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The Feelings of Tango from a Lead’s Perspective

There are many feelings to be had when you dance (I am speaking to leads here but welcome all readers). The many different feelings send a lead down different paths.

A short digression: Feelings are different from thoughts, even though people constantly mix them up. Feelings come before language and before ideas. They are simply something you feel. Thoughts are ideas we use to think about the world or even to describe or make sense of feelings. Again, we feel feelings.

Let’s say I care about being a good dancer. And I feel bad if I think someone, including me, thinks that I am not a good dancer. So maybe therefore I try hard to be a good dancer: I go to class, take lessons, practice.(You can see that feelings connect with ideas: I think I am a good dancer therefore I feel good or I think I am a bad dancer and therefore feel bad.) Or let’s say I feel good when I dance with an attractive woman therefore I ask that attractive woman to dance. Or I feel good when I dance with a woman who is a good dancer, therefore I ask that woman to dance. Maybe I feel good when I am able to successfully execute a move I have been working on, therefore I try that move at the milonga. All these different feelings and associated ideas send a tango dancer / lead down a path.

My point is that how you think and how you feel send you down a path. But what I am really trying to say is what I think are the two most important feelings for a lead to feel, to attend to, and to pursue.

Romantic feelings. Romantic feelings are like tender feelings. They are like loving feelings. They can have sexual feelings mixed in, but that’s a different issue. Romantic feelings connect with tango lyrics in that tango lyrics are often about a certain subset of romantic feelings, including feelings such as nostalgia, heart break, longing, and loss. Whereas, tango the dance is meant to be a place where a person can express, satisfy, and soothe those feelings, at least to some extent. A tango dancer takes those romantic feelings and expresses them in the embrace. That’s where the love and tenderness come in. The other thing is presence. You can’t love someone unless you notice them and pay attention to them and know what they are feeling. So you have to bring your presence and your embrace to dance romantically.

Lyrical feelings. Lyrical feelings connect your movement to the music. In tango music the melody rises and falls; it opens and closes in phrases; it pulses, pauses, gets quiet or loud; and the sounds of the violins, bandoneons, and singers project emotion and speak to our emotions. A lead then can respond to the music by dancing on some beats and not on others, by slowing and pausing, by turning or by walking, by rocking, by rising and sinking, and even by breathing.

Romantic and Lyrical feelings, those are the feelings that are most important to express when you dance to tango. Vals and milonga are different. Milonga is more festive. Vals in general has more sway and spin. They feel different.

There are other good feelings to be had, of course. A person can feel and be playful. A person can dance simply because they feel the joy of movement (which is romantic in an upbeat and communal way). And there are unfortunate and bad feelings to be had to: like feeling judged or not measuring up or feeling rejected.

The main thing is that I am trying to encourage you to go for the romantic and lyrical feelings in the dance. I believe them to be the soul of tango. If you do this you can forgo the new steps you are learning and have not yet mastered. Instead I think you should focus on the quality of your movement, the tenderness of your embrace, and the way you feel and express the music, especially the slowness and the pauses of the tango. If you do this then you are going down the longest and deepest paths of tango the romantic and lyrical paths.

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