social dance

"I Wish I Looked Like That..."

I look on with longing at the curvy brunette dancing in front of me. The red dress she is wearing has strategically placed ruching that makes it impossible to look away from her amazing ass. I’m embarrassed a little at the intensity of the emotion I am feeling in response to a piece of clothing. But more than that, it is about how the woman looks moving in it. She is so confident, so unashamed of her best attributes, flaunting around her beauty as if it was a favor she was performing to benefit the whole of humankind.

I loved and hated tango at that moment. I loved seeing the possibility that women could be so powerful in their bodies, so unabashedly sensual. I hated that I could not do that, that I was not that, that I could never be that. The distance between where I was psychologically and the mindset she seemed to occupy was like from earth to the moon - it’s right there in front of me but reaching it within my lifetime felt close to impossible. I knew I had the weirdest body in the room, I knew that it was an odd shape, my nose was crooked, my thighs were too big, my belly was too round, my arms were too flabby, my teeth were crooked. I knew all of these imperfections by heart and kept vigilant track of them, using the mirror as an opportunity to point out to myself each one. It was like a checklist I would go through each time I saw a reflection of myself. 

“Belly still too big. Check. 

Look how big my highs are in these pants. Check

Nose is so crooked, I should smile less. Check”

I actually remember training myself to smile less on the right side of my face because that would help my nose to remain more even. 

It’s funny (although a bit embarrassing) to admit to the unusual patterns of destructive and disrespectful beliefs I held about myself. Now that I am on the other side of that, on the moon, looking back at where I was. Now it’s silly. But back then, it was my truth, it was my reality. 

There was no way I could be like her. Period.

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But...

who said that I couldn’t indulge in a private fantasy of my own from time to time? Who would know? In this dark crowded milonga, who would care? And if I close my eyes, even better, then I can truly feel safe. I can pretend I know the music and that my movements are graceful, that I actually know what I am doing and I am doing it well.

So I indulged. I imagined myself wearing that dress, I imagined myself moving like her, I imagined being beautiful, I imagined myself feeling confident, but only in secret, only with my eyes closed. God forbid I see a reflection of myself while dancing. 

It was a few months later that, with a fair amount of disbelief and utter terror, I found myself sitting at that same milonga, wearing the dress. The double layered red fabric hugged and stretched across my body in the most pleasant and almost inappropriate ways. My heart was pounding in my chest as I tried to convince myself not to go change into something else... something less revealing... 

“I just know that the slit is too high, the dress is too tight on me, it looks ridiculous, people are gonna laugh, they are gonna judge, and that ruching!”

As I sit and wait for that first dance I use all of my mental power to invoke Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill where she wills her body to overcome paralysis. And finally the moment comes and someone does ask me to dance, and I feel myself get up and walk onto the dance floor. Internally I am literally on the verge of a panic attack because everyone inside my head is convinced that I am naked. As I begin to dance, I do the unthinkable, I search out my reflection in the mirror. I need to make sure that I am not naked. At first I don’t see myself, I see her.

“She is wearing the same dress as me! I wonder if it looks on me as good as it does on her. She is so hot…”

I use the next turn as an opportunity to glance in the mirror one more time to assess if my worst fears are true. But once I spot the reflection of the woman in red again I realize that it was my own reflection I was looking at all along. I was fully clothed, thank God, and for the length of that moment, before I remembered to pull out my checklist, I was exactly who I thought I could never be. I was beautiful.



Why We Are SOTANGO About It, Part 4/4: Let's Make Art

Tango comes into existence every time each individual dancer steps onto the dance floor and takes the embrace. Tango is a result of a collective act of dancing together. Tango is perpetuated into evolution by the pure joy experienced by each dancer. The more joy a dancer experiences, the more they want to dance, the more tango is created, forever, into eternity. The external form of tango will alter over time as each dancer individually undergoes personal and physical evolution. New trends, new music, new inspiration will surely influence how people dance social tango in a century or so. But in the end, it is not about how tango evolves, it is about how we can use tango to evolve ourselves. How creative, beautiful, empowered, confident can we become through tango?

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Social tango is a collective art. It is an urban phenomenon that arose among people who were desperate for connection. Everything within tango - the figures, the etiquette, the music - developed over time as a collective expression, a conversation among dancers, musicians, poets, writers, artists… The result is a form of creative social practice that has successfully spread throughout communities around the world.

When considering why social tango has been so successful, I believe it is because it answers to a deep longing within ourselves to connect, to express, to belong, and to create. It fulfills an essential human need for healthy physical touch and intimacy. It integrates communities, bridging the gaps between ages, cultures, and belief systems. It provides continuity that fosters building of supportive relationships. In essence, social tango functions in our culture the way dancing around a fire functions in tribal cultures - it is a social glue. As such, it is capable of tremendous personal and collective transformation that we so need at this time.

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.
— Agnes de Mille



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