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What Yoga is to Fitness - Tango is to Dance

posted Nov 17, 2018, 4:06 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Feb 2, 2019, 7:43 PM ]

yoga meditation tango teachers sydney

Sharing this blog post about why tango is (and is not) like meditation from Life is a Tango (posted 15.2.18).  

Tango is often described as 'a moving meditation'. But what does that really mean and how does it differ from sitting meditation? Yoga can also be described as a meditative form of movement. So what are the similarities and differences between tango, meditation and yoga? These are questions I am interested in being a practitioner of all three.


Lots of people say – and I, myself, have said – that tango is a form of meditation. But is it really?

I know more about meditation than I once did, and I'm not so sure this dance can be considered actual meditation, but I do believe it shares many of the same qualities and benefits.

Meditation has been proven time and time again, study after study, to reduce stress and anxiety. 
Physical activity, dance in particular and tango even more specifically are also well-documented stress and anxiety reducers (I even once gave a presentation to a group of educators on tango for stress reduction).

Meditation improves concentration. 
The practice of mindfulness meditation begins with concentration exercises, which may lead eventually to a meditative state. In the practice of yoga, there are eight limbs, or steps. The physical poses (asanas) are third, while concentration (sixth) comes before meditation (seventh). Tango, too, is an exercise in focus and concentration. We have many tools – music, movement and a partner – at our disposal to help us. Many meditation techniques also use tools: a voice to guide us, a sound (such as a chant) or our own breath to help us focus.

Meditation has been shown to increase happiness, ultimately improving practitioners' self-image and outlook on life. 
If you dance tango, I don't need to tell you that it, too, can bring new joy to your life. The socialization aspect, the enjoyment of the music and the sense of accomplishment as we improve our skills are all proven mood-boosters.
•Both meditation and tango increase self-awareness. I wrote a whole blog post on the subject of tango and body awareness a couple of years ago. Developing an awareness of our bodies in turn develops our overall self-awareness.

The two practices have been shown to slow the ageing process
Meditation can reduce age-related memory loss, while tango is increasingly used as a therapy for people with such diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Partner dancing improves the ability to multi-task or do two things at once – such as navigating in space while remaining in sync with your partner. Research – including a recent study by the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University on tango for people with Parkinson's disease – has shown that Argentine tango offers particular benefits for the brain, probably due to its improvised nature.

On a psycho-emotional level, meditation and tango have much in common. 
Being a good tango dancer and attentive partner involves some letting go of the ego, which is an important concept in meditation. Tango dancers also need to be able to let go of the plan – another concept present in the process of meditation (and another topic I have touched on in my blog). And have you ever taken a tango class in which the teachers didn't mention the need to be present? In the moment, in your body, for your partner. Meditation, too, is an exercise in presence.

Anecdotally, people who compare tango to meditation all say the same thing: It allows us to let go of our thoughts, worries and stresses and to live completely in the moment. This is one of the things that drew me to dance and to Argentine tango. I have an overly busy brain – the kind that loves to wake me up at 3 a.m. or to distract me from the task at hand – and tango is one of the only activities that is pretty much guaranteed to still my mind and make me fully, truly present. Meditation attracts me for the same reasons, though the work there is more challenging without the music, movement and human contact to help.

yoga meditation tango teachers sydney
Tao Porchon-Lynch: world's oldest known yoga teacher and tango dancer

Tango vs Yoga
I cannot write about meditation and tango without encompassing yoga. Yoga is not a synonym for meditation – you can do the physical part of yoga without practicing meditation and you can practice meditation without yoga. But in my personal experience as a yoga practitioner (and now a teacher), the two are inseparable. Real yoga is much more than downward dog and sun salutations, and meditation is an integral part of it. 

If we add the benefits of the yoga poses to those of the meditative process, the similarities with tango only multiply. Both yoga and tango require and improve our posture, alignment, strength, mobility, balance and cardiovascular health. In yoga, the physical poses come before meditation because if we are not able to be well aligned and well positioned we will be uncomfortable and have difficulty meditating. In tango, if we are not well aligned and well positioned we will have difficulty dancing because we and our partners will be uncomfortable.

My partner once said to me "what yoga is to fitness tango is to dance," meaning yoga and tango both require an awareness of body and self that is not as present, or at least not often taught, in many other forms of exercise or social dance.

Even the advice I read about learning meditation resembles that which I give my students:
Consistent practice matters more than long practice. Better a few short sessions a week than just one long one.
If your mind wanders, that's OK and maybe even a good thing. In meditation we want to notice what is happening in our minds and redirect our thoughts back to the focus of our practice. If your mind wanders, it doesn't mean you are not meditating. And if your mind wanders while you're dancing, it means you're not overthinking and you're dancing what you feel, using your instinct rather than your conscious mind.

Avoid striving for perfection. 
Even long-time practitioners find meditation challenging. And even professional maestros find tango challenging. Both are life-long, life-enhancing practices that are about reaping the benefits of the journey rather than trying to reach a final destination.

So how is tango not like meditation?
Of course, tango is a social activity, which is probably the biggest difference with meditation, a pretty solitary pursuit. However, meditation is centred around the connection to oneself, and, as mentioned above, we also have to connect to ourselves if we want to improve our dancing.

In tango you are using tools – music and movement – that help channel your concentration and distract you from your busy mind and the outside world. My yoga teacher might argue that this is not true meditation, because distractions are, well, distracting us from the process. However, tango is certainly a type of concentration exercise, and, again, concentration is a step on the path to meditation.

A couple of years ago I went on a meditation retreat and along with the many hours of silent, seated meditation we practiced what is called walking meditation, where we would walk through the woods in silence, trying to be present and fully focused on our movements, surroundings and sensations. Sounds a lot like tango, doesn't it? Minus the music and partner, of course.

So I guess tango, while not meditation, could be said to be meditative. In any case, it benefits us in a lot of the same ways.

Other reading:
While researching this topic I read an interesting article by McGill's Patricia McKinley on the many benefits of Argentine tango.

I also came across a book (which I have not read) called Tango Zen : Walking Dance Meditation.

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The post is reproduced in its entirety in case the original post disappears off the internet (as posts online have a habit of doing). The text is in it's original form but with slightly altered format and pictures added for easier reading.

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The dance of the sincere hug and 9 reasons why it's so good for you

posted Aug 9, 2018, 4:17 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jan 25, 2019, 3:18 PM ]

Dancers: Melina Mistral & Steve Morrall. Photographer: Murat Erdemsel

Are you getting your 12 hugs a day?

The average length of a hug between two people is 3 seconds. But researchers have discovered something really interesting. When a hug lasts 20 seconds, there is a major therapeutic benefit to the body and mind. 

It's no wonder that Tango is making such a comeback. I know of no other dance where hugging is such an integral part of the dance!

In tango we typically hug (a more apt description being sincerely embrace) our partner for much longer than 20 seconds.  Calculate that each tango song lasts about 3 minutes and we dance at least 3 - 4 songs in a row. One of my favourite books about tango has the wonderful title of '12 Minutes of Love'

To quote the famed psychotherapist Virginia Satir: 
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” 

Whether those exact numbers have been scientifically proven remains to be seen, but there is a great deal of scientific evidence related to the importance of hugs and physical contact. 

Here are nine reasons why we should hug (and learn tango)... 

