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The Spiritual Arc of Tango

I have been dancing tango for more than 25 years. Seriously, studiously, attentively, dedicatedly, passionately, lovingly. All of the above.

Tango dancers develop and change. Twenty five years of dance in the midwest is very different than 25 years in New York City, which is very different than 25 years in Buenos Aires. Besides your qualities as a person, dancer, and student, three variables from your tango environment matter in your development: how much time each week you dance (or practice), how developed are the dancers you dance with (your partner and the others on the floor), and what kind of music you dance to. I can talk about each of these variables, but in this short essay I want to turn my attention to what I am calling the arcs of tango. What I mean by an arc, a term borrowed from literary criticism, are the guiding motives in your dance. And by motives, I mean What are the drivers and rewards (satisfiers), the reasons and pleasures as to why you dance? Like the arc of a story these lines of motivation and pleasure change as you develop as a dancer and change as you age.

Here are the major arcs of tango: the pleasure and art of movement and moving to music, the pleasure of erotic and romantic connection with another person, the social connection with other like-minded people (we don’t all love Trump but we do all love tango), and the passion of existential awareness — what I mean by the spiritual arc of tango.

The passion of existential awareness. I can get across what I mean by this by retelling a spiritual teaching tale I heard decades ago. I apologize that I no longer remember it accurately, but I can convey the gist. It goes something like this: A spiritual seeker goes on a pilgrimage to meet a great Yogi who lives on top of a mountain. She hikes and climbs for days to get to the top of the mountain. When she finally gets to the top, exhausted from the long trek, she finds the guru sitting on a blanket cross-legged with eyes closed. She approaches and softly asks, "What is the meaning of life?" The guru sits silently with eyes closed and does not answer. She stays in front of the great guru for days into weeks, repeating her question, “What is the meaning of life.” And she is always met with enigmatic silence. Starving and now hopeless that she will ever get the answer she seeks, defeated, she gives up and leaves to head back down the steep and dangerous mountain. Weak, tired, starving, she climbs across lose rocks and exposed roots. She stumbles and tumbles across a ledge, barely saving herself from the chasm below by grabbing a thin gnarled branch of an emaciated bush. She hangs and dangles there without the strength to do so for much longer. Just before her grip fails, ready to plummet to death, she sees a bright red strawberry growing from the rock near by. She reaches for it, plucks it, eats it, and savors it deeply, and in that moment realizes and understands the truth about human existence, what she set out to know in the first place.

The spiritual arc of life is founded upon wisdom and experience with life. What is there, what has meaning, how life changes. Actually, the spiritual arc of life is mostly about change and loss in the context of love. If you love and if you lose what you love, then you know what matters. You could say, the more you suffer, the more you know what matters. You do not have to live through all the sufferings of life, but you have to see with your heart’s eye. You have to see it through your heart. So if you love and lose, if you feel the pain of others who love and lose, if you see how life inevitably includes change and loss carried forward by love then you are on the spiritual arc.

Tango and the spiritual arc; maybe it is simply this, no one should die alone.

The most important thing anyone has ever said to me about tango, for which I am deeply, deeply grateful, was said to me between dances. She, my partner, said and meant it, when I dance, I dance as if this will be the last dance of my life... Get it?

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