in that Milonga there were women who would be put in serious danger, they would be considered prostitutes, with no rights; indigenous people (like my Great-grandmother) who still had a bounty on thier heads; and men who appreciated their freedom, who would end up jailed. A dark tale, but from it emerges joy. Eventually Tango was not only accepted by society but loved, then adopted by the world, so that today there is a Tango tribe everywhere you go, all shapes and sizes.
When talking about creating community it's important to mention 'Milongas del barrio'. These are where a community gets together and enjoys each other's company dancing, chatting, listening, embracing, sharing a mate (the traditional tea shared at a gathering). They can be in sports clubs or on the street. Some you pay, and some are free. You take your family - big and small are welcomed. I've taken my Granny in her 90s and she was welcomed and completely accomodated for, revered and tenderly cared for. And I've gone to milongas pregnant and I was also lovingly cared for. When my son was born he was always welcomed, played with and loved. In fact, at university when I went to my Tango exam, the teachers fought over who would get to hold the baby while I did my presentation :) ...as they also offered to in the Milonga.
Milongas are meant to be loving, safe environments. This is their heritage. What it boils down to is that a Milonga, where you meet your friends and literally bond over an embrace, creates a strong community. We all know what a difference friendships make to our quality of life... In a Milonga you're loved, and shown and can show it in lovely ways. For example when it's someone's birthday there is a divine tradition of passing the birthday person along to dance with everyone during their favourite song. It is such a lovely ceremony, and a special way to be celebrated.
The Roles in Tango:
There are two roles in Tango: that of the leader & the follower. The leader assumes responsibility for the person they are leading. This means they are that person's eyes as the follower cant see as they are dancing walking backwards. The leader keeps them safe from bumping into other dancers, amongst other things, all while conducting a beautiful experience for the follower, so that the follower might want to dance with them again. This role is the practice of being a leader, and similarly, in life the leaders you appreciate make you feel secure, they are trustworthy, you relate to them, and they relate to you; they are not your boss dictating, but rather listen to your needs, your body, your state of mind; they are dynamic with the situation at hand, and take responsibility for enabling you to trust their proposals and enable you to dance.
The role of the follower is vital as it practises trust, to surrender and permit yourself to be looked after. However, this does not mean your are simply a puppit to be tossed about...This does not work as a dance. It is an active role. You must actively look for you partner's lead, lean into thier body and empty your mind, then you can flow from thier body's movement. It is a relaxing role if you have a leader that empowers you, that is well-practised, that is confident and knows what it feels like to follow and leads with this perspicacity. And this is where it gets metaphorically even more on point with life: for there to be empowering leaders, you as a follower must be empowered. Demand the treatment and respect that you need in order to trust your leader. If you don't feel good dancing with someone, don't dance with them again. Intuition counts in this environment.
Enabling Respectful Roles within Tango
We apply this before anything else in the way we describe the roles, and who is 'assigned' to them. By taking gender descriptions out of the roles we enable more inclusive language and Tango practice.
In the genesis of Tango's existence, one always learnt to follow first at the hands of a proficient leader. And once you had a certain fluency you could begin to practise to lead. It was mostly danced between men, however my Granny (who danced in the 1930s & 40s) said women did this too, however it was not documented very much. This order and gender neutrality with roles has been predominantly lost in modern teaching techniques in Tango, where many times men, simply for thier genitalia, are put in leading roles before having any experince at all in Tango, and sometimes even in any form of coupled dance. This is very unfair and frustrating for men & any beginner - leading blind is a difficult role to impose on someone. It makes both leader and follower come across difficulties that can put them off Tango entirely. Luckily there is a trend amongst progressive Tango teachers of teaching both roles from the start. This doesn't take away from the difficulty of learning Tango, especially leading, but it does help understand perspectives, and helps dancers advance with more appreciation for the importance of both roles.
Empowering consent through Milonga traditions
As a follower, consent is synonymous with the pleasure of the dance. In Tango there are certain traditions which are meant to enable people to dance together with ease. Here I expalin what they are, & how they have been used to enable a respectful dance environment.
What is el cabeceo in Tango?
