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Tango: The art and power of restraint

posted Jan 26, 2015, 8:21 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Nov 6, 2018, 5:27 AM ]
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When the above image was shared by a student on Facebook it provoked a range of comments from tango aficionado. Some (albeit few) said they liked their tango experience to be mild, others liked theirs wild.

'Mild' just doesn't cut it for tango. It sounds too dull and lacks dynamism. Tango, at its best, is always dynamic even in its pauses and when expressed in a gentle, tender way.

'Wild' is an improvement on 'mild' if we defined it as 'untamed' and spirited. But wild also implies being overly flamboyant and lacking in restraint. Stage tango often takes on a wild expression but authentic social tango never does. 

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wild tango?

Restraint is what gives tango its power and intensity. 

This segues into the power of restraint in tango.  It's definitely not a sexy word in our day and age but, for me, restraint is a vital element of what makes tango such a juicy and addictive dance. 

When applied to social tango, restraint can refers to its fairly strict parameters and codes for posture, embrace, frame, footwork and floor craft. Tango, when danced socially, is not a flamboyant dance. The embrace is rarely broken. High kicks and flicks, dramatic head or arm movements just don't work on the social floor. And don't even think about aerial moves!  
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Because of this relative physical minimalism, when compared to many other dances (e.g. samba, salsa, and swing, tango is able to put greater focus on the feeling of the embrace and connection with another and on the subtlety and nuances of that connection. There is more time to pause and commune with your partner which leads to greater intensity of feeling and connection.  

As an aside, and lest the term 'physical minimalism' be misinterpreted, tango still provides a great work out. Tango is fantastic for toning the legs because it has you dynamically pushing off the floor at every step.  All the pivoting and balancing on one leg (which engages and strengthens the core and leg muscles) is also amazing for increasing spinal flexibility. The best thing - tango doesn't feel like exercising because you're hugging and listening to beautiful music in the process.

Tango blogger Terpsichoral Tango Addict writes eloquently about the intensity and restraint of social interaction in milongas in her account of dancing at one of the most popular milongas in Buenos Aires at the iconic tango establishment El Beso. You can read the account in full here. To set the scene here's some excerpts:

"In that tiny microcosm of a world where every gesture is magnified, sometimes magic really seems to happen." (Terpsi)

"Contacts between men and women are largely reduced to, on the one hand, the subtlest of silent mimes, the cross-room eye contact, the looks and half smiles and nods as decorous and yet as fraught with meaning as the gestures of characters in a Henry James novel" (Terpsi)

Restraint, so intrinsic to social tango, does not deny or diminish the intensity of feelings and the magic felt between tango couples - it intensifies it! 

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Painting of El Beso - by Michael Fisher

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