1. Stimulates Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system, the brain’s emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment, reducing anxiety and stress, and even making mammals monogamous. It is the hormone responsible for us all being here today. You see this little gem is released during childbirth, making our mothers forget about all of the excruciating pain they endured expelling us from their bodies and making them want to still love and spend time with us. New research from the University of California suggests that it has a similarly civilising effect on human males, making them more affectionate and better at forming relationships and social bonding. And it dramatically increased the libido and sexual performance of test subjects. When we hug someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies by our pituitary gland, lowering both our heart rates and our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

2. Stimulates thymus gland

Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.

3. Stimulates Dopamine

Everything everyone does involves protecting and triggering dopamine flow. Low dopamine levels play a role in the neurodegenerative disease Parkinson’s as well as mood disorders such as depression. Dopamine is responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling, and it’s also responsible for motivation! Hugs stimulate brains to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Dopamine sensors are the areas that many stimulating drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine target. The presence of a certain kinds of dopamine receptors are also associated with sensation-seeking.

4. Stimulates Serotonin

Reaching out and hugging releases endorphins and serotonin into the blood vessels and the released endorphins and serotonin cause pleasure and negate pain and sadness and decrease the chances of getting heart problems, helps fight excess weight and prolongs life. Even the cuddling of pets has a soothing effect that reduces the stress levels. Hugging for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.

5. Parasympathetic balance

Hugs balance out the nervous system. The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped pressure centres called Pacinian corpuscles that can sense touch and which are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.

6. Prevents disease

Affection also has a direct response on the reduction of stress which prevents many diseases. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine says it has carried out more than 100 studies into touch and found evidence of significant effects, including faster growth in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased autoimmune disease symptoms, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes, and improved immune systems in people with cancer.

7. Cultivates Patience

Connections are fostered when people take the time to appreciate and acknowledge one another. A hug is one of the easiest ways to show appreciation and acknowledgement of another person. The world is a busy, hustle-bustle place and we’re constantly rushing to the next task. By slowing down and taking a moment to offer sincere hugs throughout the day, we’re benefiting ourselves, others, and cultivating better patience within ourselves.

8. Communicates without saying a word

Almost 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. The interpretation of body language can be based on a single gesture and hugging is an excellent method of expressing yourself nonverbally to another human being or animal. Not only can they feel the love and care in your embrace, but they can actually be receptive enough to pay it forward to others based on your initiative alone.

9. Self esteem

Hugging boosts self-esteem, especially in children. The tactile sense is all-important in infants. A baby recognizes its parents initially by touch. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

Article source: adapted from a post by Sacred Dreams on 15.4.18

6 Reasons why learning tango is life changing

posted Aug 30, 2017, 3:33 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Feb 11, 2019, 7:19 PM ]

At SoTango you'll learn that tango is...
  • Connecting
  • Cognitive enhancing
  • Self transformative
  • An awesome way to meet new people
  • The ultimate partner dance
  • A fabulous way to play!
1) Connecting
By learning tango you'll experience a beautiful and unique way of connecting with others and enjoy being part of a vibrant community. You'll get to connect with fellow students and members of Sydney's vibrant tango community - through our fun social events, tango parties ('milongas') and outings to other milongas around Sydney. 

Tango can be danced in an embrace that is close, open or combination of both. It can be danced between a man and woman, two women, two men, or with a role reversal. It does not matter what clothes are worn, nor what music is played, assuming it has a rhythm conducive to the dance.

The essential quality of tango that must never be lost, tango's raison d'etre is - connection / communion with one's partner.  If people are not communing with each other in their tango, no matter how beautiful their moves, nor how on the music they are, their dance for me is not the type of tango that I want to dance or teach.

Read more here on the how tango is the Art of Connection

2) Cognitive Enhancing (anti-ageing)
Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that tango not only keeps the body in shape -it also sharpens the brain.

Read more here about the phenomenal benefits of tango to mind and body, including how tango is more effective than endurance training.

3) Self Transformative
There is no other dance like tango to teach you how to be present, focused and attentive - qualities so important for better relationships and success in general. Read here about how tango can change you personally and professionally.

4) An awesome way to meet new people 
From my experience tango is definitely the best and most fun way to meet people in your local area and when travelling.
Read here about the social benefits of tango for travellers.

Speaking of tango and travelling, here's a pic from the Byron Bay Tango Festival last weekend (can you spot me? :-))

milongas tango sydney teachers dance best

5) The ultimate partner dance
Tango is a wonderful and unique way to spend quality time with your partner. It's no surprise that many of our students treat their tango lessons as 'date nights' .  

Tango is also ideal as a wedding dance. There is no more romantic and elegant dance than tango for the First Dance. SoTango has prepared literally hundreds of couples for their wedding dances. 
You can read more about tango for weddings here.

6) A fabulous way to play!
Last but not least tango is a playful and spontaneous dance. When we tango we can forget and escape the stresses and responsibilities of every day life.  One of the main reasons we tango is that it's just such a lot of fun!   It's a cliche but true that tango is "about the most fun you can have with another person in public."
Read more here about the playfulness of tango.

© SoTango Sydney 

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Tango beats endurance training!

posted Aug 29, 2017, 6:10 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Aug 29, 2017, 6:12 PM ]

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Not only is tango connecting, soulful and fun, it's also cognitive enhancing...

"Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity," says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. 
"In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance."

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3 leadership lessons from the Argentine tango

posted Jun 12, 2017, 8:24 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Feb 11, 2019, 7:03 PM ]

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How tango can help us grow in our personal and professional lives has interested me ever since I started tangoing. When dancing and teaching tango I am constantly reminded how it is so much more than a dance.

As is my usual habit I have reproduced the article in its entirety for posterity as cyber links do tend to disappear over time. You can visit the original source here.

3 leadership lessons from the Argentine tango
By Michelle Wucker, published in the World Economic Forum website on 12 June 2017

As a beginner tango student years ago in New York City, I was lucky to have a gifted teacher who understood how important psychology is to the dance. In tango, as in all leadership roles, understanding the opposite point of view is essential.

Pablo Pugliese began studying tango when he was nine years old, the son of two legendary teachers who shaped the modern form of the dance, especially by elevating the role of the follower. One day, Pablo was teaching our class the arrastre, or “drag,” a step in which the leader blocks then drags the follower’s foot into position.

Pablo told a story about a spat between his parents, when his father insisted on going to a tango club that his mother did not like. So when they got there and Mingo attempted to lead a drag, Esther refused to budge her foot, so he tripped. When he complained, she told him that’s what he deserved for being so stubborn.

That story went to the heart of the tango: the importance of communication, respect and negotiation. “If a man and a woman can sit in a café for three hours and not come to an agreement, how do you think it is they can do it in the three minutes of the tango?” Pablo asked us, not entirely rhetorically.

I gave up the tango over a decade ago, after a falling out with my dance partner that ended with a melodramatic gesture involving a tin of cinnamon breath mints. (The intended message apparently was that I’d have to find someone else to carry them around for me.)

But, as the song goes, the truth is I never left the dance. So when I learned that the 2017 World Economic Forum on Latin America would take place in Argentina this April, with the theme “Responsible and Responsive Leadership,” it was the perfect excuse to put my tango shoes back on.

The Argentine dance holds secrets to becoming a responsible and responsive leader: two-way communication, setting a clear direction, and building the foundations that allow intuition and innovation to flourish.