This is the infamous subtle nod to ask a stranger to the dance floor with ease. As a leader you look for someone you want to dance with. You lock eyes with them and subtly nod. If the follower nods back it's a yes to dance. If it's a no they simply look away or avoid eye contact. This is so important. To say no easily enables consent, & overrides that awfully awkward moment to have to say no when you just don't feel like it. Some people find this tradition cold or indifferent, but I personally appreciate it very much as a follower. I find it hard to say no as I know how hard it is to pluck up the corage to ask :)
What are tandas in Tango?
In Tango you have 4 songs by the same orchestra played in a row, then a cortina (curtain), which separates the tandas. When you agree to dance with someone, it's expected you dance all the songs. This helps give someone the chance to relax into it. If you stop mid-tanda, it's usually for a serious reason: injury; or the person you've danced with did something so awful that you left them. It is a warning to the rest of the Milonga, and that person may find it hard to find someone to dance with again that evening. This is barely practised anymore, but it used to be a way of protecting the Milonga.
Similarities of Tango & meditation to help stress & depression
Both meditators and Tango dancers have been studied with fascinating results. Both practices help reduce stress, and can even help with depression. Click here to read the original report.
Achieving the flow state with Tango
The flow state is where you let go of conscious thought and literally enter another state of mind called the flow state. This is where the body & subconcious take over. It can be achieved in meditation, dance, swimming, sports and more. This state can be physically measured in people. It helps immunity, stress, mental health and much much more. In Tango it feels like you're flying: no worries, no stress, just sheer joy. And though it may take a few years to achieve this, as with all good things it is worth it :)
Tango as therapy for motor neurone disease
Tango has long been used as a therapy for people with motor neurone difficulties, due to the fact that music activates a different part of the brain. So where someone may find it hard to walk, if you ask them to walk to a beat, they miraculously can. Plus, in Tango it takes two, so one can be helped by the other, and, as aforementioned, at it's core Tango simply is a walk - with swagger - so it is possible for people with mobility issues to dance. Many studies have shown that it can even slow down the progression of MS, dementia, Parkinson's and others.
Can you practise Tango Medicine in all Tango environments?
If you feel empowered you can practise the medicine of Tango in any form of Tango. It depends what you are looking for: freedom? Structure? Play? Quality?
In Argentina there are many free and open-access Milongas hosted for all to enjoy. This keeps the dance in the hands of the people and not just enjoyed by an elite. This adds to the diversity of the community that dances, but means you get a bit of everything :)
Some people enjoy the exclusivity that some Tango environments have. People work very hard on their Tango and can spend a fortune to enter into this world. Some people prefer to dance with established dancers, enjoy the structure, the dress code etc. And this is all also part of the Tango world.
If you're looking for changing roles, places that host Tango Queer or Milongas that enable inclusivity may work better for you. If you want more fusion, Tango Contact or Tango Nuevo would work. If you want a melting pot of it all, an open access Milonga would be more appropirate for you.
I take it a step further & like practising in nature, supporting nature's health as well as my own. Hence why I started the retreats in the wild. I keep to the tradition of keeping what we do accesible: we have exchange places for those who can't afford the retreat; and keep the costs as low as possible - that way there is diversity too :) Cue: come to our retreats lol ;)
Where did the term Tango Medicine come from?
The first time I heard it was when our friend said it after participating in one of our first workshops deep in the Mexican jungle... And no I'm not being metaphorical, I literally mean Tango in the jungle WITH HOWLING MONKEYS AND ALL :) But that's a story for a bit later :) Since then, the people in the community asked us to take our Tango 'Medicine' to different parts of the world, so we, Drew and Chichi, as The Loving Collaborative started running workshops & eventually retreats we now call Tango Medicine.
