The Gifts of Tango

Something magical happens when people come together to dance. I remember our apartment in Moscow crowded with people, my dad sitting in the center with a guitar, crying. Everyone around him also moved to tears, singing songs together that expressed something sad and ominous. I remember the comfort I felt falling asleep among all the guests, the pulsing drone of all the voices… laughing, yelling, crying, exclaiming.

There was something so magical in the air. Something that arose over time, after hours of drinking and talking, when gradually everyone’s guard was lower than when they came in, emotions were easier to admit to, conversations became more honest. I felt more kindness between people. This is when I felt the happiest.

It is still my happiest place. I realized this last weekend during a tango event at Tango Berretin in Portland, OR. After three days of dancing we all gathered around to hear some live music by Alex Krebs, Andrew Oliver, and Adrian Jost. The air was thick with that same magic and I found myself once again in awe of the power of tango to bring people together like this.

The Biggest Tango Fear

What if nobody wants to dance with me? Everyone here is better than me, more beautiful than me. Everybody can tell that I am not that good. Everyone knows the truth that I don’t really know what I am doing. There is no way anyone would want to dance with me...”

I am glued to the wall, my mind - a menace. It is all I can do not to crawl under a table somewhere, or lock myself in a bathroom stall… but I already did that earlier. My heart is pounding, reverberating through my bones as I watch my panic attack unfold inside me.

There is no escape. Every fear that could show up to taunt me does so with unstoppable vigor. All I want is to be rescued, for someone to prove me wrong, to comfort me, make me feel better. But in a ballroom full of people I am the most alone I have ever felt. All I see is unfulfilled desires, all I hear is a fury of insults, all I feel is my own worthlessness. The panic attack gradually escalates and I am finding it difficult to breath, the vicious rollercoaster thrashing me about.

In the midst of this shit storm I become aware of a distant voice, like an announcer over an intercom that has been talking for a while but I only just now finally hear the message over all the noise.

“You are the source of these thoughts. If you continue thinking these things it’s only going to get worse. You have to focus on something else if you want something different to happen.”

I allow myself to take a deep breath, I lift my head, I tune into the sensation of my body leaning into the wall, I take note of the color of the lights illuminating the space, the quality of the sound filling the space, the multitude of languages spoken around me… But before I fully recover my senses, I find myself walking towards the dance floor with someone. I don’t even remember him asking me to dance, it happened so fast, so easily. As I take the embrace all I can think is “that’s it? That’s all it takes?”

It’s been about ten years since that night and to this day the answer continues to be a resounding YES! The thoughts I think construct my experience. If I allow self-judgement and criticism, if I spend my time comparing myself to others, pointing out all the things that I am lacking, if I indulge in bitterness towards someone who doesn’t want to dance with me, bitterness about not getting what I want, bitterness, bitterness, bitterness…. The more bitterness I experience inside, the more reasons to experience bitterness I encounter.

“Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” - Albert Einstein


Without fail and with uncanny precision, tango reflects back to me exactly the thoughts I choose to think. When I choose to not engage in judgement or criticism and instead pursue something to feel good about, something to admire, to enjoy, to appreciate, consistently I find myself engaged in the most amazing, life-enriching experiences, that sometimes have nothing to do with dancing. I would go as far as to say that it wasn’t until I committed to practicing feeling good about myself, that I was able to really enjoy tango and progress in it. To this day, through experiences of mastery and failure, it remains a practice. And just like tango, the depth, complexity, and rewards of this practice cannot be exhausted.



Why We Are SOTANGO About It, Part 2/4: Self-Acceptance

I remember my first Argentine tango class six years ago. I dressed up: fishnet stockings, black dress, makeup... because that’s what you are supposed to do, I thought. Within minutes of entering the class I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere. I felt exposed, awkward, intimidated, clumsy. You know that feeling that you are the only weird person in the room and everyone is staring at you? That feeling. I remember watching the gorgeous teacher gracefully moving in front of the mirror as I was trying to hide my disgust at my own reflection. And then there was another person in front of me, holding my arms as he tried to figure out how to move my body in a particular pattern. This was the beginning of my transformative, painful, and rewarding journey into dance. My curiosity over time guiding me to experiment with different partner dances and gradually making dance a significant part of my process as an artist.