I reached out to Pablo, who is now based in Montreal. He put me in touch with Carla Marano, a tango dancer and teacher, to organize a workshop on tango and leadership at the Annual Summit of Young Global Leaders and Alumni in Buenos Aires.

Carla and her team started the group out by pairing up teams around the room. One partner closed their eyes while the other steered them around the room with a gentle push. “Don’t walk just for the sake of walking,” she warned us.

As you might imagine for a group chosen for their leadership qualities, the follower’s role was not easy. Several participants, upon opening their eyes, commented on how much harder it was than they thought to read the leader’s intentions, instead of just charging ahead on their own. That was frustrating for the leaders, too, as they worked to give clearer signals to keep the followers from doing their own thing.

This simple exercise taught a powerful lesson in just a few minutes: leadership is a two-way conversation. The best leaders read their followers and set them up for success, by sending a clear message and anticipating and avoiding possible obstacles. Good followers pay close attention to the leader to keep the partnership strong.

The workshop brought me back to the lessons I learned when I was dancing at least three times a week and learning how to navigate the leadership styles of classmates and dance partners at milongas,or dance halls, in New York City.

These are the three most important lessons:

1) Understanding another point of view is essential. Leaders lead better when they understand where their follower is coming from. “To be able to lead properly you want to understand how it feels to be led,” Pablo said. You cannot lead without having a sense of your follower; and the way the leader looks best is when the follower looks fabulous.

In the early days of tango, women were not allowed to participate in practice sessions, so men had no choice but to dance with other men. “If you wanted to learn from somebody you had to follow to learn to lead,” Pablo said. The result was that from the beginning, leaders had the tools for better understanding of both roles.

Indeed, the New York City dance studio where I met Pablo required all beginners - women and men - to practice both the leader and the follower roles. Students tended to separate into traditional gender roles as they advanced to intermediate roles.

But as they got even better, many students - especially women - went back and re-learned the basics of leading. This strengthened their skills even more, not to mention helping to ensure that there were enough leaders and followers.

These women students were inspired in part by four female instructors who created an all-women tango troupe, Tango Mujer, which shattered conventional gender roles and inspired dancers to approach tango from new perspectives.

2) Without a clear leader, the follower cannot shine. The leader sets the foundation, and the follower "embellishes" with ochos (serpentine steps), boleos (kicks) and more. But the leader also cannot lead if he does not set the follower up for success, by sensing which foot the follower’s weight is on, the follower’s skill level, and of course by making sure he doesn’t lead the follower into another couple or some other obstacle.

3) Intuition goes hand in hand with communication. Being mindful from the outset, setting good foundations and practicing prepares you to make decisions and act intuitively. Mastering the basics gives you the tools to improvise.

In times of uncertainty, having a good foundation is essential. Emergency room doctors, firefighters, airline pilots and other professionals practice for thousands of hours so that they can rely on instinct to carry out basic actions in a crisis.

While lives may not be at stake on the dance floor, the same principles apply: learning the basics so that they are second nature makes it easier not just to avoid collisions but also to do more advanced steps and execute the embellishments – the kicks, twists, and other flourishes that make the tango so memorable.

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Perhaps it is tango's polymorphism that attracts engineers

posted Jun 1, 2017, 9:49 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 2, 2017, 7:59 PM ]

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"...tango is polymorphic1, which is one of the things that has made me abandon most of the many social dances I've learned in several decades of dancing."

Throughout my 17 years of teaching tango it has never ceased to amaze me how many of my most dedicated students and popular dancers are working as engineers or in engineering related fields (particularly referring to male dancers). 

Of course this doesn't mean that you have to have an 'engineering mind' to excel in tango. It's all about motivation, dedication and practice. If you desire to become good at tango and put the work in you will. I am a case in point: over the years of dancing tango I've noticed how my spatial / logical/ and bodily / kinesthetic intelligences have developed. Tango has undoubtedly helped me to fire up new neural pathways and I am eternally grateful for that and its other anti-ageing qualities!

The attraction of engineers to tango truly intrigues me and it had me surfing the net to find out what was behind this attraction.

My attention was drawn to a conference paper titled 'Engineers and Social Dance' to which I've dedicated a whole post. The following post by an engineer nick-named 'Larry de Los Angeles' shed other light on the possible reasons for why so many engineers love dancing tango...

Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2002 01:35:17 -0800
From: Larry E. Carroll 
Subject: Tango and Engineers

In my dozen years in the tango world I've been impressed at the variety of people (and their professions) who are drawn to tango. I'm a (software) engineer myself, working mostly on scientific applications, and probably more sensitive than most to the presence of scientists and engineers in any arena. I've also been involved over the years with salsa, several varieties of swing and ballroom, and other social dances. I've never noticed any particular dance drawing specific professions.

Also, even if I granted the premise of "Engineers love tango" that wouldn't mean that tango drew analytical, logical minds. What most people (even some engineers!) don't realize is that engineering is a creative profession. We (like everyone else) solve most problems with creativity, not with logic, and logic and critical thinking are only used to test solutions. Though we try hard to apply logic to our decisions, sometimes spending a lot of time using elaborate weighted criteria, in the end we often use these methods to justify decisions that we made with intuition and esthetics. And the better the engineer or scientist, the more creative we are. 

"I'm often amused by people's assumptions about those supposed opposites of engineers and scientists - artists of all stripes."

Also, we often have creative hobbies. I worked for 11 years at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, which is owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology. I rubbed elbows with a number of scientists, some of them Nobel prize winners and the like. The variety and intensity of their creative hobbies - including dancing - would
amaze most people who only know science and scientists through stereotypes. I'm often amused by people's assumptions about those supposed opposites of engineers and scientists - artists of all stripes. Since I'm working to become a full-time professional writer and have edited magazines,

I've know dozens of writers personally over the years. I've also been involved in various kinds of art. (In fact, I have a degree in film/TV production.) Any professional artist - someone who doesn't eat if they don't produce - is very disciplined, even though that may not be obvious to the casual observer. We are also very analytical and detail oriented. Sit in on a writer's workshop sometimes, as I have dozens of times over the years, and you'll see the same kind of thinking and interaction as engineers in a design session - or dancers (of ANY kind) at an advanced workshop.

People like easy, simple-minded, black and white answers. Often they suppose creativity and logic to be opposites, and a person high in one always low in the other. In fact, intuitive and practical thought are two mostly orthogonal activities, and the healthiest mind has a "right" and a "left" brain (like a left and a right arm) of equal sizes and strengths, working together.

It is true that a particular kind of thought may predominate in different areas. Someone (Laurie Moseley?) pointed out that classes tend to focus on analysis and technique and precise repetition of standard moves, while dancing (or playing an instrument, giving a speech, painting, etc.) tends to focus more on creative and holistic thinking and risking mistakes to do something unusual.

This doesn't mean that studying and practicing are inferior or useless to dancing. Just as body building gives us the strength and speed and endurance to be freer at a sport, so does practicing technique gives us the freedom to feel and enjoy when we dance, because technique has become mostly automatic.

I suspect that discussions like this one are partly because many of us are still trying to figure out just what the Argentine tango is. (And partly because a few of us are too lazy to feel more than one part of the elephant!)