We toured over 20 festivals over quite a few years, highlingting the healing and therapeutic aspects of Tango dance and its culture. To be able do this we create respectful, inclusive and safe environments for all to feel enabled to dance. We encourage inclusive practices, diversity, equality, gender-neutral roles, changing roles, healthy footwear, and connect to sustainable life practices. We also only attend classes & Milongas with this crieteria. We are forever humbled by the beauty of learning kinder ways to live :)
In this process we decided to take it a step further & practise in nature and take care of the ecosystem, which is the path life was taking us on anyway, so we combined them. In our Tango journey, the kindness of Tango culture is what we have appreciated the most. And though we don't consider ourselves professional dancers, we have lived many lives of Tango, & felt we could create beautiful spaces that did good for people & planet. So we host retreats in the UK with this concept for people to have access to welcoming environments in which to practise thier dance, that don't cost the Earth her health.
I wasn't going to share this detail, but I felt the detail actually is a beautiful example of how Tango, regardless of your skill level can bring so much to one's life. So here goes...
Once upon a time, years ago in the Mexican jungle a fellow Milonguero travelled over 40 hours to dance with little insignificant me. I was not a particularly amazing dancer. I had only been dancing a few years. But this wonderful soul loved my dance. He was nicknamed the Jaguar - a Mexican artist, he had written a poem about my dance back home in Buenos Aires, where we had met in a Milonga. He helped me heal one my deepest regret:; that I had not begun to dance ever since I could walk. He taught me that my dance was full of my life's texture, and though I did not dance like a professional dancer, my unique movement based on my life experience was a pleasure to experience for him. This was my medicine.
Jaguar arrived that day after a long journey. After dinner, the air thick with humidity, the community was playing music, the howling monkeys echoed at a distance, and Jaguar and I embraced, then danced. The community went silent, they were hypnotized, this was not what they knew of Tango, they thought Tango was this patriarchal sexual dance. We showed an alternative, a meditation in movement, and they insisted we showed them.
Though I was inexperienced, they insisted, they empowered me to believe in myself, and after much hesitation, we put together a wonderfully improvised little workshop hosted in the community, and they adored it. Some, who had had spinal injuries said they felt they danced for the first time in years. Others said it helped them heal their fear of dance, helped relationships and more. It was so appreciated that one of the participants asked us to give a workshop in a festival called 'Meadows in the Mountains' in Bulgaria. She said "can you bring your Tango medicine?" And so the term arrived to my conciousness, & our journey with the medicine of Tango began.
Since then we studied Folklore in the University of the Arts, Buenos Aires, as well as Expresión Corporal, which is a from of dance therapy. Together with Tango being a medicine for our own quality of life, & healing my family (Read more in this Link), we put together ways to transmit the medicine of Tango. We are not professional dancers, we are Milongueros who love Tango, and have learnt from experience. We have been in the Milongas in all the stratas of life, from the shanty town to the elite. From the patriarchal to the queer. Tango has many worlds, and Tango medicine is the world of Tango we appreciate and try to hold space in for people to enjoy. (See testimonial here)
How do I practise Tango Medicine in my life?
The medicine of Tango can be found everywhere. It is not a movement of Tango, it is a term that can be utilised to describe the health benefits of Tango. You can feel more enabled to practise Tango Medicine by attending Milongas and classes that are respectful and inclusive, such as: Muy Lunes in Buenos Aires; La Milonga de Las Abuelas en Plaza Dorrego; La Otra Milonga in Plaza Congreso; Tango Terra in London; Tango Queer London & of course our retreats :)
Another way to is by supporting projects that support diversity in Tango like that of the photographer Hernán Blanco, who is traveling across Argentina capturing Milongas in all their shapes and sizes, struggles and beauty. Link here to see project.
And, of course, to feel empowered to demand teachers to create inclusive environments in classes and Milongas. For example: by learning both roles; using inclusive language; by wearing what makes you feel good; by respecting your personal process & boundries, and those of others; by welcoming newcomers and appreciating veterans; by making Tango events inclusive for great and small. All this enables loving, kind environments to enjoy your Tango practice everywhere, and reep the rewards of the medicine that is Tango.
If what I have written resonates with you, please get in touch. We love creating community, so teachers, students, apasionados, Milonga organizers: get in touch and let's empower the Tango community to embrace the kindness & medicine of Tango, and support those creating respectful inclusive Tango spaces.
If you would like to participate in our retreats please click here.
Contact Chichi at email@example.com