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As many dancers will agree, dance is a metaphor for life. Especially within the context of partner dancing, life’s dramas get played out in the microcosm of the dance floor. Every form of insecurity, doubt, fear, pleasure, desire, heartbreak, and bliss gets expressed at some point, starting with that very first baffling experience of having to move together with another body and questioning the rightness of every action, facing the inner critic. Now I take it for granted that I come to a foreign country and without question I go out onto the dance floor with a complete stranger, confident in my ability to connect with his/her body and eager to experience the music. As I reflect on my journey thus far, here are some important insights that I came to through dancing with strangers (and friends):

  1. We are all bodies with particular dimensions and parameters, abilities and limitations, preferences and aversions.

  2. We all want to be attractive. We spend enormous amounts of energy on clothes/shoes/dance classes/festivals/marathons/etc. Why? Because we all want to experience pleasure, to be objectified, to be sexy, to be appreciated, admired, complimented, respected. This drives us to act in the most beautiful and/or clumsy ways.

  3. We are all searching for connection. Every social dancer is after that mysterious out-of-body, dreamlike, timeless experience with another person when the bodies move in perfect harmony with the music. This is because our bodies are driven by the desire to connect with other bodies, to be touched in meaningful ways.

  4. We are all responsible for our experienceThe best thing we can offer each other is genuine acceptance and appreciation of the self and other. To me this is the most difficult and important skill to cultivate. It doesn’t matter whether my partner has less experience than me, smells bad, too short, too tall, too experienced which might make me nervous, too drunk (that did happen once). However unpleasant the experience, however nervous I am, however bad I feel about my body, however tired, genuine acceptance and appreciation of the connection with my partner is the only choice that brings about positive change.

  5. We are all trying to heal through relationship. Each dance is a mini relationship, and as such, it makes us tap into the memories and inner voices of past hurts, experiences of failure, fears, doubts, and judgments. And as in a relationship, moving with another body confronts us with the challenge of finding a balance between listening and talking, expressing and witnessing. The small, seemingly insignificant achievements that I accumulated over the years in dancing with other people have directly impacted my life by allowing more humility and empowerment. 


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There are many more lessons and insights to share. They all revolve around the same themes though. The same unifying principles organize any creative, collaborative, life endeavor: acceptance of who we are, curiosity about what else we can be, and celebrating the process of becoming... together.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
— Khalil Gibran

Why We Are SOTANGO About It, Part 1/4: Myth vs Reality

By Yelizaveta Nersesova

“If people saw what I see, everybody would want to do it…” This statement was the tiny seed that germinated to grow into the passionate mission of SOTANGO.

When I tell people I dance tango, most of them imagine that I do this…

And if someone was curious enough about tango to look it up online, they would see this…

However, those are all examples of what is called “stage” or “performance” tango. Fortunately for me I don’t have to do that. I say fortunately because that looks like a lot of work and I am pretty lazy. I suck at choreography and I don’t like to practice. I don’t feel comfortable wearing short skirts and I don’t like to wear heels.

When I go out dancing I am interested in one thing only - having fun! I want to be swept away in the romance of the embrace, the feeling of belonging in a community, the adventure of playing with friends. This, I have found, is the best that adulthood has to offer. I used to fantasize about this when I was a kid.

So what does the tango that I dance almost every night look like?

Tango is an improvised dance constructed on the spot by two people who learn to lead and follow each other. Sometimes it is women who follow, and sometimes the followers are men. It depends on their preference. Some dancers like to wear heels, others prefer to rock it in sneakers and boots.

The dance is simple enough to be adopted by a person of almost any age. And it can get as complex as one desires, there is a lifelong amount of exploration and innovation available. Each dancer chooses their own path. Personally, I consider myself a strictly social dancer so I prefer less talking and more dancing, less studying and more partying.

No dance background necessary! Seriously! In fact, most people who dance tango do not consider themselves dancers. As the saying goes, “if you can walk, you can dance tango.” But since there are even people in wheelchairs dancing tango, even walking is not a requirement.

So, coming back to my original statement, “if people saw what I see, everyone would want to do it.” What is it that I see? I see people of various cultures, ages, backgrounds embracing each other, smiling, laughing. I see people feeling good about themselves, I see bodies come alive right in front of me. I witness life-long friendships, partnerships, collaborations that arise from the simple practice of coming together to dance. I see people cracking the shell of long term limitations having to do with social anxiety, depression, inferiority complexes, loneliness, fatigue. It is nothing short of profound to observe the depth of impact and life changes that social tango facilitates.

So here is to the limitless human creativity that produced such an ingenious language that allows us to practice love for each other. Here is to social tango as a force for good that can easily change the world.

Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.
— Don Miguel Ruiz