To me, social tango is a metaphor for relationships. Although there is a structure to individual steps, their combination is improvised on the spot so it’s all spontaneous. You just have to go with the flow of the music and with the space that’s available to you on the dance floor. There are other couples on the dance floor that you have to be aware of so you don’t bump into them. You don’t operate in isolation. You can’t plan the dance far in advance because you just don’t know what music will be playing and who you will be dancing with.
Sometimes the man has a certain fixed idea in his head of how things should be and tries to force the dance into that idea, ignoring the music or where I am in space in relation to him. He’ll want to complete a certain step in his own time, ignoring that the woman is still trying to complete the movement he just led so he will not wait and rush her, causing her to compromise her movement and her enjoyment of the dance. It’s like a couple communicating in real life. One has to finish speaking before the other can respond, and vice versa. A monologue will only take you so far. You can’t boss the other person around, drown them with your preferences as a man. If you see they can’t keep up with you or have a different interpretation of the song, want to speed up or take it slowly, you adapt. Even if you’re the man, you listen and you adapt because it really does take two to tango. And once you make a decision in terms of where you’ll go, you have to stick to it. You can’t change your mind halfway through the movement, because she won’t know where to go and will collide into you.
Sometimes, the woman can be stubborn and not listen to the man. She can be resistant to his lead and not trust his judgement. Some leaders aren’t very experienced and have poor spatial awareness, leading to bumping into other couples, or worse, injuries on the dance floor, for example, if they lead a high boleo in a tight space. If you know that as a woman, you have two options: refuse the dance, or try to make the best of it while you’re dancing. But you once you’re on the dance floor, it’s too late to complain and undermine the man. If there is ‘conflict’ between what he’s trying to do and what you’re trying to do, you adjust and try to find common ground, until the tanda is over. You have to listen well in order to respond well. Just like in real life, you wouldn’t talk over them, in tango you wait until they’ve given you a clear lead and once you fully get the movement, you respond. If you try to guess, you might end up with something completely different from what they intended and spoil the dance.
In a relationship, you can try and please the other person 100% of the time thinking that that’s what’s going to make the relationship successful but in reality you’ll end up not only with your needs unmet, but also resenting the other person for not appreciating all your sacrifice and your compromise. In tango, it’s kind of the same thing. You are fundamentally dancing for yourself so you can derive pleasure out of it. A partner may want you to do certain steps or embrace in a certain way that suits them, but throughout the dance you’ll be entirely preoccupied with whether you are giving them what they want, and thus ‘thinking’, which is going to kill freedom of expression, creativity and emotion. Worrying about whether you’re good enough for your partner is the last thing you want to do when dancing, and if they make you feel insecure then they’re not right for you. The best partner will try and make you feel like you’re the only person in the room, and the most beautiful dancer ever, regardless of your level. They won’t try to force you into becoming who you’re not, by forcing you into a particular kind of embrace or step that your body shows difficulty in adapting to. They will simply try to make the best of the dance with you, regardless of your style.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that what makes a good dance is similar to what makes a good relationship in real life.