The problem is that tango is polymorphic, which is one of the things that has made me abandon most of the many social dances I've learned in several decades of dancing. If the music is boring, or my partner loves acrobatics, I can dance tango (or try to, anyway!) with the precision, complexity, and athleticism of ballet. If the music is hypnotic, or my partner a beginner, I may dance very simply but with much feeling (because a tango beginner may yet have a PhD of the heart).

We can dance tango with austere elegance, or sweaty rhythm, or sensuous togetherness. We can dance "milonguero," or canyengue, or "salon," or "Nuevo tango," or any of several other styles, all depending on the music and the surroundings and (most of all) our partner.

And the sooner someone gives up trying to straitjacket the incredible richness of the tango into one simple thing, the sooner they can really begin to enjoy all its possibilities 

"If the music is hypnotic, or my partner a beginner, I may dance very simply but with much feeling (because a tango beginner may yet have a PhD of the heart)."

Including this video from a chemical engineering class in Greece... just for fun!

1"Polymorphism" - a programming language's ability to process objects differently depending on their data type or class. More specifically, it is the ability to redefine methods for derived classes.

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Why engineers and IT geeks are drawn to Tango...

posted Jun 1, 2017, 8:35 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 2, 2017, 7:55 PM ]

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As mentioned in another post on the attraction of engineers to tango I'm fascinated in why so many engineers (or people working in engineering related fields like IT)  seem to take to tango like ducks to water! 

The following paper (reproduced in abridged form) sheds some light on the reasons...

Engineering and Social Dance

Written and presented at NDEO Conference by John Walton, October 17, 2003

"...the magnetic attraction between Engineering majors at Stanford University and the Social Dance classes."

"Becoming one with motion has long been recognized as a gateway to deeper states. . . you become far more deeply receptive of . . . this fascinating creature that is right there in front of you, in your arms, with you at the center of a vast spinning universe."


This was written for those of us who learn dance and those of us who teach it, in the hope of shedding some light on the reaction that takes place when arts information, in this instance, dance information, is transferred from one person to another. In this presentation I will discuss Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences as applied to dance, and the magnetic attraction between Engineering majors at Stanford University and the Social Dance classes. There are also some larger questions that intrigue me that I will address. Questions about how people really prefer to learn dance and how we as teachers can facilitate the learning situation and prevent discouragement. Dance teachers can extrapolate from the intelligences and learning styles of this small sub-culture on a college campus to their own situations.

The lilting music begins, and two by two, the dancers begin to Waltz. All heights, weights, nationalities and different abilities fill the cavernous studio with movement. They Waltz, Lindy Hop, Polka and Tango together as the music shifts and changes. Some effortlessly leading and following, others stopping to confer with their partners on a new variation, all are focused on the task at hand. The music stops. They switch to new partners as the parade of dance styles continues: Foxtrot, Cross-step Waltz, Swing, Hustle . . . Their teacher, Richard Powers, gently calls out occasional instructions and guidance to the room filled with swirling figures. 

"At Stanford, 23% of the student population is in the School of Engineering. In this Social Dance class, 52% of these students have majors in Engineering or related sciences. In the advanced performing group, these numbers rise to 60%."

These students are members of the Social Dance II class in the Dance Division at Stanford University. At Stanford, 23% of the student population is in the School of Engineering. In this Social Dance class, 52% of these students have majors in Engineering or related sciences. In the advanced performing group, these numbers rise to 60%. What was the connection, the attraction? Was there some overlap in the skills necessary for both? Did it have anything to do with the fact that their teacher Richard Powers had graduated from Stanford’s School of Engineering years before? The school newspaper regularly included cartoons on this topic, which showed me that I was not the only one who noticed this attraction. This study examines the intersection of Social Dance and the School of Engineering at Stanford, and explores the reasons behind the disproportionate numbers of students from Engineering and related technical majors who take Social Dance classes.

Many of the more advanced dances that these students learn are complex and quickly taught. The footwork is changeable, rapidly executed and often contains patterns not immediately apparent. The relative positions of the partners’ bodies change frequently and rapidly, and must be led and followed with dexterity. The number of Engineering majors per class increases with the level of difficulty of the material. There is less time allotted to acquire the moves, less repetition, a greater deal of assumed knowledge, and a greater amount of self-correction required in the process. It demands a higher standard of physical ability than the earlier levels.

All of this naturally requires a strong Kinesthetic ability or awareness. My interest in the writings of Howard Gardner initially prompted me to look for a link between Logical/Mathematical and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences as defined by Gardner in this population. I later added Spatial and Musical intelligences to this list. Gardner defines as core characteristics of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence as the ability to control one’s bodily motions and to manipulate objects skillfully. (1) He considers one’s own body to be an object and does not differentiate between the fine motor activities needed for the placement of tiny objects in electronic instruments, or the full-body movements required by the dancer. In the case of Engineering, the ability to manipulate objects becomes especially important. In Chapter 9 of Frames of Mind, Gardner discusses the high incidence of inventors and engineers, particularly engineers who learn and create by manipulating objects, who demonstrate a high degree of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence. (2) This intelligence is the dancer’s ability to “see-and-do”: to be able to transform a dynamic visual image into physical action, and to hear a direction and translate that into movement.

For these students to have been accepted into the School of Engineering implies strong Logical/Mathematical skills, which according to Gardner is the ability to translate concrete objects into symbols and manipulate them mentally, to be able to visualize without a concrete model, and the ability to create and relate abstract thoughts. (3) Additionally, in the case of Engineering, a strong Spatial intelligence is needed. Spatial characteristics are “the capacities to perceive the visual world accurately, to perform transformation and modifications upon one’s initial perceptions, and to be able to re-create aspects of one’s visual experience, even in the absence of relevant physical stimuli.” (4) One can produce new forms in the mind’s eye, or mentally manipulate those forms that have been provided.

Through the use of eight in-person interviews I looked into the lifestyles and learning styles of these students, and found the lifestyle-balancing benefits offered by social dancing to be essential. Their comments about socializing, interacting with the opposite sex, their learning styles and personality traits point to some basic commonalities in these areas, especially along gender lines.

This work examines classes that emphasize dancing with a partner, rather than all dancing per se. In Stanford University’s Dance Division, that includes four classes: “Social Dance Forms of North America I,” “Social Dance Forms of North America II,” “The Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble,” and “Social Dance of Latin America.”

What has emerged in this study is that there is a decided link between the Arts and the Sciences in these students’ lives, that the two disciplines do balance each other, but it is more complex than that. The intellectual and physical abilities these Engineering students share, how this lifestyle-balancing takes place, and the importance of the process and ambiance of the class, more than the product or acquired skill level, are all examined here.


(Sophia's note: I have abridged this section for ease of reading. Please refer to the original article for full details on the nature of  informants, interviewees and research approach)

The questions asked of all eight interviewees centered around their dance background, their learning styles and strong skills, and the psychological, social and emotional benefits they derived from Social Dancing at Stanford University. From these interviews, I gathered information about the link between the constellation of skills and intelligences required of both an Engineering major and for dancing with a partner. In addition, these interviews revealed several commonalities in the social, emotional, psychological and physical reasons for their attraction to Social Dance.


The educational issues were intriguing. All were very aware of their strengths as learners, and were able to articulate them to me quite easily and in great detail. They talked about Left vs. Right-brained learning styles and the qualities of good teaching. There appears to be a high level of Musical intelligence in this group as well, as all of them play a musical instrument with proficiency. All eight spoke of themselves as visual learners and demonstrated, in classroom observations, a high level of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence in proportion to their dance experience.


