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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 ]

north sydney bondi tango lessons instruction

"...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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