Argentine tango competitions

The photo shows a stage in the background distance, and portions of a large auditorium filled to capacity with people watching a world competition of Argentine tango.

Human nature encompasses competition and cooperation.

The martial art of Aikido shares much in common with Argentine tango in spirit (with nage “leader” and uke “follower” as partners rather than combatants) and techniques (triangle, circularity, flow), and in generally eschewing competitions.

“The founder of Aikido, O-Sensei was reportedly against the concept of contests and competitions in Aikido. We seek instead “Masakatsu agatsu” or winning over yourself. In other words, the goal of Aikido is the mastery of one’s self to create harmony.” Source

There are a small number of Aikido competitions, mostly in a particular style. There also have been Argentine tango competitions en los barrios from its historical beginnings. Indeed, the dance was a form of substitute for lethal fighting. Even in the social dance today we have a competition for the best partners and attention.

The competition judge Claudio Villagra tells us, “Based on my experience, I considered the most important thing to competitors is to keep in mind that the competition is a big part of personal and professional growth. Competing does not always mean to ‘win’. The true competition is with yourself, every day in practice. Be confident, elegant, have cadence and a good interpretation of musicality.”

Yes, there will be some competitors who see competition as a stepping stone to recognition and professional advancement, and some may look to past competition results to find the secrets to success, and that could distort the individuality, the freshness, the “innocence” of the dance. (For example, breeding to win dog conformation contests has led to genetic weaknesses.)

But think now of all the other purposes competition can serve:

  • as goal and a context in which to pursue personal improvement and achievement;
  • as a means to guide development and bring purpose to practice; and
  • as a form of evaluation (complementing other forms of evaluation: internal, partners, teachers).

Why then do some Argentine tango dancers belittle competitions as “showing off” or somehow not in the spirit of the dance? It’s as if they think competitors are trying to show themselves as better than they are. Well, yes! That’s exactly the point. Dancers want to get better. They want to show what they have achieved in their dance, and they are willing to have it judged.

I see a strange, sad parallel between the “showing off” sentiment and those followers who say, “Oh, I could never do mirada. That would be like putting myself out there, wanting attention.” Well, yes! That’s exactly the point of mirada, of competitions. You are putting yourself out there for others to see and assess.

Many of us don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of being judged, but that’s how we grow. If you don’t assess your efforts today versus yesterday, how will you improve?

Many forms of motivation and evaluation exist. We don’t have to pick competitions for ourselves. Yet we can recognize the value of people finding and using lots of different good ways to motivate and improve their art. We grow not by diminishing others or their methods, but by helping others and striving for ourselves.

Links to competitions

Embracing mindfulness

A couple dancing, viewed from the leader's back, featuring the follower's face in quiet repose.

How much attention can I give to my partner? A meditation on the Argentine tango embrace.

Why do I feel curious about this moment?
(A meta-question. Instead of directing oneself to hold curiosity about each moment, perhaps a question about feeling curious will more often or more deeply provoke such feelings?)

What might cause our hands to embrace even more comfortably or more intimately or more effectively, one within the other? Try them. What kind of dance do hands make together? Can hands feel curious about their partner?

Can I feel my partner’s body through this hand?

Do you remember when you last tried on shoes? How long did it take before you realized that they were perfect, or that less than perfect, they had some unexpected tightness, pinch point, inflexibility, sloppiness? What could your foot have told you about that shoe, had you been willing to listen mindfully?

Can I feel in my hand-wrist-arm-shoulder what my partner’s hand-wrist-arm-shoulder feels? How can my parts express their care for my partner’s parts?

It is not softness, as such. It is not firmness, as such. What does my hand’s quality of listening say to my partner?

Should we expect perfection in an instant? Hardly. How may my parts communicate quietly, respectfully what might make them even happier?

For what reason did we start this embrace on the hand-side? How much more invasive and impatient might an arm-side approach seem? Where a hand-side approach might seem more exploratory, where might an arm-side-first approach seem fitting, suitable?

How did our bodies come together? Who approached whom? Did my partner have a choice? Did I?

Do my body parts feel comfortably, reliably stacked one atop one another? Do I feel the slightest tension anywhere, holding parts in a certain way? How much more energy, mind and body, can I have available to our dance when none of it leaks away to tension, mind or body?

As our hands embrace each other in an intimate, comfortable, relaxed-even-while-alert way, in how many ways do our arms around their body enjoy the same qualities?

What qualities of touch tell our partner that I am comfortable being with you and I trust you, and I want to gently, quietly explore our arrangement to feel how we might make it feel and function even better?

How much time will I give my partner to feel that they, and I, and we both feel well connected, comfortable, and alert, ready for an amazing trip together?

Now as we move together, where are my partner’s parts? Can I feel each of their feet through our connection? Can I feel where they may carry any tension in their body? What can I do to dispel that?

Can I feel my partner’s dismay when I abandon some attention to the embrace, the foundation for our movements together? How can I comfortably, quietly, calmly restore that fine embrace?

Then, when we come to the end, as alas we must, how does my partner sense our reluctance, yet our willingness to part, to silently express our thanks as we say good-bye for this moment to the experience that we created together?

Holding space

Argentine Tango as giving, taking, . . . and holding space

This began as a teaching article, and you’ll find some of that, but then I got distracted.

In my Einsteinian, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” view of Argentine tango we find but two basic moves: changing weight from one foot to another, and pivots.

Yes, that’s simple, and how do we go from that to movement across and around the floor? By using, stepping into or taking away space. When I step toward and into my partner’s space they retreat into the open space behind them. Vice-versa, when I step backwards giving space in front of me, my partner steps into that space to continue confronting me.

Sometimes we both move together into a space, as in the salida.

When I want to create a curving movement I use space differentially, opening up space on one side while closing it on the other side.

I can also use that differential opening/closing technique to suggest a longer/shorter movement than mine when we step together into a space. For example, in the salida if I rotate my torso toward my partner I will close off space, suggesting that they step not quite as far as me.

In a molinete around me I continuously take one side away from my partner, opening space in that direction. In a molinete around my partner I continuously turn in toward them, without collapsing in on them, keeping them centered in my perambulation.

Floorcraft has each couple in la ronda managing their space between the couples fore and aft. We either move around the space underneath us as a couple, or we move into available space ahead, leaving space behind us.
Not terribly profound, maybe not even terribly useful. But for a beginner with limited vocabulary it can serve as a lifeline to simply know how to keep moving–simply. For an expert who transcends vocabulary, it expresses the way.

It became somewhat profound when, as my thoughts gathered, the expression holding space for another arose.

Holding space, the gift of being fully present for another person. “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination.” (Lynn Hauka).

When holding space for another we meet them with unconditional regard, offering unconditional support, giving our heart and our willingness to be fully with them. We breathe together. We allow. We ground ourselves.
Holding space challenges us by its intimacy yet its need for a certain distance and respect to let the other person be themselves, not our expectations nor our desires.

Does it seem clear that in order to hold space for others You must first hold space for yourself, accepting yourself as is?

Give your partner only as much as they can handle. (Test but don’t stress.) Empower, don’t limit your partner. Keep your ego out of it. Be in the moment. Make them feel safe enough to fail. Allow them to make different decisions and have different experiences than you would.

From the moments of taking up and settling into an Argentine tango embrace, can you feel from your partner, and do you give to your partner the feeling that, “I trust you. Whatever we do, wherever we go, I’m with you.”