The Logical/Mathematical Connection

Overall, the use of mathematics in learning to dance is not surprising. The common ground of numbers, of counts, and the geometry of the dances are obvious and the students’ constant use of mathematics and numbers in processing dance information was quite predictable. Because of the already long-established relationship between music and mathematics, dating back to Pythagoras, for many it was a very small leap to translate this mathematical/musical skill to dance. All eight of the extremely musical interviewees learn dance in a very mathematical and musical way. One Aeronautics & Astronautics major puts it very neatly: “Music and math are one. Music is humanized math, basically.” A Computer Systems major more concretely says, “I think mathematically for the Lindy. I use numbers. I hear a downbeat and know I have seven more beats to do something before the rock-step comes back.”

This form of mathematical thinking sometimes goes beyond basic numerical or geometric skills. In the Course Reader for Dance 046 - Social Dance, (5) a Mathematics major wrote about “The Math of the Waltz.” She says:

Waltz is by far the most logical dance and the most geometrically designed as well. It resembles a sine and cosine wave proceeding together - the sine wave half a Pi before the cosine one. I bring up this analogy because a cosine wave is a sine wave shifted half a Pi in time, and so is Waltz, if we view the man as the sine wave and the woman as a cosine wave. The beauty of it comes from the fact that unless the partners understand that it must be completely symmetrical, it does not work.

This is high-level mathematical thinking applied to Social Dance, and seems to fall well within Gardner’s description of “the ability to translate concrete objects into symbols and manipulate them mentally.” 

"The last form of mathematical thinking in dance involves Spatial intelligence as well as numbers. It involves making judgments about rotation and velocity, predicting where one’s partner will end up, and putting one’s own body in the correct place at the correct time."

The last form of mathematical thinking in dance involves Spatial intelligence as well as numbers. It involves making judgments about rotation and velocity, predicting where one’s partner will end up, and putting one’s own body in the correct place at the correct time. One of the Computer Science majors says, “I like adjusting for my partners. Gauging corrective measures, like if I know she’s not going to make it around all the way, I can correct and be in the right place to meet her.”


The Bodily/Kinesthetic Connection

This would appear to be the most obvious intelligence for the learning and execution of dance. Most of the interviewees alluded to or flatly stated that they had a good kinesthetic sense. Especially in the more skilled dancers, we see this intelligence come to the fore. One graduate states, “I have a very highly developed kinesthetic memory.” Another says, “I’m visual and kinesthetic . . . I think I have a pretty good memory for this stuff.”

Though the links to Engineering may not be immediately apparent, there is a connection between the development of Logical/Mathematical and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences as described by Piaget. It is based on the idea of manipulation of objects in space. He states that the early learning of mathematical concepts is based on “a confrontation with the world of objects,” that young children learn math by manipulating objects. (6) Picture the Kindergarten teacher demonstrating the concept of addition and subtraction by using blocks and asking the child how many are left after you “take away” one, or how many are there when you add one. Eventually these operations are translated to symbols and later manipulated in the mind, but the foundation of learning math is in the world of the concrete, the world of the physical.

This ties in with Gardner’s core characteristic of those who excel in Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence, who learn and create by “the manipulation of objects.” He gives biographical accounts of computer whiz-kids and says, “Such biographical accounts indicate that an interest in manipulation, in putting together (or taking apart) and in the eventual reassembly of objects may play an important formative role in the development of an engineer; such activity may also provide a needed island of reinforcement for an individual who shows scant interest (or skill) in other domains of experience.” (7) Additionally, he writes about Einstein’s “Object-Centered Mind” in Creating Minds: “Einstein’s interests centered around the world of objects and the physical forces around them. (He) saved his ardor for the relations among objects.” (8)

Since Gardner considers one’s own body to be an “object,” there is the possibility that in Social Dance the leader may in some way consider the follower’s body to be an object as well. To make the correct movements in order that one might lead a partner to a certain place, or to control one’s own body in order to influence the position of another’s, fall under the umbrella of “manipulation of objects,” and are fundamental to early mathematical learning and later success as an inventor, an engineer, or a Social Dancer.


The Spatial Intelligence Connection

In order to successfully learn and execute a dance movement, one must be able to picture it being done by others, or preferably, by the self, and then replicate it. This inner visualization goes beyond visual perception, when things are merely seen accurately, and includes the core characteristics of Spatial intelligence: to mentally transform or modify that which is seen, and imagine that which has never been seen. The ability to take that which is seen on another’s body, and place it within oneself speeds the learning process and gives confidence to the dancer when executing the moves.

I have heard many dancers speak about the “movie in my mind,” and all eight of these Engineering majors have this ability to take an image and place it within, sometimes rotating the image or viewing it from a different angle in the process. This is different from viewing oneself in a mirror, or simultaneously aping the moves of the teacher. A Product Design major (which is Mechanical Engineering plus Art) says that for her Engineering work she must use “Abstract thinking - visualizing in space. I have to visualize three-dimensionally what it’s going to look like. It’s the same in dance. You see something and turn it in your head.” An Aeronautics & Astronautics Engineer is even more explicit:

"I usually try to match a model I have. That model can be whoever is teaching. Then I try to substitute myself in there. Turn the picture into myself. I see myself; someone dressed in black, doing the steps, going here, going there. Like a movie - a photographic memory. I see myself doing the dance. I know that my leg is supposed to look like this in this posture, in this attitude and I see myself doing it."

This is an example of the Spatial intelligence – in which Engineers excel - being put to use in the service of learning dancing.


The Engineering Connection

There appears to be a happy marriage between the way Social Dance is taught to these Engineering majors and the way they best learn, using their major intelligences. Richard Powers is a Master Teacher whose own Engineering and musical background find a receptive audience in this population. This does not mean that others who are not Engineers would not benefit from this teaching style, nor that this particular population couldn’t learn from someone who teaches differently. But there is a particular comfort zone for these people, an appropriate level of mental and physical challenge, and the joy of recognizing of a familiar language that makes it easier for them to excel, and for them to take that difficult social step of trying something as public and extroverted as social dance. 

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Richard Powers - source: Stanford Arts

Everyone mentioned concrete ideas about what constitutes good teaching, what works for them, and more universal pedagogical intangibles including: teachers who have a positive attitude that helps students keep trying when things are difficult, teachers who are passionate about their work, and a spiritual idea: “The process of learning together . . . it’s like growing together and it somehow makes a connection with that person. The physical contact - it increases, enhances the process of learning about dancing.” But the most insightful link between being an Engineering major and being taught by a former Engineer came from a Computer Systems major. He said that, “As an engineer, you want to break down real world situations into their most basic ideas ... to make it really simple so you can work with it and figure it out. And that’s what (Richard) does a lot. He says ‘step one: cross over.’ He breaks it down and makes it so you can understand it.”

