Why We Are SOTANGO About It, Part 3/4: Togetherness

For most of my life I felt displaced. Having spent the first part of my life on three different continents I found myself ill-equipped as an adult to have the one essential thing that all of us without exception need in order to have a fulfilling life - meaningful connections with other people.

I came to the United States when I was fourteen and it was a mystery to me how it could be that a person might live in one place their whole life. I looked on with envy at childhood friendships that blossomed into teenage alliances. The feeling of being on the outside always looking in, wanting to belong. This basic yearning catapulted my life into so many journeys, relationships, experiments. Some of these paths were fruitful, producing impressive results like two masters degrees by age 27. Others were energy draining and physically destructive, like agreeing to an emotionally toxic relationship just so that I wouldn’t feel alone. As I consider the variety and totality of these experiences, what strikes me the most is that every single path led me back to that original sensation of displacement, isolation, and loneliness. I was still painfully insecure, self-critical, scared, emotionally needy, victim of my own inner hostilities.

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It took ten years for me to find what I was looking for, the length of time I have been dancing tango. Much of my original drive to dance tango was wrapped up with that which makes up my little capricious, insecure ego as I was trying to find a way to belong. I wanted to be the best dancer possible so that everyone would want to dance with me and then I could feel good about myself. That basic ego intention went through a number of variations, sending me on a wild goose chase after some crazy ideal: perfect form, perfect body, perfect movement. It took ten years for me to exhaust all of these possible paths and one day I had to finally admit to myself the hard truth that, considering the data, I was making no progress and was still ending up in the same exact place of emotional vacuum. No matter how hard I worked I was not getting any closer to actually feeling like the confident, beautiful, powerful person that I wanted to be.

So I finally gave up, I quit tango.

I didn’t really tell anyone, I just stopped dancing. Not only that, I actually left Buenos Aires two weeks early because one night as I took an embrace at the beautiful Salon Canning I suddenly realized that all of that fervor and ambition that seemed to drive my waking life suddenly evaporated. I was done and I felt exhausted. I came back to the States and felt no desire to dance, some days I even felt aversion towards the actual sound of the music. I felt I was in free fall. I just moved to Los Angeles and once again I found myself in that familiar place of displacement. It is amazing how little physical and material achievements count when facing that inner darkness, disarming really. Looking back on those first few months I can appreciate the intensity of it as I consider the astonishing insight that I was  able to gain because of it.

It all was looking pretty dire and I was spending most of my days moping around feeling hopeless and embarrassed about how, at age 36, I was still feeling like a poor lost puppy. A healthy dose of self-judgement in there to go with all the hopelessness. But then someone invited me to join them at their table one night at a local milonga and I went, and I felt better. It felt good to talk to people, to get up and dance from time to time, to watch the other dancers. And then I went out again and again and again. And each time, the simple act of meeting up with friends to hang out and dance, no agenda, no ambition, no attachment. I noticed I was feeling better, I wasn’t as anxious and depressed, my mind felt clearer, I found myself being more creative, productive, organized.

Suddenly I was passionate about tango again and the difficulties I was previously having, mysteries I was chasing, were spontaneously dissolving, everything integrating effortlessly without me even thinking about it.

Suddenly I realized that for the first time in my life I felt a completely new, alarmingly pleasant emotion. I felt it deeply through all of the layers of my consciousness starting with the ease with which I was moving my body and the depth of my breath to the ordered clarity of my mind and the even cadence of my emotions.

Belonging.

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The simple ritual of going to a space to be around people, to talk, to watch, to engage with the world beyond the inner space of my mind became the ground into which I could root. A lifeline.

The often overlooked gift of tango, the one that I believe is the most important, the one I am passionate about sharing with other people, the most important reason to get into tango in the first place is the comfort of continuity, the integration of individuals into a community, the social ritual of coming together on a regular basis, hugging each other, breathing together, exchanging ideas, experimenting, creating. This is a fuel that powers life.

You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.
— Thich Nhat Hanh