I’m taking tango lessons. Hard to believe. But I’ve got proof. Check out my “We tango and also get tangled” post. A month has passed and we don’t get quite as tangled now. I’m enjoying tango much more than I thought I would.
It’s tempting to dive into an analysis of what I like about tango. However, the memory of some pithy advice I was given at the last class is still vivid: “Shut up and dance!”
That declarative statement was a gift, not an insult. Borrowing a favorite word from Steven Colbert, I enjoyed the marvelous truthiness of it. It came from the lips of an accomplished dancer who I hadn’t partnered with before.
For some reason I usually feel the need to make small talk when the instructor says “Women, rotate to the next partner” and I’m dancing with someone I haven’t met before. I asked this woman how long she’d been dancing. “A long time,” she said. I then said, “What do you like most about dancing?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. Which, in the dancing world, I certainly am. I sensed that I’d made a dance faux pas. “I’ve never been asked that question,” she said. “I don’t know. I just love how dancing makes me feel. Free.”
I should have been aware enough to stop talking at that point. But no, I had to blab on about what I liked about dancing, based on my whole six-week experience. She listened politely for a while, then said: “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but shut up and dance.”
I did. Thankfully.
My dance partner wasn’t thinking “churchless” when she spoke those words, yet they jolted me back into the direct experience that exemplifies spirituality for me now. Heck, more than exemplifies—that’s all genuine spirituality is, direct experience. Everything else that’s added on, dogma, belief, faith, conceptions, interpretations, surmises, is an imitation, not the real thing.
Bill Long is a friend of mine. He’s also taking tango lessons. In some ways we’re a lot alike. Analytical. Wordy. Bill’s a law professor. Also, an author. Shakespeare aficionado. Biblical scholar. Prolific essayist.
Recently Bill wrote two essays about tango and life. I liked them a lot. They’re about dancing—the kind you do to outward music, and also the kind you do to inward music. I highly recommend them to Church of the Churchless visitors. You may not be much into the first kind of dancing but all of us move to inner rhythms.
The question is, what music are we dancing to? Our own, or someone else’s? When it comes to how we live our life, are we original composers or imitators?
These questions are particularly apropos in the area of spirituality. Traditional religions offer up ready-made answers to life’s biggest mysteries. God. Life after death. Creation of the universe. We can either choose to march to the beat of someone else’s spiritual drum or follow the unique rhythm that is heard by us alone.
Bill’s “Tango and Life” essay contains an fascinating story about an influential tango composer, Astor Piazolla. It’s about how four blunt words from a woman changed his life forever. Read it.
Then move on to “Tango and Life II.” Here Bill talks about three lessons about life that he’s learning on the dance floor. (1) The man leads, (2) Always stand chest to chest, and (3) You communicate without talking.
Leading and following is a subtle thing that I’m just beginning to understand. When Bill says, “The man leads,” there’s a lot more going on than simply pulling the woman around on the end of a dance-rope. It’s all about the interplay of yin and yang, cosmic forces reflected in tango steps.
The Tango Moments web site has a nice piece on The Gender Relationship in tango. It contains some wise advice for anyone seeking to integrate the yin and yang of themselves.