While observing a Social II class, I watched Richard teach a new concept by distilling everything down to its lowest common denominator. He began with no partners (for less cluttered learning; you only need think about yourself) and then the basic footwork was taught - first the Rights and Lefts and then in proper rhythm with counts at a slow tempo. Added to that was direction - which way does each foot travel, which way am I turning, and where is it taking me? He used devices such as focus: “Keep your eyes on the person on your right - you should be able to see that person the entire time you do these two half turns.” Next, a partner was added to the equation, including a demonstration from him (with a partner) and tips for the leads on how to lead the step. The slow tempo was constant. Only at the end did he begin to speed up to a more realistic tempo. Throughout, words and phrases such as the following were used: “L- shaped,” “face the courtyard,” “oscillate,” “into/out of the circle,” “90 degree angle.” And so on. Very concrete, mathematical, and to this population, familiar, comfortable and meaningful.

The ability of this teacher to break things down into their most basic components is coupled with an equal ability to paint vivid 3-dimensional pictures to illustrate the moves (i.e., Spatial intelligence) and communicate them to his students. One beginning student remarked on the visual images that worked for him: “Pretend there’s a pole in front of you. Now turn it,” and “Just get out of her way.” He called them “analogies” and said, “For me it’s just throwing out enough analogies ‘till you get something right. By throwing out analogies it points you in the right direction of where you’re supposed to be. It’s one concept, and everything else kind of falls into place with that.” The use of Spatial intelligence on the part of both the teacher and the student comes into play here.

Although the intelligences of this teacher and this population appear to overlap, the method of teaching in the two departments (Dance and Engineering) does not. Based on interviews and the Introductory Electronics class that I attended, the typical teaching style was the standard lecture version: 60 or 70 students seated in a large auditorium listening but not interacting and observing but not directly participating, as a professor discussed an image on the overhead projector. Another difference is in the lag time between the teaching of, and then the trying out of new information. In Computer Science there is a delay after the material is shown to when you can get to the lab to try it out vs. the ability to see, and then try out, a dance step as soon as it’s been taught. So the two areas are similar in the skills needed to decode the information, but not similar in the manner of delivery of that information.



As we grow through our lives, we learn how to create a balance between mind, body and spirit. If any one or two of these three areas are ignored or allowed to atrophy, stress occurs and we go through, as one of the students termed it, “my breakdown quarter,” a period of depression, misery and intense questioning. 

“Here I was using my mind and my brain . . . all day long and really (having to) clamp down on emotions. And there was a chance to really be expressive instead. Very grounding for me. No matter how pissed off I was, or upset, or depressed going in, I knew I’d be fine at the end (of the class).” 

All spoke of the balancing effects Social Dance has on their lives. Their daily lives as Engineering majors are usually very sedentary, isolated and generally value rational, unemotional expression and linear thought. An Industrial Engineer says she gains an emotional balance: “Here I was using my mind and my brain . . . all day long and really (having to) clamp down on emotions. And there was a chance to really be expressive instead. Very grounding for me. No matter how pissed off I was, or upset, or depressed going in, I knew I’d be fine at the end (of the class).”

The atmosphere in the two Social Dance classes is one of pleasantness, ease and “we’re here to learn and have a good time.” There is a sense of comfortableness and playfulness among the dance partners, but with an overall attitude of working to learn. The interviewees spoke of the safe, relaxed atmosphere in class, and how it was “a relief to go there.” This overall sense of ease and enjoyment not only contributes to the “social” feeling of the dance classes, it keeps learning levels high, as it has been shown in many studies that people learn faster and retain more of what they learn when they are in a relaxed state. (9)

Another balance that occurs is one of tension-holding to tension-releasing. Working for hours under a deadline in a rather sedentary state can create stress and tension, and the chance to be physically free and active is basic. To be given the chance to relax in a physically active way, is a gift this dance form gives to these sometimes driven students. A Computer Science major says,

"My brain goes a million miles an hour, and not until I actually get onto a dance floor and hear the music and think about doing moves and going through different things, does my brain just focus on one idea and totally relax."

(I get) a certain degree of relaxation. My brain goes a million miles an hour, and not until I actually get onto a dance floor and hear the music and think about doing moves and going through different things, does my brain just focus on one idea and totally relax. Even when I have a problem set, a midterm or some paper due, and I know I just need some relaxation, dancing is one way of taking one hour and just letting my brain completely relax. Then I’m much more relaxed. Normally I’m just really, really tense doing work. Relax, think about it for a second - it’s much easier.

Dancing can also replace less-desirable ways of releasing stress. One man started Social Dancing over a year ago. Here is his story: “Friday and Saturday, once you have the ability to do so, you hit the bar and just get totally hammered. And (we) did it to a certain degree to totally relax, hang around with a couple of friends. It’s the same idea. It serves the same purpose. But the last time I’ve been drunk was about a year and a half ago.”

"After dancing, everything makes sense. It brings me back to a center where I realize what’s important and what’s not and it’s simply that clearing out of the mind."

Finally, many find a meditative quality to this type of dance, once they reach a basic level of competence. The combination of continuous, repetitive physical activity, with a musical or drumming ostinato, and with the possible addition of rotation or spinning resulting in altered states of consciousness has been documented by many in articles on trance dance. This combination of music, movement, and continuous repetition occurs naturally in dancing and can have a calming and focusing effect. A Product Design major says

It centers me. Emotional centering through the physical. With all these things pulling at me, it’s like dance lets things spiral down to a single point where I know where I am.

"After dancing, everything makes sense. It brings me back to a center where I realize what’s important and what’s not and it’s simply that clearing out of the mind."
And it’s not just Waltzing, where it’s the centering, it’s any kind of dance where it’s my body thinking so that I can let things go for a moment.

In the high-stress atmosphere of Stanford University, this form of stress release can act as breakdown-prevention.


There is a reason why I didn’t title this section “Interactions with the Opposite Sex.” The Engineering School at Stanford is very male-dominated; nearly 75% of its students are men. The women aren’t looking for opportunities to meet men. They are surrounded daily by quite a majority. But every man I interviewed mentioned this in some form. One man said, “I never actively thought about this, but it’s really shocking that the Social Dance classes are the only classes I’ve taken at Stanford which are gender balanced.” All of the male interviewees spoke of the interactions between the sexes as a very strong and positive motivation for them to learn or continue dancing, and felt that dance acted as a facilitating factor in communicating with the opposite sex. Others have also mentioned this in some form or another. One young man started dancing because he was interested in a young woman who danced. Over a year later, though the relationship had faded, he was still going out dancing five nights per week, having added dance to his list of interests as well as feminine companionship.

We often tend to underestimate or forget the level of awkwardness and shyness that may attend social interactions for this age group in a university setting. The fear of rejection or incompetence still looms. A Beginning dancer said, “There’s only so much humiliation I can take. I usually embarrass myself almost every time. You still feel spotlighted when you’re just there with one partner, at least I do.”

When asked “what is the worst thing about social dance?” the men answered with some variation of, “Rejection! Being thought of as a bad partner - that was the scariest thing.” Or, “Asking women to dance . . . it’s terrible. It’s scary. It’s dangerous. I might not dance well.” Having a teacher there to give you a road map to guide you through the social minefield is reassuring, as is having a group of friends that you see twice a week to help you along. 

One man described the average Engineer as “good at math but not the greatest in dealing with women.” He went on to say how “the rule-based environment of a Social Dance class makes this interaction much easier. Your hands go here. Your feet go there. Everything is concretely spelled out.”

Because of the fears that often accompany social situations, they spoke in relieved tones of the physical comfort level dancing has given them for interacting with the opposite sex. One man described the average Engineer as “good at math but not the greatest in dealing with women.” He went on to say how “the rule-based environment of a Social Dance class makes this interaction much easier. Your hands go here. Your feet go there. Everything is concretely spelled out.” This gave me insight into the relationship between the rule-based (i.e., Logical/Mathematical) thinking that is familiar to Engineers, and the rule-based structure of a Social Dance class. The presence of rules or guidelines to follow in Social Dance lends a comfortable familiarity to those who have so well learned the rules of math and logic. It is easy to see the attraction for structure-seekers who want to interact with the opposite sex.

This comfortableness with physical proximity that comes with Social Dance is a welcome benefit, and one interviewee said that for him, social dance serves as an icebreaker. “After a while you’ve...led so many ladies, it doesn’t really scare you to go up to a girl and hold onto her shoulder . . . and move her around. It’s no big deal because you’ve done it a thousand times. You feel comfortable enough.” Especially for beginners, the safety of the socially familiar, the new-found comfort in physical proximity and the rules of the dance class translated into a confidence and willingness to participate in non-class settings.


The relative isolation of work in the Engineering field is often underestimated. The question “what do you get out of Social Dance?” invariably got responses like “I get social contact” or “a group connection” or just “human interaction.” Some days, as one engineering student put it, “your most significant social contact is being lectured at.” The theme of community and connection as a balance to an isolating work environment came up repeatedly, sometimes referring to connection in the sense of a group connection, but also in forming a connection with one’s dance partner. 

"The extremely interactive style of Social Dance acts as a counterbalance for the relatively isolated profession of an Engineer."

The extremely interactive style of Social Dance acts as a counterbalance for the relatively isolated profession of an Engineer. Most spend their days working solo. As one put it, “I’m basically locked down in the dungeon that is my life.” When I compare it to more gregarious majors like my own - Dance Education, in which every class is a discussion group or one in which we interact in some way - this seems quite isolating indeed. The Introductory Electronics class that I observed was just as the students described it to me: no one interacted with anyone, they sat with at least one empty seat between them, the professor lectured for an hour, and there were far more men than women in the class. It seems the chance to interact with others outside of their major who share an interest is very valuable to them; it balances them socially, and they mentioned it over and over.

Forming a community of dance friends makes it “safe” to go out dancing. For the women, they felt that they could go to a club with any number of the men in their class and not have to take a bodyguard with them. For the men, they felt that the women in their class were at their same level, and wouldn’t be annoyed if there was a misstep. “I made a point to basically dance with the other people in the class because I know they’re at my level . . . it’s not embarrassing ‘cuz they do the same things.” There is a feeling of a supportive community, especially at the higher levels of dance, for those who have been doing this for a year or more. “You feel supported. You know you have solid ground, so being part of a community and learning together and building that kind of connection, definitely helps a person. It encourages learning and confidence. It’s a connection that I can’t explain. It’s more than words.”

“You always feel like you have more of an emotional connection with that person afterwards, even if you don’t really talk very often.”

Besides creating a community of friends, there were as many mentions of connection with a partner. Many spoke of “having that magical waltz when you become one with your partner,” and of the almost spiritual connection made during dancing. “You always feel like you have more of an emotional connection with that person afterwards, even if you don’t really talk very often.” This, they emphasize, is not just attraction, it is connection. It may be explained in part by Richard Powers in his essay “Zen and the Art of Waltzing”:

Becoming one with motion has long been recognized as a gateway to deeper states. And waltzing places you, and someone else, in the center of the most totally enveloping motion . . . you become far more deeply receptive of . . . this fascinating creature that is right there in front of you, in your arms, with you at the center of a vast spinning universe. (10)

Some mentioned a connection with the entire room moving to the music, not just one person.

“Just the adrenaline rush of being with all these people, it’s just great.” But whether it is a sense of a community of friends that is being fostered, or a feeling of connection with a room full of people, or a connection with one person, this most basic of human social needs - connection - is being met through Social Dance at Stanford.


Five of the six men viewed themselves as introverted, and the two women considered themselves to be extroverted. This character trait plays into the two areas mentioned previously, in that it is more difficult to find community, connection and to interact with the opposite sex if you are not naturally gregarious. The men generally found any kind of extroverted behavior, even social conversation, to be difficult. As one put it, “If I’m acting extroverted, it’s usually a push.” The men in particular often needed that gentle nudge from a friend, or encouragement from a group to make the leap into a Social Dance class. 

"Social Dance enhances their lives in myriad ways, but in this case by making them slightly more extroverted."

The rewards are many, however, and they definitely see that Social Dance enhances their lives in myriad ways, but in this case by making them slightly more extroverted. One said that “taking Social Dance I is a sign of being more extroverted,” and noted that “should I be at a party or something like that and everybody gets up and starts dancing, I don’t have to sit there and watch. I could be a participant rather than just an observer.”


Educationally, this population demonstrates the presence of a constellation of four intelligences in varying but high degrees. There is a strong relationship among the eight interviewees in learning styles, as they all speak of or demonstrate high visual learning skills, and call upon their Bodily/Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical and Logical/Mathematical intelligences when they are learning Social Dance. In addition, the overlap of these four skills between teacher and students are demonstrated daily in the lessons.

"In addition, they used dance to develop a sense of community and connection after leaving hometowns (and in some cases, home countries)"

How these students use Social Dance in their lives yields important clues about this intersection between Engineering and dance. Everyone of this group used Social Dance to balance out their lives - the typical day as an Engineering major is quite physically inactive, Logical/Mathematical, and usually socially isolated - and the equalizing presence of Social Dance in one’s life provides variety and sanity. I have shown links between the contrasting benefits of Engineering and Social Dance, how one balances out what is missing from the other in all of the mind/body/spirit areas. In addition, they used dance to develop a sense of community and connection after leaving hometowns (and in some cases, home countries) to come to college, and to ease the sometimes awkward interactions between the sexes. These dance and social skills make such interactions possible.

"More than one student stated that they would “go crazy” if not allowed some physical-plus-artistic-plus-social outlet."

Among these students, there is a decided leaning toward “Dance as a Safety Valve.” They spoke of its “centering” effects, how it gives them “mental relaxation” or works as a “stress-releaser.” More than one student stated that they would “go crazy” if not allowed some physical-plus-artistic-plus-social outlet, and one student actually did have what she called “my breakdown” during a quarter when she could not dance, draw or write in her journal due to a wrist injury. 

"The second most common theme mentioned was the sense of establishing a feeling of oneness with their dance partners, and sometimes with the entire room."

The second most common theme mentioned was the sense of establishing a feeling of oneness with their dance partners, and sometimes with the entire room. Some spoke of connecting with their dance partners, and moving as one person, and that there was a sense that this person was somehow special, or close. Every single interviewee mentioned one of these two themes.

The good-natured humor and tolerance of the beginning students, the feeling of warmth, love and intensity that shone through when the more advanced students spoke, and the openness and sincerity displayed by all, made this project a true work of love for me. I experienced during these interviews what one dancer said he experienced with dance: “It’s like going from black-and-white TV to color TV. If you go back to black-and-white, you still have TV but it’s not like color. So dance has brought that kind of color to my life.” And so has this project brought that kind of color to mine. 

“It’s like going from black-and-white TV to color TV. If you go back to black-and-white, you still have TV but it’s not like color. So dance has brought that kind of color to my life.”
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Tango for team building and creating community

posted May 29, 2017, 6:19 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Sep 21, 2017, 12:55 AM ]

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Performing for DFS Galeria, July 2017

Have you thought of using tango exercises for team building within your organisation, creating community or simply breaking the ice at your events?  

There is so much that tango can teach us about leadership, 'followship', focus, presence and connection. 

The following pic from a recent introductory tango lesson illustrates the SoTango approach - which is essentially focused on getting people out of their heads into their bodies and keeping it fun.

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Introductory tango lesson - North Sydney

In this exercise we used balloons to practice focus and connection.  Not only is this a fun and dynamic way to develop these qualities it also gets the room bubbling - especially when bursting balloons are met with rapturous applause! 

"We really enjoyed you dancing and lesson at the dinner. The feedback has been great from the delegates. The Director and I can’t thank you enough" 
(Alan Wylie, DeHUB Project Manager, University of New England, UNE)

"Thank you so much for all your efforts and making the afternoon fun and professional for everyone involved. The participants and audience loved it!" 
(Sara Czarnota Marketing Director, Cafe Carnivale)

If you're curious to learn more about our corporate tango packages - Contact us  for more details.

Walking backwards is good for you!

posted May 18, 2017, 6:51 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated May 18, 2017, 6:58 PM ]

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Tango followers spend most of their time on the floor stepping backwards. The benefits to the glutes of pushing into the floor for a backward step is obvious.

But the benefits extend beyond having a great bootie! 

Professors Barry Bates and Janet Dufek have been studying the benefits of retro-walking since the 1980s claim that it:

 "creates reduced shear force on the knees, and may be useful for anyone experiencing pain going up and stairs or doing lunges or squats. Walking backwards uses more energy in a shorter period of time, and burns more calories. It is good for those recovering from hamstring strain because of reduced hip range of motion. Backward walking creates no eccentric loading of the knee joint, the lengthening phase of going down hills or stairs, and can give hikers and scramblers some rest from overuse."1

The following article by osteopathic physician Dr Mercola expands on the benefits of backward walking.  This is an excerpt of the article which you can read in full here.

Stimulate Your Fitness IQ By Walking Backward

One of the challenges with staying fit, even if you exercise regularly, is avoiding the "plateaus" that occur as your muscles adapt to your workouts.

It takes just six to eight weeks for your body to adapt to your exercise routine, according to the American Council on Exercise,1 which means you need to change up your program at least every couple of months or your fitness gains will level off.

If you're at a loss for a new activity to try, consider walking backwards. Though it might sound a bit strange, it can be incredibly beneficial.

The Many Benefits of Walking Backwards

Backward walking, also known as retro walking, is said to have originated in ancient China, where it was practiced for good health. In the modern world, it's become quite the rage in Japan, China and parts of Europe, where people use it to build muscle, improve sports performance, promote balance and more.

For starters, when you walk backwards, it puts less strain and requires less range of motion from your knee joints, making it ideal for people who have knee problems or injuries. Also, because backward walking eliminates the typical heel-strike to the ground (the toe contacts the ground first), it can lead to changes in pelvis alignment that help open up the facet joints in your spine, potentially alleviating pressure that may cause low back pain in some people.2

Not to mention, walking backwards gives you a chance to work out all of those muscles in your legs, such as your quadriceps and calves, which take a backseat to your hamstrings and glutes during regular walking. It also works out your hamstrings in a different way, and walking backwards for just 10-15 minutes, four days a week for four weeks has been shown to increase flexibility in your hamstrings.3

A More Intense, Comprehensive Workout in Less Time

Interestingly, when you walk backwards, your heart rate tends to rise higher than it does when walking forward at the same pace, which suggests you can get greater cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits in a shorter period of time. In one study, women who underwent a six-week backward run/walk training program had a significant decrease in body fat as well as improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness at the end of the study.4

There appear to be benefits for your brain, too. Researchers found that when you walk backwards, it sharpens your thinking skills and enhances cognitive control.5 This may be because even though backward walking is a physical activity, it's also a "neurobic" activity, meaning it requires brain activity that may help you stay mentally sharp. Plus, since it puts your senses into overdrive as you move in an unfamiliar way, it is also known to enhance vision as well.

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'If everyone danced tango we would need no gods'

posted Feb 3, 2017, 2:39 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated May 10, 2017, 5:32 PM ]

Sharing this exquisitely written blog post by my favourite tango blogger Iona May Italia...

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Tango generosities

A lot of ink has been spilled in tango circles, a lot of black keys pressed down beneath cantering fingers, over the resentments of people who feel shortchanged by the tango scene, for whatever reason. But I'm far more struck by the many generosities involved.

By the generous fact that you can still dance, like the older couples I watched out on the floor tonight, into an advanced age and, despite the extra kilos the years have gradually accreted around your midriff, like a tree growing ring by ring, despite the slight stoop, the obeisance to gravity made by your upper spine, despite your mortgages on homes and the stiffness in your bones, you can still hold each other and sail smoothly across the tiled floor of La Baldosa, simply and perfectly together at every point.
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By the generous fact that you can be sitting sipping wine at your table and from across the room a handsome boy from anywhere on the globe from Santiago to Damascus can twinkle his eyes at you and let you wrap your arms around him and, without knowing your name, dive straight into the music with you, sharing the fruits of thousands of hours of diligent practice. Of tedious solo walking across the living room. Of frustrating classes when the body just will not obey your commands and suddenly, like someone who has tried to spell a difficult word too many different ways and to whom every combination of letters now looks bizarre, you find that no movement seems natural and arms, legs and torso are stubborn impediments, recalcitrant to direction. Of long jolting bus rides, morse code journeys in stuttering stop start stop start stops, block by boring block, home from the class, stomach churning with hunger. Of all the time and money spent -- now offered up for mutual pleasure. Take all this, this is what I have -- and it's yours, it's ours, we'll share it now for twelve minutes, borrow it, use it, play with it. Roll up all its strength and all its sweetness into one ball and play catch with it. Enjoy. With no thought of profit, with no eye to the bottom line, with no promise of sex, with nothing to take away afterwards, with nothing to gain but twelve minutes of transient joy.

By the generous fact that, even in this pinched and miserly age, the age of identity politics and political correctness, where so many things are ringfenced and labelled and policed -- this is my culture, that's yours -- stay on your own side, trespassers will be prosecuted, this is my tribe, these are our things and no, sticky fingers off, we won't share our toys, as if we needed more things to divide us, more arbitrary walls and boundaries and reasons for mutual distrust -- even in this climate, tango is not some sacred cow that no one can put on the barbecue, not reserved for any one sect or people or level of melanin production. It's a gift the Argentines have given to the world. It's very definitely the folk dance of this city with its faded elegance and motley blend of people -- but also of all humanity. It belongs to everyone who wants to claim it.
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Sometimes I feel that if everyone danced tango we would need no gods. This is stronger opium than any religion can offer. Sometimes I feel that if everyone danced tango, surely there would be world peace. Because we would measure our most important gains not in territory or flags or resources, not in a sliver of snow-capped hilly land or a pair of windswept austral islands, not in possessions at all, but in time, in minutes spent in bliss together. Not in hoarding but in spending. In reciprocal generosity.

Abrazos, Terpsi xoxo

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north sydney bondi tango lessons

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